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Salt Lake's 6-month-old registry gives gay couples 'real hope'

Published October 11, 2008 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jay Christianson and Daniel Holsinger dream of living someday in Boston, California, Canada or even Europe - someplace where they can be married.

But, for now, they're happy in Salt Lake City.

That's partly thanks to the capital's mutual-commitment registry, which turns six months old this week. So far, relatively few people have enrolled: 34 pairs, most of whom are same-sex couples.

In Salt Lake County, there are 18,358 households headed by unmarried partners, including 1,644 same-sex pairs, according to a 2007 census survey.

"I would encourage as many folks that are able to use it to use it," says Valerie Larabee, the Utah Pride Center's executive director, who has registered with her partner. Other prominent couples on the list include state Sen. Scott McCoy and his partner, Mark Barr.

Christianson, 25, and Holsinger, 30, signed up April 17, the registry's first day, after watching it dodge a potential torpedo in Utah's conservative Legislature. The west Capitol Hill couple have lived together for more than three years and consider their relationship lifelong.

"We were very happy. It's the only way we can demonstrate our commitment in Salt Lake City," Holsinger says. "It represented some serious progress and also some real hope."

He's quick to point out the couple have not gained any substantial benefits from participating in the registry. Neither has an employer who offers domestic-partner benefits. (The registry can be used by bosses to determine eligibility.)

Still, Christianson appreciates the added security of knowing he could turn to the registry if he ever is denied access to Holsinger's room in a Salt Lake City hospital.

They both see the registry as more of a symbolic gesture, and they applaud first-year Mayor Ralph Becker for championing it.

"I feel like we have a reasonable, logical voice representing us," Holsinger says.

The couple met when Holsinger began hosting a weekly "Family Home Evening," or FHE, for gay Mormons, which featured academic discussions and guest speakers. Both are returned LDS missionaries - Holsinger served in Ukraine; Christianson in London - but no longer are Mormon.

Christianson, fresh off his mission, heard about Holsinger's group online, which met for about two years at Holsinger's University Street home and sometimes on the University of Utah campus when attendance swelled to more than 100. Christianson went to the first meeting an hour early and sat in his car, wondering who would show up and what he would say.

When a round of introductions ended with him, he candidly told the the group, "If I could not be gay, I'd prefer it. I'm here to learn as much as I can."

Gradually, Christianson accepted himself as gay and came out of the closet. He researched reparative therapy, but found the results unconvincing and gave up on the idea of being straight. He and Holsinger became friends and later fell in love.

Their daily routine is structured around work and school - Holsinger, an entrepreneur, has launched a Web-based software company, and Christianson is studying urban planning at the U. They like to cook dinner together, camp in southern Utah and take walks downtown. They rarely go clubbing.

"Mostly because Jay dances so well," Holsinger says, "we look bad next to each other."

They both are bothered by the LDS Church's opposition to gay marriage in California. They argue it's a civil-rights issue, not a moral issue.

"We're not interested in a temple sealing," Christianson says. "We just want the legal rights of marriage."

Those rights have been granted in Massachusetts, California and - on Friday - Connecticut. But it's doubtful Utah ever would overturn its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Even Becker's then-named domestic-partnership registry faced a headline-grabbing challenge earlier this year, when Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, tried to outlaw it.

Ultimately, the Legislature settled on a compromise bill, which decided the registry could not be considered a proxy for marriage and required a name change from "domestic partner." Becker chose "mutual commitment."

"I have no impression at all," of the registry's first six months, says Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, who sponsored the compromise. "I have no reason at this time" to propose further legislation.

Becker, a former Democratic leader on Capitol Hill, was surprised when the Legislature stepped in, but was pleased his registry survived.

"What we're doing . . . is promoting a very basic notion that is at the heart of our [nation's] Constitution and our Bill of Rights," he says, "that people be treated with equality."

It's also helped promote Salt Lake City as an "inclusive and open" place, he says. Businesses looking to expand have been intrigued by the registry.

"This was a primary topic of conversation" with New York-based Goldman Sachs, which is considering growing its Salt Lake City area operations, Becker says. "They wanted to know, with the diversity of employees they have, that those looking to locate here would feel welcome."

Brandie Balken, who was the first to register, along with her partner, Lisa LeDuc, says the registry has helped increase awareness of nontraditional families.

"I had a lot of people call me and say, 'Wow, congrats,' " Balken says. "It lessens the fear factor when something like that occurs and society as a whole sees that nothing horrible happens."

The same goes for gay marriage, she adds. In August, she and LeDuc tied the knot in California. And the sun keeps rising.

rwinters@sltrib.com