Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Newsjeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Lisa LeDuc, left, and Brandie Balken watch as their certificate of mutual commitment is signed Thursday.

It was a quiet morning at the Salt Lake City Recorder's Office. There were no celebrations or crowds waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. Thursday.

But at 8:20 a.m., two women entered the office, saying they wanted to sign up for the city's new mutual commitment registry.

When acting recorder Chris Meeker told Brandie Balken, 34, and Lisa LeDuc, 42, they'd be the first couple to do so, Balken responded, "Fantastic."

The first registration took only about 10 minutes. The couple smiled as they examined their certificates.

"This is a lot less expensive than getting this done," Balken said pointing to the couple's estate planning document.

Signing up for the registry is $25, compared with the more than $2,500 Balken says it cost the couple to put their estate in order.

"I was thinking, this is it," LeDuc said. "It was just exciting. We'll see what it actually means. It definitely was a baby step in the right direction."

It's the first time that a city in Utah is acknowledging nontraditional families, from same-sex couples to parents relying on adult children.

The registry will provide an easy way for employers to identify domestic partnerships if they choose to acknowledge them for employee benefits. It also provides for hospital visitation.

Only one other couple, two men, registered on the first day. The quiet unveiling of Mayor Ralph Becker's first major accomplishment in office Thursday was a stark contrast to the firestorm of debate at the State Capitol that nearly killed it.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, introduced a bill to stop the registry, saying it ran afoul of Utah's policy banning same-sex marriage.

But Buttars ran into political woes and lawmakers eventually passed a softer piece of legislation that allowed the registry, but required its name be changed from the original domestic partnership registry.

Becker said the registry's low-key debut wasn't by design. The city simply wanted to get the registry up and running as quickly as possible, and it wasn't clear until earlier in the week when the necessary forms would be ready for the city recorder's office to begin registering couples.

"Over time, as people become aware of it and see whether they qualify for the registry, I'm sure we'll have plenty of people signing up," said Becker, who learned late Wednesday afternoon of the registry's Thursday debut.

Salt Lake City Council chairwoman Jill Remington Love said the council's unanimous approval of the registry's name change at its April 8 meeting included an impromptu celebration of change in city policy.

"There were a lot of speeches and thanks to the mayor," Love said. "In a way, that was sort of the official start (of the registry) for us."

No matter the level of fanfare, Becker said he's "thrilled" that unmarried couples can now register their unions and "hopeful that it will achieve the benefits we were desirous of when we made the proposal."

The registry's debut came as a relief to Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, who had feared resistance from the state Legislature would doom Salt Lake City's ordinance.

"I was very concerned that it was not going to be made available for members of the Salt Lake City community," Larabee said. "I'm talking about all members of the community, not just the GLBT community. I think that would have been a shame."

The Pride Center sent out an action alert late Wednesday to let people know about what Larabee called a "very progressive" step. Larabee says she plans to register her own relationship.

"For us, at this point, it's very important to have our relationship validated," she said. "For every couple, the reason is going to be different."

Balken and LeDuc, who have been a couple for seven years, say they wanted to make sure they were able to register their relationship the first day, even though the protections aren't as great as those they piecemealed together with legal documents a few years ago when they bought a home together.

"This is what we really wanted to do," LeDuc said. "It was nice to recommit again."

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.

E-mail: [email protected]; [email protected]