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200 at rally call for 'common ground' in gay-rights fight

Published: Sunday, Jan. 24 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Ralliers listen to speakers and to a choir at a gathering Saturday at the Capitol. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black headlined the event, urging gays and lesbians to be peaceful but persistent.

Joe Deluca/KSL-TV 5

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SALT LAKE CITY — A year removed from arguably the most significant legislative push for gay rights in state history, more than 200 people rallied at the Capitol on Saturday to again call for "common ground."

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black called on members of the gay and lesbian community to be peaceful but persistent in their fight, to share their stories and to reach out to others.

"If people don't know who they're voting against ... they don't so much mind taking away our rights," said Black, who last year won an Academy Award for his screenplay for "Milk." "I did not come to Salt Lake City to protest. I came here to introduce myself and to share a message of love and respect."

Officials from the state's largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, Equality Utah, said their efforts on Capitol Hill would be "scaled back" after last year's campaign — a massive push that never saw a bill escape legislative committee.

"We're going to focus on our municipal efforts," Equality Utah Director Brandie Balken told the Deseret News. "The way we're able to change policy is by getting people on the ground to support those policies. In looking at what happened with our very common sense bills last year, we saw we needed to do more work on the ground."

Balken pointed to the successful passage of Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination ordinances in November as a model for advancing gay rights at the local level. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly supported the ordinances.

"They brought stakeholders to the table, and we want other municipalities to have a chance to do the same thing," she said.

Salt Lake City Councilman Luke Garrott called the ordinances' unanimous passage an important milestone for the city and its residents.

"They are about protection from fear," he said. "But they're also about recognition, and recognition is part of dignity."

Still, a handful of state lawmakers have vowed to carry gay rights legislation — workplace and housing nondiscrimination, probate rights and adoption rights — during the 2010 session."

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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