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Utah court
upholds benefits for domestic partners

Utah court
upholds benefits for domestic partners

The court has ruled that a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage does not bar Salt Lake City from offering health benefits to domestic partners.

A Utah court has ruled that a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and other legal recognition for gay couples does not bar Salt Lake City from offering health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. The suit was brought by a lesbian employee of the Salt Lake City Police Department on behalf of the local branch of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

"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 the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. "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 opposite-sex 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 antigay 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."

The decision, which was issued on May 11, is welcome news for Salt Lake City Police Department employee Dianna Goodliffe, who has a 4-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. (The Advocate)

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