Equality Utah reaches out to LDS Church for passage of gay rights bills

Published November 10, 2008 6:01 pm

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Posted: 3:53 PM- As the blame game for Proposition 8's passage continues to be played in many circles, one political advocacy group - advancing equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - has extended a hand to the LDS Church, hoping for collaboration.

Equality Utah announced Monday that it will be helping to draft five bills to introduce in the 2009 Legislature, each of which supports its cause and, representatives emphasized, is in line with language used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Standing with the Equality Utah were three lawmakers who plan to help: Sen. Scott McCoy and Reps. Christine Johnson and Jen Seelig.

California's Prop 8, which, with the urging of LDS Church officials, was widely supported by the church members to about $22 million, passed last week and defines marriage as exclusively being between a man and a woman. The measure's success, and the perception of disproportional Mormon involvement, has set off a wave of protests, including one of more than 3,000 people outside the faith's Salt Lake Temple on Friday.

Rather than finger-point, Equality Utah decided to seize the moment as an opportunity, said chairwoman Stephanie Pappas.

"While we disagree with the LDS Church's position on Proposition 8, we respect that their position is based on the guiding principles of their faith," she said. "Throughout the campaign, while the LDS Church stated its support of [the measure], 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.'

"Just last week, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose 'civil union or domestic partnerships,' " Pappas said. "We are taking the LDS Church at its word."

Three of the bills would seek to secure equal treatment when it comes to hospitalization, medical care, housing, employment and probate rights (entitlement to insurance and inheritance upon a partner's death).

A fourth, titled the Domestic Partner Rights & Responsibilities Act, would create a statewide domestic partner registry that would secure rights of insurance, inheritance and fair housing. A fifth would seek to repeal the second part Utah's own marriage-defining constitutional amendment, which Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public policy manager, said "has been misinterpreted to avoid any recognition of gay couples."

The part in question reads, he continued, " 'no other domestic union; however, denominated, may be recognized as marriage or be given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.' "

Equality Utah executive director Mike Thompson asked the LDS Church to continue "its willingness to engage in political issues" by stepping in to help.

"Is the LDS Church willing to assign a member of its Presidency of the Seventy to lead church efforts to secure these rights, just as it did with Proposition 8?" he asked. And, he continued, "will the First Presidency draft a letter to Utah Latter-day Saints in support of rights and protections for gay couples ... [and] ask for this letter to be read to all Utah congregations on a specified date," as it did in California?

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church may have a response later Monday.

McCoy, who will present the Probate Rights - Wrongful Death Amendments, first drafted in 2007, to the judiciary interim committee next week, said he and the others are "looking for a way to move this dialogue forward."

While the emotions have run high on all sides, and a time for catharsis was necessary, McCoy said, now's the time to "channel that anger, energy and disappointment," while building "new partners and new allies."

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