When Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker suggested creating a domestic partnership registry in Salt Lake City, he’d only held the office for a few days. The registry he suggested was designed to allow private employers the chance to provide benefits to same-sex partnerships.
The city councilmembers agreed with him and unanimously approved the registry in February, 2008. The registry allows access to all city facilities as if the pair was married. It also allows the partners visitation rights within all Salt Lake City health care facilities.
However, before anyone could register to be domestic partners, the Utah Legislature jumped into debate whether or not that violated the Utah ban on gay marriage.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, introduced a bill which would have prohibited Utah municipalities and counties from having any registry other than marriage registries. The bill would also invalidate any and all pre-existing registries. While Buttars acknowledged that the registry did not violate the Utah constitution explicitly, he said it violated the spirit of the laws.
Of course, that was also the year that Buttars referred to an education bill as a “black baby” and called it a “dark, ugly thing.” What shreds of credibility he had left were not enough to push the bill through and instead a compromise bill was reached. The compromise bill said that the registries could exist, except the municipalities could not use the words “domestic partnership.”
“The purpose of (SB299) is to reaffirm marriage under Amendment 3 and to prevent municipal registries from creating a marriage look-alike,” House sponsor Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton told the Salt Lake Tribune. Garn later resigned from the legislature after admitting to sitting nude in a hot tub with an underage girl.
Becker and the city council chose to call the registry the Mutual Commitment Registry and it began taking applicants on April 17, 2008. The first couple to register was Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, and her partner, Lisa LeDuc.
In the first year of registering couples, 43 partnerships signed up in the registry. However, after that, registration dropped off, said Christine Meeker, the Salt Lake City Recorder. In 2009, only 12 couples signed the registry and in 2010, 13 couples register with the city, she said.
“We have a lot of companies in Utah that offer domestic-partnership benefits and a lot of times those companies want a certificate to show the partnership,” Meeker said. “However, the registry is only for citizens of Salt Lake. If you live in Kearns, or you live in West Valley, that’s not going to work.”
Many gay people are not aware of the benefits of registering with the city, said Kamrin Carver, one of the QSaltLake wedding winners.
“When we went downtown to register, the woman in charge helped us understand everything that we would benefit by having this registry,” Carver said. “I was shocked. I had no idea all of that was possible in Utah.”
Registering with the city and getting a document that showed some sort of official commitment was not only important to him, but also to his family.
“We want our children to see that we’re a family. We’re more than just two guys who raise them,” Carver said.
In order to qualify for the registry, the couple must be in a committed relationship, share a primary residence in Salt Lake City, be over the age of 18 and demonstrate financial interdependence. The dependence can be demonstrated by showing three of the following qualifiers: A joint loan, a life insurance policy or retirement benefit account, a will designating the other partner as executor or primary beneficiary, proof of shared responsibilities in a bank account, or a shared bank account. The registration also has a $25 fee for processing.