A bill is alive in the Utah legislature that would grant marriage-like rights--those possibly endangered by the recently passed constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions--to unmarried people.
The senate health and human services committee approved the bill Friday without debate. It would allow two adults--be they a same-sex couple or a grandmother and granddaughter--to register with the state health department and check which benefits they want, including hospital visitation privileges and inheritance.
Opponents of the constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and restricted "domestic union" benefits outside marriage had argued that the measure would jeopardize those rights.
But Sen. Greg Bell (R-Fruit Heights) says his bill is not in response to that amendment and that he's not trying to undermine what the voters wanted. He says the legislation covers a part of Utah's population that can't get married but deserves some of those same benefits.
Republican governor Jon Huntsman Jr. campaigned on the issue of such benefits, and his legislative liaison, Mike Mower, sat in the audience for the committee hearing.
In addition to granting hospital visitation rights and inheritance benefits to those who register for reciprocal rights, the bill would allow them to make organ donation decisions, funeral arrangements, and emergency medical choices for the other person.
Jane Marquardt, chairwoman of the board for Equality Utah, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians, called Friday's committee hearing an "excellent start." She told the senate health and human services committee that the bill is "reasonable and fair" and doesn't undo anything in Amendment 3. "It is not a civil union bill. SB89, with its five guaranteed rights, in no way approaches the more than 1,200 rights and responsibilities that automatically accompany traditional marriage," she said. (AP)