State's first gay senator is sworn in

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 8 2005 9:47 a.m. MST

Scott McCoy fills the District 2 seat vacated by Paula Julander.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

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There wasn't much audible response to Utah's first openly gay state senator's debut before his new colleagues Monday — silence blamed on a faulty sound system.

"It was very awkward," Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said later. "There was some applause, but the trouble was it was difficult for people to know when the proper times were to make a response because of the sound system."

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, though, came through loud and clear when he addressed the Senate on Monday after being appointed to replace longtime legislator Paula Julander, who resigned her District 2 seat for health reasons.

McCoy, who spoke from the front of the chambers because his own microphone wasn't working, said it was a historic day and that he was proud to be the first openly gay member of the Utah Senate.

He said it has been suggested that he is coming to the Senate "with a specific personal agenda predicated solely on the fact that (he is) gay." But, McCoy said, he is there to represent "all of the diverse and vibrant communities" in his district.

"The fact that I am gay is certainly one of the characteristics with which I have been endowed by my Creator, and it is an important part of who I am as a human being," McCoy said, adding that it is not the only characteristic that defines him.

He concluded by thanking his parents and his partner, Mark Barr, for their love and support. The three, along with a number of other supporters — including the Legislature's only other openly gay member, Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, were on hand for his speech.

McCoy was a surprise pick by Democratic delegates in District 2. Julander had asked that her husband, Rob, be selected to fill the two years remaining in her term. But McCoy won Saturday's delegate vote, 45-41, and was appointed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

He is probably best known among Utahns as the head of the "Don't Amend" anti-Amendment 3 campaign. The amendment, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in November, bans gay marriage.

Barr said it "definitely" was difficult hearing his partner of seven years swear to uphold the Utah Constitution during Monday's ceremony, given the amendment.

"Scott has to do what's required of him, even though we may have had issues with Amendment 3," Barr said.

There may still be some hard feelings toward the campaign among lawmakers who backed the amendment. Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, had been particularly vocal about the push by the gay community to defeat the amendment.

And earlier this session, the Senate defeated a bill sponsored by a member of the majority party, Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, that would have extended some health and property-related benefits to those who cannot legally marry.

Valentine said he met with McCoy before Monday's session and found him engaging.

"I was very encouraged by his desire to embrace a lot of issues," the Senate president said, adding he expects McCoy to be a successful senator.

McCoy hasn't always been a Democrat. According to the Salt Lake County Elections Office, he changed his party affiliation to Republican from unaffiliated in June 2004. He registered as a Democrat Jan. 27, according to the elections office.

McCoy had been previously registered as a Democrat for about five months in 2002, according to the elections office.

McCoy said he switched parties to vote in the Republican primary. He said he was unaware that his registration had changed from Democrat to unaffiliated.

"Here in this state, I've pretty much always been a Democrat," McCoy said, noting he had worked for the House Agriculture Committee, which was chaired by a Republican, for 4 1/2 years during the 1990s.


Contributing: Deborah Bulkeley

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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