It wasn’t so long ago when the Utah Legislature consistently entertained legislation to restrict school social clubs in order to make sure gays could not meet on school grounds to discuss their issues.
It wasn’t that long ago when the Utah Legislature threatened to pass a bill usurping the rights of cities to enact ordinances protecting gays and lesbians from employment and housing discrimination.
In those days I will call the Utah Dark Ages, it would have been unlikely for a legislator in good standing with the Republican Party and the LDS Church to appear before any gay-sponsored group and pledge his allegiance to them.
But that was before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began to moderate its position on gays and lesbians and their right to function in society like everyone else.
When the church gave a nod of approval to Salt Lake City’s non-discrimination ordinance, the hard-line anti-gay stance in the Legislature began to erode.
And Monday, the evolution of even Republican hardliners toward the understanding of gay and lesbian suffering took a giant leap when one of the most true-blue conservatives stood before 2,200 gay and lesbian supporters at the annual Equality Utah fundraising banquet and used a biblical metaphor to explain his conversion to their cause.
"Elisha’s servant awoke and saw they were surrounded by a great army with horses and chariots," said Sen. Steve Urquart, R-St. George, in his role as a speaker at the banquet.
"Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them," Elisha replied.
Urquart went on to explain that when Elisha the prophet restored the sight of the enemy he had struck blind, and turned their hearts, it’s what is happening today as more hearts and minds are opening to embrace the gay and lesbian community they formerly feared and despised.
"Just as you gave me vision and turned my heart, we must open more eyes and turn more hearts," Urquart said.
"One by one, by example, conversation, education and advocacy, we will open eyes and turn hearts, until it is clear — in every committee meeting, in every floor vote, in every election in the state of Utah — that those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
This wasn’t openly gay Democratic State Chair Jim Dabakis talking. This was a stalwart Republican from southern Utah, referring to the gay community as "us" and the conservative "defender of the traditional family" community as "them."
Urquart has been a convert for a while. In the last legislative session, he sponsored a non-discrimination bill that, for the first time, was passed out favorably by a Senate committee. After that, the bill died on the Senate floor without a vote.
The anti-gay lobby, after all, is still strong at Capitol Hill.
But Urquart vows that this year his non-discrimination bill will pass the Legislature.
Those conservatives who are converting to some of the gay-friendly causes have cover now.
It would have been harder to take those positions when the LDS Church issued its proclamation on the family, taking a strong stance on the idea that the only legitimate family is headed by a male and a female.
After the church took a public relations beating for its support of California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8, it began loosening its grip. When it did not oppose ordinances protecting gays from discrimination, it opened the eyes and hearts of people like Urquart.
How many in Urquart’s scenario are with "us" and how many are with "them" remains to be seen.
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