With the defeat of one Common Ground Initiative measure and two others on the ropes, openly-gay Utah State Representative Jackie Biskupski (D-Salt Lake) decided to sacrifice her own initiative in an attempt to save the remaining two bills. Media stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KTVX Channel 4, and KSL Channel 5.
Biskupski decided on Friday February 6th, 2009 to pull HJR2, which would have sought voter approval to repeal the second part of Utah's constitutional gay-marriage ban enacted as Amendment 3 in order to avoid confusion about which protections are the legal equivalent of marriage. She explained her reasoning in a news release:
"I believe the second clause of Amendment 3 has been misconstrued by many and will continue to be a stumbling block for reasonable policies in the future. However, I believe that the other Common Ground bills have broader support and cannot be construed as having anything to do with marriage. By pulling this bill, we hope to make a good-faith effort to demonstrate that the protections we're talking about have nothing to do with marriage and in no way conflict with Amendment 3."
But many people also feared that Biskupski's bill would be a Trojan horse for civil unions, and ultimately, gay marriage. Recent polls showed that Utahns overwhelmingly oppose civil unions. Eagle Forum Utah's Gayle Ruzicka, who has led the fight in opposition, explained, "If we give unmarried people marriage-type rights, then we're basically saying it's OK. We're not going to fall into that trap". Dumping HJR2 permits the focus to be redirected towards the remaining bills to which Utahns are more receptive.
Biskupski's move comes barely a week after a legislative committee snuffed out a seemingly more benign gay-rights bill. Openly-gay Senator Scott McCoy's wrongful-death measure (SB32), which was snuffed in committee, would have allowed a cohabiting financial dependent - besides a spouse, child or parent - to sue when a breadwinner suffers a wrongful death.
The remaining Common Ground bills include HB267, sponsored by openly-gay Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake), which would make it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and HB160 (Declaration of Joint Support), sponsored by Rep. Jen Seelig (D-Salt Lake), which would give same-sex couples and other domestic partnerships legal protections when it comes to hospital visitation, inheritance issues and medical decisions. The first bill probably won't pass; the second bill, which would also cover non-sexual domestic partnerships, may have a fighting chance.
Opposition continues. In addition to Gayle Ruzicka, the Sutherland Institute also opposes the measures with their "Sacred Ground Initiative", a counteroffensive aimed at defeating the remaining gay-rights measures. Another group not mentioned by the media is United Families Utah, which is running a petition campaign to defeat the gay-rights measures. Click HERE to sign their petition.
Hat tip to Rep. Biskupski for respecting public opinion and not attempting to shame or bully the public into accepting her legislation.