Tag Archive: Domestic partnerships

The European Union’s Fight for LGBT Rights in Partner Countries

On October 2, 2013, Nick Westcott, the European Union’s most senior official in charge with relations in Africa, proclaimed the European Union should stop lecturing Africa about gay rights.  Westcott believes the European Union needs to be understanding of Africa’s cultural differences.  When asked to elaborate on cultural issues at a debate in Brussels about European Union foreign policy, Westcott stated “We can lecture about lesbian, gays and bisexuals until the cows come home. And it will have a wholly counterproductive effect on our usefulness in Africa. We need to focus on fundamental values.”

Protecting the rights of the LGBT community is a fundamental value of the European Union.  Westcott’s stance on how to handle gay rights in Africa is contrary to the European Union’s overall foreign policy on the rights of gays and lesbians in partner countries.  Article 21 of the the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.The principle of equal treatment is a fundamental value for the European Union, which is going to great lengths to combat homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In July 2012, the European Parliament released a resolution to help combat violence against lesbian women and the rights of the LGBT community in Africa.  In July 2013, the European Parliament submitted another resolution condemning a law passed by Nigeria that criminalizes not only same-sex marriage, but those who fail to denounce them. Even more than that, the law made it illegal to show a public display of affection to someone of the same sex.

The European Union’s fight for LGBT rights also extends to other parts of the world.  The European Union recently condemned Serbia’s ban  of a gay pride parade for the third consecutive year.  They have also condemned the Ukraine for its new laws banning propaganda of homosexuality, and threatened the Ukraine’s ties to the European Union because of it.  It appears Westcott’s opinion on how to handle LGBT rights in Africa is not the majority view of the European Union.

No Love in Love and Hip Hop Atlanta: When Reality TV Gives Rise to a Real Lawsuit

On September 5, 2012, Mickey “Memphitz” Wright Jr., a former Jive Records executive, brought a cause of action for defamation in the United States Northern District of Georgia against Kimberly Michelle Pate, his former girlfriend, the owners of the VH1 network and the producers of the network’s hit show Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.  The defamation suit stems from allegations that were aired during an episode of the show in which Pate accused Wright of embezzlement and domestic physical abuse during their former relationship.

Love and Hip Hop Atlanta is a popular reality television show with a large fan base.  The show first aired in June 2012 with 1.9 million viewers and has only gotten more popular with each episode evidenced by the 4.4 million viewers watching the season finale on September 3, 2012.  These numbers represent the number of people who perhaps were exposed to these allegations made by Pate while watching the show.

A major issue in Wright’s suit for defamation is that he is a former record executive, and known to a considerable population in the music recording industry, so it must be determined whether or not he would be considered a public figure.  In Curtis Publishing Company v. Butts, the United States Supreme Court  stated “[a] ‘public figure’ who is not a public official may also recover damages for a defamatory falsehood whose substance makes substantial danger to reputation apparent…” and in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Court stated individuals who “by reason of the notoriety of their achievements or the vigor and success with which they seek the public’s attention, are properly classed as public figures.”  This classification is important because suits for defamation are considerably harder for a public figure plaintiff to win because he must show that the defendant made a false statement with “actual malice.”  To show Pate acted with actual malice, Wright must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that at the time the statements were made she knew them to be false or was reckless as to whether they were false or not.  To prove the owners of VH1 and the producers of the show acted with actual malice, Wright must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that at the time the statements were aired the defendants knew the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard as to whether the statements were true or not.  Another issue Wright may have to contend with is the fact that Pate did not actually say his name when the statements were made.  She simply referred to an unnamed former record executive.  Because Pate is a former R&B singer and thus in the recording industry herself, many people in the industry that knew of their relationship and watched the show were able to make the connection and subsequently, these allegations have been reported all over various news stations and websites specifically naming Wright as the purported offender.  According to Wright, this publicity has caused him emotional distress and the inability to make a higher income in the future due to the impairment to his reputation which is one of the elements he must prove to make his claim for defamation.

Wright is suing for $15 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages and must prove actual malice on the part of each defendant, particularly necessary in order to be awarded punitive damages in a defamation suit.  In Merco Joint Venture v. Kaufman, Merco, a wastewater disposal company, was shown in a bad light on a local television show broadcast by Tri State Broadcasting Company.  Merco brought suit for defamation against the reporter on the show, the producers of the show and Tri State, the owner of the television station itself.  The court addressed the responsibility of a broadcaster before a show is aired and stated that those responsible for the show’s actual content are more responsible for the content that is aired and it would be economically unfeasible for a broadcaster to monitor every feed that comes from a network source.  Furthermore, the court looked to evidence such as internal memorandum between the producers of the show, the show’s original version in relation to the edited broadcast version, and actual knowledge the reporter and producers of the show had regarding the content of what was being aired to conclude that a jury could reasonably find that the reporter and producers acted with “malicious intent” in shooting, editing, and producing the footage that was eventually aired, but not the broadcaster.

