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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “20 – The Kiss”

Below you will find Prince’s research excerpts titled, “20 – The Kiss.” You can view other topics here.

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20 – The Kiss – Gang of Five – SLC Ordinance

[This was used in Chapter 2, “Genesis,” but should be referenced for its contrast to SB296.


“Anita Bryant was praised Friday by the president of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for combatting homosexuality.

A telegram was sent to the Miami singer and one-time Miss America runner-up by Barbara B. Smith, Salt Lake City.

The message congratulated the entertainer for her work in gaining repeal Tuesday of a Dade County, Fla. law prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing.

Miss Bryant was told in the message: ‘On behalf of the one million members of the Relief Society, we commend you for your courageous and effective efforts in combatting homosexuality and laws which would legitimize this insidious life style.’”  (“Relief Society Leader Hails Anita Bryant’s Homosexuality Stand,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 11, 1977, p. B3)]


“Over the strenuous objections of thousands, the Montgomery County Council passed new legislation extending anti-discrimination laws in the areas of housing, public accommodations and employment to homosexuals. If allowed by voters to remain in the law of Montgomery County, the County Council will have conferred legitimacy, acceptability and protection to homosexual practices and lifestyle contrary to generally accepted community standards and long established values.…

If permitted to become effective as the law and public policy of the County, this Homosexual Rights legislation would, for example: (1) prohibit a landlord or a seller of residential property from refusing to lease or sell housing to persons in a known homosexual relationship with the obvious effect that will have on the character of our residential neighborhoods and the atmosphere for rearing families; (2) prohibit a hotel or other innkeeper from refusing to let rooms to persons in a known homosexual relationship with the effect that would have on the character of the establishment and its desirability as a place for families, children and other people to stay; and (3)  prohibit an employer such as a school, day camp, recreation department, restaurant, store or other business from refusing to hire a homosexual with the effect that would have on employers in their dealings with children, impressionable young adults and the public at large.…

People have watched with dismay the decline in the quality of life in San Francisco as that great city has fallen under the influence and control of a minority homosexual community and an immoral lifestyle. This must not happen in Montgomery County.”  (Citizens for Decent Government, March 18, 1984)


“[p. 1] Leaders of the Mormon Church have hopped on the anti-Gay bandwagon that is seeking a referendum on Gay rights in Montgomery County.  Mormons are lending their support behind the scenes to a fundamentalist-led coalition that has already collected thousands of signatures in a petition drive aimed at making the newly-passed Gay rights law a ballot issue.

The Rev. Robert Crowley, pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, says his Citizens for a Decent Government gathered 10,000 of the required 15,750 signatures in little over a month and turned them in Tuesday to the country supervisors of elections.  Those seeking the referendum—which would be placed on the November and which would pertain only to the Gay related provisions of the human rights bill signed into law February 23—have until May 23 to collect the remaining signatures needed.

Crowley said the Mormons have agreed to try to collect 5,000 signatures in the petition drive and noted that, although his group has not yet received petitions from the Mormons, ‘their campaign is well underway.’  Crowley commented that h3e could not remember another situation during his 33 years as a minister in which the Mormon Church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, joined with fundamentalist denominations such as the Baptists.

The Mormon involvement in the petition drive stemmed from a March 18 meeting at the home of Glenn Potter, executive secretary to Don Ladd, who, as the church’s regional representative, is the highest-ranking Mormon Church official in the Washington area.  It was Ladd who called the meeting, according to a church member who attended but [p. 11] who asked not to be identified.  Neither Ladd nor Potter would agree to be interviewed.

The meeting was conducted by Ralph Hardy, first counselor in the church’s Washington, D.C. stake.  In the Mormon Church in Montgomery County, there are two stakes made up of a total of 14 wards, most or all of which sent representatives to the meeting.  Hardy is lower in the church hierarchy than Ladd and lower than the two stake presidents, but is higher than the bishops who head church wards.

Hardy, who was initially reluctant to talk with a reporter, said he personally supports the petition drive and said he assumes Ladd is also in favor.  ‘The leadership of any church speaks out on many different issues,’ Hardy commented, ‘and our church is no different from any other church.’

