On May 27, the Summit County Council passed a resolution in support of an initiative statewide gay rights group Equality Utah to secure basic legal protections for gay and transgender Utahns.
The non-binding resolution, titled “Resolution on Inclusive Communities: A Vision for Common Ground” was drafted by Equality Utah in February and named after its Common Ground Initiative. It was sponsored by Councilwoman Sally Elliot, whose candidacy Equality Utah endorsed in 2008. It reads, in part: “We mourn past and present discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, veteran status, political affiliation, marital status, disability, poverty, and all other classifications which have been used to oppress. And we envision a future where unique characteristics and perspectives are treasured and welcomed.”
It continues: “Summit County hereby reaffirms our commitment to inclusion as a fundamental aspect of our community, pledges active efforts to seek to achieve that goal, and urges all residents of Summit County to join together to support this effort.”
Initially a set of unsuccessful bills and a policy change put before the legislature, the initiative has now become a broad effort to secure protections for gay and transgender Utahns in municipalities across the state. These protections include workplace and housing antidiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity and health insurance coverage for same-sex partners of county and city governments.
Although the resolution is non-binding, it will serve as a guide for future policies made in the county, said Will Carlson, Equality Utah’s Manager of Public Policy.
“It will be a guiding light, so to speak,” he said.
Elliot said that she had been planning such a resolution for quite some time — much to the surprise of Equality Utah’s staff, who she first told about her plans in a 2008 endorsement interview.
“It was funny. When I was interviewed by EU for potential endorsement they all laughed at me, because I walked in and I said, ‘OK guys, here’s what we need to do to get it done.’ I had a plan to get it done,” Elliot said. She added that equal rights for gay and transgender people are important to her because she has a gay brother and a lesbian daughter.
“I want them to have same rights under the law that I do, and they don’t,” she said.
Elliot also said that the county had never discriminated “against anybody for any reason that I know of,” including openly gay people.
“We have had many valuable employees. As Hillary Clinton said so brilliantly in her communiqué from the state department, ‘All our employees make valuable contributions,’” Elliot said.
In addition to stating its commitment to inclusion, the Summit County Council is also considering extending health benefits to the same-sex partners of county employees. Currently, these benefits are only offered to married spouses. Elliot, Councilman John Hanrahan and Summit County manager Brian Bellamy expressed their support for offering such benefits to the Park Record late last month.
However, Councilman David Ure, who cast the single no vote against the resolution, has expressed reservations. Noting that he supports the resolution overall, Ure told the Park Record that he was opposed to extending benefits only to same-sex couples.
“If we’re going to award that, then we have to award straight across to everybody, according to our constitution,” Ure said. “There are numerous questions that have to be asked and there is going to have to be a lot of legal research done as to what we can do.”
He also noted that he was particularly concerned with extending benefits to employees who are caring for elderly or ill family members who are not their spouses.
“The group I really feel sorry for is the young man who is living with his mother because of her age and is trying to protect her. My heart goes out to that,” he said.
Elliot said that Ure was “very supportive of being inclusive,” and that the decision on health benefits would likely take the council some time to make. Along with who should receive the benefits and the cost to the county of administering them, Elliot said that the council must also decide how eligible employees would prove they have a domestic partner. She said that the benefits might be administered to same-sex couples through an affidavit instead of a domestic partner registry because an affidavit “would be less intrusive into someone’s personal affairs.”
Salt Lake City has had a domestic partner registry — known as the “mutual commitments” registry — since 2008. The city has also extends health insurance coverage to the unmarried partners of all employees as well as to non-spousal “adult designees,” which can include a sibling or parent. In February, the Salt Lake County Council also voted to extend similar benefits to its employees’ adult designees. And at least one member of Sandy City’s council has also expressed interest in studying the issue.
Elliot said she is confident that the council will vote unanimously in the end to extend its benefits package—even though she isn’t sure what that package will look like.
“We don’t fight a lot up here, we tend to agree,” she said. “Eventually it will be an inclusive arrangement.”
Carlson said that as long as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their partners are covered, then Equality Utah will be satisfied. He noted, however, that the dialogue over domestic partner versus adult designee benefits was a “great conversation for them to be having.”
“It’s a win-win as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
Although Carlson said that Equality Utah has been talking to a number of other municipalities about the Common Ground Initiative, the organization is “not at the point where we’d be ready to announce anything else.”
“I’m sure ther are other municipalities that we haven’t even thought about that would be willing to work on these issues,” he added. “There are LGBT people in every county in this state.”