By Kathleen Gilbert

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, February 13, 2009 ( – Utah Gov. John Huntsman Jr. has caused a stir by voicing his support for homosexual civil unions. 

Huntsman says he supports civil unions and many of the bills in a package known as the Common Ground Initiative, which is backed by the homosexual rights group, Equality Utah.  The package is designed to extend certain marriage privileges to homosexual and other unmarried couples. 

“I had many discussions about Amendment 3 with many legal experts who informed me that individual rights, equal rights, could be taken up to the level of civil unions without compromising traditional marriage, which is something I believe in,” Huntsman said in an Associated Press interview. “I believe in the traditional definition of marriage, but I also believe that we can do a better job in enhancing equal rights for more of our citizens.”

“He’s long supported many of the ideas that are presented within the Common Ground Initiative,” said the Republican governor’s spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley.  “He supports civil unions.” 

Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, one of the sponsors of the Common Ground bills, praised Huntsman’s stance.  “Wow. That’s absolutely fantastic. I wish the rest of the state felt the same way,” she said.

Conservative legislators reacted with dismay at the news.  “I’m very disappointed in the governor’s stance. Civil union is really tantamount to marriage,” said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights. “It’s ‘gay marriage lite.”’

According to a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll, 70% of Utah residents oppose civil unions.

58% of adult Utah residents identify as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormon Church, which has been a leader in promoting pro-family culture and laws.

Pro-family critics say that Huntsman’s favor of civil unions violates Amendment 3, the state’s constitutional ban against legally recognized unions other than true marriage. 

Amendment 3 states that, “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman,” and that, “No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.”  Huntsman had supported Amendment 3 when it passed into law in 2004.

News of Gov. Huntsman’s position evoked a strong response from both sides of the debate. 

A pro-homosexualist crowd gathered in vigil outside the governor’s mansion to thank him Wednesday evening.  “I think it’s the mark of a true leader to put aside your personal, maybe your religious beliefs and do something that’s right for someone else,” said gay rights advocate Jacob Whipple.

Earlier that day, lawmakers and citizens rallied on Capitol Hill in opposition to Huntsman’s statements. 

“This is not anti-gay,” said Sen. John Valentine, R-Provo, according to ABC KSL 5 News. “This is not anti-anybody. This is pro-family.”    

“Seventy percent of all Utahns oppose civil unions. We’re here today to say: ‘We hear you. We will stand with you, and we will defend marriage,’” said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman.

It is uncertain whether any of the Common Ground bills currently under committee review will emerge for a hearing this year.


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