Salt Lake City may have given a unanimous nod to a domestic partner registry, but this morning, a Senate panel took a first step toward blocking the city's action, after hearing testimony that the registry is aimed at eroding the foundation of marriage.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to send SB267 to the full Senate for a vote. Key to the debate was whether or not the city's registry, aimed at giving private companies a way to recognize domestic partnerships and granting hospital visitation rights, violates a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and domestic unions.

The version of the bill approved is a substitute version aimed at keeping in tact Salt Lake's benefit program that allows city employees to choose an adult designee for benefits, said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, the bill's sponsor.

"We have never challenged that," Buttars said of the existing city program. "It does not favor or designate a particular group or class of people."

However, he said the domestic partner registry "is nothing more than an open checkbook" toward future benefits unique to marriage and that already "mimics Utah's marriage recognition policy to a T."

But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and other city officials questioned whether the bill would nullify both Salt Lake City policies, even with the changes. And, they asserted that since the domestic partner registry is modeled after the city benefit provisions, that both fall well within state law.

"We want to make it clear to those (companies) looking for some formal recognition of that relationship, that domestic relationship exists," Becker said, adding that while the legislature does have the right to override the city, "that would be a big mistake. Salt Lake City has a population that wants passage of a domestic partner registry."

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, who had sharp questions about whether or not a family pass to the city ice rink would be prohibited, was absent for the vote because he was presenting a bill before another committee.

After the hearing, he said when the bill comes before the full Senate, "I would just ask them to judge each piece of legislation on its merits ... rather than engage in the paranoid idea there is some sort of grand conspiracy under foot."

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