December 01, 2004

Older Women Team Up to Face Future Together

Published: February 27, 2004

Michele Smith and Jenny Young, the best of friends, were in their mid-50's when fear of illness and incapacity set them to joking, bleakly, about side-by-side rocking chairs at an old folks' home.

Instead, they decided to pool their resources, build a home in a gentle climate, divide the chores, buy insurance for long-term home health care and meanwhile enjoy the pleasures of female friendship.

This friends-helping-friends model for aging is gaining momentum among single, widowed or divorced women of a certain age. The census does not tabulate households like these, and experts say it would be too early to see large numbers of older women living with friends, since few baby boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, have retired yet. But sociologists and demographers say the interest is growing.

The logic is compelling. Women of the baby-boom generation, many of whom have managed businesses or owned real estate, are accustomed to controlling their own lives. They tend to have close female friendships. Many have watched the slow death of their parents, dependent on children or paid caretakers. They want something better for themselves. Aging with friends could be the answer.

"All the indicators are there that this will happen, given the culture of the baby-boom generation," said Rebecca G. Adams, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who is one of the nation's most prolific scholars on friendship. Professor Adams cites a life span among women that is longer than that of men, the nature of female friendship and the previous experience of women in this age group living in communal settings.

"This is a fantasy among women just now making serious decisions about their retirement and beyond," she said. "But these are women extremely likely to take the steps necessary to live that fantasy."

Among women, the interest is unmistakable. Post an inquiry on the Internet or broach the subject at any female gathering, and the responses pour in. The details vary, but the intentions are the same: to find a way to share the burdens and tap into the pleasures of old age by teaming up with girlfriends.

"These are the wonderful, nurturing relationships we've grown up with," said Laura Young, 53, executive director of the Older Women's League. "We lived together in dorms and sororities. We shared apartments after graduation. We traveled together. We helped each other through divorce and the death of our parents. Why not take it to the next level?"

There is no guidebook on how to finance such a living arrangement; those who have tried have invented as they go along. Some have considered arrangements akin to a prenuptual agreement, spelling out rights and responsibilities.

"I'm waiting for a light bulb to go on in somebody's head," said Paul Kleyman, editor of Aging Today, the publication of the American Society on Aging. "Before long, there'll be a business to help people do this."

Michele Smith, divorced with four grown children, and Jenny Young, single and retired as an assistant principal, are finding their own way in Port Charlotte, Fla., far from the neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, where their friendship deepened over 15 years of shared secrets, family celebrations and emergencies.

Their timing was excellent. Ms. Young, 55, has had a hip and knee replacement and can no longer hoist her Samoyed into her S.U.V. So Ms. Smith, 58, had the idea of ordering a dog ramp.

"When one of us is having difficulties, the other one kicks in," Ms. Smith said.

Aging with other women is not only about taking care of aches and pains. Pooled resources and good company can make it fun as well. Christine Perkins, an Ohio contractor in her early 60's, built a house for herself and three friends in rural Ohio. It has electrical outlets that can be reached without bending. But it also has an exercise room and a hot tub.

Even women still in marriages or other heterosexual relationships often assume that men will not always be part of their lives. This is often a matter of demographics, since women live seven years longer on average and thus expect to be widows. That is the case with Harriet Dubroff, a retired principal in a relationship with a man, and Florence Isaacs, a married freelance writer; both their mates are in declining health.

Those two women, in their mid-60's, hope to wind up in adjacent apartments in Lincoln Towers, a high-rise complex on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with so many elderly residents that social services are already in place. Ms. Dubroff took a fall recently that left her shaken. Ms. Isaacs has vision problems. Together they hope to enjoy the bounty of New York City longer than they could alone, and joke that they will do just fine as long as one of them can walk and one can see.

Linda Young, 53, who teaches at a community college in Palm Desert, Calif., sees her future in a rural setting. A friend inherited a farm in Washington State where a half-dozen women already vacation together. With outbuildings that could be upgraded for live-in caregivers, and with a pottery studio and a view of Mount St. Helens, "it would not be a bad way to complete our lives," Ms. Young said.

She noted that women were drawn to this idea not only because they expect to outlive their mates but also because they trust their friends to be good caretakers. Ms. Young was married for 25 years, was on her own for 10 and is now with a male partner she describes as totally reliable. Still, she prefers the idea of aging with friends.

"A lot of men just can't go there," Ms. Young said. "They didn't change their children's diapers, so why do we think they're going to change their wives'?"

