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Gay-rights activist Fred Karger, who turned his anger over the Mormon Church's advocacy of California's Proposition 8 into a presidential bid, kicked off his Utah primary campaign on Friday in downtown Salt Lake City.
Karger knows it is mathematically impossible for him to beat the GOP's chosen presidential candidate and has conceded that Mitt Romney will win the nomination. But he'll still be on the ballot in Utah's primary on June 26 and used Friday's campaign stop to deliver a message to leadership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Open your heart to LDS members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Karger implored church leaders to stop spending money on anti-gay marriage campaigns and to embrace all church members equally.
"I remain concerned about all the political activities of the Mormon Church in fighting marriage equality. There is also much to be done to open your heart to LDS members who happen to be gay or lesbian," Karger said in a letter to LDS President Thomas S. Monson. Karger requested a meeting with Monson during his Utah visit this week, but as of Friday morning, hadn't received an invitation.
"President Monson, there are far too many homeless Mormon youth, bullied young people and teenage suicide. … While many of us are pleased with the recent progress of the Mormon Church on LGBT issues and the positive steps that you have taken there is still so much to be done."
LDS church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church had not comment on Karger's statements. But his remarks drew criticism from Equality Utah executive director Brandie Balken, who said Karger is misinformed.
"After reading recent statements made about the historical relationship and present situation of the LGBT and LDS communities in Utah, I feel it important to comment. As one of many organizations doing the work on the ground it is unfortunate to see, once again, an outside force using Utah for political gain. The LGBT and LDS communities have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue which has resulted in consistent positive movement towards justice and equality in the state of Utah. While there is always more progress to be made, and much more work to be done I believe the impetus for the change, and the framework for progress should be by Utahns for Utahns," Balken said.
"Mr. Karger's comments demonstrate a keen misperception about the work being done here in our state, and sadly, seem to reflect a desire to gain headlines as opposed to creating an environment for increased understanding and respect.
"While we are familiar with outsiders characterizing our state, our people and our climate, we know that comments made do not reflect the complex and robust nature of our issues, our ongoing progress nor our commitment to creating a more fair and just Utah for all," said Balken.
Earlier this year, Karger criticized a campaign group run by Romney for donating $10,000 to an organization fighting to overturn legal same-sex marriage in California in 2008.
The Human Rights Campaign, a group dedicated to pressing for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, announced that Romney's Free and Strong America political action committee (PAC) donated to the National Organization for Marriage. Romney's donation came on Oct. 14, 2008, weeks before Californians voted to pass Proposition 8.
The National Organization for Marriage was deeply involved in the Prop. 8 campaign in California, which amended that state's constitution to limit marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The LDS Church joined with a group called the Coalition to Protect Marriage to push the constitutional amendment.
Utahns donated $3.8 million to both sides of the Prop. 8 campaign more than 70 percent of it in support of the measure. Included in that total was at least $134,774 in in-kind contributions from the LDS Church for such things as air fare, lodging and audiovisual production services and equipment.
In encouraging passage of Prop. 8, LDS Church leaders urged members to get involved in the campaign.
Karger, who founded the group Californians Against Hate, investigated the Mormon influence in the Prop. 8 battle and asserts that Mormons provided the majority of the money for the "Yes on 8" campaign.
Karger's Salt Lake City visit follows stops in St. George and Provo. He dubbed his appearances in Utah this week the "Utah Express" and drove a minibus from his home in southern California.
Utah Democrats released a statement on Karger's visit on Friday, saying that the candidate humiliated himself with his remarks toward Monson.
"Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger embarrassed himself and the Republican Party in his outrageous attacks towards President Thomas S. Monson and the LDS Church. President Monson needs no lectures on morality from a California politician trading on expired notoriety and megalomania. The Utah Democratic Party calls on Mr. Karger to immediately cease his insulting attacks against all Utahns. It is time for Mr. Karger to find a new campaign strategy for his presidential campaign. While we may disagree on many issues, Utahns value the importance of civility and respect in political discourse and, as a candidate in this state, Mr. Karger should rise to the occasion and do the same," according to a statement released by Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.