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Proposed Marriage Amendment Could Affect Partner Benefits

Proposed Marriage Amendment Could Affect Partner Benefits

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage could wind up affecting domestic partner benefits being considered or already provided by state institutions and cities.

The draft amendment Utah lawmakers placed on the Nov. 2 ballot during the 2004 Legislature goes beyond a simple traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The second part of the amendment, written by state Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, and legislative attorneys, prohibits recognizing or giving common law marriages and civil unions "the same or substantially equivalent effect" as traditional marriages.

That would likely affect a health care policy implemented last year extending medical benefits to domestic partners of University of Utah employees. Salt Lake City's study of its own domestic partner benefits policy could also be scrapped.

"If the amendment passes, certainly the university would look at it very closely and determine if changes need to be made to our policy," said spokeswoman Coralie Alder.

The University of Utah is the only public institution in the state providing medical insurance benefits to domestic partners. Employees' partners are able to purchase the university's medical insurance at full cost, compared with the subsidized monthly premiums paid by married employees.

Other state institutions have considered changing their policies to cover common-law marriages and same-sex relationships. Utah State University President Kermit Hall believes the amendment could end faculty senate discussions about a similar benefits policy in Logan.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has asked city human resources staff to review other cities' benefits policies to determine if Utah's capital city should provide medical insurance to domestic partners.

Anderson spokeswoman Deeda Seed said despite legal questions, the benefits study is ongoing. Anderson opposes the constitutional amendment proposal.

"Partner benefits are a way to make households more economically stable," she said. "That's what we all should want: households that have health care resources and stability. It's better for a whole community."

Utah is home to about 24,000 cohabiting, heterosexual adults. Another 3,400 same-sex couples live in Utah. Since 1987, Utah courts have recognized so-called "common-law" marriages for couples that have lived together and acted like husband and wife.

The amendment's potential impact on private businesses is uncertain.

American Express, Novell and Qwest all provide domestic partner benefits to their Utah employees.

Qwest spokesman Vince Hancock said the Denver-based company's executives believe Utah's amendment will have little impact on their benefit policies.

Nebraska voters adopted a similar amendment in 2000 and the company's policy did not change in that state, Hancock noted.

"We believe we will be able to continue providing benefits," Hancock said. "We think this will have no impact on us."

Amendment co-sponsor, state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said such policies are "up to a private employer."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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