SLC's domestic partners registry survives last minute threat
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Ralph Becker's nice-guy approach paid off.

After surviving an eleventh-hour threat, the domestic-partnership registry finessed by Salt Lake City's new mayor survived the buttoned-down Legislature.

Steeped in sexual-identity politics, SB299 allows cities and counties to create the index so long as it does not create a surrogate or proxy for marriage.

The registry, which provides a mechanism for employers of financially interdependent domestic partners to issue health-care benefits, must incur a name change. Lawmakers cited concern that the phrase "domestic partner" may run afoul of Amendment 3, Utah's voter-approved constitutional provision banning gay marriage.

But semantics is a small price to pay, says Becker, who pledged to rename his registry and have it available "in short order."

"When you consider where we started," the mayor said, "we ended the session with our ordinance essentially untouched. We feel happy with the result."

It did not come without some drama. On the last day, an attempt on the House floor to bar the registry failed 36-34. That move would have restored the language introduced in the first iteration of the bill by beleaguered Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan.

SB299, the substitute version by Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, later passed the House 61-9.

Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, is pleased with this final, milder bill.

"It allows registries to be created and really doesn't tinker with much," Thompson said. "Fortunately for us, our concerns are mostly satisfied."

Becker said there were two turning points: the furor over Buttars' racially insensitive remarks earlier in the session, followed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s plea to let cities set their own policies.

After a standard legal review, Huntsman intends to sign Bell's registry bill, according to spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley.

"It has been changed to the point where the governor is comfortable with it," she said.

djensen@sltrib.com