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Domestic Partnership News Archive
February 21 - February 28, 2002




This page contains news for the period February 21, 2002 through February 28 2002.




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Thursday, February 28, 2002

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Australian religious leader wants lawmakers to use conscience in voting on DP bill

A story released today by the Australian Associated Press reports that Catholic Archbishop of Perth, Barry Hickey said yesterday that Australian Members of Parliament should be allowed a conscience vote on the Acts Amendment (Lesbian and Gay Law Reform) Bill 2001. Archbishop Hickey said it was a moral issue, and a conscience vote would allow MPs to vote according to their convictions, just as they had four years ago when Western Australia's controversial abortion laws were passed.

"A conscience vote does not guarantee an outcome which satisfies those of us who are Christians, but it does allow members of parliament to speak and vote as they firmly believe," Archbishop Hickey said.

The state government's contentious Acts Amendment Bill 2001, currently being debated in the upper house, lowers the gay age of consent from 21 to 16 and allows same-sex couples equal access to adoption procedures and IVF treatment.

It also gives same-sex couples the same rights as other de facto couples in areas such as the transfer of property, medical treatment and inheritance or benefits upon the death of a partner.

The bill has been the subject of widespread community debate, with pro-family protesters holding mass rallies outside Parliament House.

Debate was continuing on the bill in the upper house last night.

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

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Columbus, Ohio commission ignites domestic partner debate


A story released by Dispatch.com reports that a city of Columbus, Ohio commission has ruled that the city discriminated against a city employee when it did not offer the man's partner the same benefits it gives to the spouses of married employees.

If Columbus City Attorney Janet E. Jackson agrees, the move could lead the city to offer insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.

The Columbus Community Relations Commission voted 9-3 to accept a report that says Columbus violated its own law against discrimination by not providing health-insurance benefits to the unmarried partner of a Health Department employee.

The action reopens a controversial issue for the city. In December 1998, the City Council approved benefits for domestic partners, then two months later unanimously repealed them after residents threatened a referendum.

"We found, based on the facts of the law, that there was discrimination,'' said Robert Short, commission chairman.

City officials hesitated to comment on the decision. Many said they did not know the commission had voted until after its meeting.

Councilman Richard W. Sensenbrenner said he and others on the council favor a cautious approach.

"There's still a lot of interest among some council members, including myself,'' he said, "that at some point in the future we can revisit the issue and build an understanding for the need for domestic-partner benefits.''

Mayor Michael B. Coleman referred all questions to Jackson and had no comment, spokesman Mike Brown said. Other council members also declined comment.

After accepting the report, the commission passed it on to the city attorney's office. Under city law, Jackson has the option to prosecute the case, settle it or drop it.

Resolving the case could mean gay and lesbian employees would receive health-insurance benefits for their partners. Prosecution would mean the city would charge itself with discrimination.

Jackson plans to try to resolve the case, her spokesman, Scott Varner, said.

Activists applauded the commission's decision.

"The city has violated their own code, and it's illegal to discriminate,'' said Kate Anderson, Stonewall Columbus executive director.

"We worked very hard to get domestic-partner benefits in the city, and when the city withdrew benefits, it was a setback. We just hope this is the final chapter in this whole issue.''

Jay Meena, a social conservative who is a member of the Franklin County Democratic Executive Committee, said the commission made the wrong decision because the city's policy relates only to marital status.

"The current policy forbids any unmarried city employee from designating a person who they're not married to from receiving benefits,'' he said. "They're not permitted to do that. I wouldn't see this as being a violation of the ordinance.''

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Domestic partner survivor sues Maryland hospital


A story released today by 365Gay.com reports that Maryland resident Bill Flanigan will launch a civil suit against the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore City Circuit Court for denying him the right to visit his dying life partner because he was "not the man's  family".

Flanigan's partner of five years, Robert Daniel, had been admitted to the medical system's Shock Trauma Centre in Baltimore on October 16, 2000, from complications arising from AIDS.

He was initially taken to a nearby hospital and then transferred Daniel to the Shock Trauma Centre, part of the University of Maryland Medical System, because of Daniel's critical condition.

Flanigan was told to remain in the waiting area of the Shock Trauma Centre and repeatedly   asked staff to allow him to see Daniel and to confer with Daniel's physicians. He was told only "family" members were allowed to do so, and that "partners" did not qualify as family.

Flanigan explained he had a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and that he and Daniel were registered as domestic partners (in California). The Shock Trauma Centre also had the records of the first hospital to which Daniel was admitted, where Flanigan was recognized as family, having spent the night in a chair by Daniel's bed.

