The Mormon Church blinks.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church for the first time has announced its support of gay rights legislation, an endorsement that helped gain unanimous approval for Salt Lake city laws banning discrimination against gays in housing and employment.
The Utah-based church's support ahead of Tuesday night's vote came despite its steadfast opposition to gay marriage, reflected in the high-profile role it played last year in California's Proposition 8 ballot measure that barred such unions.
"The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage," Michael Otterson, the director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said.
Passage made Salt Lake City the first Utah community to prohibit bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the two new ordinances, it is illegal to fire someone from their job or evict someone from their residence because they are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender.
Utah lawmakers tend to quickly fall in line when the influential church makes a rare foray into legislative politics. So Tuesday's action could have broad effects in this highly conservative state where more than 80 percent of lawmakers and the governor are church members.
"What happened here tonight I do believe is a historic event," said Brandie Balken, director of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah. "I think it establishes that we can stand together on common ground that we don't have to agree on everything, but there are lot of things that we can work on and be allies."
So, this is better.
A few months ago, I wrote a series of blogs at Http://www.marmel.com, asking - hoping - for Hollywood to boycott Sundance. (http://marmel.com/2009/08/utah-says-its-okay-to-discriminate-against-gays-its-time-to-boycott-sundance/ if you are curious.)
I don't know where you stand on gay marriage, but the idea that people could be discriminated against at work - simply FIRED for being gay, as was legal in Utah and had happened in Utah... this was something I found untenable.
That Utah's lawmakers continually allowed it to happen, disgusting.
That the new Utah governor - who took over for the more progressive Jon Huntsman - defended this discrimination like the coward he was, even less acceptable. (whatever "more progressive" means in Utah, by the way)
After much hand wringing and behavior unbecoming of someone in the 21st century, the Mormon church now thinks it's wrong to discriminate against gays in the work place, or when looking for housing. Why the change of heart?
Probably two reasons: One, they realize that in the other 49 states, they're just as likely to face discrimination as the people they don't like... so perhaps the pot and kettle should start getting along.
Two, public relation disasters like this, from the Colbert Report (sorry for the link - I'm new here... still trying to figure out how to embed HULU clips):
I'd love to say this Church saw the light, and had a change of heart. But then again, I don't care. If this gets Utah to stop treating gays like second class citizens in the work place or when they're trying to find a place to live - if this bill passes, then I bear no ill-will toward the state of Utah itself. Their government, and their state, no longer bear the brunt of my indignation on this issue, and I will get off my "Boycott Sundance" horse.
I'll go back to doing what's easier: Seething at individuals. Railing at an entire church is exhausting, and feels like punching a wall.
For the gay community, there are probably decades of work to be done, and damage to be reversed. Generations have been soiled with the idea that homosexuals are second-class citizens. The discrimination will more than likely still happen and people will have to be vigilant. It will more than likely fall to younger people than I to populate that state with kinder, less xenophobic souls.
The national and regional debate on gay marriage is hardly over.
But because you need to reward good behavior, hurrah for the Mormon Church for this. They have now left the middle ages and are living in the 1950s. It's a baby step, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
We'll see what happens Tuesday night.