Therefore, it may be difficult for Wright to prove the owners of the VH1 network acted with actual malice if he cannot prove that it is their responsibility to be aware of the truthfulness of all content of every show that is aired on their network.  However, if Wright has evidence tending to show that his former girlfriend, through actual knowledge of the events, knew that the statements she made were false he could win his defamation suit against Pate and if he can show evidence that the producers of the show were aware that the statements made by Pate might be false or if they acted with reckless disregard as to whether the statements were false or not and edited the show in a manner that aired the statements anyway, he may have a viable defamation claim against the producers of the show as well.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

ABC delivered yet again with its November 7th episode from hit series “Brothers and Sisters”, “Resolved.” The episode centers on a dispute between domestic partners Kevin Walker (played by Matthew Rhys) and Scotty Wandell (played by Luke MacFarlane). Kevin is avoiding Scotty (and has been for two entire weeks) because Scotty cheated on him with another man.

A Clip of Kevin and Scotty Fighting

Throughout the episode Kevin and Scotty try to work through their dispute but Kevin is unsure if he will be able to get over the fact that Scotty has been unfaithful to him. Kevin suggests to Scotty the idea of  divorce. Kevin tells Scotty he will never be able to trust him again. Scotty pleads with Kevin to give him a chance to make things better, but Kevin refuses.

Kevin and Scotty live and were also married in California and thus are subject to California law. ABC lists Kevin and Scotty as “domestic partners” on their website. However, Kevin tells Scotty he has ruined their “marriage.” What’s the difference? Are “domestic partnerships” and “marriages” one in the same?

Two men may enter into a domestic partnership under California law. According to the California Family Code Section 297: “Domestic partners are two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” Once domestic partners file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State they are granted the same rights, opportunities, and obligations as heterosexual married couples have. California Family Code Section 297.5(a) states:

297.5.  (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights,
protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same
responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they
derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules,
government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources
of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.

So, how exactly do you terminate a domestic partnership? California Family Code Section 299-299.3 governs the termination of domestic partnerships. LegalMatch.com explains the different ways in which Kevin may file for dissolution of his domestic partnership with Scotty:

There are two ways to terminate a domestic partnership in California.  First, if specific requirements are met, a domestic partnership may be terminated by filing a Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State.  In order to qualify, all of the following requirements must be met:

  1. Domestic partnership lasted less than 5 years
  2. No children born before or during the domestic partnership
  3. No children adopted during the domestic partnership
  4. Neither you or your partner are pregnant
  5. You and your partner do not have any interest in real estate
  6. Neither you nor your partner is renting any land or building
  7. Except for automobile loans, your community obligations do not exceed $5,000.
  8. Except for automobiles, your community property is worth less than $33,000.
  9. Except for automobiles, neither you nor your partner has separate property totaling more than $33,000.
  10. Both of you agree that you do not want money or support from the other partner except what is included in the property settlement agreement dividing the community property and community obligations.

Additionally, you or your partner must have lived in California for the last 6 months.

However, Kevin and Scotty do not qualify to terminate their domestic partnership by filing because they have interest in real estate together. LegalMatch.com tells us:

If any of these requirements are not met, you must initiate dissolution proceedings in the Superior Court.  You may file any one of the following three petitions: a Petition for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership; a Petition for Judgment of Nullity of Domestic Partnership; or a Petition for Legal Separation of Domestic Partnership.  These dissolution proceedings are similar to divorce.

You may be asking, if these proceedings are similar to divorce, what’s the real difference between marriages and domestic partnerships? About.com states there are three major differences between marriage and domestic partnerships in California:

  1. Marriage is not a second-class status. Studies have shown that marriage and civil unions or domestic partnerships are not equal.
  2. You don’t have to live in California to get a domestic partnership or to get married. You do not have to live in California to dissolve a domestic partnership, but if you want a California divorce, you have to live there for six months. If you are married in California, you most likely will not be able to get a divorce in your home state. From Melanie Rowen, NCLR staff attorney: “Also, and this is very important for couples from outside of California to understand, California courts have jurisdiction to dissolve domestic partnerships regardless of where the parties live. But CA courts DO NOT have jurisdiction to dissolve a marriage unless the parties meet the residency requirements for a CA divorce. Under CA law, a judgment of dissolution of marriage may not be entered unless one of the parties to the marriage has been a resident of California for at least six months and of the county in which they are filing for divorce for the three months before they file. This means that couples from other states who come to CA to get married will be unable to obtain a divorce in the event of a later break-up unless either (a) they actually move to CA or (b) their home state decides to recognize CA marriages.”
  3. From a practical stand point. It is easier to get a domestic partnership than it is to get married in California. In order to enter into a marriage, a couple must obtain a marriage license and ‘solemnize’ it – this requires having a ceremony with one to two official witnesses. Couples can enter a domestic partnership by filling out and mailing in a form, the notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership. They do not need to obtain a license, have witnesses, or ‘solemnize’ the partnership with a ceremony.

