Thursday, February 28, 2002
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
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repealed them after residents threatened a referendum.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
"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
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
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.''
Domestic partner survivor sues
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
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
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
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
Tampa board denies domestic partner
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
Marreros 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.
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
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
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
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.
British city introduces partnership
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.
Londons 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.
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
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
"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
Israels Income Tax Authority
wants domestic partners to get tax rights
A story released today by the Haaretz Daily reports that Israels 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
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
"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
"That's nothing," Dietrich said. "That's like hiring another
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
Montana city considering domestic
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
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'
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
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.