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Posts for April, 2011

Arkansas Supreme Court Overturns Adoption Ban

Jim Burroway

April 7th, 2011

The Arkansas Supreme Court today ruled that a voter-approved initiative banning unmarried cohabiting couples, including gay couples, from adopting or serving as foster parents. The court found that because the law singles out cohabiting couples for the ban while allowing single individuals to adopt or foster children, it encroaches on a key right to privacy:

Act 1 directly and substantially burdens the privacy rights of “opposite-sex and same-sex individuals” who engage in private, consensual sexual conduct in the bedroom by foreclosing their eligibility to foster or adopt children, should they choose to cohabit with their sexual partner. The pressure on such couples to live apart, should they wish to foster or adopt children, is clearly significant. In Jegley, the burden perpetrated by the State was criminal prosecution for sodomy, although the act took place in the privacy of the bedroom. In the case before us, the burden dispensed by the State is either to remove the ability to foster or adopt children, should sexual partners live together, or to intrude into the bedroom to assure that cohabitors who adopt or foster are celibate. We conclude that, in this case as in Jegley, the burden is direct and substantial.

In 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down that state’s sodomy law in the case of Jegley v. Picado, nearly a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws nationwide in Lawrence v. Texas. A state judge struck down Arkansas’ adoption ban last April. The attorney general then appealed to the Supreme Court, which led to today’s ruling.

Because the court found that Act 1 infringes on a key right to privacy, the court determined that heighened scrutiny rather than rational-basis was the appropriate standard for the ruling:

We have held in this case that a fundamental right of privacy is at issue and that the burden imposed by the State is direct and substantial. We now hold, as an additional matter, that because of the direct and substantial burden on a fundamental right, the standard to be applied is heightened scrutiny and not a rational-basis standard. Using the heightened- scrutiny standard, because Act 1 exacts a categorical ban against all cohabiting couples engaged in sexual conduct, we hold that it is not narrowly tailored or the least restrictive means available to serve the State’s compelling interest of protecting the best interest of the child.

Utah and Mississippi are the only states remaining with adoption bans affecting gay people. Utah, like Arkansas until today, bans cohabiting couples from adopting but allows single adults to adopt when married couples aren’t available. Mississippi law allows unmarried and married adults to adopt regardless of cohabitation status, but contains a separate clause stating, “Adoption by couples of the same gender is prohibited.”

Utah Religious Freedom Bill To Rescind LGBT Anti-Discrimination Measures — And Protect Polygamy

Jim Burroway

February 7th, 2011

Utah State Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) is upset that so many local Utah cities have passed ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBT residents in housing and employment. The statutes already exempt religious organizations, but Christensen thinks that doesn’t go far enough. he wants to exempt Utah’s individuals from prosecutions because of their religious beliefs.

Christensen apparently is a big believer in religious freedom. A huge believer, and he wrote his bill so broadly that it opens the door toward protection of polygamy as well, among other possibilities:

Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy counsel for The American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill is so broad it could permit many types of discrimination. “The possibilities are limitless,” Lowe said. For example, a landlord could refuse to rent to a gay couple or a doctor could refuse to treat a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock.

…Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard said the law could provide a defense for the violation of a variety of laws in the name of faith. “Polygamy is the one that comes to mind, but there are other religious practices,” Barnard said. “Peyote, for example, and the other one is churches, like the Episcopal church, that give wine to minors during the sacrament.”

Another Utah county passes non-discrimination ordinance

Timothy Kincaid

December 22nd, 2010

Grand County, Utah, home to Moab and the Arches National Park, has now passed an ordinance that protects its 9,000 or so residents from sexual orientation and sexual identity discrimination in housing and employment. (SL Tribune)

That means one in four Utahns, living in 10 communities from Moab to Logan, are protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates for the statutes hope that groundswell of support will push the Utah Legislature to protect all Utahns.

With this decision, Equality Utah has reached its goal of ten new municipalities banning discrimination.

Salt Lake County followed Salt Lake City’s lead, and Equality Utah launched an effort, dubbed “Ten in 2010,” to increase the list to 10 by the end of this year. Grand County expedited the ordinances to ensure passage before the new year.

