Utah lawmaker pulls bill to repeal part of anti-gay-marriage amendment

Posted on 09 Feb 2009 at 1:38pm
By Brock Vergakis Associated Press

Biskupski says other bills making their way through the Legislature have a better chance of passage if she stops pushing hers

SALT LAKE CITY — A lesbian state lawmaker said Friday, Feb. 6 she has decided to pull a bill that calls for repealing part of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, wanted to repeal a part of the amendment that says the state won’t give the same legal rights that marriage bestows to any other domestic union.

Biskupski said she still thinks the amendment should be repealed, but that other gay rights bills making their way through the Legislature will have a better chance of succeeding if she stops pursuing her bill.

"It’s just gone for the session. What will happen after that really depends on the climate and any progress that is made on educating the general population. We, and I, the gay community, really have a lot of work that needs to be done in educating people around us on the issues that impact our families and lives," she said.

The bill was part of the Common Ground initiative, a package of bills supporting rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Utah.

So far, the Common Ground initiative has had little success. A bill that would have allowed financially dependent gay couples to sue in the event of a wrongful death already has been defeated in the Senate.

Many conservative lawmakers are afraid that if the state grants any privileges to gay couples a court could overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage.

"This is an act of good faith. People had been talking about marriage to discuss issues that didn’t have anything to do with marriage. We want to stop talk about this marriage issue — we’re talking about basic protections for people," said Will Carlson, public policy director for the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Eagle Forum, said she was pleased Biskupski pulled her bill, but she said Biskupski is wrong if she thinks it will help the rest of the Common Ground initiative.

"I’m always happy when someone pulls a bad bill," she said. "But it’s not going to make a bit of difference."

Biskupski’s bill faced a battle from the start. Amending the state constitution would have required two-thirds approval in the House and Senate and a vote of the public.

Equality Utah said it is now turning its attention to the other Common Ground bills, including one filed Friday, Feb. 6 that would allow adults who take responsibility for each other and live together to have hospital visitation, medical decision-making and inheritance rights.

The bill by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, was crafted to avoid any mention of the word marriage, she said.

Instead, it mirrors a Nov. 5 statement made by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following the successful campaign of a California proposition to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriage.

"The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches," the church said at the time.

The church rarely involves itself in public policy debates, but when it does Utah’s lawmakers tend to listen. About 60 percent of the state’s population is Mormon and between 80 percent and 90 percent of lawmakers are.

Seelig said many of her constituents are opposed to gay marriage because of their faith, but they support basic human rights.

"They don’t want their neighbors to hurt," she said.

On the Net: Equality Utah: http://www.equalityutah.org/
Utah Legislature: www.le.utah.gov

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