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Mormon Church's First-Ever Support of Gay Rights Bill in Utah

For the first time ever, the Mormon church has come out in favor of gay rights legislation in Utah. With the church's backing, lawmakers in Salt Lake City unanimously passed the bill.

The new law bans discrimination against gays in employment and housing in Salt lake City. It's passage makes the city the first Utah community to prohibit bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The move comes as something as a surprise, given the Mormon church's longstanding opposition to the gay lifestyle, and its high-profile role in California's Proposition 8 last year, which succeeded in defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

"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."

But church director of public affairs Michael Otterson was quick to point out, "The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage."

Gays are actually welcome in the Mormon church, but they must remain celibate to retain church callings and full membership.

This is not the first time the church has voiced support for some gay rights. In August 2008 it issued a statement saying it supports gay rights related to hospitalization, medical care, employment, housing or probate as long as they "do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."

This is, however, the church's first public endorsement of specific legislation. It did so because of the way the bill was written. "In drafting these ordinances, the city has granted common-sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations," Otterson said.

Still, gay activists see this as an opening for a new relationship with the Mormon church. "I thought this conversation would never come to be while I was here in Salt Lake City," Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center said. She added it has "shifted her perspective of what's possible."


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