Minutes before the LDS Church's startling announcement of support for Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination laws, one of Utah's conservative mouthpieces insisted it would not happen.
Standing in the City Council Chamber, the Sutherland Institute's Jeff Reynolds told reporters rumors of the church's support were both ridiculous and a glaring case of "journalistic fraud." The church, Reynolds said, simply would proclaim nonopposition to the ordinances.
Then church spokesman Michael Otterson strode to the lectern to deliver the bombshell. Soon after, Reynolds skedaddled to write a response that showed up two hours later. Blindsided by the news, Sutherland nonetheless reiterated its call for the Legislature to kill the ordinances, which outlaw firing or eviction in Utah's capital based on a person being gay or transgender.
Sutherland's argument: Such measures mean "marriage will die by a thousand cuts."
"As a public-relations opportunity, the LDS Church's statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of advocates of "gay rights" in Utah, the think tank argued. As a policy statement, it is problematic.
"The approved ordinances," Sutherland continued, "are vague, dangerously broad and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate."
But in light of the church's position, it remains to be seen whether this conservative stalwart or another -- the Eagle Forum -- influences any lawmakers.
Bias knows no bounds » According to participants of the secret meetings between gay leaders and church officials, personal anecdotes describing discrimination proved a powerful tonic in the negotiations. And at least one former state employee says such bias is not uncommon in the ranks of state workers.
On Tuesday, John Bennett, grandson of former U.S. Sen. Wallace Bennett and nephew of current Sen. Bob Bennett, told the City Council he was fired in 1986 from the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development because he is gay.
"Coming from a very politically powerful family does not protect you," he said as he urged the council to pass the anti-discrimination measures.
Now an employee of Salt Lake County, which has nondiscrimination protections in place for its work force, Bennett laments that many employees across Utah still are not so fortunate.
How will the church communique play on Capitol Hill? » Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, said he is thrilled with the church's declaration of support. And he predicts the rare public stance will have an impact when state lawmakers convene early next year.
"It makes a huge difference," McCoy said moments before Tuesday's announcement at City Hall. "The church does not run what happens on Capitol Hill. But it would be ridiculous to suggest that the leaders on the Hill would not sit up and take notice of what's happening here tonight."
Salt Lake County Council Chairman Joe Hatch says he is not convinced the church endorsement will sway conservatives at the Legislature.
"It might actually hurt," Hatch said, explaining that the long-held perception is that when the LDS Church says jump, legislators ask how high. "Here's a way for the Republican Mormon leadership to say, 'We don't do what the church says.' "