Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Church backs SLC protections for gays after series of secret meetings

Excerpts of LDS Church supports SLC anti-bias ordinance by Matt Canham, Derek P. Jensen And Rosemary Winters, The Salt Lake Tribune

In a rare move, the LDS Church announced Tuesday night its support of Salt Lake City's proposed ordinances protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment.

"The church supports these ordinances," said spokesman Michael Otterson, "because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage."

"I believe in a church that believes in human dignity and treating people with respect when we disagree ... especially when we disagree."

The move was hailed by leaders of Utah's gay community -- some of them stunned -- who called it groundbreaking policy that they hope will set the stage for statewide legislation.

"We're really excited. This is a great step," said Will Carlson, director of public policy for the gay-rights advocacy group Equality Utah. But, he noted, four out of five gay Utahns live outside of the capital and should be afforded protection as well.

Tuesday's announcement follows more than two months of secret meetings between midlevel LDS officials and five of Utah's most prominent gay leaders. And those meetings have their roots in the "kiss-in" protests that took place after LDS security detained two gay men on the church's Main Street Plaza after they were seen hugging and kissing.

Former City Council member Deeda Seed organized the first kiss-in protest and called current Council Chairman Carlton Christensen to talk it over. Christensen then suggested to LDS leaders that a dialogue with Utah's gay community may ease hostilities.

The officials thought it was worth a shot. They reached out to the leaders of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, suggesting they huddle at the Church Office Building. The gay leaders suggested a coffee shop at the Utah Pride Center. They both settled on a neutral location -- the Avenues home of Sam and Diane Stewart. The Stewarts are active Mormons and close friends of Jim Dabakis, who helped found Equality Utah and the Pride Center.

"These were two communities living in the same town that just had no understanding of each other whatsoever," Dabakis said. "It was quite uncomfortable in the beginning."

The LDS Church sees the announcement as an olive branch to the gay community after months of growing tension over the church-backed Proposition 8 vote -- barring gay marriage in California -- and the kiss-in protests. Dabakis hopes it isn't the end of the discussion, but the beginning.

Indeed, Seed says, the meetings were emotional. Gay leaders recounted "horrible" anecdotes about being shut out of decisions regarding a partner's will, hospice decision or general medical care near the time of death.

"It's the power of stories," she added. "We had tears in our eyes."

Nationally, more than 100 cities have enacted such protections for gay and transgender people.

The Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City think tank, opposes the anti-discrimination laws.

Becker's legislative liaison, Ben McAdams, says he is optimistic the church endorsement will provide cover for state lawmakers who otherwise may propose legislation to kill the city's anti-discrimination proposal. And it may deflate the fiery rhetoric expressed by conservatives, including Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan.

Read the entire article here.

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