SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mayor Rocky Anderson wants to extend health benefits to unmarried partners of gay and straight city employees.
He would prefer to do it with the agreement of the City Council, but believes he has the power to do it administratively on his own.
"As long as we're going to do this, we should demonstrate unity on this issue," he said Tuesday. "Providing for equality should not create more division in our community."
Anderson said he will offer the benefits once the city finishes its research on the plan and he gets formal word he can do it without a City Council approval.
The city attorney has yet to issue an opinion.
Some supporters of Utah's new constitutional amendment against gay marriage contend it also bars extending benefits to domestic partners, and Anderson's move could be challenged. Further, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, has said he would be willing to sponsor legislation to stop the city from proceeding.
Anderson believes he can administratively offer medical and dental benefits to domestic partners, but cannot administratively offer them bereavement benefits.
He plans to pass an executive order offering medical and dental benefits to domestic partners and seek council approval for the rest.
"What I'm hoping is that I can structure this under the executive order in terms of exactly who will be covered under these benefits and then ask the council to provide bereavement and dependent leave for that same group," Anderson said.
Anderson said he wants the plan in place before November, when employees change their benefits package. "It's a matter of getting it drafted," he said.
Brenda Hancock, director of the city's Human Resources Department, said a task force is studying which benefits could be offered to employees' partners, how to implement the program and the legalities.
The city might also offer partners the chance to buy auto insurance and legal assistance - benefits now offered to employees' spouses.
Other cities and employers offering domestic-partners benefits see 1 percent to 2 percent of the work force apply. If that holds true in Salt Lake City, it could cost the city up to $121,000 more a year to cover domestic partners and their children. Anderson predicted it would be less.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)