Men do not seem to entertain comparable ideas. Dennis Kodner, executive director of the Brookdale Center on Aging, at Hunter College, says all the men he knows expect that a woman will care for them.

"We don't really have those kinds of friendships," Mr. Kodner said.

And Tim Cisneros, a Texas architect who designed a home for two women in 1997 and has had half a dozen requests for similar houses since, said women "are better at planning for the future."

Taking care of their own parents, an experience of growing numbers of baby boomers, has been "a wake-up call," said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, which supports MetLife with research on issues related to aging. In 1940, Ms. Timmermann said, only 13 percent of people over 60 had a living parent. In 2000, 44 percent did.

Especially when they have no children, their fears quicken. Mary MacLellan, who spent down her retirement savings caring for her mother after she broke a hip, wondered, "What in the name of God will become of me?" But her worries eased when she and six other women in Nova Scotia, ages 50 to 68, began discussing living together.

As for legalities, the early adopters flew by the seat of their pants.

Ms. Perkins insisted on rules about future responsibility to nurse one another. "A cold, yes, we'd give each other chicken soup," she said. "End-stage Alzheimer's? I guess somebody might. But you're not even allowed to ask."

The women Mr. Cisneros built a house for, Dorothy Howard and Callie Camp, each have a daughter, so they specified inheritance rights. An heir cannot sell her share while the other original owner is alive. And the surviving owner is under no obligation to welcome the deceased's daughter as a roommate.

Aliana Alexander, 62, is hungry for guidance on how she and a lifelong friend can cobble together such a future. Ms. Alexander, a retired math teacher, is twice divorced, and her children are scattered. Her friend, a nurse, is a widow. They already hold each other's health care proxies. They also own homes in Newburgh, N.Y., that if sold would pay for a shared residence.

A while back, Ms. Alexander called Mr. Cisneros for tips on designing a house. Recently, she sought advice from Ms. Perkins about contractual agreements. Such technicalities are Ms. Alexander's only misgiving.

"Other than that, the whole arrangement seems ideal," she said. "We've already shared the good and bad for over 60 years. There'd be no surprises. We know how to care for each other because we know how to care for ourselves. All we want is to safeguard our quality of life, our independence and our pride."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:39 PM

CBS, NBC refuse to air church's television advertisement

United Church of Christ ad highlighting Jesus' extravagant welcome called
'too controversial'

CLEVELAND -- The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a
30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its
all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."

The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to
begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United
Church of Christ (UCC) seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability,
age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is
being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and
lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is,
therefore, too "controversial."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other
minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an
explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently
proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a
man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and
UPN] networks."

Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial."

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on
fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad
with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial,"
says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.
"What's going on here?"

Negotiations between network officials and the church's representatives
broke down today (Nov. 30), the day before the ad campaign begins airing
nationwide on a combination of broadcast and cable networks. The ad has
been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family,
AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel
and TV Land, among others.

The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers"
standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting which
persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts
the scene, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A
narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ's commitment to Jesus'
extravagant welcome: "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's
journey, you are welcome here." (The ad can be viewed online at

In focus groups and test market research conducted before the campaign's
national rollout, the UCC found that many people throughout the country
feel alienated by churches. The television ad is geared toward those
persons who, for whatever reason, have not felt welcomed or comfortable in
a church.

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no
problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating
dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay
couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase,
director of the UCC's communication ministry.

CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the 1950s
and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show
people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church
of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says,
"In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue
appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."

In 1959, the Rev. Everett C. Parker organized United Church of Christ
members to monitor the racist practices of WLBT. Like many southern
television stations at the time, WLBT had imposed a news blackout on the
growing civil rights movement, pulling the plug on then-attorney Thurgood
Marshall. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. implored the UCC to get involved
in the media civil rights issues. Parker, founding director of the Office
of Communication of the United Church of Christ, organized churches and won
in federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private
property. That decision ultimately led to an increase in the number of
persons of color in television studios and newsrooms. The suit clearly
established that television and radio stations, as keepers of the public
airwaves, must broadcast in the public interest.

"The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few
executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression
in jeopardy," says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently
managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication. "By refusing to air
the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling
religious expression. They are denying the communities they serve a
suitable access to differing ideas and expressions."

Adds Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Media
Access Project in Washington, D.C., "This is an abuse of the broadcasters'
duty to inform their viewers on issues of importance to the community.
After all, these stations don't mind carrying shocking, attention-getting
programming, because they do that every night."

