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SL County Votes Against Benefits for Domestic Partners

SL County Votes Against Benefits for Domestic Partners

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Tonya Papanikolas Reporting"It is so not a gay rights issue. It is an issue about being able to care for the people you love and share your lifetime with."

Salt Lake County weighs the issue of extending health care benefits to partners of gay and lesbian county employees. The County Council put it to a vote this afternoon and narrowly defeated the plan. The vote followed party lines.

This plan was geared toward gay couples who've been in long-term relationships, but it could also have applied to heterosexual unmarried couples. Currently 37 states have some cities or counties that offer these kind of benefits to domestic partners, but Utah will not be joining that list.

Jan Donchess is an employee of Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation. Her job is to oversee the East Millcreek Rec Center.

Jan Donchess: "The county is a great employer."

But Donchess says when it comes to benefits, she's not treated as fairly as other county employees because she's gay.

Jan Donchess: "It degrades me as a county employee, it does not put me on an equal playing field with my own peers. I work as hard as they do, I'm as dedicated as they are, I've been here for 20 years."

Today the county council voted on a proposal to extend benefits to domestic partners. The requirements were:
-Sign an affidavit stating partners have resided together at least 12 months
-Be over 18 and not related to partner
-Provide three verifications of living arrangements

Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County Councilwoman: "What motivated me to do this is just to kind of level the playing field and create fairness in Salt Lake County's work force."

Councilwoman Jenny Wilson proposed the plan and said it wasn't about gay marriage.

Jenny Wilson: "We weren't authorizing our county clerk, Sherri Swenson, to start marrying people in the south building of this complex."

But other council members felt the two issues were intertwined.

Mark Crockett, Salt Lake County Councilman: "Society in this state has spoken out and said we want to give marriage between a man and a woman a special status."

Mark Crockett said he struggled with the issue because he has many homosexual friends.

Mark Crocket: "That I should be doing something that to them feels like I don't value them is, is painful."

In the end, the council voted no-- five Republicans voting against the measure, four democrats voting for it.

Jan Donchess: "I think it's a missed opportunity, and I'm terribly disappointed."

Donchess told us that she couldn't use sick time to go to the hospital when her partner had a hysterectomy because her partner wasn't an immediate family member. And right now, domestic partners only get five hours of funeral leave if their partner dies.

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