‘The church urges its members to be active in political causes and in their communities, and in some instances in the past the church has taken a stand.…’ Hardy said.  ‘The church, as a matter of theology, has a stand against homosexuality.’…

Those who are involved in the signature gathering have been specifically told not to say they’re doing it for the church, according to the church member who shared information with the Blade.  And Fell, who did not attend the meeting, confirmed that members circulating petitions would not bring up the Mormon Church.…”  (“Mormons work to kill Montgomery rights law,” The Washington Blade, April 6, 1984)


“[p. 1] In time it may be desirable for the Church to make a public statement on proposed legislation affecting the rights of homosexuals.…

This memorandum proposes general principles to guide those who prepare the text of a public statement if one is needed.…

[p. 2] this memorandum proposes Church positions on proposed legislation that are tied to the relationship of the homosexual behavior to the demonstrable public interests of our secular society, rather than to the seriousness of homosexual behavior as a sin under religious law.…

[p. 10 – under the heading “Criminal Penalties”] I believe there is little to be gained by having the Church enter public debate and take a public position on an expansion or retention of the criminal law to cover illicit homosexual relations to a greater extent than illicit heterosexual relations.… For this reason, I suggest that the Church take no public position on this subject, reserving its influence for more important matters.…

[p. 11 – under the heading “Anti-discrimination”] This is an issue of major current importance.  Attempting to ride in on the momentum of civil rights and anti-discrimination efforts, gay rights groups are promoting laws that would preclude any consideration of ‘sexual orientation or affectional preference’ in decisions on employment and a variety of other matters.… Pitted against these efforts are long-standing practices barring homosexuals from certain kinds of employment, plus public revulsion against homosexuality.…

The gay rights groups present themselves as victims of intolerance against the condition of homosexuality and of [p. 12] broad-based discrimination against persons with that condition.  However, there is little evidence of such intolerance or such broad-based discrimination.  Although homosexuals seek legislation that would guarantee non-discrimination against persons with their condition, what they really seem to crave is public approval of their practices.  They want the right to proselyte their lifestyle and to practice it in public without penalty or public disapproval.…

If the legislative issue is posed in terms of whether a person with the homosexual condition should be allowed to [p. 13] have a job, the focus will be on an aggrieved person who wants a job despite discrimination, and the proposed anti-discrimination law will probably win public approval.  The public will see the debate as a question of tolerance of persons who are different, like other minorities.  Perceiving the issue in those terms, the public will vote for tolerance, and those who oppose may well be seen as unmerciful persecutors of the unfortunate.

However, if the legislative issue is posed in terms of whether the public has a right to exclude from certain kinds of employment persons who engage in (and will teach) practices the majority wish to exclude for the good of society (such as abnormal sexual practices that present demonstrable threats to youth, public health, and procreation), the gay rights proposal will lose.  The public will see the debate as a question of whether homosexuality is to be approved and promoted.  Perceiving the issue in those terms, the public will reject such approval and the proposed means of promotion.…

[p. 14] Since public policy must obviously favor perpetuation of the nation and its people, laws should permit employers to exclude from key positions of influence those who would proselyte and promote the homosexual lifestyle.  The public is likely to approve such action by employers like school districts if the argument is presented as an exception to a job-discrimination law, rather than as a proposal to ban homosexuals from all employment (such as by outfight opposition to anti-discrimination legislation extending some protection to homosexuals).…

[p. 15] Efforts to protect homosexuals from various types of discrimination are succeeding in some measure.  The best strategy to oppose further anti-discrimination legislation protecting homosexuals is to propose well-reasoned exceptions rather than to oppose such legislation across the board.  Total opposition (that is, opposition to all non-discrimination legislation benefiting homosexuals) would look like a religious effort to use secular law to penalize one kind of sinner without comparable efforts to penalize persons guilty of other grievous sexual sins (adultery, for example).

In contrast, if the opposition to granting job discrimination protection to homosexuals is limited to jobs that expose homosexuals to young people or present homosexuals as worthy role models, this opposition could be explained in terms of secular policies rather than [p. 16] religious categories of sin.  Such opposition would command widespread support not limited to particular religious philosophies.

An anti-job-discrimination law protecting homosexuals could make an exception for certain categories of persons for certain jobs, such as the teaching and counseling jobs mentioned earlier. [Footnote: It would also be desirable to permit employers to exclude homosexuals from influential positions in media, literature, and entertainment, since those jobs influence the tone and ideals of a society.  However, homosexuals have such footholds and influence in these areas that such a law would be difficult to enact and almost impossible to enforce.]…

For the reasons discussed above, I recommend that if an anti-job-discrimination law is proposed to protect homosexuals, the Church should oppose the law if it did not contain a youth-protection exception of the type described above.  Such opposition should be explained, with careful emphasis on the bad effects of homosexual practices (not homosexuals) and the need—for the good of society—to protect youth from homosexual proselyting and role models among their teachers and counselors.  The statement should focus on concerns over homosexual advocacy rather than [p. 17] homosexual seduction, since this argument will be more persuasive to the public and less subject to counter-arguments in which the gay rights advocates present themselves as the victims of a smear.

