Utah Court Rules Anti-Gay Amendment Doesn’t Bar Salt Lake City from Offering Domestic Partner Benefits

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
May 16, 2006 12:00 am

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SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah court has ruled that its anti-gay relationship amendment, one of the most sweeping of its kind to pass in the 2004 elections, does not bar Salt Lake City from offering health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a lesbian employee of the Salt Lake City Police Department the local branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), cheered the decision as an important victory for lesbian and gay couples in states with similar anti-gay relationship amendments.

“The court understood correctly that laws banning gay people from marriage do not in any way bar employers from choosing to provide domestic partner benefits,” said Margaret Plane of the ACLU of Utah. “The court recognized that employers have important reasons for wanting to provide health insurance for the families of all their employees, and it’s within their rights to do so.”

On September 21, 2005, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson signed an executive order extending health and other employment benefits to city employees’ same-sex and heterosexual domestic partners. The governing body of the agency that administers health insurance for state and local government employees, the Utah State Retirement Board, then filed a petition in state court asking whether Utah’s anti-gay relationship amendment prohibits the city from offering health insurance benefits to domestic partners.

In rejecting this argument, the court ruled: “The court is aware of no Utah law of general application to marriage that established health benefits as a perquisite of marriage. Health insurance programs, however common, are not required by law of either public or private employers, but are established voluntarily (or as the result of bargaining) to meet market-driven or other perceived needs. In their essence, employee health benefits are first and foremost simply a perquisite of employment.”

While the city council later voted to extend the benefits to any adult who has lived with the city employee for at least a year and who is financially “interdependent” with the employee, the judge’s ruling does not turn on the fact that people other than the partners of unmarried straight or gay employees could be eligible for benefits.

The decision, which was issued on May 11, 2006, is welcome news for Salt Lake City Police Department employee Dianna Goodliffe, who has a four-year-old daughter with her partner Lisa. A little over a year ago their daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, making health insurance critical for their family. The decision will mean that Lisa will now have the option of working part-time and staying home to care for their daughter.

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