Here’s What’s Going On Inside Utah’s Battle For Equal Rights

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WHEN GAY MARRIAGE IS A STRETCH — New Mexico just stripped any chance of enacting gay rights this round. And Utah, home of gay-hating state senator Chris Buttars, also joined the chorus of civil rights foes on Wednesday when legislators shot down the Common Ground Initiative, which would’ve bestowed many of the same rights of married heteros on our gay brothers and sisters (hospital visitation, iheratance, adoption) without ever using the word “marriage” or even “civil union.” But the war between those for and against is far from over. Both sides in Utah are already planning their next steps.

If all of this sounds familiar, well, it is. There’s a pretty standardized game plan that precedes and follows legislative votes on gay rights.

In Utah, gay rights opponents are high off this week’s legislative win, and pumped up to go all the way — and reinvigorate support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And to get there, these folks must convince everyone that enacting a few gay rights laws here and there will only pave the way to letting sodomites wed. The Spectrum reports:

LaVar Christensen, former legislator and primary author of Utah’s constitutional amendment in support of traditional marriage, gave a presentation at the Dixie Center on Thursday calling for support from the “silent majority” to combat what he termed a marketing campaign to implement equal-rights policies that would ultimately lead to a redefinition of marriage in the state.

“I’m afraid it won’t be the majority much longer if they stay silent,” he said.
The speech, presented by the politically conservative Sutherland Institute, promoted what organizers are calling the “Sacred Ground Initiative,” a response to the “Common Ground Initiative” supported by Equality Utah, an advocacy group for gay and transgender rights. […]

He said the measures pushed by the Common Ground Initiative are clear “predecessors to same-sex marriage.” […]

Christensen’s presentation centered on what he called “principles and precedents,” explaining how courts could use such smaller rights given to same-sex and transgender couples as precedents to move toward marriage. He compared the issue to California, where the same types of rights outlined in the Common Ground Initiative eventually led to the much publicized Proposition 8 battle in last year’s election.

And on the other end of things, Equality Utah (which helped organize the Common Ground Initiative) is limiting its goals to what it sees as achievable: Small gay rights wins, and not full gay marriage, though this effort is what just failed to pass.

Will Carlson, manager of public policy for Equality Utah, said the group is not focused on gay marriage, as the Sutherland Institution has claimed, but on “real life” issues of equality.

“They’re trying to muddy the waters and convolute the two,” he said.

Carlson said Equality Utah members realize the two sides aren’t likely to find common ground on the marriage issue, so they’re pushing for other more basic rights, such as equal rights to housing, and making it illegal to punish or terminate an employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The group cites a Janurary survey that reports 83 percent of Utahns support providing such rights to gay and transgender people as reason for the Legislature to show similar support. In the four bills raised in this year’s legislature, sexual orientation was specifically addressed only once.

“They’re ignoring the issues addressed by the bills themselves,” Carlson said of the Sutherland Institute. “Common Ground is an attempt to say ‘Okay, we disagree on marriage, let’s see where we can agree.’”