After watching its legislative push for gay rights suffer a major defeat last week, Equality Utah is firing back with a multimedia ad blitz.
On Sunday, close-to-full-page ads, touting the Common Ground Initiative, ran in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News . On Monday, two billboards sprouted along Interstate 15 and radio spots popped up on several stations.
The first of the four bills in Equality Utah's initiative wilted before a legislative committee last week on Day Two of the 2009 session. Opponents argued that offering any legal recognition to same-sex couples, including the right to sue when a breadwinner suffers a wrongful death, could lead to a court decision legalizing gay marriage.
"We should not allow this tired, fear-based argument that somehow these rights are going to lead to gay marriage," Mike Thompson, Equality Utah's executive director, said Monday. "Amendment 3 [Utah's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage] prohibits that."
The initiative's remaining bills would create a statewide domestic-partner registry, outlaw employment and housing discrimination against gay and transgender Utahns, and repeal -- if voters signed on -- the portion of Amendment 3 that forbids civil unions.
In the ads, Equality Utah points to LDS Church statements arguing that there is "common ground" -- short of gay marriage -- between both sides of the debate -- a savvy tactic in a state where Mormons make up about 60 percent of the population.
The day after Proposition 8 passed in California -- an LDS Church-backed ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage -- the Utah-based faith released a formal statement, saying "the church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights."
In Equality Utah's print ads, the first part -- "the church does not object to rights for same-sex couples" -- is shown in bold.
Thousands of gay-rights backers have signed a petition urging the church to go beyond that statement and endorse the Common Ground Initiative itself. But the church has not responded either for or against the specific bills.
On Monday, the church declined to comment on the latest ad campaign and the use of its statements.
"While the church has not taken a specific position on the Common Ground Initiative, we have tried to clearly define the principles regarding the importance of marriage and its attending issues," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said via e-mail.
He referenced past church statements that note the religion's belief that the "divine institution of marriage" is reserved for a man and a woman, but also reiterated the church's nonopposition to certain rights for same-sex couples.
Jeff Reynolds -- spokesman for the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City-based think tank which is urging Utahns to stand on "sacred ground" instead of "common ground" -- said Equality Utah's ad missed the point. It should have highlighted, he said, the clause at the end of the LDS statement that argued the church does not oppose gay rights "so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."
Reynolds asserts the initiative sought by gay-rights advocates does impinge on the "traditional family."
"I believe their ultimate goal," he said, "is to provide a way where same-sex marriage is legal in Utah."
Equality Utah's ad campaign includes two Interstate 15 billboards.
One near Lehi reads » "The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples "
One near South Salt Lake reads » "83% of Utahns agree: 'Gay people should have some legal protections.' "