The spokesperson for Utah Governor Jon M. Huntsman told the media yesterday that the governor supports both Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative and civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
“He’s long supported many of the ideas that are presented within the Common Ground Initiative,” Roskelley told The Salt Lake Tribune. “He supports civil unions.”
Roskelley noted that Huntsman has not yet endorsed any specific bills of the Common Ground Intitiative, waiting until their wording is finalized.
Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative is a series of bills aimed at securing rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns. The first bill – Wrongful Death Amendments – failed in committee and another which would reverse part of Amendment 3 that bans gay marriage in the state was pulled by its author – Rep. Jackie Biskupski.
Huntsman also supports repealing the second portion of Amendment 3, which reads “No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.”
That part of the amendment has been used to thwart many efforts across the state to secure gay and lesbian rights.
Leaders of the Sutherland Institute, which sponsored an anti-gay rally dubbed “Sacred Ground” at Thanksgiving Point last week, were not surprised by the governor’s position.
“Governor Huntsman would rather be nice than right,” said Jeff Reynolds, spokesman for the Institute.
In a statement to its supporters, Equality Utah Executive Director Mike Thompson wrote, “The ‘sacred ground’ our opponents are standing on is shrinking. They are an outspoken minority. They are finding fewer and fewer allies. Why? Because there is Common Ground. Because Utahns share our vision of a fair & just Utah. Because we are (as the LDS Church encouraged its members) working ‘together for a better society.'”
The revelation also drew kudos from at least one national gay group.
““This is hopeful and inspiring news, and emphasizes the reality that, as we saw in Wyoming last week, equality is not a partisan issue,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We’re thrilled that Gov. Huntsman recognizes that it’s simply the right thing to do to support equality. We hope that his support will help Equality Utah and fair-minded legislators advance the Common Ground Initiative, which is simply aimed at advancing equal rights for all Utahns by providing important anti-discrimination protections and other rights currently denied to LGBT people in the state.”
The governor is often at odds with the very conservative Republicans in the Utah Legislature.
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, was surprised the governor went so far as to say he supports gay civil unions.
“I think this demonstrates that it is possible to say, ‘You know what? We may agree to disagree when it comes to full-blown marriage equality, but there are lots of things short of that that we could talk about and entertain,'” he told KSL News.
Roskelley emphasized this morning that the governor does not support gay marriage, but sees civil unions as a legal contract bewteen two adults and would sign a civil union bill that came across his desk.