If the proposed law contained a suitable exception, the Church could remain silent on the proposal; it would not need to support the law—it could just refrain from opposing it.…” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals,” August 7, 1984)


“Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.” (“Church Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Votes,” LDS Newsroom, November 5, 2008)


“The LDS Church has articulated it is not ‘anti-gay’ but rather pro-marriage and it ‘does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.’ On November 5, Elder L. Whitney Clayton stated the LDS church does not oppose ‘civil unions or domestic partnerships.’ In response to the statements, Equality Utah is drafting legislation for the 2009 General Session of the Utah Legislature to address each of the issues mentioned by the LDS Church.

During this press conference Equality Utah will be asking the LDS Church to demonstrate its conviction on these statements as well as its willingness to secure such rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns.

‘Today we have a great opportunity before us to begin to bridge the divide between the gay community and the LDS community and to seek out common ground. I take LDS church leaders at their word that they are not anti-gay and that they sincerely understand that gay and transgender individuals and their families are in need of certain legal protections and basic benefits.… I am hopeful that the LDS church will accept our invitation to heal our communities by bringing its considerable social and political influence to bear in support of laws that prevent discrimination and provide for the legitimate needs of all Utahans and their families.’ – Senator Scott McCoy

Will Carlson, Equality Utah Manager of Public Policy: …‘We will be working to introduce the following bills for the 2009 General Session of the Utah Legislature:

  1. Hospitalization & Medical Care…
  2. Fair Housing & Employment…
  3. Probate Rights – Wrongful Death Amendments…
  4. Domestic Partner Rights & Responsibilities Act…
  5. Repeal of part 2 of Utah’s Amendment 3…

This bill will repeal the portion of Amendment 3 which states ‘no other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as marriage or be given the same or substantially the same legal effect.’

Mike Thompson, Equality Utah Executive Director: … As part of this effort, we would like to ask the LDS Church the following questions:

  1. The LDS Church has stated that it does not oppose same-sex couples receiving such rights as ‘hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.’ Will the LDS Church be willing to support efforts to secure these rights?
  2. Is the LDS Church willing to assign a member of its presidency of the Seventy t0 lead church efforts to secure these rights, just as it did with Proposition 8?
  3. As it did in California, will the First Presidency draft a letter to Utah Latter-day Saints in support of rights and protections for gay couples?
  4. As it did in California, will the First Presidency ask for this letter to be read to all Utah congregations on a specified date?
  5. Will the First Presidency asked that all members of the LDS Church do all they can do, including ‘donating their means and their time,’ to assure that gay couples receive such rights as hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, just as it asked its members to do in support of California’s Proposition 8?
  6. Will local Church leaders provide information to its members about how to get involved in supporting such rights, just as it did in California?
  7. Finally, we ask members of the LDS Church, will you ask your church leaders to support these efforts?


(“Equality Utah takes LDS Church at its word,” Equality Utah press release, November 10, 2008)


“Will Carlson ended up the conference saying, ‘The federal government has delineated over 1,100 rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. With insurance benefits, fair workplace and housing, and probate rights, we are looking for three.’” (“Equality Utah ‘Takes the LDS Church at Their Word,’ Writes Five Bills,” Q Salt Lake, November 10, 2008)


“The LDS Church has yet to reply to Equality Utah’s invitation to back gay-rights legislation. But an even more daunting group is waiting to be courted: the Legislature.

Today, the first of a series of six bills — proposed by Democratic lawmakers and endorsed by gay-rights groups — faces the Senate Judiciary Interim Committee. The leadoff legislation would allow someone to name an unmarried partner as a designee in the case of a wrongful death.

Together, the bills make up the so-called Common Ground Initiative, which also includes proposals for a statewide domestic-partner registry, health benefits for gay couples and partial repeal of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The initiative marks a bold move in a state where the Republican-dominated Legislature has fought gay student clubs, stopped gay couples from adopting children and barred any domestic unions that would give same-sex couples rights traditionally granted to married couples.

