Governor Huntsman Endorses Civil Unions

Posted in yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune. Despite the Legislature’s opposition to passing any measures that would grant rights to domestic partners, the Governor supports civil unions.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a spokeswoman said Monday, backs Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, a legislative effort that would provide some rights to gay and transgender Utahns. Even more, the Republican governor favors civil unions.

“He’s long supported many of the ideas that are presented within the Common Ground Initiative,” said Lisa Roskelley, the governor’s spokeswoman, noting her boss waits to endorse specific bills officially until presented to him in final form. “He supports civil unions.”

It’s doubtful Huntsman’s backing will lead to civil unions getting past the conservative Legislature. And it may not help the rest of this year’s gay-rights legislative push, which already has shrunk from four bills to two.

Jeff Reynolds, spokesman for the conservative Salt Lake City-based Sutherland Institute think tank, which opposes the Common Ground Initiative, said he’s “not surprised” by Huntsman’s softened stand.

“He had to be dragged to the altar of Amendment 3,” Reynolds said in an e-mail, “and everyone has known since then that Governor Huntsman would rather be nice than right.”

Of the remaining Common Ground bills, one would make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay or transgender. The other would allow two, unmarried cohabiting adults to file a “declaration of joint support” with their county recorder and gain benefits of inheritance and medical-decision making.

“We appreciate that the governor sees these are common-sense solutions to problems that Utahns are facing,” said Will Carlson, Equality Utah’s public-policy manager. “We’ll take all the help we can get.”

He said the governor could make the difference on a non legislative piece of the Common Ground Initiative: extending state employees’ health benefits to domestic partners.

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