Utah lawmakers kill two more gay-rights bills

One left » Bids to adoption and workplace rights fail.
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Four down, one to go.

The Utah Legislature snuffed out two more gay-rights bills Tuesday.

After lengthy public hearings, House committees rejected two measures: HB288, which would have allowed same-sex couples and other unmarried pairs to adopt and foster children; and HB267, which would have protected gay and transgender Utahns from housing and employment discrimination.

Two other gay-rights measures also are off the docket: One was pulled by its sponsor and the other died in committee. The final bill faces a test today.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. endorsed the gay-rights effort, including the bills that make up the so-called Common Ground Initiative.

"We threw our support behind the initiative," Huntsman said Tuesday. "It was probably a tall order."

Still, the Republican governor said he was glad there had been "discussion" about the proposed laws.

In rejecting the latest measures, opponents painted being gay as a "choice" rather than an innate characteristic -- contrary to a broad consensus among psychological and medical experts.

"Adoption is not a right, it's a privilege. Those who choose alternative lifestyles suffer the consequences because they can't naturally produce between them," said Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who joined a 5-1 vote to defeat HB288. "Heterosexual couples who cohabit also face consequences because they choose not to marry."

And on the anti-discrimination bill, Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka made a similar case against adding sexual orientation to existing fair housing and employment laws.

"What we're talking about is choice -- someone's sexual choice," she told a House panel. "Why would we put into law someone's sexual choice? … This is not the right thing to do."

Advocates for Utah's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community argued not passing the proposed laws imperils Utahns.

"The children of gay and lesbian families are in jeopardy," said Father Robert Bussen of St. Mary's of the Assumption Catholic Parish in Park City, who is gay and celibate. "The simple safeguards that keep a family intact are not given to gays and lesbians in Utah."

Current state law prevents, for instance, a lesbian mom from allowing her partner to be an adoptive parent.

HB288, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, was not part of the Common Ground Initiative. It would have allowed unmarried couples to adopt when the biological parents consent or the child is in state custody. The Utah Division of Child and Family Services is seeking permanent homes for 454 foster children.

After the 8-5 verdict against her HB267, Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, called the vote an "endorsement of discrimination."

Heather Morrison, director of the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division, said her agency averages three calls a month from Utahns with questions about bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pleasant Grove resident Bryan Horn said his own experience with losing his job for being gay has been a "recurring nightmare." Horn, who was not out as gay at work, said he was fired from his credit-union job after he asked a human-resource manager whether his partner could be included in the company's health-insurance plan.

"I have not been able to find work since that day over a year ago," he said. "You will never know the pain and heartache of what I have dealt with. An attorney once told me that criminals and prison inmates have more rights in the state of Utah than a gay man."

Rep. Brent Wallis of Ogden was the lone Republican to vote for the legislation.

Only one Common Ground bill remains: Rep. Jennifer Seelig's bid to expand protections for same-sex couples so they can visit a partner in the hospital, inherit property and make medical decisions.



Group apologizes for ad

Sandra Rodrigues of America Forever apologized before a House panel Tuesday for a provocative, anti-gay ad her group ran Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.

"I want to publicly apologize to those who feel that America Forever is hateful," she said. "We are anything but hateful."

Rosemary Winters

Final Common Ground bill on tap today

HB160 » Would afford two cohabiting adults, including same-sex couples, rights of inheritance and medical decision making. House Judiciary Committee, today, 9:15 a.m., House Building Room 20.