University president stands firm in
denying domestic partner benefits to employees
A story published today by the Muskegon Chronicle reports that as Grand Valley State
University's Faculty Senate pushes forward with plans to develop a domestic partner
benefits policy, university President Mark Murray said he doesn't anticipate a change will
come anytime soon.
Murray listened Friday as Patrick Thorpe, senate chairman, read a statement to GVSU's
Board of Trustees outlining the senate's disappointment with the president's December
decision not to offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees.
"At this hour, there's no likelihood in it changing, but we're always open to
facts," Murray said.
"I've said all along that I recognize that there are really strong views on both
sides of this issue. President (Arend) Lubbers studied it. I studied it. And we came to
the same conclusion. So we will maintain the status quo here. I think the board
respectfully received the message from the senate and asked if these are initial comments
that they be provided to me. I certainly will thoughtfully look at whatever the faculty
comes forward with."
Board chairwoman Dorothy Johnson reaffirmed support for Murray's decision.
"They both came to the conclusion that it's not in the best interest of the
university. Speaking for the board, we support that."
Australian family court tackles
test case on same-sex marriage
A story released today by the Australian Associated Press reports that the question of
what in law constitutes a man is being considered in an Australian test case before a
The case is being brought by federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams over the marriage
between a male transsexual and a woman.
The full bench of the Family Court is hearing an appeal of a court decision last
October which declared valid the 1999 marriage of Kevin, who was born a woman, to another
Kevin, born in 1965 as Kimberley, was granted a birth certificate which showed him as a
male in 1998 after undergoing gender reassignment surgery.
In August 1999, they were issued with a marriage certificate by a celebrant and later
sought to have the marriage declared valid, which triggered the court action by the
In his decision, Justice Richard Chisholm concluded that Kevin was a man
for the purposes of marriage because he, his family and friends perceived him to be one.
He pointed to his sex change surgery and the birth of their child, with another baby on
the way, as further evidence of factors other than genitalia at birth which defined him as
However, Henry Burmester, QC, for the Commonwealth today submitted that Kevin did not
fulfill the biological criteria for a `man' under the Marriage Act as he was born with
female chromosomes, gonads and genitals, characteristics under British law which defined
males and females.
It is the first time an Australian court has considered the legality of transsexuals in
marriage and the outcome is likely to affect future "intersex" cases.
The hearing continues tomorrow.
Kern county, California extends
sick leave policy
A story published today by the Bakersfield Californian reports that a controversial
state law passed last year is now forcing Kern County officials to offer a new perk to
employees living with same-sex domestic partners.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to amend county policies today to allow employees
to take sick leave when their same-sex partner is ill. Currently those employees would not
be allowed to use sick leave to care for a same-sex partner.
Sick leave could also be used in the case of the death of a partner under the new
To qualify for the perk, the employee and the partner must be formally registered as
domestic partners with the state.
The proposed county policy is the product of an Assembly bill passed last year that
gave domestic partners a slew of marriage-like rights. While the bill -- which went into
effect Jan. 1 -- included provisions on health insurance, inheritance and medical decision
making, county officials said the only one that affected their policies was the sick leave
Assistant County Administrative Officer Elissa Ladd said it was uncertain whether the
change would have any financial effect on the county or how many employees might exercise
the new benefit.
What is certain is the sick leave perk would be the only county benefit that
specifically allows for same-sex couples. While employees are allowed to designate
beneficiaries for a variety of benefits, such as life insurance and retirement, their
health insurance coverage does not extend to same-sex partners.
Florida child custody battle
focuses on gender identity
A story published today by the New York Times reports that until three years ago,
Michael Kantaras mowed his lawn on weekends, played Santa at his children's school and
lived like any other husband and father -- almost.
Since then, Kantaras' marriage has faltered. Now, a custody battle with his wife,
Linda, has become a painful and public reminder that Kantaras, a 42-year- old bakery
manager, was not exactly the typical family man he went to extraordinary lengths to
Since the breakup, Kantaras has exposed a secret that even the couple's son and
daughter never knew: Michael Kantaras was, until 1987, a woman who was born Margo
Linda Kantaras contends that, even though she knew of Michael Kantaras' sex change
before becoming involved with him, he was never a man, and therefore their marriage and
his adoption of the children are invalid.