The United Church of Christ's national offices -- located in Cleveland --
speak to, but not for, its nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million
members. In the spirit of the denomination's rich tradition, UCC
congregations remain autonomous, but also strongly in covenant with each
other and with the denomination's regional and national bodies.

Contact Information:
United Church of Christ
Barb Powell, press contact
(216) 736-2175

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:37 PM

Give "marriage" to the churches

While the Supremes refused to get involved in the gay marriage issue in Massachusetts, the decision has crystalized the strategy of the pro and con forces.

The justices made no comment in refusing to take the case. But both sides in the fight said the decision set the stage for years of further legal and political battles that, at least in the short term, would be likely to help conservatives at the polls.

Gay rights groups said the decision cleared the way for suits in lower courts around the country seeking to establish or expand same-sex marriage. Their socially conservative opponents said the court's decision not to take on the issue would add momentum to the political battles to settle the matter at the polls, where the overwhelming success of measures forbidding same-sex marriages in 13 states has indicated that the issue is a big winner for conservatives.

It's a battle worth fighting, but why keep fighting it using these tactics? It's not that it could hurt Democrats in elections, since that's a dynamic that at best, has a limited shelf life (younger voters are increasingly tolerant of people loving people).

Rather, let's shake up tactics. The conservative bigotted position is untennable. It has no basis in fact or reason. Arguments against gay marriage are predicated entirely, 100 percent, on emotion. And the vehicle for those emotional appeals are the word "marriage". A mere semantic.

Or it would be, if government rights and benefits weren't predicated on that single word.

So let's gift the word "marriage" to the churches, grant themexclusive use, and get the government out of the realm of "marriage". That way, churches could define whatever it was they called "marriage" (you know, that thing with a 50 percent success rate), and leave the government to certify legal "unions" -- you know, those things between people who love each other.

That way, the churches could find ways to really save marriage, by figuring out how to keep their flocks from divorcing, cheating and abusing their spouses.

[original article]
[quoted article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:25 PM

They're Not Wed, but They've Made It Official

Couples nationwide rely on West Hollywood's partner registry to get health benefits.

By Richard Fausset, Times Staff Writer

When Aimee Wilson asked about adding her gay partner to her corporate health insurance plan earlier this year, her employer told her it would be easy. All she had to do was get a government body to sanction the relationship.

But for Wilson, a resident of Frisco, Texas, that was going to require some fancy bureaucratic two-stepping, because the Lone Star State doesn't officially recognize same-sex partners.

Wilson found her solution 1,400 miles away at West Hollywood's City Hall, where, for a $25 fee, the clerk placed Wilson and her then-pregnant partner, Margaret Richmond, on the city's domestic partnership registry in March. The couple dropped their check and a notarized application in the mail. Richmond made the company's health insurance rolls in time to deliver twins.

"It really felt weird, especially having to go all the way across the country to get it," Wilson said in a phone interview recently. "But it was kind of neat. We even got a certificate."

As the new gay rights battles rage across the American landscape, creating a conflicting, state-by-state patchwork of rules on marriages and domestic partnerships, West Hollywood is among a handful of state and local governments that have been quietly reaching out to gay couples beyond their borders. The city offers to officially sanction unconventional relationships and, just as important, to do it by mail, saving out-of-state partners the cost of a plane ticket.

The policies are by no means as dramatic as those in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay couples to marry this year, until the actions were blocked by the California Supreme Court. Despite its cachet with insurance programs, the registration has no legal status outside the city boundaries.

But the registrations exemplify the peculiar jurisdiction-shopping gay couples are employing to maximize their rights in a deeply divided country.

Other governments that allow nonresident couples to register by mail include the city of Seattle and the states of Hawaii and California. The Golden State enacted its domestic partners law in 1999. A California secretary of state spokeswoman said the out-of-state provisions were necessary to extend pension benefits to former state employees who had moved elsewhere -- and also to help non-Californians sign up for corporate health insurance benefits.

But it is West Hollywood's pioneering domestic partner registry, created in 1985, that remains one of the country's best known, with its mail-in procedures listed on a number of gay rights websites. This year, the city's loose registration rules have enticed 193 out-of-state couples to register -- accounting for about 60% of West Hollywood's total domestic partnership rolls for 2004.

They are gay couples who are not allowed to marry and straight couples who choose not to. Many of their hometowns -- such as Grain Valley, Mo., and Waveland, Miss. -- are cultural galaxies from the raucous boys' town bars of Santa Monica Boulevard.

At West Hollywood City Hall, their phone queries are met with a mix of delight and respect: Catherine Ross, a clerk's office employee, marvels at the "sweet Southern voices" that call regularly, asking for details on the city law.