After four hours, Daniel's sister and mother arrived from out of town. Only then did the Shock Trauma Centre provide information on Daniel's status that had been repeatedly denied to Flanigan, and subsequently allow the entire family, including Flanigan, to see Daniel.

By that point, however, Daniel was no longer conscious, his eyes were taped shut, and the two men never had the chance to say goodbye.

"Tragically, gay and lesbian partners too often have to argue their right to hospital visitation with ill loved ones, even in the middle of a family crisis," said David Buckel, Lambda Legal's Senior Attorney on the case. "But rarely does it rise to the shocking inhumanity of this case," he added.

"There is an awful feeling when you can't follow through on your promises. I have a huge hole in my heart, and my soul, because I wasn't allowed to be with Bobby when he needed me most. I can only pray that everyone helps to make sure this never happens to anyone else."

Not only did the Shock Trauma Centre knowingly violate the Health Care Power of Attorney that Flanigan had on behalf of Daniel, but it also violated national hospital accreditation standards for hospitals. Those standards define "family" as the person who plays "a significant role in the individual's life," and this may include a person "not legally related to the individual" said Lambda Legal's David Buckel.


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Tampa board denies domestic partner pension benefits


A story published today by the Tampa Tribune reports that the Tampa Fire and Police Pension Board voted 7-1 Tuesday to deny spousal death benefits to the domestic partner of slain Tampa officer Lois Marrero.

The vote reaffirmed a decision the board made in July, which was appealed by Marrero’s partner fellow police officer Mickie Mashburn.

‘There is no doubt in my mind today that Lois Marrero would have put my name on that list as her beneficiary," Mashburn said.

Marrero, an 18-year police veteran, was never given the chance to name a beneficiary. She was shot and killed July 6 - days before the pension changed its policy to allow unmarried officers to name beneficiaries.

Marrero's death at the hands of a fleeing bank robber heightened public awareness about same-sex couples in the police department and touched off a debate about their lack of legal standing in pension and other matters.

Current Florida law doesn't recognize same-sex partners as spouses.

Karen Doering, an attorney representing Mickie Mashburn said they would challenge Tuesday's decision in state court.

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Do civil unions have enough teeth to stand in court?

A story published today by the Detroit News reports that when Vermont opened civil unions to domestic partners, one question has always been raised by curious minds: What do Vermont civil unions mean once domestic partners leave that state?

Generously, Vermont legislators opened their new system to non-Vermonters, prompting a rush of couples to head to the Green Mountain State to be legally united.  So far, 3,575 couples have been joined, including 2,946 from out of state.

Cutting-edge cases in Georgia and Florida give us an peek at what's likely ahead - at least in the short run:

Susan Freer cited her civil union with her partner Debra Freer in attempting to persuade Georgia's courts to view them as married in resolving a visitation dispute.  Susan had signed a legal agreement with her ex-husband specifying that neither would have overnight guests other than a legal spouse or a close relative when their three sons were present.

On Jan. 23, a Georgia court of appeals rebuffed Susan's argument as "flawed."   The court ruled civil unions aren't marriages, and, even if they were, Georgia wouldn't recognize them.

It's unclear how damaging the ruling will be to future efforts to use civil unions to win legal rights outside Vermont.

In the second case testing civil unions, Mike Hall is asking Florida courts to view his partner, with whom he's united in a civil union, as a close family member to satisfy a visitation restriction in an agreement with his ex-wife. That would enable Hall's two kids to stay over at the couple's home when Mike's partner, Mike Moody, is present.

Hall's lawyers argue that it's in the children's best interest to be fully integrated into the Hall-Moody household.

"These cases are the tip of the iceberg - they are going to crop up all over the place in many contexts," says attorney James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Hall.

Vermont did the right thing in opening civil unions to outsiders. It was a bold first step that nudged average Americans to start thinking about the needs of same-sex couples. But, as the Georgia case shows, nothing short of marriage will fully protect same-sex couples.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

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Minnesota's domestic partner benefits for state employees to be voted by state senate

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Minnesota Senate is set to vote on a contract for state workers after the plan was approved by a government committee by a single vote Tuesday. Debate centered on a provision to extend benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of state employees.

In the House, concern over that provision has threatened the entire settlement, which ended a two-week strike in the fall. The House passed a nonbinding resolution last week opposing the contract, and leaders have asked the state and union leaders to renegotiate the deal to remove the domestic partner benefits.

Both the House and Senate must vote to approve the contracts or workers could return to a strike.

