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Bill targets Becker's new registry: Nongays, gays alike would be affected

Published February 10, 2008 1:49 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Melanie Schertz's father died two years ago on Friday the 13th - under a full moon.

The death left her mother, who suffers from Parkinson's and fibromyalgia, with no insurance and a monthly medicine tab of $400.



Fortunately, Salt Lake City's adult-designee ordinance allowed Schertz - a single mom who works as a capital crime-lab tech - to insure her 65-year-old mother and housemate.

"If that's gone, we're going to lose everything," Schertz says. "We would end up losing our home."

Now, like the bad omen that befell her father, a bill in the Legislature looms over her family's financial security. Designed to eradicate Mayor Ralph Becker's newly adopted domestic-partnership registry, SB267 also would kill the city's adult-designee provision.

Drafted by West Jordan's conservative Sen. Chris Buttars, the bill is intended to block benefits for same-sex couples. But, according to the city, 78 percent of city employees who use the adult-designee program are not gay. What's more, 10 percent use the provision for their mothers.

"It's not just a gay thing," Schertz says. "It's helping people who are financially dependent on each other to be able to survive. We're not destroying the morality of the world."

Buttars worries Becker's domestic-partnership registry creates a special status for gay couples that violates the spirit of Amendment 3 - the state's constitutional provision that bans gay marriage.

But Becker, the former Democratic House minority leader who has camped on Capitol Hill to rally opposition against SB267, disagrees.

"It seems to be clearly within Utah law," the mayor says. "It would be unfortunate for the state of Utah to dictate to this community that wants to provide benefits to its employees and residents."

The issue is teed up for a Capitol hearing Monday before Buttars' committee. It marks the first diplomatic test for the freshman mayor, who spent 11 years in the Legislature and has vowed to salve the wounds left by his predecessor, Rocky Anderson.

Becker's registry - passed unanimously by the City Council last week - would serve as a catalog of city residents, either same-sex couples or otherwise, who can add their names so long as they provide proof that they cohabit and rely on one another as dependents. The voluntary index would serve as a resource for businesses when determining whether to issue insurance benefits.

But is Buttars, who could not be reached for comment, aware that his bill also would eliminate existing health benefits for straight adults who are financially interdependent?

"Yes," Becker says. "He didn't offer to make any changes in his legislation."

That frustrates Andrea Curtis, who uses the city's provision to cover her 75-year-old mother's medical costs for neuropathy.

"Without this, she would not have all her medication," says Curtis, an executive assistant in the capital's community and economic development office. "It would mean a whole lot of insecurity and stress, and a greatly reduced quality of life for my mother."

During the past decade, domestic-partner-benefit plans have proliferated along with nontraditional households. In 1992, just one Fortune 500 company offered health insurance for domestic partners. Today, that number has exploded to 253.

"I can't imagine, if they were looking at the wider picture, they would still want to do away with it," Curtis says. "This seems like the perfect remedy without the state having to bear the burden."

djensen@sltrib.com

What's next

SB267, a bill drafted by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is scheduled for a hearing Monday at 8 a.m. before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The committee is chaired by Buttars and includes openly gay Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City. Mayor Ralph Becker is expected to attend. The hearing is in Room W135, West Office Building, Utah Capitol.

 

 

 

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