In conclusion, it must be remembered domestic partnerships are governed by the same rules which apply to heterosexual marriages. California Family Code Section 297.5. In sum, terminations of domestic partnerships are just like divorces. According to CADivorceLawyer.com:

Two grounds for divorce exist in California – irreconcilable differences and incurable insanity. Divorce in California is no-fault, which means that one spouse can divorce the other without the other’s consent.

To be eligible to get a divorce in California, you or your spouse must have been residents of the state for the past six months and have lived in your county for three months before filing the petition for dissolution.

Therefore, Kevin could claim irreconcilable differences because he cannot trust Scotty anymore. Under California law, Kevin does not need Scotty’s consent to terminate the domestic partnership. According to CADivorceLawyer.com, “[t]he process of obtaining a divorce in California starts when you or your spouse files a petition for the dissolution. The other spouse will receive a notification summons of the divorce petition and be given 30 days to file a response.”

By the end of the episode, Kevin and Scotty decide to work things out for the time being. However, the ultimate future of their domestic partnership remains in limbo. However, in the end if Kevin decides to dissolve the partnership he must file a petition with the Superior Court of California because he does not qualify for termination by notice. Click here to watch the full episode of “Resolved.”

Friends with Benefits – The perks of Domestic Partnership for two “straight dudes” in Philadelphia

The new season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered Thursday, September 16 with an episode entitled “Mac Fights Gay Marriage.” In this episode, the shameless duo, Charlie Kelly and Frank Reynolds, decided to apply for a domestic partnership. Their idea is to get “gay married” so they can exploit the system for the benefits involved. The legal issues to be explored are 1) whether two straight men can be approved for a domestic partnership; and 2) what the actual benefits of a domestic partnership are.
The City of Philadelphia does have a Domestic Partnership Registry. It appears that there is nothing in the terms of the registration packet that would prevent two straight men from being approved for a domestic partnership. Charlie and Frank live together, and have always agreed to keep each other’s best interests in mind. Charlie and Frank do meet all the requirements as set forth in the packet, with the exception that Frank could be Charlie’s father. (Frank admitted to having sex with Charlie’s mother before Charlie was born in a previous episode, leaving open the possibility that Frank could be Charlie’s long-lost father.) But leaving that possibility out, assuming they could provide three of the verification documents provided below, they could actually be approved.

Here is a reproduction of the relevant portions of the registration packet for a Domestic Partnership:

Life Partnership Verification Statement

We hereby certify that we are members of a “Life Partnership” meeting each of the following requirements for the existence of a “Life Partnership” set forth in Section 9-1106(2) of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance:
1. A long-term committed relationship between two unmarried individuals of the same gender;
2. Both partners are at least 18 years old and competent to contract;
3. Partners are not related to each other by blood in any way, which would prohibit marriage in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;
4. Partners are the sole Life Partner of the other person;
5. Partners have not been member of a different Life Partnership for the past twelve months (unless the prior Life Partnership ended because of the death of the other Life Partner);
6. Partners agree to share the common necessities of life and to be responsible for each others common welfare;
7. Partners share at least one residence with the other Life Partner;
8. Partners agree under penalty of law to notify the Commission on any change in the status of the Life Partnership.

We are submitting with this Verification Statement evidence that we have been interdependent for at least six (6) months prior to the date this Verification Statement is filed, including proof of at least three of the following (check those items for which proof is submitted):
__ Common ownership of real property or a common leasehold interest in property.
— Common ownership of a motor vehicle.
— Driver’s license listing a common address,
__Proof of joint bank accounts or credit accounts.
__ Proof of designation as a beneficiary for life insurance or retirement benefits or beneficiary designation under a partner’s will.
__Assignment of a durable power of attorney or health care power of attorney.

This law does not apply to private employers whose employee benefit plans are governed by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) to provide benefits to Life Partners of employees. However, many private employers voluntarily offer domestic partnership benefits.

The benefits available to domestic partners are only guaranteed to employees of the city of Philadelphia. Since neither Frank or Charlie are employees of the city, they would need approval by their private employer. Frank co-owns Paddy’s Pub with Frank and Dennis. So Frank can extend some benefits to Charlie should they become domestic partners. The benefits that come from domestic partnership in Philadelphia are as follows:

For employees of the City of Philadelphia, registration makes their Life Partners eligible for benefits under the City’s and their union’s various employee benefit plans (i.e. medical coverage, leave, etc.)

City employees may designate their Life Partner or any other person as a
beneficiary of their retirement benefits.

So Frank and Charlie, or any two “straight dudes” for that matter, could be approved for a domestic partnership in Philadelphia provided they meet all the requirements. But it is doubtful that many straight men would agree to share their bank account or vehicle, or commit to any of the other possible requirements besides simply living together just to obtain domestic partnership benefits. Frank and Charlie aren’t just any two straight guys though, and the depths of their moral depravity know no bounds. So Frank and Charlie’s efforts to exploit the system may pay off and Charlie should be able to share in any benefits that Frank receives through Paddy’s Pub, such as medical coverage and the ability to designate your life partner as the beneficiary of your retirement benefits.

Look here, for the entire Life Partnership Registration Packet for the City of Philadelphia.

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