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Christensen revives public policy bill feared to be anti-gay

State Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, this Utah Legislative session, has revived his 2006 bill that raised the rankles of gay and lesbian activists, who claimed Christensen was quietly and underhandedly trying to limit same-sex couples from using contractual law to protect their interests.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the 2006 bill, “likely an attempt to ban contracts between same-sex couples about such things as property, medical power of attorney and child custody.”

Even a Utah Law Review article called the bill “An Attempt to Void Cohabitant Agreement.”

The bill is a single sentence: “An arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable.”

Christensen has said in the past that the sole purpose of the bill is to thwart gambling and drug contracts.

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Ross Romero asked Christensen, “will the passage of this bill have the effect of precluding gay and lesbian couples from contracting, as they have, from such things as transferring assets, having property agreements, having joint trust agreements, and life estate transferring or property contracts?”

“As it relates to that specific question, the answer is, ‘no,’” Christensen responded. “There are certain agreements that are so generic in nature that are outside, in the private community. If you want to walk into a title company and for 10 dollars purchase a joint tenancy deed and fill it out to whoever you want that person to be, you can do it. If you want a durable power of attorney to make medical decisions, you can do it. Those agreements do not violate public policy.”

Christensen went on, however, to note the case Jones v. Barlow, in which the two women in a lesbian relationship filed for joint custody between Keri Jones and the biological mother, Cheryl Barlow. Christensen represented the agreement as a “de facto marriage, de facto adoption, de facto divorce in violation of public policy.”

Christensen also noted that issues such as public employee benefits also fell outside the bill.

“But if we have on our statute specific marriage laws, and if we have a marriage recognition policy – in that situation, if there was a conflict between the two, and the existing statute that establishes our specific policy on that specific issue, that would prevail.”

Romero objected that the bill is likely an attempt to erode the contractual rights of gay and lesbian couples, contrary to promises made by proponents, including Christensen, during the debate for Utah Constitution Amendment 3.

Terry Kogan, a professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, spoke against the 2006 bill during the session, stating Christensen, “may be trying to undermine the ability of same-sex couples to protect their financial and other interests.”

The House passed HB 304 by a 53-18 vote along party lines. Due to timing, however, the bill never made it to the Senate floor.

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