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Lawmakers postpone vote over gay couples adoption bill

Published: Friday, Feb. 12 2016 9:05 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation intended to ensure all married couples are treated equally in adoption and foster care placements of children in the state care got a partial hearing Friday before the House Judiciary Committee, but the matter was held over until next week.

The hearing on HB234, which was last on the agenda and didn't begin until nearly 6 p.m., ended abruptly after taking public testimony when Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, who said he had a seven-hour drive, made a motion to adjourn the meeting. The motion is not debatable.

A bill that sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, described as "very simple," raised the ire of the committee's chairman, Rep. Lavar Christensen, who repeatedly interrupted two state officials whom Romero asked to help her present the bill.

Brent Platt, director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, said the agency supports the bill because it would "bring the Utah statute in line with the federal law as decided by the Supreme Court last year allowing same sex marriage. So HB234 would make the necessary changes to the language to bring Utah’s statutes in line with federal law."

“Federal case law,” Christensen interjected.

“I’m talking about the Supreme Court decision,” Platt said.

“One decision,” Christensen said.

David Carlson, director of the Child Protection Division in the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said his division was asked to review DCFS statutes after the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same sex marriage nationwide.

"So in the wake of that decision, we were asked to go through and look at that statute and identify all of those terms that were probably known conflicts with the U.S. Constitution as it was interpreted in the Obergefell decision.That’s what we did. That was the genesis of the bill Rep. Romero has," he said.

Christensen asked, "If the decision was limited to a question of who may marry, you’re telling us you have an expanded focus?"

Before Carlson could answer, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, asked for a point of order.

After a few moments of back and forth between King and Christensen, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, asked Carlson if he believed that Romero's bill was in proper form.

"Yes," he replied.

"And it should be adopted as law?" Snow asked.

"Yes," Carlson responded.

During public testimony, Laura Bunker, president of United Families International, said the "gold standard" for children is a mother, a father and a marriage.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of Utah Eagle Forum, concurred.

"It's definitely in the best interest of children if they have a mother and a father. They deserve a mother and a father," she said.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said he understands that Utahns have "deeply held, sincere beliefs" about families and the issue of same sex marriage.

Still, state law needs to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court decision, he said.

"We in the LGBT community seek the protections and full blessings of the nation that we love. What we seek is nothing more or less than a fair shot at the American dream. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we continue to have these important conversations," he said.

Romero said the intent of HB234 is to change the words "man and woman" to "couple" or "spouse" within the adoption and foster parent statutes to conform with the Supreme Court decision.

She said he was disappointed the bill didn't get a full hearing Friday.

"I would have loved to see it pass tonight and go on to the House floor for discussion. But sometimes you have hiccups in policy and in the process and the discussion. All we can do is move forward," Romero said.

"Next week is a new week and I look forward to the chairman putting this on the top of the agenda and having an honest and balanced conversation."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com