County may extend benefits to same-sex partners
May 29, 2009
Summit County may extend its health benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees.
"I think that is a good direction to move in," Summit County Councilman John Hanrahan said at the panel’s weekly meeting Wednesday.
Currently, the county only extends health benefits to spouses.
"I know of one employee now who lives with a (same-sex) partner," said Brian Bellamy, who is serving as the Summit County manager until the position is filled this fall.
Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott, suggested extending the health benefits to same-sex partners.
"We don’t discriminate," Elliott said. "Eventually, we’d like to offer partner benefits."
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With a 4-1 vote, the County Council endorsed a resolution Wednesday stressing "inclusion as a fundamental aspect of our community."
"We mourn past and present discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, veteran status, political affiliation, marital status, disability, poverty, and all other classifications which have been used to oppress," the resolution states.
In February, councilpersons were asked to endorse the resolution by the group Equality Utah, which lobbies on behalf of gays in the state. The resolution does not bind county officials to provide health benefits to same-sex couples.
Summit County Councilman David Ure explained why he voted against supporting the statement.
"The overall resolution I am in favor of," Ure said at the meeting.
But providing same-sex partners with health benefits would be unfair to unmarried heterosexual couples, Ure said in a telephone interview Thursday.
"If we’re going to award that, then we have to award straight across to everybody, according to our constitution," Ure said. "There are numerous questions that have to be asked and there is going to have to be a lot of legal research done as to what we can do."
For example, which unmarried employees could receive benefits?
"The group I really feel sorry for is the young man who is living with his mother because of her age and is trying to protect her. My heart goes out to that," Ure said.
Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City broadly allow domestic dependants of government employees to receive health insurance, according to Bellamy.
"I don’t know how you could verify it," Bellamy said in a telephone interview Friday. "Whether they’re taking care of their mother or father or have a same-sex partner or are just living with a partner of the opposite sex, you’d probably take a lot of it at face value."
Already, voters in Utah have placed a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"When we try to legislate to protect a certain group, it will usually come back to bite either that group or society itself," Ure said. "You write legislation as best you can to protect everybody, and even then laws are not fair to everybody."
Bellamy doesn’t have numbers showing what it might cost the county to provide health benefits to same-sex partners of its employees.
"I was asked once how many gays and lesbians we have working for us, and I don’t know. There are just some things you don’t track," Bellamy said. "I don’t know if we would have anybody who would participate in those benefits, so I don’t know what the cost to the county would be."