Sunday, February 10, 2008
Showdown Looming In Utah Between Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker And West Jordan Senator Chris Buttars Over SB267
A showdown is looming between Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, whose domestic partner registry ordinance was passed unanimously on February 6th, 2008 by the Salt Lake City Council, versus District 10 Senator Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), who has drafted SB267 to kill it. Buttars pictured at left. Story published in the Deseret Morning News. Previous post HERE.
Part of the problem is that SB267 doesn't merely kill Becker's domestic partner registry. According to Becker, who served as the state's House Minority Leader before becoming mayor and who understands lawmaking as a result, SB267 would also kill Salt Lake's previously-passed adult-designee ordinance. And neither the existing adult-designee ordinance nor the newly-passed domestic partner registry ordinance are exclusively "gay" ordinances; according to the city, 78 percent of city employees who use the adult-designee program are not gay. In addition, 10 percent use the provision for their mothers.
And the Salt Lake Tribune zeroes in on an example of the latter situation. Melanie Schertz lives with her widowed 65-year-old mother, who suffers from Parkinson's and fibromyalgia, but who has no insurance of her own and a monthly medicine tab of $400. Salt Lake City's adult-designee ordinance allows Schertz - a single mom who works as a crime-lab technician with the Salt Lake Police Department - to insure her mother as her designated "housemate". Schertz claims that without the adult-designee ordinance, her employer might refuse to insure her mother, and the added expense might force the family out of their home.
Senator Buttars drafted the bill for the purpose of blocking all benefits for same-sex couples. He believes that 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. The fact that the domestic partner registry is merely a first step in Becker's elaborate Human Rights Initiative exacerbates this concern.
But Becker, 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". Becker claims that Buttars is aware that SB267 would kill both ordinances but is not inclined to modify the bill to allow the adult-designee ordinance to remain in effect.
The adult-designee ordinance, enacted in February 2006, successfully withstood a legal challenge in May of that year when 3rd District Judge Stephen Roth ruled that it does not violate sate law or the Utah Constitution. Roth said the ordinance did not appear to create any legal status or rights that are substantially equivalent to a legal marriage between a man and a woman.
The issue is slated for a hearing Monday February 11th before Buttars' committee. It marks the first diplomatic test for the freshman mayor, who spent 11 years in the Legislature and who has also vowed to salve the wounds left by his predecessor, Rocky Anderson.
The domestic partner registry is intended to 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.
During the past decade, domestic partner benefit plans in the private sector, without statutory coercion, 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. Proponents claim this benefits society by bringing more people into the health insurance loop.
Commentary: Chris Buttars' concern is understandable and quite welcome. Ralph Becker's Human Rights Initiative doesn't stop with the domestic partner registry. He also wants to expand the city's non-discrimination ordinance, make it coercive upon private enterprises which do business with the city, and created an "enumerated list of protected classes". This is a radical agenda which scares the hell out of a lot of people.
And another part of the problem is that the gay rights lobby never shuts up. Every time they win one battle, they immediately present new demands, just like the racial civil rights lobby, the environmentalist lobby, the anti-DUI lobby, and the anti-smoking lobby. Quite frankly, many people are getting sick and tired of their whining. And it creates backlash.
However, after reading the Tribune story, I can see where SB267 may go too far. Perhaps if Melanie Scherz loses coverage on her mother, Medicaid could pick it up. But I see no reason to attack the adult-designee ordinance as well. SB267 should be ratcheted down to focus exclusively on the domestic partner registry and the rest of Becker's Human Rights Initiative. Let's not put non-gay couples out of their homes just to count coup against the gay rights lobby.