The movement takes its cue from remarks by the LDS Church in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8, California’s measure to ban same-sex-marriage. The church, which pushed the ballot measure but did not oppose California’s domestic-partner registry, stated it ‘does not object’ to rights for gay couples regarding health care, probate, fair housing and employment.…” (Rosemary Winters, “Push for Utah gay-rights laws gets its first test today,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 18, 2008)


“In his letter, Solmonese said Monson can lend ‘credibility and force’ to a November church statement that it does not oppose civil unions or some non-marriage legal rights for same sex-couples.

‘While we will always be in opposing camps regarding marriage equality under the law, I ask that you now join our community in supporting legislative change in Utah that offer(s) real protections to LGBT citizens and families,’ Solmonese wrote.

Five bills that propose equal treatment or establish legal protections for the LGBT community are expected to come before the Utah Legislature for consideration during the session that begins in January.

Three of the bills address equity in employment, housing, hospitalization, medical care or probate rights. A fourth would establish a domestic partner registry and a fifth would repeal part of a constitutional amendment that defines marriage.

The church declined comment when the bill proposals were announced last month by the gay rights organization Equality Utah.

In an e-mail Thursday, church spokeswoman Kim Farah also declined to comment on the HRC letter.

Utah has banned gay marriage in its constitution and previous attempts to pass equality legislation have failed.… Between 80 and 90 percent of legislators are members of the church.…

Since the vote, Mormon church buildings have been picketed or targeted for vandalism and the church has been denounced by many as bigoted.

Church leaders rejected the label in a postelection day statement posted on its website, saying it ‘does not object rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.’

If that’s true, then the church should have no problem backing the Utah legislation, Solmonese he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

‘The question would really be was (the church’s statement) predicated on a measure of good will or by the negative public relations in the aftermath of Proposition 8?’ He said. ‘This is a chance for them to tell us.’…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Gay rights group calls for Mormon Church support,” Associated Press, December 18, 2008)


“The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) delivered 27,000 letters to LDS Church headquarters Monday—all of them asking the Mormon leader to support legal protections for gay and transgender Utahns.…” (Rosemary Winters, “27,000 letters urge LDS leader to back rights of gay Utahns,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 22, 2008)


“The LDS Church has not taken a position on the Common Ground Initiative.…” (Jeremiah Stettler, “Utahns backing gay rights,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 16, 2009)


“It didn’t take long for Utah gay-rights advocates, uplifted after energetic rallies and supportive polls, to be brought down to earth. On day two of the 2009 Legislature, the first of a series of gay-rights bills—seemingly the least controversial piece in the Common Ground Initiative—died Tuesday in the Senate judiciary committee.…

‘The very fact that this didn’t even get out of Senate committee … is clearly  bad sign for other parts of this initiative,’ University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said.…” (Rosemary Winters, “Gay-rights push suffers setback,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 2009)


“The first of Equality Utah’s ‘Common Ground’ bills has died in a committee hearing on the second day of the Utah State Legislative Session. Senate Bill 32, ‘Wrongful Death Amendments,’ drafted by Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, failed 4-2 in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Christ Buttars, R-West Jordan who made no comment on the bill.…

Equality Utah founded the Common Ground Initiative last November, I the wake of the LDS Church’s support for California’s Proposition 8 and the church’s insistence that it did not oppose protections for gay people that are unrelated to marriage, such as inheritance and probate rights and employment nondiscrimination.…” (“First ‘Common Ground’ Bill Killed in Committee,” Q Salt Lake, January 27, 2009)


“Tonight, we speak of ‘permanent things’—fundamental principles that do not change and are vital to the public good of our communities, our state, and our nation. Principles and precedents are what I want to speak to you about this evening.…

The issue of same-sex marriage and its many related entanglements are not mere questions of style. They are moral issues with pro- found social, cultural and legal implications. They are unmistakable matters of principle and we cannot yield. We must, and we will, ‘stand like a rock’ and not merely ‘swim with the current.’…

There is nothing arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory about strictly adhering to the time-honored principles that preclude official public sanction of same-sex unions.…

We must oppose those measures which are contrary to and undermine traditional marriage and family and which also threaten freedom of expression and conscience in opposition to such changes in our laws and the norms of society.…

While serving as an elected member of the Utah House of Representatives in 2004, I wrote those simple 33 words that amended our State Constitution to provide that:

Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.’