Also Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine, won passage in the same committee of a plan to no longer require the Legislature to directly vote to ratify worker contracts. Under the change, a contract would become law unless it is directly voted down.

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British city introduces partnership registry

A story released today by the RainbowNetwork.com reports that the city council of Bath and North East Somerset in Britain voted overwhelmingly in favor of a partnership register for same sex and unmarried couples at a meeting last week.

The motion was brought to the meeting by Liberal Democrat Councilor Shaun McGall. He said that a lack of legislation allowing unmarried and same-sex partners to register their relationships is what prompted him to make the move.

The council joins Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester in introducing such a register. London’s Partnership register has been in operation since September 2001.

McGall said that there was near-unanimous support at the meeting for the partnership register, adding that four abstentions were made by Conservative councilors.


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South African judge wants High Court to apply ruling on domestic partner benefits

A story released today by the South African Press Association reports that the South African Constitutional Court is hearing argument on whether same-sex couples should have the right to the same financial benefits as married couples, as ruled by the Pretoria High Court last year.

Judge Kathy Satchwell was applying on Tuesday for an order confirming Judge Frans Kgomo's ruling in her favor.

Kgomo held that sections of the Judges' Remuneration and Conditions of Service Act of 1989, and regulations regarding transport, traveling and subsistence, to be unconstitutional because they discriminated unfairly against same-sex couples.

The ruling meant Judge Satchwell's partner of the past 14 years will be was entitled to two-thirds of Satchwell's salary if she died and could become a dependant under the Parliamentary and Provincial Medical Aid Scheme.

It is believed that an argument will also be launched to have this ruling applied to heterosexual couples in long-term, but non-formalized, relationships. The Constitutional Court has not yet set a definite date in ruling on this specific issue.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

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California lawmaker wants to include domestic partner survivors in property tax reassessment


A story released today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that California state Senator Jackie Speier has introduced a state constitutional amendment that would expand the exemption from property tax reassessment given to surviving members of married couples after their partners die to other, less traditional, partnerships.

Speier, D-Hillsborough, said Friday that under the 1978 constitutional amendment Proposition 13, property tax assessments cannot increase by more than 2 percent a year unless an owner dies and the property changes hands.The home is then reassessed at current values unless a married partner or a surviving child inherits it.

The amendment, SCA 9, would extend the exemption granted to these relationships under Proposition 13 to anyone who co-owns property and lives together in it for at least five years as a primary residence.

The bill would essentially broaden the definition of families covered by the existing exemption.

"We can no longer define family in the traditional way,'' Speier said. "What defines a family is the emotional and economic connection of its members, whether they be siblings, senior companions, or partners of the same sex seeking a decent place to live in an extremely tight and expensive  housing market.''

The constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

Saturday, February 23, 2002

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Israel’s Income Tax Authority wants domestic partners to get tax rights

A story released today by the Haaretz Daily reports that Israel’s Income Tax Authority has recently asked the attorney general to support a lenient interpretation of the inheritance law that would allow same-sex partners to transfer property rights from one to the other without having to pay a tax. Income Tax Commissioner Tali Yaron-Eldar announced the move on Friday at the Businesswomen's Forum in Tel Aviv.

By law, the transfer of real estate between partners is tax free, but the language of the law refers to heterosexual couples. The Income Tax Authority, which implements a liberal policy in regard to the sexual makeup of the family unit, would like to allow same-sex couples enjoy the same benefits as do other couples.

A major implication of this approach is that in fact, common-law spouses can also be considered couples for tax purposes, and enjoy the same benefits as married couples. For example, if one of the partners does not work, the other gets a tax break of NIS (New Israel sheqalim) 170 a month.

Yaron-Eldar advocates taxing the family unit as a whole rather than taxing each individual separately. The family unit, she said, is not the one dictated by the Ministry of Interior, and includes couples whose legal status may not include marriage. This would naturally include common-law spouses and same-sex partners, provided that they share the same household, as required by law.

Friday, February 22, 2002

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Two Ohio cities considering domestic partner benefits to city employees

A story released today by the Gay People's Chronicle reports that the city of Cleveland and its suburb of Cleveland Heights are preparing to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees, and the smaller city hopes to become the first in Ohio to do so.

The Cleveland measure was proposed in January by Ward 14 Councilmember Nelson Cintron, Jr., and is now in the hands of Council President Frank G. Jackson.

"We're putting all of our data together to make sure all council members have the information," Cintron said.

The Cleveland Heights measure is being prepared for a possible March vote, according to Mayor Ed Kelley.

