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Becker's first step: Domestic partners

Published January 11, 2008 1:35 am

Gay couples applaud voluntary registry proposed by new mayor
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Ralph Becker's first official action as mayor could bring a first to Utah - a citywide registry of domestic partners, including same-sex couples.

The novel move - fulfilling a priority campaign promise for Salt Lake City's new CEO - is designed to aid employers vacillating over whether to provide insurance benefits for cohabitants and other domestic partners.

Becker's proposed ordinance, unveiled Thursday, bucks the politics in conservative Utah - a state that rewrote its constitution in 2004 to ban gay marriage.

"It's a great step as we inch our way toward progress," said Mark Hofeling, a downtown resident who has been with his boyfriend, Jesse, nearly 10 years and, until now, resorted to power of attorney to validate their relationship in legal and health matters. "If this would give us more security, we would probably be inclined to do it."

The registry, likely to win the support of the City Council in Utah's left-leaning capital, would serve as a catalog of adult residents - gay or otherwise - who can voluntarily add their names as long as they provide proof that they cohabit and rely on one another as dependents.

Becker argues the mechanism would save businesses time and money and create a way for the city to recognize relationships of mutual support, caring and commitment.

"This is an opportunity for us to provide all of Salt Lake City's residents the same level of equality, dignity and respect," the mayor said.

Still, despite being common in about 20 states, the rainbow-colored catalog carries some controversy - particularly for conservative Utah legislators.

"I have great empathy for that kind of thing," explained Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. "I have no problem with people sharing insurance or their wills, estates, real estate or lives. I just have to be certain we're not coming in the back door of the Amendment 3 [ban on gay marriage and civil unions]."

But Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love notes Becker, a former Democratic legislative leader, and a team of city attorneys were careful to craft the registry ordinance within the parameters of the gay-marriage ban.

"There is certainly enough support that it's likely to pass the council," Love said. "I don't think Mayor Becker in any way is trying to back-door this."

Scott McCoy, an attorney and openly gay state senator, says the registry may reduce health-insurance fraud.

"If giving health benefits specifically to gay and lesbian partners did not run afoul of Amendment 3, I can't possibly see why a registry would," McCoy said. "It's a fairly symbolic thing. There are no benefits attached to it, but it does have utility."

Becker cites a general-welfare provision under state law that he say allows for such an index and does not conflict with Amendment 3.

If approved, the registry will be administered by the City Recorder's Office. Eligible residents would receive two notarized and certified copies documenting their registration.

Becker notes the index would afford visitation rights when a domestic partner is being treated in a hospital or clinic. The certificate also would guarantee fair access to all rights and privileges at all city facilities including recreation spots.

Yana Walton, spokeswoman for the Utah Pride Center, says the registry should encourage employers to fully recognize domestic partners. And she is thrilled that Becker, who was just named Person of the Year by Q Salt Lake magazine, acted on his third day in office.

"I'm just refreshed to know that not only has he kept the campaign promise but he made it such a priority," Walton said. "It makes me feel confident that there are going to be a lot of changes in his administration."

djensen@sltrib.com

Besides a domestic-partnership registry, Becker has pledged a series of gay-rights initiatives including:

* Broadening the nondiscrimination ordinance for city employees.

* Extending retirement benefits to domestic partners or their designees.

* Requiring companies that contract with the city to provide domestic-partner benefits.

What is the registry?

* An index that would serve as a catalog of city residents, either same-sex couples or otherwise, who can add their names as long as they provide proof that they cohabit and rely on one another as dependents.

* The voluntary registry would serve as a resource for businesses when determining whether to issue insurance benefits.