They are hoping to capitalize on the momentum and encourage the state legislature to ban discrimination state wide. As yet, this seems to be more of a grand hope than an achievable goal. However, much depends on the public stances of the Mormon Church, whose support secured the bill in Salt Lake City

Chaffetz reacts to DADT report

Timothy Kincaid

November 30th, 2010

Utah representative Jason Chaffetz is one of my favorite legislators. Not because I ever agree with him, but because he’s such a loon that he makes for fun blogging.

Chaffetz is the buffoon who, upon the fifth state enacting civil marriage said, “The trend is still 45 states don’t.”

He’s the fumbling, bumbling fellow who was charged with making sure that the District of Columbia’s marriage law was blocked by Congress. Ah, Utah 3rd District, you surely must be proud.

And, consistent with his method of legislating, Chaffetz has now responded to the DADT report. Or, not exactly to the report…

Chaffetz, who has not yet read the study, said he is “still opposed to such a dramatic alteration in the midst of active war.”

Still opposed, based on, oh, nothing. There ya go, Chaffetz, that’s the ignorant lout with an uninformed opinion that we all know and love.

Thousands Surround Salt Lake Temple

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2010

An estimated 4,500 people surrounded the two blocks downtown that make up the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints last night to protest a recent anti-gay statement by LDS Apostle Boyd K. Packer.

Paker spoke at the Mormon Church’s 180th Semiannual General Conference spoke out against same-sex marriage and called homosexuality “impure and unnatural”:

“There are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature,” Boyd K. Packer, president of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said in a strongly worded sermon about the dangers of pornography and same-sex marriage. “A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?”

Those comments, coming on the heels of at least five suicides in September, drew sharp condemnations inside and outside the church:

Tonight, we are symbolic of all the children who have been killed by messages like Boyd K. Packer’s,” said organizer and Salt Lake City blogger Eric Ethington. “When you hear nothing from [church leaders] but that you are nothing but evil and you need to change the unchangeable nature of yourself, that is only a message kids can take for so long.”

Utah GOP selects Log Cabin leader as candidate

Timothy Kincaid

September 2nd, 2010

To run for State Senate in Utah, you need to file certain disclosures by a deadline. If you do not, you are disqualified and the state party can pick a new candidate. (Pride in Utah)

The time limit expired last night on Ben McAdams’ Republican opponent Nancy Davis to file her disclosures and she was forced out of the race. In these unlikely circumstances, the Republican Party is allowed to nominate their own candidate to automatically run without going through the delegate system. You won’t believe who they picked.

Of all people… Melvin Nimer, the President of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans and board member of the Utah Pride Center.

Ben McAdams, the Mormon Democrat currently holding the office, is supportive of the community and a reliable ally. His predecessor in the 2nd District was gay.

It’s difficult to know just what prompted the Republican Party to pick a gay candidate. Perhaps they figure that a gay man has a better chance in the district, and they like winning more than they oppose gay rights. Or perhaps it was pure tokenism, tossing an impossible seat to the gay guy; yet this is a token that Utah Republicans have not traditionally considered.

Regardless of the reason, this is very unexpected and very welcome.

Utah Gov. hosts Log Cabin

Timothy Kincaid

August 11th, 2010

Utah Governor Gary Herbert will be hosting a private reception for Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, later this month. Herbert, a Republican and a Mormon, had spoken against a non-discrimination proposal last year but this announcement may be an evidence of both the party’s and the church’s softening attitudes over the past couple of years.

Within the past few years, at least six Utah cities have passed discrimination protections – with the support of the Mormon Church. This may be the silver lining that resulted from the exposure of the church’s involvement in California’s Proposition 8.

Let’s hope that Log Cabin can continue to help build inroads into the administration and elicit support for some of the provisions that are expected to be brought up in the legislature within the next year. But even absent any specific tangible advance, this is a positive step. History shows us that exposure to gay people and hearing our concerns can be the strongest contributor to change.

