Herbert meets with gay-rights advocates

Discrimination » Group presses for task force to study bias.
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Gov. Gary Herbert opened his office to gay-rights advocates Tuesday.

In separate meetings, Equality Utah and the Foundation for Reconciliation spoke with the governor about discrimination faced by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The foundation, which promotes "reconciliation" between Mormons and the LGBT community, urged Herbert to create a task force that would study instances of such discrimination and make policy recommendations to address the issue.

Peter Danzig, a spokesman for the group, said the governor agreed that the lack of state numbers about discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity makes it difficult to gauge the scope of the problem. But Herbert did not commit to a task force, Danzig said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker is crafting an anti-discrimination ordinance after a Human Rights Commission documented the problem in the capital and elsewhere in Utah.

Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public-policy manager, considered his political-advocacy group's meeting an "introduction" that opened the "door of communication" with the governor. Carlson expects the meeting to be the first of many with Herbert.

"He agrees that discrimination is wrong," Carlson said. "We look forward to working with him to figure out the best way to solve that issue in the state of Utah."

Both groups requested to meet with Herbert after he said, in August, that people should not receive the same legal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation that they do for race, religion or gender.

"Where do you stop? That's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes," Herbert said at his first KUED news conference as governor. "We don't have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing. We ought to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do."

On Tuesday, Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said the governor wanted to "open a dialogue" on a variety of issues facing gay and transgender Utahns.

"He is not, obviously, in favor of any discrimination of any group," she said. "The question he has is: Should government intervene in that situation and in what way? It's not a secret to anyone that Governor Herbert tends to favor limited government in all cases."

Carlson and Danzig described Herbert as "welcoming."

Herbert replaced Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who left the office to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, in August. Unlike Herbert, Huntsman supported same-sex civil unions and endorsed a failed 2009 bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate in housing and employment based on sexual orientation.