Last Common Ground Bill Grants Rights to Couples

The final bill in local gay rights group Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative to receive text and a number is seeking to grant unmarried couples in Utah some basic legal protections they have long sought: namely, inheritance and insurance rights, and freedom from housing discrimination.

Titled Adult Joint Support Declaration, HB 160 is sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City. If passed, it would create the Adult Joint Support Act which would allow two people of any sex to enter into a contract that would give them inheritance and insurance rights, and housing protections. Like couples who sign up for Salt Lake City’s mutual commitments (domestic partner) registry, both parties must have proof of shared residence and commingled assets and be at least 18 years old.  If they meet these qualifications, HB 160 would allow them to have a Declaration of Joint support notarized and registered in their county’s recorder office.

The declaration would provide the couple with inheritance rights. If one member of the couple dies, the person named in the Declaration of Joint Support is entitled to the deceased’s entire estate unless he or she has any surviving children. In this case, half of the estate goes to the deceased’s offspring.

If one partner becomes unable to make medical decisions for him or herself, the Declaration of Joint Support would also allow his or her partner to make treatment decisions

The declaration may be terminated if either person dies, marries, or files a notarized document at the county recorder’s office stating that their declaration has ended.

The Common Ground Initiative is a series of four bills and one policy change designed to grant gay and transgender Utahns more legal protections. The others include protections for gay and transgender employees and tenants;  

So far, one of the bills, Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Scott McCoy’s SB 32, has been defeated in committee. This bill would have allowed people with a financial relationship to an individual who are not related by blood or marriage to sue in cases of death due to negligence or medical malpractice.

Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, also withdrew HJR 2, which would have clarified the part of Utah’s constitutional gay marriage ban that prohibits civil unions from receiving legal recognition. Biskupski said she withdrew the bill (one of the most controversial in the initiative) to give other Common Ground bills a better chance of passing.

At press time, HB 160 is scheduled to be heard before the House Judiciary Standing Committee at 2:00 p.m.

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