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Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson and councilwoman Jill Remington Love are separately exploring ways to offer insurance and other benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, including those siblings and parents with whom employees share a home. "I've always been in favor of equal benefits for employees, regardless of sexual orientation," Anderson said Thursday. He said he would sign an executive order launching the benefits if city attorneys determine that it does not require city council approval.
Love didn't know Anderson was interested in the idea until Thursday. "I've wondered why the mayor hasn't been working on it," she said. Love was quoted in a story in The Salt Lake Tribune. She doesn't want the debate to be just about gay rights. She says it's about fairness "to our employees." "Good employers across the country are expanding their benefits," Love said.
Because of the council's conservative bent and the near-constant tension between the mayor and council, Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Utah, suspects it may be difficult to get a domestic-partner plan approved by the council.
Anderson mentioned the idea during his 2003 reelection campaign. But he said he was initially advised that extending benefits might be impossible. Love said she made inquiries about expanding benefits after she was elected in 2001 but was told it would be too costly. This summer she directed council staff to research the concept and found almost half of Fortune 500 companies offer benefits to gay partners, along with 11 states, 295 colleges and universities (including the University of Utah), and 129 city and county governments. "It was time to ask the question again," she said.
Councilman Carlton Christensen, who helped defeat an ordinance that banned discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation, said the benefits proposal "would have to have a broader inclusion than just gay couples. I would hope the fiscal impact would be minimal." (AP)