ACLU of Utah Files Friend-of-the-Court Brief in Support of Domestic Partner Benefits for Salt Lake City Employees
SALT LAKE CITY -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed a friend-of-the-court brief today in support of a Salt Lake City executive order that extends health and other employment benefits to city employees’ same-sex and unmarried heterosexual domestic partners.
For Salt Lake City Police Department employee Dianna Goodliffe, the city’s executive order is welcome news. For almost six years, she has been in a committed and loving relationship with her partner Lisa, with whom she has a four-year-old daughter.
“I’m so pleased that Salt Lake City recognizes that there’s really no difference between my family and the families of my married coworkers,” said Goodliffe. “Right now, my partner has benefits through her employer, but we all know how quickly that can change. Now we have the same options and opportunities as others.”
One year ago, Goodliffe and her partner’s daughter was diagnosed with diabetes, making health insurance a particularly important consideration. Like all parents, Goodliffe and her partner want to do what’s best for their family, which, in the future, may include Lisa working part-time or staying at home to care for their daughter. However, this option is accessible only if Goodliffe can enroll Lisa in the city benefits program.
Although the executive order’s effective date was September 21, it may take a court order before Goodliffe and other Salt Lake City employees can enroll their partners in the health insurance benefits plan, the ACLU said. That’s because less than one week after the order was signed, the governing body of the agency that administers health insurance for state and local government employees, the Utah State Retirement Board, filed a petition in state court requesting clarification about whether Utah law prohibits the city from offering health insurance benefits to domestic partners.
Today, Goodliffe, the ACLU of Utah, the national ACLU, and the local branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the state court, arguing that there is nothing in Utah’s statutory or constitutional law that prohibits Salt Lake City from offering domestic partner benefits, and that there are strong public policy arguments in favor of making such benefits available.
“AFSCME has long advocated for equal benefits for workers,” said Patty Rich, executive director of AFSCME Local 1004, which represents over 1,000 government employees in Salt Lake City. “By offering benefits to its employees’ domestic partners and their children, Salt Lake City is demonstrating a strong commitment to the concept of equal pay for equal work.”
In its petition, the Utah State Retirement Board cited Utah’s constitutional amendment prohibiting the government from giving same-sex relationships the “same or substantially equivalent legal effect” as marriage, as well as Utah’s Marriage Recognition Policy, which states that Utah will not recognize any law that creates benefits for unmarried couples that are “substantially equivalent” to marriage.
“Salt Lake City is absolutely correct in maintaining that the provision of health insurance benefits to same-sex partners is in no way ‘substantially equivalent’ to marriage,” said ACLU of Utah staff attorney Margaret Plane. “The domestic partner relationship is based on an economic and emotional relationship, and does not in any way implicate the legal status of marriage.”
Plane noted that other courts have looked at similar cases involving domestic partner benefits. Coincidentally, on the same day the Utah State Retirement Board filed its petition, a state court in Michigan ruled that that state’s new constitutional amendment does not preclude city and state government employers from providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners.
“While Michigan’s amendment is worded slightly differently from Utah’s, much of the court’s reasoning applies to Salt Lake City’s situation,” said Plane.