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Gay-Friendly Republican Speaks Out

Utah’s Republican legislative majority is not particularly known for its support of gay-rights. And one Republican candidate says he would like to do his part to change that.

“I agree with what I’ve been hearing Gov. Huntsman saying, that the party ought to be a big tent, it ought to be very inclusive,” said Joe Jarvis, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck for her Legislative District 24 seat this November.

Best remembered perhaps for challenging openly gay Sen. Scott McCoy in 2006 for his Senate District 2 seat, rheumatologist Jarvis said he would like to bring a Republican’s touch to such progressive issues as healthcare and education reform, environmental conservation and gay rights. To prove his commitment he sought out an endorsement from Utah’s chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans.

“Joe came to us and spoke with us and we were very impressed with him and his politics and support of gay issues,” said Gordon Storrs, an LCR member and the Republican candidate in the Legislative District 23 race. The organization agreed, officially giving the following endorsement to Jarvis this month:

“Dr. Jarvis is a practicing physician in Salt Lake and an ardent supporter of individual and equal rights for all citizens. He is campaigning for more choice in education, ethics reform for campaign finances and full disclosure from our legislators, clean energy and a green environment, strong statewide healthcare reform, and ending workplace discrimination.”

So just how does Jarvis support gay rights? Well, as a Republican would, in a way that favors less government and individual responsibility.

For example, Jarvis said that he did not favor a recent bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Utah’s workplaces. But not for reasons one might think. Rather than using legislation to force employers into obedience, he said the state should “lead out” on the issue of gay workplace equality by enacting a nondiscrimination ordinance for its employees. The hope in doing that, he said, is to show businesses that there is no good reason to discriminate against gay or transgender workers and in doing so encourage private companies to follow suit.

“It’s a better approach,” he said. “Better for the gay community and the gay worker to go at this thinking of the state as the leading example.”

“There’s no place for this kind of discrimination,” he continued. “But I think the first way to go about [ending it] is to lead by example and try to induce good behavior by encouragement rather than the regulatory approach with the stick of litigation or the threat of litigation. I think that’s more consonant with the concepts Republicans tend to embrace around the market . If that doesn’t work—and I recognize that in many, many cases there has been the potential at least of adverse job discrimination that should have never occurred—then maybe the wish and desire to have a good example lead out may have to be reinforced later.”

On the issue of gay adoption (a bill on which Chavez-Houck authored this past session), Jarvis takes a similar approach. While stating that it should be up to parents and not the law to make decisions such as “who can be the other parent to a child,” he said that many Republicans on the Hill simply haven’t considered the issue from a gay person’s perspective. And until they can, he did not think that a bill attempting to give gay couples the right to adopt children would get very far.

“They haven’t even thought about it,” he explained. “I started to have conversations on a narrow section of this topic with various people within Republican circles in hopes of trying to see what kind of immediate effect we’d have.”

“I began talking about a situation where a gay or lesbian person had a child biologically and was the only biological parent responsible for that child. I asked, given Utah’s basic history of honoring parental duties, responsibilities and prerogatives whether it does not make sense to allow that parent to have a lot of freedom in making decisions about what other person might also be a parent. I very carefully tried to frame that. I got neutral responses from a  lot of people or puzzled responses, like they didn’t even know what I was talking about.  So I know I have a real task on my hands to try and further that conversation. But it does make sense to me that that’s where we should start rather than starting with a wholesale change of Utah’s historical adoption law.”

Jarvis was one of a handful of Republican candidates (including Storrs) who sat down with Equality Utah representatives earlier this year when the gay rights group interviewed for its endorsements. Ultimately Equality Utah endorsed only Democratic candidates, a decision gay-affirming libertarian and Republican candidates criticized.

Although Jarvis said he was “could not see how” Equality Utah would not endorse an openly gay Republican like Storrs, he did not fault the group for not endorsing him.

“That’s neither here nor there,” he said. “But I am criticizing an approach that seems like you have to be an orthodox Democrat or you can’t get our endorsement. That doesn’t make sense to me. They’ll need both. They’ll need the goodness of both sides.”

Although Democratic and Republican approaches are vastly different, Jarvis said that both were legitimate approaches that deserved discussion.

And while Jarvis said he has a lot to learn about the gay community as a straight man, he hopes that voters in his heavily Democratic district will give his approach a chance.

“My campaign would be going better if I felt like I had some working relationship with people who are in the gay community but who also happen to live in my district,” Jarvis said.  “I welcome the chance to talk to you because I’m very willing to talk. I have other issues that I really like to talk about a lot which I think effect people in every community gay or otherwise, such as health system reform and the environment and education. These are things everyone needs to address. I’ve got strong opinions about these and may years of experience in a lot of those areas.”

To learn more about Joe Jarvis visit his Web site at electjarvis.com.

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