The case raises legal questions that experts and scholars say Florida laws do not
address. Is Michael Kantaras legally the man he claimed to be on his marriage license and
in adoption papers, or is he a woman living as a man?
"Basically Florida law does not permit same-sex marriage, and the question is
whether this is a same-sex marriage or not," said Judge Gerard O'Brien of
Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court, who is presiding over the case. The case could make Florida
law and establish a legal precedent for transsexuals in other states. "Everything
flows accordingly under the initial question of was Michael, as a transsexual, a
The three-week trial ended on Feb. 8, but O'Brien did not expect to issue a ruling for
months. The Kantarases are seeking a divorce, and each wants primary custody of the
Legal experts say O'Brien could consider court decisions in Massachusetts and
California that have recognized custodial or visitation rights of nonbiological parents,
including transsexuals. Advocates following the Kantaras dispute say the judge's decision
should be based on the children's best interest, but disagree as to what constitutes those
"This is not about whether he was born a woman and later had a transition,"
said Tamara Lange, staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay
Rights Project in New York. "It is about who is a better parent, and there is no
showing that he is a bad father."
Mother living in a domestic
partnership appeals to U.S. Supreme Court
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Southern California woman
who is living with her domestic partner will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an
Alabama Supreme Court decision that awarded her children to their heterosexual father.
On Friday, the nine-member state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a
Birmingham man and against his ex-wife, who lives with her domestic partner in southern
California. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that had awarded custody to
The parents weren't named in court documents to protect the identity of their teen-age
Birmingham attorney Wendy Crew, who represents the mother, said Monday she will ask the
U.S. Supreme Court to consider an appeal because the case represents a conflict between
two states' laws.
The mother lives in a domestic partnership, which is legal in California. Alabama Chief
Justice Roy Moore wrote a concurring opinion to the state Supreme Court's main decision
Friday in which he noted that Alabama doesn't recognize domestic partnerships and that
homosexual activity is illegal in Alabama.
"The state of California has legitimized my client's relationship and Judge Moore
has said her relationship is criminal. You've got a horrible conflict of law here. Judge
Moore is failing to give full faith and credit to California law," Crew said.
The father's attorney, John Durward, said family law issues are usually settled in
state courts, not federal courts. He said he will argue that there are no grounds for the
U.S. Supreme Court to review and that there is nothing in the case that warrants moving
the children across the country after nearly six years of living in Birmingham.
"The issue of the domestic partnership is not the issue in the case," Durward
The mother voluntarily turned over custody of the children to their father in 1996.
Then in 2000, she petitioned for custody, claiming the father was abusive. Jefferson
County Circuit Judge Gary Pate ruled for father, but ordered the father to attend
Then last year, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled 4-1 for the mother, saying
that a change in custody was needed due to the father hitting the children, interfering
with their communications with their mother, and denying them permission to attend summer
school when they had failing grades. The appeals court also noted that the mother had
overcome her past problems with alcohol.
The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court Friday. The Supreme Court's main decision,
written by Justice Gorman Houston, said the appeals court impermissibly reweighed the
evidence in the case, and the circuit judge was in a better position to evaluate the
claims of abuse than the appeals court.
Sunday, February 17, 2002
Sifting through the complicated
Sept. 11 compensation claims
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that from among the roughly
3,000 victims of Sept. 11, at least one had two wives, some were married, but had children
out of wedlock, while many were divorced and remarried. Others, heterosexual and gay,
lived with long-term partners now in legal limbo.
While the varied family structures reflect the diversity of American society, they also
are creating complications for lawyers sifting through claims for compensation and
Attorney Helen MacFarlane represents an unmarried woman who fears being excluded from
federal compensation, even though she lived with the father of their two sons for a
"The fund should recognize people who had long-term relationships, emotionally and
financially, and who suffered massive loss," MacFarlane said. "Our compassion
should not be limited by some of the more narrow views that we have held
Attorney Bill Mauk of Boise, Idaho, has volunteered to help coordinate hundreds of
families' requests for legal aid during a four-month stay in New York on behalf of the
state and national trial lawyers associations.
"The stereotype of a traditional family with a surviving spouse and a couple of
kids is probably the exception rather than the rule," he said.