Summit County makes six

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2010

Utah’s on quite a roll. (SL Tribune)

Summit County has snagged the No. 6 spot on a growing list of Utah cities and counties that protect gay and transgender residents from discrimination.

This week, the Summit County Council voted unanimously, with two members absent but supportive, to pass two ordinances that forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Another Utah City enacts non-discrimination policy

Timothy Kincaid

June 3rd, 2010

Following in the footsteps of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County (unincorporated areas), Park City, and Logan, Utah’s second largest city, West Valley, has now voted to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation. (SL Trib)

The West Valley City Council, in a 5-1 vote, approved Tuesday an anti-discrimination ordinance similar to those recently passed in other Utah cities.

About 60 people attended the meeting at City Hall. Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, and about seven others spoke in favor of the proposal to protect gay and transgender residents from housing and employment discrimination. No one spoke publicly against it.

It does appear that opposition to employment and housing discrimination against LGBT people may be becoming part of Mormon values.

Logan, UT (and Mormon Church?) support non-discrimination laws

Timothy Kincaid

May 19th, 2010

Congratulations to residents of Logan, Utah, whose city council on Tuesday night banned employers and landlords from discriminating against gays, lesbians or transgender people (SL Tribune)

Modeled after anti-discrimination laws recently adopted in Salt Lake City, Logan’s housing and employment ordinances passed with four votes and one abstention, by Councilman Dean Quayle. A crowd, which filled the City Council Chambers halls and an overflow room, was mostly subdued throughout a one-hour public hearing. Following the tally though, the crowd erupted in applause and rewarded the council with a standing ovation.

On Tuesday night, Monson defended his support of the ordinances and clarified the stance of the area’s largest church after calling the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City on Monday.

“The [LDS] church supports nondiscrimination ordinances, period. Certainly, I was told that this applies to Logan as much as any other place in the world,” Monson said Tuesday before calling for the vote. “They do and I do and I agree that this is not the answer for everything … But it is a step in the right direction and it is long overdue in my thinking.”

It looks like the church may be on a “see, we don’t hate you” campaign. And if so… I welcome it.

What does Bennett’s ouster mean?

Timothy Kincaid

May 10th, 2010

Republican Utah Senator Bob Bennett was denied the GOP nomination this year by his party’s convention (he came in third, and thus will not be on the ballot in the primary election). This is likely the result of Tea Party activism and is being touted as the result of “people wanting a Republican Party that is conservative.”

Social conservatives such as Rick Santorum have been all over the news declaring this to be a victory for “real conservatives”, by which he means those who share his troglodyte views. Some right wingers are going so far as to claim that Bennett was dumped because he “voted for gay rights activist Roberta Achtenberg to be Assistant Secretary for Equal Opportunity at HUD.” In 1993. Seventeen years ago.

Nonsense.

No one voting this past weekend based their decision on Roberta Achtenberg. And very few were likely swayed by Bennett being “too gay supportive.” While there are Senators on the Hill who are far less friendly, Bennett was hardly known for his wild social liberalism.

Nor are the candidates who beat him in the voting and going on to the primary raging homophobes running on a “traditional family” platform. Neither of the campaign website for Tim Bridgewater (who got 57% on the third vote) nor Mike Lee (43%) address gay rights in general or specific on their issues pages. And, believe me, they address a lot of issues.

And, although Utah has been in the center of gay rights conflict over the past year, these candidates have been pretty much quiet on gay issues. In fact, as best I can find the only time they addresses gay issues specifically was when six of the eight candidates including Bennett and Bridgewater (Lee canceled due to illness) went to a Log Cabin event to answer questions and appeal for the Log Cabin vote (which was reported as significant). (Salt Lake City Weekly)

Will the next Senator from Utah be supportive of equality? No.

But when we hear social conservatives translating voter dissatisfaction with current elected representatives and fury over what is perceived as fiscal irresponsibility and arguing it to be mandate for their favorite right-wing social agenda items, we should recognize it for what it is: spin, bluster, and nonsense.

