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New video by Equality Utah claims Utah one of the most progressive states for LGBTQ rights

By Genelle Pugmire - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 27, 2021

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

Ogden ranked second in Utah in 2018 and just below the national average in a measure of the city's openness toward the LGBTQ community, according to the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index for the year, released Oct. 8, 2018. In this Aug. 6, 2016, photo Derek Williamson hangs rainbow banners at the Ogden Pride Festival at the Ogden Amphitheater.

On Friday, Equality Utah posted a video entitled “UtahTogether” on its YouTube page, the general message being about how progressive Utah is in making laws to help the LGBTQIA+ community.

That may surprise some residents, but the respect across the table has been a work in progress for some time.

It shows a journey of acceptance, respect, meeting together and change over the past decade, according to Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.

It was just 12 years ago that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were encouraged to vote “yes” on California’s Proposition 8, which would have made California’s constitution say that marriage was between one man and one woman. A “no” vote would allow same-sex marriage to continue.

It became an ugly issue with vocal church members in favor of the amendment losing their jobs, receiving property damage and a variety of threats, according to several news outlets.

AP, Deseret News

About 1,500 people gather to celebrate marriage equality after a federal judge declined to stay his ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in Utah, at Washington Square just outside of the Salt lake City and County Building Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, in Salt lake City. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Tom Smart)

The California issue won but was eventually taken all the way to the Supreme Court, where an appeal to overturn was denied. The 9th Circuit Court permitted same-sex marriages again in California beginning June 28, 2013.

Here in Utah, and just a few short years later, the following began to happen:

  • On Dec. 21 2013, marriage equality (same-sex marriage) became legal in Utah.
  • On March 12, 2015, the Utah State Senate passed SB 296 calling for equality in employment and housing. The bill passed 25-3 with 1 abstention. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill into law on March 20, and it went into effect on May 12, 2015.
  • The video points out the number of bills passed since that have given equal protection in education (2017), laws against hate crimes (2019) and banning conversion therapy (2020).

“It has certainly been a journey where Utahns have come to respect the lives of their neighbors and families,” said Paul Burke, a board member of Equality Utah. “It is public record that some of the legislative achievement came from help from the LDS Church.”

The mission of Equality Utah is to promote and advance political equality, Burke noted.

“Equality Utah isn’t an organization that is seeking doctrinal changes within religious organizations,” Burke said. “We sit at the table to try and win hearts.”

Monique Lanier/ Special to the Standard-Examiner

Colleen and Jolene Mewing pose with their "Whatever ... Love is Love" shirts at a Equality Utah Allies dinner Sept. 26, 2014.

After more than seven years of patience, it has paid off, Burke said.

Equality Utah supports qay rights while also supporting freedom of religion and has made itself a useful example on how to work together in states around the country. It has been affectionately called “The Utah Compromise.”

Among the faces in the crowd celebrating the 2015 bill, which afforded protections to LGBT people while not compromising on religious liberties, was Elder L. Tom Perry who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time. He was very much involved with the process.

“We believe we are all brothers and sisters, and that by working together we can find common ground,” said Doug Anderson, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “As was demonstrated in the state of Utah in 2015, there need not be conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights. We hope our success in Utah will show the way for a national solution.”

Since that time, other LDS leaders, including President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, have spoken out on the issues. Others have shared their private personal closeness to family members who are in the LGBTQ community, including Elder Gerrit Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve, whose son recently came out publicly.

Whether child, sibling, cousin or grandchild, those in the highest church leadership have personal knowledge of the concerns of the LGBTQ community at need for equality for all people.

Equality Utah shares the same belief. “We respect religious freedom and religions to adopt their own doctrine and dogma,” Burke said.

Equality Utah believes it has developed a strong foundation but there is more work that needs to be done, particularly addressing transgender issues.

Burke added that it is the obligation of the government to recognize the legal equality of all citizens.

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