That multiplicity of family forms, including domestic partnerships, is complicating the
task of Kenneth Feinberg, who oversees the Federal Victim Compensation Fund and is working
on criteria for handling claims.
While signaling open-mindedness, Feinberg also sounded a note of caution.
"With the rarest of exceptions, the extent to which these extended families can
collect will depend on state law," he said. "I'm not going to be like Solomon -
don't look to me to be making independent determinations that would trump state law."
Minnesota lawmakers hold nonbinding
resolution vote on domestic partner benefits
A story published today by the Pioneer Press reports that Minnesota House Republicans
on Wednesday threatened to reject the state's contracts with its largest employee unions
unless provisions that extend insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state
workers are stripped from the labor settlements.
If the House carries out its threat, some 30,000 state workers would lose the pay
increases they won during the fall in the largest state employee strike in Minnesota
history. That could spark another strike.
In a 75-54 vote that carries no legal weight, the House called for rejecting five state
employee union contracts that provide domestic-partner benefits. Ten DFLers joined 65
Republicans in voting for the nonbinding resolution; three Republicans and 51 DFLers voted
Its sponsor, Rep. David Bishop, R-Rochester, said his purpose was to alert Gov. Jesse
Ventura and the unions that their contracts are in jeopardy and to prod them to
renegotiate new settlements without same-sex benefits.
But state Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter said the Ventura administration
would not go back to the bargaining table. "We stand by the contracts," he said.
He called the contracts "fair, affordable and equitable" and said the
administration is committed to providing same-sex benefits because it values diversity in
and equal opportunity for its work force.
Bishop said that if the administration and unions don't renegotiate, he would push a
bill to reject the contracts.
He asserted that the domestic-partner provisions are legally defective and would invite
lawsuits by workers who are treated unfairly. For instance, he said, the contract language
would permit a widow and her mother-in-law to qualify for same-sex benefits but not a
At the Rules Committee hearing, Julie Bleyhl, legislative director of 19,000-member
Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called the
Republican resolution "an assault on the collective bargaining process." The
Legislature has never before rejected a contract between the state and its unionized
The public is overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex benefits, and the House reflects that
opposition, said Republican Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, the House majority whip.
"I'm the chief vote counter in the House," he said. "The votes aren't
there, folks, " to ratify the contracts.
If the Legislature rejects or fails to act on the labor agreements, they would be
nullified, wage increases would be rescinded and the unions would be free to resume their
The state would, however, continue to provide health insurance to its employees if the
contracts were nullified, but not if they went on strike, Carter said. Of the state's
52,000 employees, 85 have applied for domestic-partner benefits, the Employee Relations
Portland, Oregon extends domestic
partner benefits to citys police and firefighters
A story published today by the Oregonian reports that same-sex domestic partners of
Portland, Oregon police and firefighters will be eligible to collect pension benefits,
should their partners be killed in the line of duty, under a new city ordinance adopted
With no debate, the Portland city council voted unanimously to change the city charter
and extend pension benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city police and firefighters.
Currently, they are provided to only a member's surviving spouse or minor child.
The Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund sought the change after
Portland Officer Katie Potter raised the issue and gained the support of Mayor Vera Katz,
who is chairwoman of the fund's board of trustees.
Tracy Reeve, a deputy city attorney, agreed with Portland lawyer Carl Kiss that to not
extend the benefits would violate the state constitution's equal protection clause. Kiss
won a landmark Oregon Court of Appeals ruling in 1998 that marked a significant shift in
the right of domestic partners.
In that case, Kiss represented three Oregon Health & Science University employees
and their partners. The appeals court found that OHSU violated the state constitution in
failing to grant health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of its employees.
Although the court ruling involved health benefits, Kiss and Reeve said it assures that
other privileges, such as pension benefits, are extended equally as well.
An actuarial analysis estimated that the extension of benefits to same-sex domestic
partners could cost the fund $2.75 million. That analysis was based on assumptions that 5
percent of the fund's members might enter into a same-sex relationship, and 50 percent to
75 percent of those would be involved in a permanent, registered partnership.
Under the charter change, same-sex couples would have to be registered as
"dependent domestic partners" in Portland to verify their relationships. To
register, partners fill out an affidavit with the city to affirm that they are not related
by blood, live together and intend to remain as each other's sole partners indefinitely.