SALT LAKE CITY – After rushing to write a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution, Utah (search) legislators are stepping back to repair some of the damage the law could deal other kinds of domestic partners.
Taken literally, Utah's provision could deny hospital visitation or survivor's property rights to children being brought up by grandparents, or to senior citizens who live together but do not marry for financial reasons. Siblings living in the same household also could find themselves without customary rights.
Utah's Legislature — overwhelmingly Republican and Mormon (search), and one of the most conservative bodies in the nation — ignored warnings from the state's Republican attorney general that the amendment went too far. Utah voters ratified it with 66 percent approval in November.
Now, in a moment of sober reflection, the same lawmakers are looking at giving back to adults who live together but are ineligible to marry — a category that includes same-sex couples — some of the rights of husband and wife.
"It addresses the need of persons who may have some relationship other than marriage to delegate responsibilities to each other," said Utah Republican Sen. Greg Bell.
With anything seen as advancing gay rights doomed to failure in Utah, Bell gave his bill a fuzzy title — the Mutual Dependence Benefits Contract — and has been quick to deny it has anything to do with Utah's ban on gay marriage.
The measure would create a state domestic-partner registry that would allow unmarried couples — heterosexual or gay — to have reciprocal property and health care rights and to bury one another at death.
It won tentative approval 15-10 in the Utah Senate on Friday, despite a warning from Republican Chris Buttars that the measure may be part of a gay agenda.
"You can say what you want, but this is the first step toward their real goal, which is marriage," he said.
Bell said the bill "will be seen by the gay and lesbian community as helpful to them in living their lives and helping with their affairs, and I don't mind. I hope it does. But that's not the guiding star for the legislation."
Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis said the bill had a chance in his chamber if it is not seen as a retreat from the ban on gay marriage.