Utah’s second largest city may enact employment and housing protections

Timothy Kincaid

March 9th, 2010

Tonight the West Valley City Council will discuss (and likely pass) employment and housing protections for their gay and lesbian residents. (Salt Lake Tribune)

Freshman Mayor Mike Winder urged the council, during a planning retreat in January, to take up the issue in 2010. On Monday, he said, residents have shared with him their experiences of being “evicted or fired” because of their sexual orientations.

“I’m a proud Republican and a proud American,” Winder said. “When I recite the Pledge of Allegiance and say ‘with liberty and justice for all,’ I mean what I say.”

Let’s hope that Winder continues to listen closely, and is joined by many more Christian Republicans who will listen closely to the words they pledge with their hand over their heart.

Orrin Hatch is open to overturning DADT

Timothy Kincaid

February 3rd, 2010

Senator Orrin Hatch (R – UT) talks with Andrea Mitchell about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

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HATCH: I believe that there are very outstanding patriotic gay people who serve in the military and they aught to be given credit for it. And they shouldn’t have to lie about being gay.

On the other hand I think a lot of people are concerned that if you do away with the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, that literally they’ll come back and ask for special rights and preferences and privileges that others don’t have. I, I don’t see that either.

So, ya know, like I say, I just don’t, I just plain do not believe in prejudice of any kind.

MITCHELL: So you’re willing to vote for the change.

HATCH: Well, I don’t know about that. I’d have to look at it, I’d have to really see, and of course, they recommend, Admiral Mullen said at least a year study by them and then they’ll come out and make the final recommendation. So, at least that’s what I got out of it.

So, I’d like to wait until the end and see what they come up with and see what happens.

But I can see why the people on both sides are upset. I just want to do what’s right.

MITCHELL: So I can put you down as being at least open to the idea. So, uh

HATCH: I am.

MITCHELL: That’s a very interesting statement.

While I would rather hear that Hatch has unequivocal support for overturning the policy, I welcome words of “openness to the idea” from prominent Republicans.

Sentence for hate crime: one year

Timothy Kincaid

December 14th, 2009

On Aug. 9, 2008, Carlos Lopez was enjoying an outing at Ensign Park in Utah when Fa MoiMoi approached him and asked Lopez to take his picture. MoiMoi then asked Lopez, 18, if he was gay. When he didn’t respond, MoiMoi began punching him.

MoiMoi, along with several of his friends, beat Lopez, his sister, and his aunt. Carlos Lopez suffered severe head trauma, including an broken orbital bone, and required major reconstructive surgery.

Fortunately, the picture provided evidence and police were able to identify the primary attacker. But by then MoiMoi had fled to Hawaii. In February he was arrested and brought back to Utah where he faced two charges of aggravated assault, one of which was enhanced to a first-degree felony because it was a hate crime.

On Friday he received his sentence (SL Tribune)

[MoiMoi] was charged with one count of first-degree felony aggravated assault and two counts of class A misdemeanor assault. On Friday, he pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree felony aggravated assault and the other charges were dismissed.

In addition to jail time, MoiMoi must complete 200 hours of community service, write a letter of apology to the victims, obtain his high school diploma and pay medical restitution of more than $36,500.

I don’t wish to overreact.

I know that a plea deal is quite useful when a district attorney is uncertain that evidence can conclusively place a perpetrator at the scene or when there are no witnesses. But this hardly seems to be a difficult case to prosecute.

I can sympathize when a situation gets out of hand and a punch gets thrown. But this was a gang of men attacking two women and a boy resulting in reconstructive surgery on his face.

One count.

Third degree.

One year.

I just can’t help but wonder if Lopez had been sent to the hospital in Utah with his facial bones broken because he was Mormon whether perhaps, just perhaps, the crime might have been taken more seriously.

Will LDS’s Incremental Approach To LGBT Issues Someday Lead To Bigger Changes?

Jim Burroway

November 14th, 2009

At least that’s how I interpret the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has placed a statement endorsing specific pro-LGBT legislation on their online LDS Newsroom:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its support of nondiscrimination regulations that would extend protection in matters of housing and employment in Salt Lake City to those with same-sex attraction.

The Church said the Salt Lake City Council’s new nondiscrimination ordinance “is fair and reasonable” and balances fair housing and employment rights with the religious rights of the community.

