Gay rights bills need support

By By John Hannon

By John Hannon

According to a poll conducted by the gay rights group Equality Utah, Utahns appear to be in support of legislation that would ensure increased legal protection for same-sex couples.

Of the numerous questions that compose the poll, the sentiment of the majority of Utahns is perhaps best reflected in this finding: 63 percent believe gay and lesbian couples should not be allowed to marry but should be provided some legal protections, such as hospital visitation, health insurance and inheritance rights.

Equality Utah is attempting to build on the results of this poll by taking its message to the Utah Legislature. In a collection of bills that are sure to produce some memorable quotes from Sen. Chris “Brown v. Board of Education was wrong to begin with” Buttars, Equality Utah is hoping to reach what it sees as a middle ground for all parties.

In a society as polarized as ours, I think we can agree that middle ground is sorely lacking. The debate so often centers on religious dominance or liberal idealism that people forget the importance of compromise.

Equality Utah, however, has not. These bills, collectively referred to as the Common Ground Initiative, could begin to be heard in the Legislature as early as today. Will Carlson, manager of public policy for Equality Utah, is hopeful that recent statements made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will propel these bills into law. Press releases from the LDS Church have said that it “does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.”

The unifying theme for Equality Utah is the importance of basic human rights for same-sex couples. When “family members are being locked out of the courthouse, or when people are being fired because the employer found out about someone they love, or they’re being evicted, there is something seriously wrong,” Carlson said. “Everyone may not agree on the subject of same-sex marriage, but we can all agree on these basic protections.”

Apparently, the Legislature, at least on some level, agrees. Of all the messages that have been sent to lawmakers regarding these bills, only two definitive “No”s have been returned. Carlson said that on the whole, he believes that most lawmakers are seriously contemplating these bills. The circulation of this poll that details the extent of support Utahns feel for these bills should only increase their worth in the eyes of lawmakers.

These bills, however, are far from a shoo-in. History has shown us what happens when eligible voters don’t act on a subject they feel strongly about. This is your chance to get involved and make something you care about happen. There is not overwhelming support for these bills, but enough that lawmakers must consider it. Become that voice that pushes them over the edge.

Many students at the U have chosen to get involved in promoting this legislation. Cathy Martinez, director of the U’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, has seen many students volunteer at Equality Utah, working at its phone bank calling people and urging them to contact their representatives in support of the Common Ground Initiative.

Much of the way that people feel about the subject of gay marriage tends to be dictated by religious beliefs. This creates that touchy, tip-toeing-around type of discussion that generally accomplishes nothing. My appeal to you is that these particular bills are not an issue of religious definition of marriage. Rather, these are basic rights that most people have been enjoying in Utah for decades. There is no question that all human beings should be able to secure these types of protection.

Furthermore, in a state that will likely not support same-sex unions anytime in the foreseeable future, these bills are perhaps, at the very least, an important step toward tolerance. So contact your representatives and explain to them that the passage of the Common Ground Initiative is important to you. You can find your representatives by visiting and entering your mailing address at www.le.utah.gov/maps/amap.html.

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John Hannon