Originally published on Advocate.com February 11 2004 12:00 AM ET
A measure that would ban civil unions and domestic partnerships in South Dakota was rejected on Monday by a house committee after lawmakers said the bill might have had unintended consequences. The proposal might have struck down valid contracts or interfered with companies' benefit packages, legislators said. It might even have backfired by leading to a court ruling that would recognize gay and lesbian unions, they said. House Democratic leader Mel Olson of Mitchell said South Dakota law already
outlaws gay marriages and that nothing in state law recognizes civil unions or domestic partnerships. If HB1289 had been passed, opponents would have had a right to challenge it in court, Olson said. Such a challenge could result in a ruling giving legal recognition to civil unions or other arrangements involving gay and lesbian people, he said.
House Republican leader Bill Peterson of Sioux Falls also urged that the bill be defeated. Its language could have interfered with the benefits packages of national and international companies that give health insurance coverage to domestic partners of employees, he said. The legislature cannot pass a bill when lawmakers are so uncertain of its effect, Peterson said. The state affairs committee voted 12-1 to kill the bill after hearing nearly 90 minutes of emotional testimony from gays and lesbians. They said the bill was not needed and would have encouraged people to hate gay men and lesbians. The bill was mean-spirited and divisive, said Eileen Friest of Sioux Falls. "I'm curious," Friest said. "What is it you fear? Me and my partner? We live in a family. We have children." She and her partner both were previously married and had children before meeting each other.
Rep. Al Novstrup (R-Aberdeen) said his bill is needed to prevent South Dakota from being forced to recognize other states' definitions of marriages or other unions. If another state allows civil unions involving people of the same sex, South Dakota might have to recognize such unions if people from those other states moved to South Dakota, he said.