First couple signs up for SLC 'mutual-commitment' partnership registry

Published April 17, 2008 8:38 am
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Updated: 3:38 PM- Brandie Balken and Lisa LeDuc have exchanged rings, bought a house and adopted two "beautiful" dogs, Bella and Guapo.

On Thursday, they obtained the first formal recognition of their seven-year relationship, complete with two fancy "mutual-commitment" certificates.

"We each get a copy?" Balken asked acting Salt Lake City Recorder Chris Meeks. "That is well worth the 25 dollars."

The two women were the first residents to sign up for Salt Lake City's newly minted mutual-commitment registry - not that they had to elbow aside any other couples. Only a few other residents enrolled on the registry's first day.

"It's not every day you get to be a gay celebrity," Balken said upon entering the Recorder's Office shortly after its 8 a.m. opening to find a room full of news cameras.

The registry - championed by first-year Mayor Ralph Becker and embraced unanimously by the City Council in February - was delayed when Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, vowed to to block it, saying it ran afoul of the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

A compromise bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, and ultimately approved, required only that it not be called a "domestic-partnership" catalog.

On Thursday, Becker said the mutual-commitment registry, which fulfills a campaign promise, "doesn't even come close to violating" state law.

"This is representative of trying to remove discrimination within our community."

The registry is open to unmarried domestic partners - gay or straight - and to other adults in financially dependent relationships, such as a person caring for an aging parent. It's a tool for employers to use when determining whether to grant benefits to a worker's unmarried partner or other dependent adult. It also will facilitate visitation rights at Salt Lake City hospitals.

LeDuc and Balken hope some day the federal government will open marriage or civil unions to same-sex couples. The couple called Salt Lake City's registry a "step forward" in protecting the rights of nontraditional families.

"It means a lot to us," said LeDuc, a massage therapist. "We've been together for seven years, and it's nice for us to have some official document that we are together and we are responsible for each other and we are committed to each other."

The two met through a mutual friend in Vernal and spent their first days together hiking and fly-fishing on the Green River. Since then, they have spent more than $2,000 cobbling together a collection of legal documents that ensure the ability to make health-care decisions for each other, inherit each other's property and save for retirement together.

That money could have bought "a really great party for our friends" to celebrate the couple's commitment, said Balken, sales manager at Cactus & Tropicals.

Balken and LeDuc are insured separately by their employers but the registry will help them guarantee they can visit each other at the hospital - if there ever is an emergency and they don't happen to bring their power of attorney contract with them.

"I really wanted to participate [in the registry] and almost say 'thank you' to Mayor Becker," Balken said. "I really honor and respect his standing for this and the City Council, as well."

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