Utah State Agency Seeks Court Domestic Partner Benefit Decision

September 23, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The state of Utah agency providing insurance to state workers and those of Salt Lake City has decided to ask a state judge if it is legal for the agency to offer domestic partner benefits.

The Public Employees Health Program (PEHP) said it will make the move to find out whether it can legally provide domestic partner benefits under an executive order signed this week by Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, according to Business Insurance.

Anderson’s decree gives same-sex partners of city workers some of the benefits provided to married couples, including health insurance. The mayor’s executive order extends health benefits to city employees’ domestic partners and the children of those partners. It also provides for COBRA benefits. Additionally, the mayor has proposed that domestic partners and their children be included in the city’s dependent leave and bereavement programs.

However, the health agency decided to investigate further after Utah state Representative LaVar Christensen warned that the state’s Defense of Marriage Law might render such benefits illegal. Under Utah law, the state will not “recognize, enforce or give legal effect to any law creating any legal status, rights, benefits or duties that are substantially equivalent to those provided under Utah law to a man and a woman because they are married.”

“The law is unclear,” said Dan Andersen, legal counsel for the Salt Lake City-based PEHP, according to the Business Insurance report. “We’re filing a declaratory action asking the court to declare whether this is permissible,” he said, noting the action will be filed early next week in Utah’s 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City.

The issue of domestic partner benefits has been an extremely controversial one in recent years – particularly for public employers around the country.