Boiling over: Rhetoric in gay rights debate heating up

Published February 16, 2009 6:35 pm
Common Ground Initiative » Two more bills face hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
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With the Utah Legislature set to consider two gay-rights bills Tuesday and one Wednesday, rhetoric from opponents is not just heating up, it's boiling over.

On Sunday, a group called America Forever ran full-page ads in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News calling on Utahns to "stop the homosexual movement." The ad also condemns Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for endorsing the Common Ground Initiative, a legislative push that would offer inheritance and medical-decision-making rights to same-sex couples and make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender.

Despite supporting rights for lesbian and gay couples -- including civil unions, which aren't on the table at the Legislature -- Huntsman won't be testifying on behalf of the three gay-rights measures during this week's committee hearings, spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said Monday.

"He did it last week on health-care reform because it is such a critical issue and important item for him," she said in a voice message. "He won't be appearing before any other committees on any other topics."

America Forever, which solicits donations in its print ad, does not have a current Utah business license as a nonprofit nor is it registered as a political-issues or political-action committee, according to state Web sites.

The ad compares being gay to being "druggies and hookers," labels homosexuality as "anti-species behavior" and concludes that "gays should be forced not to display" their sexual orientation.

Gay-rights opponent Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, agrees with America Forever's stance on upholding "traditional marriage" but condemns the group's tactics and rhetoric, including the ad.

"Everything they're doing crosses the line," Wimmer said Monday, noting he helped to eject members of America Forever from an Equality Utah news conference last week after they became confrontational.

"There's no need to have hateful discourse," Wimmer said. "Quite frankly, they make those of us who are on the side of traditional marriage -- they make a lot of us -- look bad."

America Forever did not respond Monday to requests for comment left via voice mail and e-mail.

Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah -- the advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns that is pushing the Common Ground Initiative -- called the ad "inflammatory" and "divisive."

"It demonstrates what we are up against in having a rational debate," Thompson said. "There's no reason to respond directly to the content of the ad because it's just ridiculous. The conversation should be focused on the Common Ground Initiative and the bills that are part of that."

MediaOne, which handles advertising, production and circulation for both The Tribune and Deseret News , said four subscribers canceled subscriptions to The Tribune on Monday in response to the ad. No one had stopped subscriptions to the News , said Brent Low, MediaOne's president and chief executive officer.

MediaOne made the decision to run both ads -- and removed a photo of two gay men kissing from the LDS Church-owned News version -- Low said, consistent with publishing guidelines from both papers.

Agreeing to run an ad does not mean a newspaper endorses it, said Tribune Editor Nancy Conway.

"We didn't see [America Forever's ad] until we saw it in the paper," she said. "Advertising and news are entirely separate."

Conway said she personally didn't like the ad. But "we have generally a philosophy about ads that freedom to express oneself and First Amendment rights are covered in advertising. … We would be hypocrites, really, if we didn't allow expression."

In addition, she said, the issue is before the Legislature and is of "much interest to the state right now."

America Forever paid full price for the ads, Low noted. Based on MediaOne's rate card, a full-page ad in both Sunday papers costs about $15,000.

rwinters@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">rwinters@sltrib.com

Gay-rights bills face hearings this week

Three bills that could benefit gay and transgender Utahns are headed for committee hearings on Utah's Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday:

HB288 » Would allow unmarried couples to adopt and foster children. House Health and Human Services Committee, Tuesday , 2 p.m., House Building Room 30. (Unlike the following two bills, this one is not included in the Common Ground Initiative.)

HB267 (1st substitute) » Would make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender. House Business and Labor Committee, 2 p.m., Tuesday , Capitol, Room 450.

HB160 » Would afford two cohabiting adults, including same-sex couples, rights of inheritance and medical decision making. House Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, 9:15 a.m., House Building Room 20.

On the Web » Go to http://www.sltrib.com this afternoon for the latest on HB288 and HB267.

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