PFLAG Rallies Around Gay Utahns

Salt Lake City parents of gay and lesbian children held a press conference Nov. 17 to urge the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to support upcoming legislative bills seeking to grant protections to gay citizens.

“Like every other parent, parents of gay children want their kids to have rich, full lives, without worry of basic issues of livelihood,” said Kathy Godwin, president of the northern Utah chapter of Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “My son should not be at risk of losing his job nor should he be concerned about being evicted from his home because he is gay. These are the types of rights and protections we are concerned about—basic rights—rights that affect our children’s everyday lives.”

Godwin, who is not LDS, was one of 15 other parents from a number of faiths who gathered to ask the LDS church to back Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, a set of six proposed bills the grass roots gay rights group announced shortly after California voters passed Proposition 8. The legislation includes bills seeking to stop employment and housing discrimination against gay people, and to make any health insurance plan that offers coverage to employees’ spouses extend coverage to unmarried partners. Two additional bills seek to create a statewide domestic partner registry and to repeal the most controversial part of Utah’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, which forbids the state from recognizing any “marriage-like” relationships.

On Nov. 19, the Senate Judiciary Interim Committee cleared a bill aimed at giving financial dependents who are not parents, children or spouses the right to sue in the event of a wrongful death. The bill, proposed by openly gay Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, proposed this bill during the last legislative session, will be debated in the 2009 legislative session.

Equality Utah asked for the Utah-based church’s help when LDS leaders announced that they were not “anti-gay” and agreed that gay and lesbian couples should have some legal protections, including those “regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.”

Since the campaign to pass Proposition 8 heated up, northern Utah PFLAG members (whom Godwin said number “several hundred”) have participated in several local demonstrations against the amending of California’s constitution to illegalize gay marriage.

Kathryn Steffensen, a speaker at a Nov. 2 rally against Proposition 8 organized by Mormon mothers of gay children, added that it as important for parents of gay children to speak out now to help the LDS church and its members understand what gay people go through.

“LDS people are really kind people,” she said. “But they don’t see these things I see. They don’t want [gay] kids to commit suicide or have their tires slashed, but they don’t’ know this is going on.”
In addition to the LDS church, Thompson said Equality Utah would be “extending the hand of invitation” to several other religions in the state now and during the 2009 legislative session.

As of Monday, he said the LDS church had not responded to Equality Utah’s request for support.

“It’s a little disappointing, but we understand it may take some time, as with any institution,” he said.

Steffensen added, however, that many Mormons agree with Equality Utah’s position.

“The church has no problem with gay people having rights, and I think this is the way most ecclesiastical leaders are seeing it,” she said.

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