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While some Utah Democrats are distancing themselves from their new national platform because it supports gay marriage and abortion rights, 1st Congressional District candidate Donna McAleer embraces those stands — and says it may not hurt that much even in conservative Utah.

"I have yet to be asked by a voter about gay marriage," even when talking to gay voters or groups, she said. "It is low on the list of voter concerns," she adds, saying voters are more interested in what candidates will do about jobs, debt, public lands, education and ending partisan gridlock.

McAleer — who is challenging Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah — made those comments Tuesday in a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board.

They came a day after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke called a press conference to declare his opposition to gay marriage and unrestricted abortion rights, following weekend action by his party to add language to its national platform supporting them.

Cooke said his own stands on those issues mirror those of the LDS Church — and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Scott Howell has a similar position. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, also has said that marriage is between a man and a woman, and has voted to ban abortions after 20 weeks except to save the life of the mother.

McAleer, though, is bucking that Utah Democratic trend.

"I support gay marriage and have from the beginning ... I'm a believer in equality. That's what this county was founded on."

McAleer, who graduated from West Point and was president of her class there, added, "I have written extensively on the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' " to urge dropping that policy that allowed gays to serve in the military only if they were quiet about their sexual orientation.

She also stands with her national party on abortion.

"I think that an abortion is probably one of the most difficult decisions any woman and her partner have to make. I think that decision should stay with the woman and her spiritual counselor and her doctor."

She said beliefs in Utah on those topics are evolving. She noted that a February poll by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University found that 43 percent of Utahns support recognizing civil unions between gays, and another 28 percent support gay marriages.

McAleer said she tries to overcome concerns about her views on those issues by stressing she is someone who likes to reach across the partisan aisle, tries to focus on what is most important, and brings diverse experience as a former military officer, business executive, head of a nonprofit clinic and a wife and mother.

"There is extreme thinking in both parties. I don't know if there is a person out there who believes in 100 percent of the party ideology or platform," she said.

Bishop said McAleer's stance shows a clear difference.

"How one looks at abortion truly is a measure of how one looks at life in general. It has ramifications above and beyond just that one topic," he said.

Her support of gay marriage and abortion, he said, "is definitely out of what I think is the mainstream of Utah thought.… I can understand why a lot of Democrats would distance themselves from that position."

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