Gay folks in Utah waiting for the world
to change will need to continue waiting. The Utah state Legislature
has terminated a series of gay rights bills called the Common Ground
Encouraged by positive statements made
by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the
Mormons) during the campaign to ban gay marriage in California,
Equality Utah recruited openly gay state Senator Scott McCoy to
introduce the gay rights bills.
“Throughout the campaign, while the
LDS Church stated its support for Proposition 8 [the measure that
banned gay marriage], it also made repeated comments that the Church
'does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding
hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights,
or probate rights',” said Equality Utah Board Chairwoman Stephanie
Pappas in announcing the gay legislation effort. “Just last week,
Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose 'civil
unions or domestic partnerships'.”
The Mormon church remains a powerful
influence in Utah, where a majority of its members live.
The Common Ground Initiative closely
straddled the pro-gay positions expressed by the church. A pair of
bills would have created a domestic partner registry for gay and lesbian
couples by repealing a part of Utah's constitutional marriage
amendment. The group said they had no plans to pursue gay marriage,
which Mormon leaders say they cannot abide.
Of the five bills introduced in
January, none remain. Democratic Rep. Jackie Biskupsi of Salt Lake
City yanked back her bill that would have repealed a portion of
Utah's gay marriage ban. Another bill that sought to give gay
couples the ability to sue in the event the other suffers a wrongful
death ended in committee.
On Tuesday, two bills, which had
survived out of the House Rules Committee – a bill which would have
allowed unmarried gay or straight couples to adopt and foster
children and another that sought to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual
and transgender people from discrimination in the areas of housing
and employment – were snuffed out after public hearings.
And this morning, lawmakers dealt the
final blow, taking down Rep. Jennifer Seelig's HB160, which would
have offered gay and straight, unmarried adults living together
rights of inheritance and medical decision making for one another.
Opponents called for defeat of the
measures because being gay was a “choice.”
“What we're talking about is a choice
– someone's sexual choice,” Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka
told a House panel discussing the employment and fair housing bill.
“Why would we put into law someone's sexual choice? ... This is not
the right thing to do.”
Debate on the bills at times became
Utah Governor Jon Hunstman was chided
by social conservatives after expressing his support for civil unions
for gay and lesbians couples.
Forever America, a group that opposed
the gay rights push, purchased two full page advertisements that
appeared in Sunday's The Tribune and Deseret News
condemning the governor's
The ads called on
Utahns to “stop the homosexual movement,” compared being gay to
being a prostitute or drug addict, and labeled gay men and lesbians
as “anti-species behavior.”
supporters say they will return next year.
“The majority of
Utahns support these basic protections,” Equality Utah Executive
Director Mike Thompson told the Salt Lake Tribune after the
final bill died.
“We are not
giving up on these issues,” he said.