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Utah Legislators Call Mormon Leadership’s Bluff on LGBT Rights

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A group of at least five Utah legislators have asked the Mormon leadership to join their call for state legislation protecting LGBT rights to hospital visitation, medical care, fair housing, inheritance, and non-discrimination in employment, based on a statement from the Church itself last week that the Church "does not object to rights for same-sex couples" in any of these areas.

Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have said they do not object to rights for same-sex couples, as long as those rights do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family.

Now, gay-rights activists and at least five Utah legislators are asking the Church to demonstrate its conviction.

The group Equality Utah says the Church made the invitation, and they’re accepting it. "The LDS Church says it does not oppose same-sex couples receiving such rights as hospitalization and medical care, fair housing rights or probate rights," said Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah.

In their attempt to appear non-bigoted the day after Prop 8 took away marriage equality rights throughout California, the Mormon leadership detailed a long list of rights of same-sex couples to which they do not object. Now, these legislators will introduce bills to protect all of these rights, and they ask the Church leadership to support them.

"Setting aside the marriage issue for now, there is so much in that space that is short of marriage that we need to talk about; and we’re saying, ‘Let’s talk about it,’" said Utah Sen. Scott McCoy.

Those issues include rights in medical care and hospital visitation, housing and employment protections, insurance rights for a partner, a statewide domestic partner registry. Repealing the second part of Utah’s Amendment 3 would officially recognize gay couples.

Having framed this as accepting the Church leadership’s invitation, the legislators put them into a rather tight spot: Are you as good as your word?

This group knows there will be questions, resistance, even negative reactions. They’re hoping to create a dialogue based on the common ground they say the LDS Church has laid down.

"It’s not our intention to bring these things forward without significant education and understanding," said Salt Lake Rep. Christine Johnson.

"I have had conversations with representatives of the LDS Church initially about this, letting them know what we were going to do here today, what we’re going to do with these kinds of measures," McCoy said. "We need to channel our feelings into a constructive direction and dialogue."

Surely, the LDS leadership wouldn’t lie about their support of these non-marriage rights? And if civil laws are required to protect the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, doesn’t it make good sense to translate the Church’s support for these other, non-marriage rights into legal protections as well?

Of course, the Mormons’ fundie allies in the marriage fight always frame any LGBT legal rights as a slippery slope towards "homosexual ‘marriage’" — so the LDS Church leadership’s response will be an indicator of the direction they wish to go now: admit they lied about their support of non-marriage rights for same-sex couples? Or join their fundie allies on the slippery-slope argument? Or support these legislators in enacting a broad swath of protections for same-sex Utah couples?

Stay tuned.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge

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