The present controversy in Utah involves a package of new bills in the 2009 legislative session styled as ‘The Common Ground Initiative.’…

Now, in Utah, after the fact, those who previously op- posed and fought against our Marriage Amendment want to add into Utah law all of those conflicting elements and statutory predecessors leading up to formal public acceptance of same-sex partnerships. They want to do away with the important second sentence of our Amendment 3.…

Shortly before our Marriage Amendment was voted on and approved by the people of Utah and when other states were about to do the same, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this statement in 2004.…

Utah should not now adopt the package of same-sex marriage predecessors that have been imported from California and elsewhere. They are not harmless, spontaneous proposed innovations stemming from isolated injustices witnessed in Utah. No, they are pulled directly from a national same-sex partner advocacy agenda that Utah does not need and does not support.…” (LaVar Christensen, “A Principled Understanding of Same-Sex Politics,” Sutherland Institute, February 5, 2009)


“All remaining bills in Equality Utah’s Common Ground Initiative, as well as a bill that would let same-sex couples adopt children, passed out of Senate and House Rules Committees early on Feb. 13.

The two remaining Common Ground bills include House Bill 267 by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, that seeks to grant workplace and housing antidiscrimination protections to gay and transgender people. The second, House Bill 160 by Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, would allow two unmarried adults with shared assets and liabilities to make a declaration of joint support that would give them inheritance and medical decision rights.…

So far this session two pieces of Common Ground legislation have been struck down. On the second day of the session, Salt Lake Democratic Sen. Scott McCoy’s Senate Bill 32, which sought to allow financial dependents not related by blood, adoption or marriage to sue if a breadwinner dies due to medical malpractice or negligence, died in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee on a vote of 4-2.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City, pulled House Joint Resolution 2, which sought to clarify Utah’s constitutional marriage ban by striking language forbidding the legal recognition of civil unions. Biskupski told the Salt Lake Tribune that she withdrew the controversial bill in order to give other Common Ground Initiative bills a better chance at passing.” (“Common Ground Bills Pass Rules Committee,” Q Salt Lake, February 13, 2009)


“The Utah Legislature snuffed out two more gay-rights bills Tuesday.

After lengthy public hearings, House committees rejected two measures: HB288, which would have allowed same-sex couples and other unmarried pairs to adopt and foster children; and HB267, which would have protected gay and transgender Utahns from housing and employment discrimination.

Two other gay-rights measures also are off the docket: One was pulled by its sponsor and the other died in committee. The final bill faces a test today.…” (Rosemary Winters, “Utah lawmakers kill two more gay-rights bills,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 17, 2009)


“Former KTVX News reporter Reed Cowan has released an audio clip from his upcoming documentary of an interaction between him and Sen. Chris Buttars on gays and gay marriage where Buttars calls gays ‘immoral,’ ‘taken over by the radical side,’ ‘destroyed the Canadian Boy Scouts,’ ‘diseased,’ an ‘abomination’ and ‘the meanest buggers’ he’s seen.…

QSaltLake was able to get a 16-minute audio file where Buttars rambles through a slew of topics as well as a shot video clip where Buttars says that ‘pig sex’is involved in the gay community. The video was since taken down.…

He calls recent attempts to pass pro-gay measures ‘sneaky,’ and laughs after saying, ‘I’ve killed every one [pro-gay bill] they’ve brought for eight years.’

‘To me, homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion. And you say that around here now and everybody goes nuts. But I don’t care,’ he said, going on to say he doesn’t believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will ever change their opinion on gays and lesbians because the Proclamation on the Family is ‘all about gender.’…

‘Their number one goal is to proselyte the youth,’ he said. ‘That’s why I threw them out of the schools because I said, ‘no, it’s not a friendship club, that’s a recruiting station.’ And there was 13 high schools and junior highs that had one and they’re all gone but two, and I don’t think they’ll go ‘cuz, the way it’s written, the principal has the right, without recourse to the principal, to make a decision if that club’s right for the school.’…

‘But they’re mean. They want to talk about being nice, they are the meanest buggers I’ve ever seen. They’s just like the Moslems.’…

‘I believe that you will destroy the foundation of American society because I believe the cornerstone of it is a man and a woman and a family. It is, in my mind, the beginning of the end. Oh, it’s worse than that. Sure, Sodom and Gomorrah was localized, this is world-wide. You can’t tell me that something was going on in Sodom and Gomorrah is not going on wholesale right now and to a large degree among the gay community … The underbelly is they do not want equality, they want superiority.’

