Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he publicly opposed the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage after giving "a heads up" to an official of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Shurtleff, a Republican who personally opposes same-sex marriage, said Tuesday he'd already made his decision to oppose Amendment 3 before speaking to the official. He bases his opposition on the amendment's part two, which would prevent giving "same or substantially equivalent legal effect" as marriage to any other union.
Shurtleff, who is running for re-election, and his two opponents have released a joint statement saying that wording would deny a group of citizens the right to approach the Legislature to seek benefits and would be vulnerable to legal challenge.
Shurtleff said the official, whom he refused to identify, was "not speaking to me as a representative of the church.
"I called to give him a heads up," he said. "There was some confusion about the church's position."
Shurtleff was referring to a statement the LDS Church issued in May supporting a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The statement was issued before efforts to move forward a federal marriage amendment died in the U.S. Senate. The church has not endorsed any specific amendment.
While most voters in Utah are LDS, Shurtleff said the call was simply a courtesy call to let the official know his opinion. Shurtleff said the official didn't clarify the LDS Church position to him, but "I felt comfortable in going forward after the conversation."
Since releasing the unusual joint statement with his Democratic and Libertarian challengers, Shurtleff has faced criticism from amendment supporters and state lawmakers from his own party.
LDS spokesman Dale Bills said the church could not confirm Tuesday that Shurtleff's conversation had taken place. Bills did say "the church has not endorsed Amendment 3" but declined further comment.
Quin Monson, assistant political science professor at Brigham Young University, said it's possible Shurtleff, like many other Utahns, simply wanted to know "how (the LDS Church's) statement applies to the Utah proposal."
"We do know from past experiences that if the church is very specific in its support or opposition. . . . It will affect voters," he said.
The LDS Church has been specific in its support for marriage legislation in the past. Monson pointed to California, where he said anecdotal evidence shows LDS involvement was pivotal to passing that state's Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage.
The LDS Church hasn't been actively involved in efforts to pass Amendment 3 in Utah.
Those in favor of the amendment said the church's position on marriage is clear, even though it hasn't endorsed Amendment 3.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said Shurtleff's comments about an unofficial discussion are more vague than any statement the church has made.
"I believe the LDS Church fully supports marriage between a man and a woman," said Buttars, who co-chairs the pro-amendment campaign Constitutional Defense of Marriage Alliance. "I think this amendment will pass."
Scott McCoy, campaign manager of the Don't Amend Alliance, which opposes the amendment, says it's telling that the church has not endorsed Amendment 3."What it looks like is the church all along has said it's in favor of an amendment to preserve the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman," he said. "It has never gone on to say anything about part two."
Contributing: KSL Radio