SALT LAKE CITY – Gay-rights activists see opportunities for their cause in Utah thanks to Mormon church officials, who strongly supported California's proposition denying same-sex couples the right to marry but said they did not object to granting those couples certain other rights.
The advocacy group Equality Utah is asking The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to support several bills that will be submitted to the Legislature supporting rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Mormon support — especially in the form of campaign contributions — was an important factor in the passage of California's Proposition 8, which rejected a state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage.
But although church leaders are steadfastly against such marriages, during the Proposition 8 campaign they expressed willingness to accept other rights for same-sex couples.
"Just last week, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS Church does not oppose 'civil union or domestic partnerships,'" said Equality Utah Chairwoman Stephanie Pappas on Monday. "We are taking the LDS Church at its word."
In a statement issued following the approval of Proposition 8, church officials said they do "not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights."
A church spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it would have no comment.
Equality Utah said Monday it will help draft five bills for the 2009 session, which starts in January. Three of the bills seek equal treatment for domestic partners on hospitalization, medical care, housing, employment and probate rights.
A fourth bill would create a domestic partner registry. The fifth would repeal a part of Utah's marriage-defining constitutional amendment that Equality Utah Public Policy Manager Will Carlson said has been "misinterpreted to avoid any recognition of gay couples."
Previous attempts at passing similar bills have failed, but the planned legislation would benefit greatly if it is supported by the Mormon church, which counts as members about 62 percent of Utah residents.
The state Senate's only openly gay member said the church's statement changes everything.
"They hadn't said any of that yet. They've said that now," said state Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City. "This is an invitation to make a reality of what's been said by the church. ... (The church) has said some things that are very encouraging to us, and we're here to say 'Hey, let's see if we can't move forward and get to a place where we are in a more fair and just Utah, outside of the marriage discussion.'"
Republican state Sen. John Valentine said that if the church clarified its statements regarding same-sex rights, lawmakers might be less reluctant to agree to make changes.
"Equality Utah is probably correct in interpreting those statements from the church," he said. "It would probably make it an easier argument than it would be without that."