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Committee Agrees to Hear Equality Utah Bill

On Nov. 19 the Judiciary Interim Committee voted 10-4 to give favorable recommendation to a bill that would allow same-sex partners, among other relatives, to bring suit in cases of wrongful death.

First introduced in this year’s legislative session by Democratic Salt Lake City Sen. Scott McCoy, the bill seeks to widen the number of individuals who can sue for wrongful death to include all financial dependents. Utah law currently permits only parents, children and married spouses this right. Earlier this year the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation. However, the bill saw no debate on the Senate floor and lawmakers bounced it back to the Senate Rules Committee—the body responsible for assigning bills—days before the session’s end.

Now the bill is part of local gay rights group Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative. This is a series of six bills aimed at securing such things as a statewide domestic partner registry, equal access to health insurance benefits and fair housing and employment laws for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns.

The bill’s connection to the initiative was a bone of contention during this month’s debates. Although McCoy insisted that his legislation did not go against Utah’s ban on gay marriage, a number of individuals testified to the contrary, including Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka.
Ruzicka argued that the California Supreme Court cited similar protections in handing down its historic decision that temporarily allowed gay marriage in the state.

“Maybe on their own, by themselves, [the Common Ground bills] seem harmless enough [but] they add up,” The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Ruzicka as saying.

Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, disagreed, however.

“This does nothing to undermine traditional marriage,” he said. “There are relationships in our society that do warrant some governmental protections.”

The committee approved the bill after adding language stating that the protections it offered could not be interpreted as elevating a relationship to the status of a marriage or civil union.

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