Montana lawmakers debate "morality of homosexuality"

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 27 2003 1:00 AM ET

The "morality of homosexuality" became the major issue at the statehouse in Helena, Mont., Tuesday regarding a bill that would require insurance companies to offer group health coverage for domestic partners of the employees they insure. While supporters of the measure said it is a matter of fairness for unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, critics assailed it as lending legitimacy to a lifestyle they abhor. "Heterosexual, monogamous relationships are the only proper context for sexual expression," said Tei Nash, representing Missoula group Coalition for Community Responsibility. Jenny Dodge, spokeswoman for family advocacy group Citizens Network, said the notion of domestic partners "diminishes the family to a living arrangement between two people without any commitment or moral
backbone."

But those backing House Bill 692 told the house state administration committee that denying health care insurance to same-sex partners while allowing it for heterosexual couples smacks of discrimination. The constitution was written for all Montanans, but not all citizens have an equal opportunity for a healthful environment when it comes to health insurance, said Rep. Rosie Buzzas, sponsor of the measure. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

HB692 requires those wanting domestic-partner coverage to provide proof of financial interdependence and show that they are in a "committed relationship" expected to continue indefinitely. The measure acknowledges that extending health benefits to same-sex couples doesn't represent state authorization of the right of marriage for gay men and lesbians, which remains prohibited by law.

The issue of insurance coverage for partners of gay employees has been a hot one for the Montana university system in recent years. The system has refused requests to provide such coverage, and a district judge last November upheld that policy. Buzzas said that benefits, including insurance, account for about 30% of an employee's compensation, and gay and lesbian workers should not be disadvantaged just because of their sexual partners.