Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Common Ground Initiative

Equality Utah is an organization whose stated mission is to "secure equal rights and protections for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] Utahns and their families." In response to certain comments made by Church officials in the wake of Prop 8, Equality Utah proposed five bills, collectively called the Common Ground Initiative (CGI), that were introduced to the 2009 Utah legislature. The five bills are aimed at extending certain rights to LGBT couples.

1. Health Care - extending benefits for state employees to their adult designees.
2. Housing and Employment - making it illegal to fire or evict a person based on sexual orientation.
3. Wrongful Deaths - allowing insurance and inheritance in deaths involving negligence or malpractice to LGBT partners.
4. Adult Joint Support Declaration - allowing rights of inheritence, insurance, and housing upon signing of a declaration.
5. Repealing the part of Amendment 3 to the Utah Constitution (which defines marriage as between one man and one woman) which states "no other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as marriage or be given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."

The legislature defeated the Wrongful Deaths bill in committee, meaning it did not have the chance to be voted on by the full legislature. The bills' sponsors pulled the Amendment 3 bill because it was apparent that it would never pass and was seen as maybe too much for the Utah legislature to swallow right now.

It is time to support these bills, not to somehow "make up" for the Proposition 8 unpleasantness, or to try to repair the Church's public image, but because supporting equality for all people is the right thing to do.

The Church's position is that it "does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." The Church has not commented on the CGI, but on November 5th, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose “civil unions or domestic partnerships.” This statement was qualified by Church spokesman Michael Otterson:
But spokesman Michael Otterson suggested a few days ago to a Washington Post reporter that the church's post-election remarks were "based on civil unions in California and that no decision has been made regarding similar rights in Utah," the paper said. "'I don't want to give the impression that the church is saying civil unions in all cases are OK,'" Otterson was quoted as saying, according to the Tribune.
Polls show that a strong majority of Utahns, including an even split of Mormons, support additional rights and protections for gay couples. One poll showed 63% support the rights found in the Common Ground Initiative, another showed 56% support. Both polls showed an opposition to same-sex couple adoption, which is not part of the CGI. Seventy percent of Utahns, however, oppose civil unions. That is at odds with Governor Huntsman, who has come out in support of civil unions.

There is a continuum that looks something like this: no rights for same-sex couples --> rights such as inheritance, housing, insurance, hospital visitations --> civil unions --> same-sex marriage. The Church has come out unequivocally in favor of rights for gays and gay couples, and qualifiedly for civil unions, and is opposed to same-sex marriage. I would think the reasoning goes something like this: Marriage is covenant between a man, a woman, and God. It is sacred in nature and cannot be expanded to include same-sex couples. While we find the practice of homosexuality immoral, we support basic equality for homosexuals because it is both the Christian thing to do and because we need to be good members of a community and accept them for who they are, even if we disagree with their lifestyle.

While marriage is a religious institution, rights such as those found in the CGI are government and community based. We should absolutely make sure that every citizen is given the same basic rights by the government, while protecting our beliefs as a religion. I do not see a conflict in these views.

So if a majority of Utahns support the rights found in the CGI, the Church supports those rights, and the governor supports them, why is the state legislature opposed? The Utah state legislature is beholden to ultra-right wing groups, the Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute, that have a history of hatred and discrimination. I am not going to outline the history and views of these groups here and now, but they are the groups that influence the Utah Republican legislators and they are the groups that block progress in Utah.

You can find contact information for your state Senate and House representatives here and here. If you are so inclined, I would encourage you to email or call them and show support for social justice in Utah.


Anonymous said...

Isn't the Sutherland Institute basically a Mormon run group?

Jacob S. said...

Oh my, no. The only connection between the two is that they are both based in Utah. The Sutherland Institute opposes any and all rights for gays, the Church does not. The Sutherland Institute takes about as hard a line as possible against illegal immigration, the Church takes a more Christian approach.

I'm not saying the Church is some liberal institution, but the Sutherland Institute goes about as extreme right as possible and has no connection to the Church.

Anonymous said...

But isn't the entire Sutherland Group run by rich, well connected Mormons?