Protesters decry governor’s civil union support

Posted on 12 Feb 2009 at 7:06pm
By Brock Vergakis Associated Press

Republican Gov. Huntsman says he backs Common Ground Initiative that would extend certain protections against anti-gay discrimination

SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of protesters gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 111 to express their anger with Gov. Jon Huntsman for saying he supports civil unions.

Huntsman told reporters on Tuesday, Feb. 10 that he believes in the traditional definition of marriage, but the state should do more to extend civil rights to others. Huntsman said he supports a package of bills called the Common Ground Initiative backed by gay rights group Equality Utah. The package, among other things, would allow inheritance rights and prohibit people from being evicted from their homes for being gay.

Huntsman’s comments drew the ire of conservative groups who fear that granting civil unions or other legal rights to gay couples would violate the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage and domestic unions, known as Amendment 3.

"We shouldn’t give rights to people based on their sexual orientation," said protester Jessica Rodrigues, of the group America Forever, which she says is intended to "stop the propaganda of homosexuality for the children."

Rodrigues and about a dozen other protesters wore T-shirts Wednesday that featured two men kissing with a stop sign over it, saying it’s time to stop the "gay agenda."

The protest also was attended by several conservative lawmakers and religious leaders.

"This is not anti-gay. This is not anti-anybody. This is pro-family," said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the governor’s office has received numerous calls about his comments, both in support and opposition.

"That’s the beauty of the democratic process and freedom of speech. The governor has the ability to have his opinion, and obviously, all these people do, too. And that’s great," Roskelley said.

Huntsman, a Republican who has pledged not to seek a third term, is the most popular governor in state history and supported Amendment 3 when he ran for office in 2004. He says he doesn’t want to repeal the part of the amendment prohibiting civil unions, but that extending certain legal rights to gay couples is the right thing to do.

"I consider him a friend, but candidate Huntsman publicly supported Utah’s Amendment 3 in 2004. Gov. Huntsman now supports and publicly endorses same-sex relationships as approved civil unions," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "Gov. Huntsman’s about-face on this issue is an invitation to follow activist judges in states like Vermont and California where same-sex marriage is sanctioned and promoted by simply calling them civil unions and domestic partnerships."

So far, the Common Ground Initiative has had little success. A bill that would allow anyone in certain types of dependent relationships, including same-sex couples, to sue for wrongful death damages hasn’t made it out of committee.

The sponsor of a bill that would repeal the part of Amendment 3 that prohibits civil unions has pulled the measure, saying the state isn’t ready for it yet.

Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, said while he’s appreciative of Huntsman’s comments, the Common Ground Initiative has nothing to do with gay marriage or civil unions.

"Let’s not be distracted by the controversy," he said. "This is not about marriage. The fact that someone can lose their job or be evicted from their home has nothing to do with marriage."

On the Net: Equality Utah: www.equalityutah.org

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