Gays-rights proponents and opponents ramped up their rhetoric for and against Jon Huntsman Jr. on Wednesday -- two days after Utah's Republican governor revealed that he backs civil unions and other rights for same-sex couples.
"After that initial shock, I was incredibly impressed with him," said gay-rights advocate Jacob Whipple, who staged a candlelight vigil outside of the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday night to show support for Huntsman.
But earlier in the day, at the Capitol, opponents criticized the governor's stance, which includes support for traditional marriage but also rights for same-sex couples.
"He is simply dead wrong on this issue," said Frank Mylar, an attorney who belongs to the Utah Coalition for Traditional Families.
Thirty lawmakers, including Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and former President John Valentine, R-Orem, belong to the coalition, which urged Utahns to call the Governor's Office and complain.
Several protesters wore T-shirts that read "homosexuals are anti-species." But Valentine insisted Wednesday's message was "not anti-gay."
Equality Utah fired back with its own news conference. Executive Director Mike Thompson expressed bewilderment at the outcry surrounding the governor's support for civil unions.
"While discussions about civil unions are valuable over the long run, Equality Utah specifically dropped its bill regarding the second portion of Amendment 3 [that bans domestic unions akin to marriage] to focus energy where common ground is clear," Thompson said.
Only two bills remain in Equality Utah's Common Ground Initiative. Both would offer protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns that Huntsman supports. HB160 would allow two unmarried, co-habiting adults -- including same-sex couples -- to sign a "joint-support declaration" and gain rights to inheritance and medical-decision making. The other, HB267, protects LGBT Utahns from discrimination in housing and employment.
"We can all agree that gay people shouldn't be fired or evicted simply for being gay," said Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, and sponsor of HB267. "Yet every month, the [Utah] Labor Commission receives anywhere from three to five calls from people who have lost their jobs for being gay."
Huntsman's spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said the governor's office has received numerous calls and e-mails about his stance.
"Last I checked, we had more people calling to say, 'Thank you,'" she said.