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Landmark moment

Published November 12, 2009 7:22 am

SLC saves gays from discrimination
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's the Utah equivalent of the march on Washington, the lunch counter protests, the freedom rides; a landmark moment for basic civil rights.

Salt Lake City became the first municipality in the state to extend some of the most fundamental rights to members of the gay and transgender community -- protection against discrimination in housing and employment.

The City Council approved the ordinance unanimously Tuesday. And -the effort was preceded by an unexpected endorsement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which praised the city for crafting a "fair and reasonable" law that does not jeopardize traditional male-female marriage.

Hallelujah! With the church on board, the new ordinance is less likely to be challenged, and the stage is set for even greater change.

Opposition to the city ordinance was forming in the Legislature, and a bill that would repeal the city law seemed a certainty. But now, LDS legislators, who comprise a super-majority on Capitol Hill, will be less likely to overturn the ordinance.

Plus, with a church-backed measure for a model, elected leaders in other Utah municipalities may be more likely to pass nondiscrimination ordinances of their own.

The door is also open for the Legislature to approve more far-reaching reforms, specifically a package of bills known as the Common Ground Initiative, which would extend the nondiscrimination measures statewide while also granting probate and hospital visitation rights and health insurance benefits to domestic partners.

LDS leaders did not oppose the initiative last year, simply stating that the church "does not object" to the extension of rudimentary rights like those in the initiative to gays. But they didn't explicitly endorse the proposal, and the bills were killed in committee. That, too, could change.

The church erected a figurative fence between the church and the gay community by supporting a gay marriage ban in California and having a gay couple arrested for kissing on the church-owned Main Street Plaza. And it can help tear that fence down, and build on the relationship forged in recent meetings with leaders of the gay rights movement, by giving its blessing to the Common Ground Initiative.

City Councilwoman Jill Remington Love, speaking after the council vote, said it best. "We are a stronger, better city this evening." And, thanks to a progressive council, an enlightened mayor, determined activists and the LDS Church, the potential now exists for a stronger, better state.