It doesn’t get any bigger than this. Can you imagine the Vatican placing a similar statement on their web site or publishing it in L’Osservatore Romano?

The Church had released a similar statement last August offering support for limited LGBT civil rights measures, but that occurred at the same time that it was pumping millions into the fight to strip California’s LGBT citizens the right to marry. At the time, the statement was seen as nothing more than a fig-leaf to try to shield the Church from charges of bigotry. But Utah’s LGBT advocates took the Church at their word and pushed for the Common Ground Initiative, a series of LGBT protections put before Utah’s Mormon-dominated legislature that were modeled on the Mormon statement. The Common Ground initiative however was utterly crushed by Mormon legislators and never even made it out of committee.

This time, the Mormon hierarchy chose to put a tiny fraction of its influence officially behind the Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinance. The tiny fraction was all that was needed though, because its implications go far beyond a city council vote that few believed was in doubt even without support from the Church. LDS spokesperson Michael Otterson’s statement before the Salt Lake City council — which the Mormon web site describes as “representing the position of the Church’s leadership” — puts the church fully on record for the first time in support of a specific piece of pro-LGBT legislation. This is huge in and of itself. What’s more, one high-ranking LDS leader, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has already hinted that the Church may very well support at least parts of the Common Ground Initiative when it is brought back to the state legislature.

If the Church follows through, this will truly be a historic step. More importantly, decades from now we may look back on this as a significant turning point for LGBT Mormons. That’s because Mormonism is very different from other popular religions in America in that it is the only major religion which reserves the authority to change a portion of its canonized texts according to ongoing revelations. And there is recent precedent for just such adjustments in their doctrines. Not long ago, Blacks were regarded as being under the curse of Ham, and thus denied full participation in the Church. Mormon scriptures still declare (2 Nephi 5:21):

For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

Having black skin was a mark of a curse. And according to the Book of Mormon, when the curse is lifted from a group of black-skinned people, their skins became white (3 Nephi 2:14-16):

And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites; And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites.

According to long-held Mormon doctrine, black skin was the mark of a curse that individuals acquired due to unfaithfulness in their pre-existence. And because they displayed the mark of that curse on their skins, Blacks were not permitted to enter into celestial marriages or the Priesthood. This also meant that their role in the celestial kingdom would be a lesser role — as eternal servants.

This teaching came under fire in the 1950s and 1960s during the civil rights struggle. Sports teams began boycotting Brigham Young University and the NAACP held protest marches in Salt Lake City, but the Church held steadfast to its teachings, saying that “it is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord.” When a few Mormons themselves began opposing their Church’s racial teachings, many were excommunicated or denied entry into the temple for important ceremonies. (Sound familiar?) But all that finally changed in 1978 when, acting on a brand new revelation, the LDS Church added an entry into the open canon of its scripture known as Doctrine and Covenants which finally granted Blacks full participation in the life of the Church.

And guess what? Nobody’s skin color changed.

This latest move by the Mormon church to actively support the non-Discrimination ordinance should rightly be seen as a very small step. No, they’re not about to grant celestial marriage to LGBT Mormons anytime soon, just as they resisted allowing celestial marriages for African-Americans. Right now, there’s still every indication that the Church will continue to vigorously oppose marriage equality with every resource at its disposal. They will give us many new reasons to harbor deep well-earned anger and justified suspicions for many years to come as they continue to try to enshrine their particular religious beliefs into secular law at our expense. For that we must always be vigilant and hold the Church accountable.

All that said, this is still cause for hope. This is a Church that isn’t hamstrung by a closed canon, and it has a long history of receiving new revelations to correct grievous wrongs. What’s to keep the Church sometime in the future from receiving another revelation — this time one that reconsiders the place of its own LGBT sons and daughters in the life of the Church and the celestial kingdom?

Such a change certainly won’t come any time soon; it’s still likely decades away, at least. But that very possibility makes this latest step in favor of pro-LGBT legislation, as small as it is for our liking but as huge as it is for the Church, reason to rejoice.

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