During the last legislative session, a suite of legislative anti-discrimination proposals known as the Common Ground Initiative failed after they were strongly opposed by conservative groups, including the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake think tank. The six bills sought to level the playing field for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Utahns in the areas of hospitalization/medical care, wrongful death benefits, housing/employment and adoption rights. Sutherland argued the bills would undermine the tenet of "traditional marriage" between a man and a woman, and launched a push-back campaign it called the Sacred Ground Initiative.
Sutherland issued a statement Tuesday night expressing disappointment in the council's vote and the LDS Church's stance.
"As a public relations opportunity, the LDS Church's statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of 'gay rights' in Utah," the Sutherland statement read. "As a policy statement, it is problematic."
"The approved ordinances before the Salt Lake City Council are unsound in principle, clarity and effect."
Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake, who was among legislators who sponsored Common Ground Initiative bills last year and another of the Legislature's openly gay members, lauded the council's decision, and the church's support.
"This appears to be an olive branch being offered by the LDS Church," Biskupski said. "It's a very positive move and one I am extremely thankful for. This is the kind of messaging our community, and the entire state of Utah, really needs."
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, said earlier this year that if Salt Lake City took the actions it did Tuesday night, he would sponsor legislation to overturn it. But Wednesday, Wimmer said while he still supports such legislation and believes the Legislature should pass such a prohibition, he won't sponsor it. He is too busy with states' rights laws, he said. He believes others will introduce a bill to prohibit statewide what Salt Lake City did.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah chapter of Eagle Forum, a pro-traditional family organization, also believes the Legislature, dominated by conservative Republicans, won't pass any "pro-gay and lesbian" anti-discrimination laws.
"We knew that the city was going to do this," Ruzicka said. "We knew that the LDS Church, appropriately, would not oppose it because religions were carved out of the law. It does not affect the church, or any religious organization. But it certainly affects all the rest of Utahns who were not carved out based on our beliefs. We also have the right to be carved out, otherwise we become the victims of it."
Both Wimmer and Ruzicka said the city's new ordinance violates employers' and property owners' rights, specifically the right to own and manage private property.
"The housing the LDS Church owns around Brigham Young University would not have to rent to a couple living the homosexual lifestyle," Ruzicka said.
"But I as a private property owner would, even if I disapproved of that lifestyle," said Ruzicka. "I call that discrimination" against the property owner.
A bookstore owned by a religion would not have to hire a gay person, but a private bookstore, even it sold mainly religious books, would, she added.
Johnson said her bill and the Salt Lake City law make exemptions for small businesses and property owners.
Wimmer and Ruzicka and other opponents to equal rights are "entitled to (their) perspectives," Johnson said. Gay, lesbian and transgender people "live all over this state, in all the cities and towns," and they deserve equal protection under the law, not just those who live in Salt Lake City, she said.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said he hopes the dialogue between the LDS Church and the gay community continues.
"I don't know if that's fair to anyone, particularly the LDS Church, to speculate on what (Tuesday) night might mean," he said. "I would hope this is just a beginning."
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