City Clerk Tom West maintains that the registry is an important part of the city's mission to fight for gay rights beyond its borders.

"This does even the playing field a little bit," he said. "But just a little bit."

In Seattle, 31 of the 130 domestic partner couples who registered this year hailed from other states, such as Wisconsin and Alaska. Gay rights advocates such as Courtney Joslin of the National Center for Lesbian Rights say the tangled web of cross-country legal arrangements demonstrates how far gay couples have to go to win acceptance.

"Unfortunately, there are many places in the country [where] there's no government entity ... where they can go to register their relationship," she said. Gay couples "have to go far and wide to look for that."

Socially conservative groups, however, see such laws in the same light as the state of Massachusetts' recent sanctioning of gay marriage: a threat to communities that choose not to acknowledge such relationships.

"What it illustrates is the reason why we need a federal solution to the issue of same-sex relationships," said Peter Sprigg of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative nonprofit. "Because when one municipality or state begins to legally recognize same-sex relationships, it affects other states -- even those who have not chosen that as a public policy."

West Hollywood's domestic partner registry was enacted largely in response to a local issue: the impact of AIDS on the city's large gay community. Among other things, the law granted domestic partners basic rights within the city limits, such as hospital visits -- a right gay men often found they were denied because they were not defined as "family" or a "spouse."

But it was always open to nonresidents as well, and became attractive to them as a symbolic recognition of their relationship, said John Heilman, who has been a West Hollywood councilman since the city's inception 20 years ago.

Since that time, however, many of the nation's employers have begun allowing domestic partners to register with their benefits plans -- an idea that didn't seem feasible in the cultural climate of the 1980s, Heilman said. Today, nearly 40% of Fortune 500 companies offer such plans, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group.

Many of those companies ask domestic partners to sign affidavits affirming their relationships, and file them directly with human resources. Others, such as the San Antonio-based SBC Communications, require that the relationships have the approval of a local government.

Over time, a West Hollywood domestic partnership certificate in a place such as Texas took on more than just symbolic value, and became a point of pride for the city.

"If there's something we can do to equalize things -- to at least help people get some of the benefits, if not all of them -- I'm with that," said Heilman, who is gay.

Of the half a dozen couples on West Hollywood's registry contacted by The Times this week, all said they signed up because they wanted to add a partner to their employer's benefits package.

Joe Cain is a 37-year-old customer service manager for a Cingular Wireless call center in Lafayette, La., in the heart of Cajun country. He added his boyfriend, Terry Goodwin, 34, to his Cingular benefits plan because Goodwin is self-employed. Cain said his insurance carrier suggested registering with West Hollywood.

A domestic partnership registry in Louisiana probably won't be coming soon: Voters in September approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage and domestic partnerships. The law was struck down by a state judge. The state supreme court is set to consider the case today.

"They just don't recognize [gay relationships] here," Cain said. "To work here for one of the few companies that not only recognizes gay marriage, but supports it, is awesome."

A gay Oklahoma woman who did not want to be identified added her partner to her company's insurance plan in February. She said they learned about West Hollywood's registry at a website run by a company support group for its gay and lesbian employees. The site listed other cities with domestic partner registries, but those either had a residence requirement or prohibited sending the forms by mail.

"That's one of the reasons the West Hollywood [registry] is so convenient for those of us who live in different states," she said. "They don't require you to register in person."

Joshua Myers, 25, of Columbus, Ohio, and his girlfriend Ashley Adams are one of a number of straight couples who registered with West Hollywood this year. Myers is an SBC technician who said he heard about the registry from friends who had signed up earlier. Registering allowed Myers to sign up Adams, the mother of his two children, on the SBC benefits plan.

Myers didn't mind the hassle of registering with West Hollywood, though he said it was strange to be indebted to a city in which he had never set foot.

"I've never been west of Indiana," he said.

Although it is unclear whether the state of California's registry has caught on in other states, some gay rights advocates say it may soon overtake West Hollywood's in popularity, if it hasn't already. That's because the filing fee, if sent by mail, is only $10.

In January, California's domestic partners law will be expanded to give couples living within the state many of the same rights as married people. Most of those new rights will not have any legal standing outside of California, though out-of-state registrants could still take their California certificate to employers as proof of their domestic commitment.

Texan Aimee Wilson, meanwhile, is pleased that her family is adequately insured. Of course, she added, it would be nicer if she could just get married.

"But in Texas, I don't think that will happen," she said. "This was kind of the closest we could come."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:21 PM