Utah is more reliably red than any state in the country, but that hasn’t deterred the state’s LGBT citizens from pressing forward on issues important to them, and it’s making a difference. Salt Lake City residents just elected their first openly gay city council member, and last night the council passed the city’s first gay rights legislation with the support of the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the Associated Press:
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.”
Today Utah’s gay military veterans will gather at the state capitol to demand an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and openly gay State Rep. Christine Johnson says she will introduce legislation asking her colleagues to support a call for its repeal, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Johnson said she understands that her resolution may be the most quixotic of all the bills offered in the next session, given the overwhelmingly conservative bent of the Utah Legislature. But the Salt Lake City Democrat and other supporters point to changing opinions about the policy throughout the United States and within the military, including a recent study by the government-funded RAND Corp. that found that gay and lesbian service members do not adversely impact unit cohesion or readiness. The study included a 2006 survey of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans that found most service members are far more concerned with the quality of leadership, training and equipment within their units than whether a fellow soldier is gay.