Another Utah poll backs some gay rights, but same-sex couple adoption opposed

The Salt Lake Tribune/January 20, 2009

A new statewide poll seeking to debunk the gay-Mormon divide shows substantial support - 63 percent - for additional legal protections for gay and transgender people.

And 66 percent of the Utahns polled characterize their religious beliefs as LDS.

The survey, conducted Jan. 8-14 by Ogden-based Information Alliance and commissioned by Equality Utah, also shows wide margins favoring workplace and housing protections for gay or transgender residents as well as health-insurance availability for same-sex partners.

Those results echo a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll that reveals most Utahns (56 percent) back legal protections - such as hospital visitation, inheritance rights and job safeguards - for same-sex couples.

However, Equality Utah did not provide a breakdown of how LDS respondents answered individual questions in its survey. The Tribune 's poll shows Mormons are split almost 50-50 on whether gay and lesbian couples should receive some legal protections.

Equality Utah's poll, with a 4 percent margin of error, did mirror Tribune numbers showing most residents oppose adoption rights for same-sex couples - although the advocacy group's survey also indicates most Utahns would green-light adoption of a partner's child.

Equality Utah's figures - released on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the White Memorial Chapel across from the Utah Capitol - were unveiled by representatives of more than 30 organizations comprising the Common Ground Coalition.

Backers, including a blend of pastors and faith-based groups, say the figures signal support for the Common Ground Initiative, a series of five Democratic-backed bills that will be introduced during the 2009 Legislature, which convenes next week.

"I want to challenge Senator [Chris] Buttars," said the Rev. Russell Baker of the Bountiful Community Church. "This is not a gay agenda. This is about human rights."

Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, said even though no Republicans have stepped up as Common Ground co-sponsors, the survey should provide "political cover." Thompson said the group is motivated by the three to five Utahns each month who are threatened with the loss of their homes or jobs because they are gay or transgender.

"On this day, which so clearly marks the American spirit of unity and progress, let us resolve to make this the year when compassion and understanding triumph."

Will Carlson, Equality Utah's manager of public policy, says GOP lawmakers have signaled "quiet support" for Common Ground. And he joked the poll may help other Republicans "come out."

Common Ground supporters plan to march Saturday at 2 p.m. from Salt Lake City Hall to the Utah Capitol as well as stage a Capitol Hill rally Feb. 11.

The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church argued 2009 offers an opportunity to extend democracy to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

"Racial justice and gender equality and gay civil rights are very much in the moral and constitutional center," he said. "The Common Ground initiatives speak to that center, where ideologies of the left and the right have no legitimate standing."

Advocates also point to recent LDS Church statements that emphasize the church is not "anti-gay" and would not object to wider protections for gays.

"Many active and faithful LDS members have been waiting and hopeful that the church's actions would align with their words," Thompson added.

The church has not responded to requests that it endorse the Common Ground Initiative or particular legislation.

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