Pointing to the Cleveland proposal, Kelley indicated that he believed Cleveland Heights could beat its neighbor to the punch.

"I'm shocked that nobody in Ohio has this," said Kelley. "I'm proud of Cleveland Heights. I've lived here all my life and it's a great place to be."

"We're the most diverse community in the Cleveland area," he noted, pointing to figures from the 2000 census.

Kelley said that council members began discussing domestic partner benefits in November or December, and have recently brought it up in meetings of the council's Administrative Services Committee. Both Kelley and committee chair Nancy Dietrich agree that there seems to be little or no opposition to the measure in council.

"We may have to face controversy, but I don't think among ourselves there's any doubt," Dietrich said. "I think that this seems totally positive to me."

The council has been looking at information about other cities with domestic partner benefits, as well as the increasingly large number of big corporations offering them.   Kelley pointed to New York City, Disney and, more recently, University Hospitals of Cleveland. About 40 Ohio companies offer the benefits.

A major concern for the council is the defeat of a similar Lakewood measure in early 2000.   The issue drew large crowds to council meetings in the Cleveland suburb. Many of the people speaking against the measure cited religious objections to the "gay lifestyle" and the perception of governmental sanction of homosexuality brought by granting benefits.

"I think Cleveland Heights might be a little more tolerant than Lakewood," Kelley said, stressing that he was not criticizing Lakewood. "It's an issue I think we can handle in a nice way. My guess is the Interfaith Council [a group of local religious organizations] won't get too involved in this."

Kelley, however, feels that the additional cost would be minimal. He estimated that six to twelve people might register for benefits. This would add about 2% to the city"s benefits budget.

"That's nothing," Dietrich said. "That's like hiring another employee."

Cleveland council members are also concerned that they not repeat the abortive effort in Lakewood. They are also looking at the fate of domestic partner benefits passed in December 1998 by the Columbus city council. The measure was repealed two months later when the city was faced with a petition drive to force a referendum on the benefits.

"My two predecessors in this seat, Ray Pianka and Tim Melena, were big proponents of equal rights for all people," Freshman Ward 17 council member Matt Zone said. "I don't think this legislation is a gay or straight issue,it's about universal health care, something I'm very interested in."

Zone stressed that the city council in Cleveland needs to talk to both the proponents and opponents of such a measure and build a strong community base for its passage. The Cleveland proposal would grant benefits to the domestic partners of both straight and gay city employees.

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Montana city considering domestic partner benefits

A story published today by the Missoula Independent reports that the city of Missoula, Montana is looking into offering  domestic partner health benefits to its employees, including same-sex couples.

Although offering benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners is increasingly common in local governments on the East Coast and West Coast and in parts of the Midwest, Missoula would be the first municipality in the
northern Rockies to do so.

Ward Two Councilman Jim McGrath made the referral to the city last week to begin exploring offering the benefits. He was inspired by the events of the last two weeks in which a lesbian couple's home was burned after they and another couple sued the Montana University System for not offering same-sex domestic partner benefits.

"I think it's important for the city to set an example," McGrath says. "I think it's important for the University to set an example. As public institutions we should be at the forefront of civil rights."

McGrath says that the arson and the lawsuit have generated more interest and activity among his constituents than any other issue he can remember. When people first asked him about the city offering same-sex domestic partner benefits, McGrath initially assumed it was something the city already did. After checking and finding the city did not offer the benefits, he made the referral.

City staff members are now examining the cost and legality of extending the benefits.

"In general I'm supportive of the notion, but I want to take a look at all of the legal and tax type of implications," says Mayor Mike Kadas.

McGrath says he does not know how long it will take to review the issue and bring it before the council. Much will depend on the level of resistance.

"I know that there is some support and there is some resistance, I wouldn't say opposition at this point," McGrath says. "My hope is we'll just do it and it won't be a big deal."

Thursday, February 21, 2002

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Private consenting sex of adults is constitutionally protected in Massachusetts

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Massachusetts' highest court on Thursday upheld two anti-sodomy laws but limited enforcement to cases when specific sex acts occurred in public or weren't consensual.

"It really takes all the sting out of these laws" and puts the burden on the state to prove that the conduct was public, said Jennifer Levi, an attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the case.

With no active case to base their ruling on, the court refused to rule on the laws' constitutionality.

Gay activists had argued the laws violated freedom of expression and other constitutional rights and could be used by prosecutors to intimidate anyone arrested for sex activity.

Attorneys for the state of Massachusetts said the laws were not used to target private sexual activity and were useful in clamping down on public sex.



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