The Park Record editorial, May 30, 2009 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, May 30, 2009

Partner benefits: let's get that discussion started

The Summit County Council took an admirable step this week by initiating a discussion about extending family benefit packages those who may not fit the traditional definition of married couples including same-sex partners.

The five-member panel voted four to one to support Equality Utah’s non-binding resolution decrying discrimination of any sort and pledged the county’s support of inclusion as a "fundamental aspect of our community."

The dissenting vote came from David Ure, who stressed he was not opposed to the concept but had serious concerns about how the resolution might be translated into legislation. He raised several valid questions.

Ure rightly pointed out that giving same-sex partners privileges not accorded to other unmarried couples could open a Pandora’s box of fairness issues. What about a person who has taken in an aging parent, he asked.

That example, however, makes an even more compelling argument in favor of expanding the definition of eligible partners.

Ure is wise to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. But other jurisdictions like Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City — have already adopted a more equitable system without being swamped with lawsuits or going bankrupt.

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Summit County should be among them.

In Salt Lake County, unmarried employees seeking health benefits for a partner other than a spouse or child must sign affidavits asserting, among other criteria, that they are unmarried, share a close personal relationship with their partner and have lived under the same roof for at least 12 months. And according to Salt Lake County’s Human Resource Director John Mathews, each request is carefully vetted by legal counsel.

That definition would allow Ure’s hypothetical case to qualify, as it should.

As to whether the cost of expanding the health-benefit program has been prohibitive, Mathews said the decision increased the employees who were eligible for health benefits in Salt Lake County by less than two percent.

We would argue that the community benefits of eliminating discrimination toward nontraditional couples far outweigh the cost of expanding health-care benefits to our own county employees.