SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns on both sides of the gay marriage issue said Thursday that President Barack Obama's statement of support isn't likely to spark any significant legal changes surrounding gay rights in the state.
"That can easily cut both ways," said Bill Duncan, director of the conservative Sutherland Institute Center for Family and Society. "More discussion about his stand might strengthen support for marriage."
Duncan said Utahns may be put off by Obama describing how his own daughters readily accept the gay parents of their friends as a reason to change his perspective on same-sex marriage.
"People may say if that's the reason to support changing the definition of marriage, that's not all that compelling," he said, because they reject the argument "the kids are going in that direction so maybe we ought to be on board."
Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken said she was touched by Obama's statement that it wouldn't dawn on his daughters that their friends' gay parents "would be treated different."
Balken said that highlights the experience of "getting to know people who at first seem very, very different than you are and finding out your core values and hopes and dreams are the same."
She said such interactions help build support for making employment and housing discrimination against gay Utahns illegal throughout the state.
It's a top priority of Utah's gay community, given that voters passed a state constitutional amendment in 2004 banning any type of same-sex union extending the same or similar benefits of marriage.
Fifteen cities and counties, including Salt Lake City, have passed an anti-discrimination ordinance backed by the LDS Church, but state lawmakers have rejected extending the protections statewide.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Scott Trotter, declined to comment on the president's position on gay marriage. The LDS Church has long supported traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
Mel Nimer, president of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, and a candidate for the Salt Lake County Council, said there are more important issues to be dealt with now, especially the economy.
"If my partner and I wanted to go to New York and get married, we could do that," Nimer said, even though their union would not be recognized in Utah. "It will happen. But it's not going to necessarily happen overnight."
Nimer said he supports the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, despite Romney's opposition to gay marriage. "The real issue is marriage isn't really something the government ought to be controlling," Nimer said.
Quin Monson, head of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the school's exit polls have shown the majority of Utahns oppose gay marriage but favor some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
That's why former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s popularity with Utahns was not hurt by his support for civil unions, Monson said. "I don't think that we're that far away in Utah from at least addressing some basic anti-discrimination stuff," he said.
GOP members of Utah's congressional delegation reaffirmed their opposition to gay marriage. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he supports the Utah Constitution's definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
"The president is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but I stand with Utah on this issue," Lee said.
The lone Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson, said he also believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
"That's where I've always been," Matheson said. "It looks like on this issue I'm more with Mitt Romney than with Barack Obama."
Utah's Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates also agreed on the definition of marriage. "Marriage is the recognized union between one man and one woman only," GOP Gov. Gary Herbert said. "That is all that needs to be said."
Peter Cooke, the Democratic candidate for governor, said if elected he would uphold the Utah Constitution's ban on gay marriage but work toward statewide anti-discrimination legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat and a Mormon from Nevada, said "people should be able to marry whomever they want" even though his personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman.
"The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family's life, always struck me as absurd," Reid said in a statement.
Matthew Wilson, a professor specializing in religion and politics at Southern Methodist University in Texas, said Reid's statement would have little impact on other members of the LDS Church.
"Most Mormons have learned to put some distance between themselves and Harry Reid anyway," Wilson said.
Contributing: Richard Piatt
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