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Gay-rights advocates begin media blitz

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 4 2009 2:07 a.m. MST

If its efforts on Capitol Hill haven't caught your attention yet, Equality Utah hopes newspaper advertisements, radio spots and billboards along I-15 will do the trick.

The gay-rights advocacy group behind the Common Ground Initiative launched an ad campaign this week and said it remained undeterred by a legislative committee's decision to kill one of its four bills.

"We've modeled our legislative proposals directly from the statements of the LDS Church," said Mike Thompson, Equality Utah's executive director. "We're talking about basic rights that have broad public support and have nothing to do with marriage. We hope this media campaign will help Utahns see past the fear-based arguments used against this legislation."

On just the second day of the legislative session, Equality Utah watched as a committee shot down the mildest proposal of the four-bill package. The bill would have given same-sex partners legal standing in wrongful death cases. Several people testified before the committee said it attacked "traditional marriage" values.

"It's obvious that the intent is to eventually pave the ground for the marriage amendment to be overturned," said Jeff Reynolds, a spokesman for the conservative Sutherland Institute. "The traditional family is such an essential and crucial element to our society."

Equality Utah said the "tired arguments" of its detractors do not reflect the opinions held by most Utahns. According to a Deseret News/KSL-TV survey conducted last month, 53 percent of Utahns supported expanding protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Equality Utah's campaign kicked off Sunday with ads in the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. Billboards went up the following day along I-15.

In Salt Lake County, a billboard reads, "83% of Utahns agree: Gay people should have some legal protections." Citing statements from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a billboard in Utah County reads, "The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples."

Reynolds, however, said the campaign misconstrued statements from the church.

Last year, the LDS Church said in a written statement it "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional right of churches."

The Sutherland Institute plans to launch a counter-campaign called "Sacred Ground." The details of the campaign will be announced at 7 p.m. Thursday during the think-tank's State of the Union II: The Challenge to Family and Freedom. The program will be held in the show barn at Thanksgiving Point, 3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi. Those interested in attending must RSVP by calling 801-355-1272.

E-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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