Mullen | Social Disease: Why take a stand when you can do a study? 

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Mark Crockett placed his hands neatly on the dais in front of him. Then he breathed a sigh deep enough to be heard throughout the Salt Lake County Council meeting room.

Then Crockett, a Republican on the council facing re-election, said: “I love my colleagues here …”

Oh, you just knew it. Here it came, the knife, with that quick little twist straight to the gut.

“I love my colleagues here. And what few things we can do [to solve America’s health-care crisis] I’m interested in doing. I’m interested in expanding health care, especially for children.”

Then Crocket pitched his own little frothy substitute that gutted a proposal to extend health care and other benefits to county employees with domestic partners. Which will give him plenty of cover with conservative constituents in his northeast county bench district come November.

First, the plan before the County Council on April 29 had nothing to do with children. They already have health insurance if one of their parents works for the county. The business at hand was about recognizing domestic partnerships—as 269 of Fortune 500 companies have. That could include families with an aging parent in the house and adult children with disabilities.

But really, in the interest of cutting through the thick political fog, and sugary pronouncements of collegial love, we’re mostly talking about gays and lesbians. We’re talking about politicians who—in spite of a society that is moving right ahead without them—still can’t do what is right and just and economically wise. It was clear as a summer sky in the Wasatch. Four council members chose the right. Five ended up talking with mouthfuls of mush.

It was the second time in nearly three years that Democratic Councilwoman Jenny Wilson proposed a domestic partners’ benefits plan. In July 2005, the talk against Wilson’s proposal was fueled by the fear of Amendment 3—the ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in Utah. The five Republicans gave emotional speeches about how difficult the vote was (Crockett’s eyes even misted up). Then, they twisted that old knife and voted no.

Full disclosure here: Jenny Wilson is my stepdaughter. And I also wrote three pieces for another Salt Lake City newspaper supporting gay rights as civil rights before I ever crossed paths with Jenny Wilson.

Wilson contended the change would cost the county just under $300,000 to cover employee partners or dependents.

But Crockett decided to float a substitute motion to Wilson’s. He proposed the council staff conduct a “thorough financial assessment of something we might implement in 2009 or sooner if the financial impact [to the county] is minimal.”

Remember, it’s that political year thing again. Why take a stand, when you can do a study?

Then, Crockett proposed if the study determines minimal cost, “we extend benefits to IRS dependents and to a member of a household who has been a member for more than one year. And any adult who receives the benefit would pay the full premium without any cost to the county.”

Crockett then gave a big finish: “This is not a punt.”

Democrat Joe Hatch then pointed out that if an employee has to pay the full premium for a partner, what kind of benefit is that? What kind of economic door presents itself as too prohibitive to open? It’s time, Hatch said, to “recognize the changing nature of the family. There are good, committed families that don’t fall within the traditional definitions of family. We should honor them as the good, committed county employees they are.”

Republican David Wilde called his support for Crockett’s measure the lesser of two evils.” Because either of the two motions on the table, he said, could damage “traditional family values.” His colleague beside him, Republican Jeff Allen, said “values are a rudder to make the right decisions in life.” Allen said he favors “continued support for families. It’s important to support that, and to sustain and encourage [the traditional family].”

What could have been right has died again. There’s an argument around all of this about a social compact that sustains this country, but it was too fine a point for council majority. Sometimes life is fair in the United States; often it isn’t. We subsidize a war most of us oppose. We subsidize gay clubs in high schools, even if we find them immoral. Pick any tax-supported program. You’ll find it just isn’t fair to everyone.

We all subsidize various groups and programs we don’t agree with or wish worked differently. “You don’t want to subsidize domestic partnerships, but I am subsidizing big families as a county employee,” Wilson, a mother of two, concluded. “And it isn’t always fair. But I’m willing to understand that at some point I’ll pay for my siblings’ younger children and your children, too.”

“We’re part of a holistic society. It will be an interesting moment when I look at the large families in the county that we do subsidize and start calling for a head tax.”

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