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The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday made it official: People in nontraditional relationships can share a partner's benefits thanks to a new "mutual commitment registry."
For residents who are eligible, it means everything from snagging a family pass at county recreation centers to taking part in workplace employee health plans.
The Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to pass an ordinance that instructs the county clerk to set up a "registry for adult relationships of financial dependence or interdependence." Council Chair Steve DeBry cast the only "no" vote, asserting that the move put the county on a "slippery slope" toward endorsing gay marriage.
Sponsoring Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw called the new law a significant step for a county that has a family-centered culture. And he praised the support for it especially among the council's majority Republicans.
"I think it is significant to note that this county government is saying we recognize all families," said Bradshaw, a Democrat. "We recognize different types of relationships; we want to be supportive of all of these relationships."
Bradshaw, who is gay, has said same-sex couples are most likely to use the registry. But it also affects people in a wide range of domestic relationships, from roommates to unmarried couples and family members with common financial obligations. It also provides a valuable certification for county residents whose employers offer domestic-partner benefits.
With the council's approval, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen is expected to begin signing up people for the voluntary registry as soon as the law becomes final in about three weeks.
Those who want to register will be asked for documentation of their common financial obligations such as a shared bank account, utility bills, car loans and other types of mutual commitments. Not only must they sign a declaration of mutual commitment, but they also must agree to formally terminate the registry entry if the relationship ends.
Signing up will cost about $30, which is what it costs for a marriage license. There will be a termination fee as well.
Salt Lake City has had a registry since 2008 and has logged 83 participants.
Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, applauded the vote.
"We believe this is a small, but important step towards equal access for all who reside within the county," she said "Today, thanks to the efforts of the council, all families regardless of their construct have a greater opportunity for recognition as a family, as well as basic necessities, like health insurance."
But DeBry, a Republican, said after Tuesday's meeting that his conscience, along with his sense that a larger principle was at stake, guided his decision.
"It's a slippery slope," he said, adding that laws like this drift toward making gay marriage legal. "And if they want to get together and live that lifestyle, it's fine as long as they don't push it or intrude on my morals or my family."
He called Bradshaw a friend and emphasized the LBGT community has his support, but he insisted the new law offers just one small benefit beyond what county employees who've had partner benefits since 2008 already have. That benefit, he said, is a family rec-center pass.