Inequality for same-sex couples in Utah’s laws

Story and photo by ADRIENNE PURDY

“It sucks. It’s just really, really sucky,” Brandie Balken says.

Balken is the executive director of Equality Utah and she has something to say about the lack of fairness of laws in Utah.

For instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals can be evicted or fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Access to healthcare for LGBT couples is limited and adoption in Utah as a same-sex couples is impossible.

It is legal to fire or evict LGBT people in Utah today. It is legal to discriminate against someone because they are or are perceived as LGBT.

Equality Utah Foundation, based in Salt Lake City, is an organization that aims to educate the general public and the LGBT community alike about issues impacting the LGBT community. It also works at passing legislation and raising awareness.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Utah’s laws make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in public employment, which means it is legal to discriminate based on gender identity in public employment, and to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation in non-public employment.

The Utah legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 28, 2013.

Utah’s laws are way behind the 17 other states whose laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in any form in employment.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a pending federal legislation that would protect individuals from discrimination in employment based on an individual’s sexual orientation.

While some states are forward thinking in having equality among all Americans, some states and some national legislation have yet to catch up. This same problem is happening with adoption by same-sex couples in Utah.

According to the Human Rights Campaign second-parent adoption, or adopting the child of a partner, is a legal option in 18 states, a petition option in eight and a possibility in others.

But not in Utah.

A joint adoption, where the couple adopts a child from the biological parents or a child in the custody of the state is a legal option in 18 states, a petition option in two and a possibility in others.

But not in Utah.

Utah is one of two states that prohibit adoption by gay and lesbian couples. The legislation bans any unmarried couple from adopting and since same-sex marriage is not legal in Utah this law extends to the LGBT community.

As Balken says, it is possible to help raise a child for years and still be a legal stranger to that child. Although adoption by same-sex couples is not legal in Utah, it is recognized if completed outside of Utah.

Rocky Dustin, a freelance court reporter, says he does not come across many cases involving same-sex adoptions in part because it’s very uncommon in Utah and adoption legislation has a long way to go.

While Utah may be behind in the adoption aspect, it is much more represented in the case of healthcare.

The Healthcare Equality Index is an annual healthcare survey that rates respondents on their policies related to LGBT patients. Hospitals and clinics are rated based on non-discrimination, visitation and employment non-discrimination policies and training on LGBT care.

The University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics system was a respondent in the poll and qualified in two of the four requirements. This illustrates that as a major health provider in Utah, it is taking steps to improve availability and patient care to all Utahns.

The healthcare system did not, however, meet the requirement for the visitation policy, which “grants same-sex couples the same access as different sex couples.” This includes access to one’s partner as well as children under 18. Until Utah state laws catch up, the Healthcare Equality Index score will remain unchanged.

In 2011 the Salt Lake City School District added medical coverage for domestic partners of district employees. This is the first school district in the state of Utah to do so.

In addition to medical insurance, medical power of attorney is a critical aspect of equality in Utah. For a gay or lesbian couple to be able to have medical power of attorney for their partner, it requires a very expensive process of having multiple documents drawn up to prove that they are indeed able to make those medical decisions. Different-sex couples do not have this problem.

In a phone interview, Peter Asplund, an associate general counsel for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said, “There are automatic rights with marriage and medical power of attorney is one of them, except in the case of same-sex couples,” he said.

Although laws in Utah regarding equality may be lacking, the overall climate of attitudes toward the LGBT community is changing.

”Forty-two percent said that they have become more accepting,” Balken said, referencing a poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign in 2011. “And more than three-fourths now support anti-discrimination laws.”

Equality across the nation and in Utah has been a long time coming and still has a ways to go. But Balken is confident it will happen.

“We saw it first with gender and then race,” Balken said. “This is the next human rights movement.”