Salt Lake City is dumping "domestic partners" for "mutual commitment."
Restrictions imposed by the Utah Legislature have led to a name change for the city's domestic partnership registry, a mechanism by which employers voluntarily can extend health care and other benefits to their employees' domestic partners including gay couples, siblings, long-term roommates and parents if they reside in Salt Lake City.
Some legislators argued that the term "domestic partnership," at least in spirit, violated Utah's constitutional Amendment 3, which bans same-sex marriage and substantially similar civil unions.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said Tuesday he will recommend to the City Council that the name be changed to the mutual commitment registry.
The City Council likely will consider the recommendation at its April 1 meeting. If approved, the registry could be up and running as soon as April 7.
"This name change does not impact the essence of the registry," Becker said.
The registry, proposed as an ordinance by Becker and approved Feb. 5 by the City Council, allows qualifying couples who take part in the voluntary program to receive a certificate from City Hall attesting to their mutual commitment status.
"With implementation of the registry, Salt Lake City will help local businesses save time and money in the process of determining the nature of the relationships of their employees," Becker said.
Mike Thompson, executive director of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah, said the substance of the city's registry is much more important than its name.
"What I think is most significant is that Salt Lake City, as a municipality, has seen the value in recognizing all types of relationships," Thompson said.
Several people are eager to participate in the registry, Thompson said, both individuals wanting to demonstrate commitment in their relationships and employers seeking to offer benefits to employees' partners.
"Many employers just aren't equipped with the personnel to validate whether these people are truly living together and dependent upon one another," he said. "The city's mutual commitment registry will provide that tool to make it easier for employers to extend their benefits programs. That is a wonderful benefit of what Salt Lake City has done."
The fate of the registry was in question for much of the recent legislative session. SB267 sought to prohibit counties or municipalities from establishing a registry that recognizes a domestic partnership other than marriage.
That bill was doomed by its sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, whose political woes during the session included comparing a school-district splitting bill to a black baby, "a dark, ugly thing."
Sen. Greg Bill, R-Fruit Heights, later introduced SB299, a watered-down version of Buttars' bill that passed both the Senate and House and set guidelines for the creation of such registries. The only substantive change, as far as Salt Lake City is concerned, is the use of the term "domestic partnership."
Becker called the Legislature's prohibition of the term odd, because it's commonly used and recognized by states and cities throughout the nation, as well as in the insurance industry.
The mayor said he has spoken with legislators about the name change and it appears "mutual commitment" is acceptable.
"No matter what we call it, the mutual commitment registry will create a way for Salt Lake City to recognize relationships of mutual support, caring and commitment," he said.
In order to qualify for the registry, individuals must be in a committed relationship and responsible for each other's welfare. In addition, registrants must demonstrate financial interdependence, be over 18 years old, competent to contract and share a primary residence in Salt Lake City.
Those wanting to register will be able to obtain from the city and fill out a declaration of mutual commitment form, which must be signed by both parties and notarized. The completed forms will be kept on file in the city recorder's office. Individuals will receive two certified copies of the official statement documenting their registration.The fee for filling mutual commitment declaration will be $25. All administrative costs of the program will be absorbed by the city recorder's office.