Students, faculty aim to focus on gay rights

By Jeremy Thompson, Staff Writer

The debate surrounding California’s Proposition 8 is continuing on the U campus as some faculty members and students are saying they want to change the focus from a debate over marriage for same-sex couples to a question of basic human rights.

“We are talking about basic, equal rights for all individuals,” said Cathy Martinez, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center. “We just want the same benefits and rights as heterosexual couples. Nothing more, but at the same time, nothing less.”

In response to these issues, students and faculty are joining concerned citizens to form groups such as Equality Utah, an organization to make sure benefits are extended to all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. To accomplish this, the group has launched the Common Ground Initiative. This group’s mission is to provide “a movement to invite all Utahns to join together in the support of granting health care, housing, employment and inheritance rights to gay and transgendered Utahns.”

The group hopes to accomplish the initiative by introducing six bills to the Utah State Legislature for the upcoming session that focus specifically on extending domestic partnership and civil union rights to citizens involved in same-sex relationships.

Students are organizing a march to the Capitol in support of these bills in the coming weeks. They are also actively lobbying lawmakers, friends and even church leaders to support the initiative. By combining the efforts of many different groups, they hope that an open dialogue can emerge that will help with progress on many different fronts.

“The debate over Proposition 8 has already helped to provoke a constructive dialogue among Utahns,” said Clifford Rosky, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and a legal adviser to Equality Utah. “I am hopeful that after the passage of Proposition 8 in California, Utahns on both sides of that controversy can send a positive message to all Americans by finding common ground in supporting the bills presented in the Legislature.”

Martinez and her associates want the discussion to focus on issues such as survivor benefits, retirement payouts and hospital-related stays, rather than on moral issues such as what defines marriage. Heterosexual couples take many rights for granted, but these same rights are denied to those in same-sex relationships. Only after seeing a lawyer and paying thousands of dollars can same-sex couples begin to enjoy even some of these rights, Martinez said.

“We can only go so far to protect ourselves and our partners under Utah law right now,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, with the help of groups such as Equality Utah and the State Legislature, gay and transgendered students can enjoy the same basic human rights as heterosexual couples.”

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