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SLC's domestic partners registry targeted by Senate panel

Published February 12, 2008 1:20 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Ralph Becker was politic, patient and polite.

That proved no match for a Senate panel whose members argued that the new Salt Lake City mayor's domestic-partnership registry is "repugnant" and advances "the homosexual agenda."

By a 4-0 vote Monday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee agreed to send SB267 to the full Senate for consideration. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, the bill would block Becker's newly approved registry - and perhaps the capital's 2006 adult-designee ordinance - for fear it would fracture the foundation of marriage.

"This is nothing but an open checkbook," said Buttars, who argued the "repugnant" registry "attempts to define a class, and therefore, it don't fit."

"Some people may disagree with me, but since America was born, marriage is the cornerstone."

Passed unanimously by the City Council, the registry would serve as a tool for private-sector employers when determining whether to issue insurance benefits to domestic partners.

But much of Monday's testimony - opponents ranged from Eagle Forum head Gayle Ruzicka to former GOP lawmaker LaVar Christensen and former U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook - panned the registry for its perceived violation of Amendment 3, Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage and domestic unions.

That incensed openly gay Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, who called the criticism "inane and small-minded."

"It's not justified, it's not fair, it's fear based," said McCoy, who attended the debate but missed the vote while presenting another bill. "They think Amendment 3 was a referendum on anything gay and it wasn't. And it shouldn't be interpreted that way."

But it was, particularly by Amendment 3 author Christensen, who helped present Buttars' bill as a representative of Citizens for Principled Government.

Christensen said Amendment 3 deliberately outlaws synonyms or substitutes that "approximate marriage." And he alleged that registry supporters have "a broader agenda" than securing health benefits or visitation rights - which never have been threatened, according to SB267 backers.

Tell that to Cristy Gleave, a lesbian mother who told the committee she was not immediately allowed to see her partner at LDS Hospital after a serious car accident.

That did not sway Buttars, who equated the registry certificate with marriage papers. But City Attorney Ed Rutan rejected the comparison, saying there is "absolutely nothing" in the language that violates Utah's marriage law.

"Nobody in the city is ever going to say, 'I now pronounce you domestic partners,' " Rutan said.

Becker conceded the Legislature could overrule the city but said that would be a "big mistake," given the council's unanimous nod.

"We are operating well within Utah law, and we are trying to do only what is best for our residents," said Becker, who later vowed to battle the bill to the end. "This is a clear example to me of a state trying to override the clear desires of a community."

Becker's soft but stern statement - a sharp contrast to predecessor Rocky Anderson's vitriol - failed to win any converts.

"This issue, as I see it, of forwarding the homosexual agenda, goes against my party's beliefs and my own personal beliefs," declared Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden.

And Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth, who supports Buttars' bill, worries that Salt Lake City's registry would spread to the suburbs.

Despite a substitute version of SB267, Becker and Rutan fear the measure also could kill the city's adult-designee ordinance, which provides health-care benefits for adult designees of city employees. Becker noted 78 percent of the beneficiaries are opposite-sex partners.

Two sets of family members who use that benefit attended Monday's hearing but were not permitted to speak.

After the hearing, Melanie Schertz, who insures her ailing mother under the provision, said the Legislature should refrain from defining a "family."

"If they're going after this because a few gay people get benefits," she said, "they're not seeing the whole picture."

Andrea Curtis and her 74-year-old mother, Jean, provided proof as they exited the hearing, slightly shell-shocked.

Mumbled Jean Curtis: "I'm not getting any younger."

djensen@sltrib.com

What is the registry?

* An index that would serve as a catalog of city residents, either same-sex couples or otherwise, who can add their names as long as they provide proof that they cohabit and rely on one another as dependents.

* The voluntary registry would serve as a resource for businesses when determining whether to issue insurance benefits.

What is the adult-designee program?

* A program in place since early 2006 that offers health insurance and other benefits to Salt Lake City employees' "adult designees" - relatives, friends or domestic partners - and those designees' children.

* The employee and designee must live together and prove they are financially dependent.