Sandy • Planning a state Republican convention is hard work. Ivan DuBois knows because he refereed rival campaigns jockeying for the best spots for their elaborate booths. He helped plan the schedule to ensure the event didn’t drag on all day and then there is all the technical stuff behind the scenes.
But that’s easy compared to his new endeavor. The former executive director of the Utah Republican Party is trying to persuade his fellow conservatives to support gay rights.
Along with his wife, Megan, DuBois attended Saturday’s state GOP convention wearing a big Equality Utah sticker. The couple, who were not delegates, were there to mingle with old friends, some of whom did a double take when DuBois urged them to support legislation to ban housing and workplace discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Such bills have received little traction in the conservative, Republican-dominated Utah Legislature.
His message was simple and blunt.
"I’m not scared of gay people," said DuBois, who left his party post last year. "You can be a really good Republican and support people who don’t fit the same mold as you."
The DuBoises are faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which adamantly opposes gay marriage but has backed a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City. The couple said they were not trying to "rock the boat with the church," and yet they drew a distinction between a religious marriage and a government-sanctioned marriage.
"All rights of marriage should be able to go to any couple," Megan DuBois said. "There’s not many in this crowd who will stand up for this."
She was right.
Some delegates expressed frustration that the convention program even included a full-page Equality Utah advertisement. One man took to the microphone during the program to question the ad’s inclusion because it contradicts the party’s traditional-family message.
Utah Republican Chairman James Evans responded by saying a registered Republican on Equality Utah’s board purchased the ad and it’s not up to the party to tell people what to believe.
"You make your own determination," Evans said. "This is America."
Equality Utah also had a booth at the Republican and the Democratic conventions.
"As a nonpartisan organization, we feel it is important to engage with members of both parties," said Brandie Balken, Equality Utah’s executive director. "We seek candidates who come through our endorsement process from both sides of the aisle."
In the same cavernous GOP convention space at the South Towne Exposition Center, some well-known traditional-marriage advocates had their own table staffed by Gayle Ruzicka from the Utah Eagle Forum and Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, who helped write Utah’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. A federal district court judge struck down that ban Dec. 20, resulting in a flurry of same-sex wedding vows before the U.S. Supreme Court put a stay on that decision in January. The case is now before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ruzicka, Christensen and their supporters were encouraging delegates to sign up to receive updates on the fight to keep marriage between a man and a woman. Among those lined up to support them was Richard David Macpherson Barnes, a Republican candidate for a Salt Lake County Council seat.
"Marriage is not a right; it is a privilege granted by government. That’s why it requires a license," he said. "The needs of children as a result of a marriage between a man and a woman should be foremost in the law."
Barnes believes issues, such as inheritance, should be handled outside of the issue of marriage.
"The Republican Party thrives," he said, "when we stand by our principles of faith in God, protection of the family and protection of the free market."
But DuBois believes the Republican Party will suffer, primarily with younger voters, if it doesn’t reach out to supporters of gay rights.
"My vision of the party is absolutely, fundamentally a small government, fiscally conservative entity that really cares about people," he said. "And ignoring this nondiscrimination issue in the state of Utah any longer is absurd."
A survey conducted in February by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of people under age 30 who are Republicans or lean Republican support gay marriage, while just 27 percent of Republicans 50 or older hold that view. Overall, 54 percent of respondents favor same-sex unions.
The DuBoises, who have attended Equality Utah fundraisers for about a year, received some support from within the party. A recent Facebook post highlighting their support for the gay-rights group included supportive comments from Evelyn Call, a Republican campaign strategist who recently worked for U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Alan Dayton, a GOP lobbyist, among others.
None of the party’s standard-bearers is supporting gay marriage. Hatch did support a national nondiscrimination bill in 2013, and state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, has been pushing state legislation against discrimination in housing and employment.
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