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Couples registry gets preliminary nod from Salt Lake County Council

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 4:20 p.m. MDT

The registry would allow for committed couples who are not legally married to receive documentation from the county attesting to their relationship status.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Salt Lake County Council gave a preliminary vote of support to the creation of a countywide mutual commitment registry.

The proposal, submitted by Councilmen Arlyn Bradshaw and Randy Horiuchi, received a unanimous vote of support during the council's Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, with chairman Steve Debry abstaining. Final passage of the mutual commitment registry is expected to be considered during the County Council's June 4 meeting.

The registry would allow for committed couples who are not legally married to receive documentation from the county attesting to their relationship status. That documentation, Bradshaw said, would simplify the process of securing benefits and services from the county or from businesses that offer them voluntarily to employees whose family units fall outside Utah's legal definition of marriage.

"I view it as supporting our family-centered culture that we have in our community and in our state," Bradshaw said.

The mutual commitment registry proposal follows the creation of a similar registry in Salt Lake City in 2008. Bradshaw said he had heard from representatives of both the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office and the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office, who reported that they had received requests from county residents wishing to register their relationships.

To date, 86 couples are registered with Salt Lake City, according to the recorder's office.

Under the terms of the policy, in order to be eligible for the registry two individuals must be at least 18 years old, competent and freely declare that they are mutually committed to each other. They must also demonstrate a common financial obligation, such as a loan or mortgage, and execute a declaration of mutual commitment.

Bradshaw said the requirements are not overly strenuous, but noted that the registry requires a higher threshold of documentation than couples applying for a marriage license.

Horiuchi, who co-sponsored the proposal, said the recognition provided to couples through the registry gives an extra measure of security.

"To me this is a very, very important ordinance and change," he said. "It really does give nontraditional couples an opportunity to have their relationships codified."

The vote on the registry followed a relatively brief period of comment from the council. Debry commented that while state law permits counties and cities to enact such registries, the wording of state statute does not necessarily imply the Legislature's advocacy of such actions.

Debry also asked if the benefits afforded to couples by government agencies or businesses could be secured by means other than a county-operated registry.

Bradshaw responded that the registry presents a simple and relatively inexpensive option for couples looking to validate their relationship who otherwise may have to employ the services of an attorney.

"It makes it easier for those individuals who would like to do it," Bradshaw said.

Councilman Max Burdick questioned whether the policy could potentially create unintended consequences for the municipalities within Salt Lake County, to which Bradshaw responded that the practice of issuing marriage licenses is typically vested in the county and municipalities would be free to create their own registries if they so choose.

Burdick also asked what potential costs the county could face by enacting the registry. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said applying to the registry would carry a fee similar to that paid by marriage license applicants. She also said she had spoken with representatives of the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office, who reported that the workload associated with Salt Lake City's registry has been manageable.

"We think it will be revenue-neutral," Swensen said. "We don’t feel it would be a big financial burden at all."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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