‘I believe that, internally, they are the greatest threat to America going down that I know of.’…” (“Buttars Compares Gays with Radical Muslims, Will Take Down America,” Q Salt Lake, February 18, 2009)


“2/18/2009 – Last of the Common Ground Initiative proposals fails to make it through Utah’s legislative process.” (Mormons for Marriage timeline)


“Despite being stripped of his membership and chairmanship of two Senate committees for his anti-gay rant, Sen. Chris Buttars was defiant Friday.…

‘I don’t have anything to apologize for,’ the West Jordan Republican said.

In a statement posted on the Senate GOP’s Web site, he went further.

‘When it comes right down to it, I would rather be censured for doing what I think is right, than be honored by my colleagues for bowing to the pressure of a special-interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity,’ Buttars said.…

The outrage prompted a frank, closed-door discussion among Senate Republicans on Thursday, and Senate President Michael Waddoups said he decided to boot Buttars off of two committees — the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee and the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee — both of which Buttars leads.…” (Robert Gehrke, “Buttars: ‘I don’t have anything to apologize for,’” Salt Lake Tribune, February 20, 2009)


“Utah State Sen. Chris Buttars has been stripped of his chairmanship of a Senate judicial committee following statements he made to documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan were released.

Senate President Michael Waddoups announced the decision to remove Buttars from the Judicial Standing Committee in a press conference behind Senate chambers this morning. Buttars will retain his seat on the Senate Rules Committee, the committee all bills must go through to be discussed in committees or the Senate floor.

Waddoups said that this decision was not a punishment for what Buttars said. He said that the decision ‘frees Sen. Buttars to feel more at ease in saying how he personally feels without feeling like he’s speaking on behalf of his committee or the legislature.’…” (“Buttars Stripped of Chairmanship, Senate Stands ‘Four-square’ Behind Him,” Q Salt Lake, February 20, 2009)


“Senators met for two hours Friday, February 19, in a closed-door session; after which Sen. Chris Buttars left the Utah State Capitol Building through a private exit. Sources say he was sent home to talk to his family to determine his next course of action.

Buttars is under fire for recently-released comments he made on film for a documentary by Reed Cowan on California’s Proposition 8. The senator said that gays and lesbians are ‘the greatest threat to America going down that I know of.’ He also compared gay activists to radical Muslims.

A morning news conference has been called by Senate Leader Michael Waddoups to announce Buttars’ future. It is expected that, if Buttars does not resign from office, he will at least be stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee.…” (“Buttars Sent Home Early from Senate Floor, Press Conference Called,” Q Salt Lake, February 20, 2009)


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement today about comments Utah State Sen. Chris Buttars made about gays, lesbians and transgender people during an interview with documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan.

‘From the outset, the Church’s position has always been to engage in civil and respectful dialogue on this issue. Senator Buttars does not speak for the Church.’”

(“LDS Church Releases Statement on Buttars’ Remarks,” Q Salt Lake, February 20, 2009)


“Senate leaders disciplined Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, not for anti-gay comments he made in a recent interview, but because he violated a deal with leadership that he not talk about gay issues, a senator said Saturday.

‘Most of what Senator Buttars said, I agree with,’ Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said in a weekly Red Meat Radio program he hosts on K-TALK. ‘We as a Senate caucus had an agreement that because Sen. Buttars had become such a lightning rod on this issue, he would not be the spokesman on this issue, and basically he violated that agreement.’…

In making the announcement, Waddoups said he was trying to ensure the Senate runs smoothly, but also noted that ‘we agree with many of the things he said. … We stand four-square behind his right [to say what he wants].’…” (Robert Gehrke, “Buttars broke his deal, says senator,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 21, 2009)


“I’m a grown man and I can take my knocks. When it comes right down to it, I would rather be censured for doing what I think is right, than be honored by my colleagues for bowing to the pressure of a special interest group that has been allowed to act with impunity.…” (“Buttars Reacts to His ‘Censure,’” Q Salt Lake, February 21, 2009)


“Buttars said his ouster wouldn’t stop him from defending marriage from ‘an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community.’ Asked about apologizing to the gay community for his comments, Buttars told reporters on the Senate floor on Friday: ‘Well, they ain’t gonna get one.’…” (Ben Winslow and Clayton Norlen, “Buttars broke vow of silence, senator claims,” Deseret News, February 22, 2009)


“FOLLOWING THE BACKLASH over Prop. 8, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserted November 5 that the church ‘does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.’ So a few legislators in Utah seized the apparent olive branch and in January introduced the Common Ground Initiative, five bills designed to secure the rights that the LDS Church claims it doesn’t oppose.

‘We asked the church, ‘Will you support this effort the same way you supported Prop. 8?’‘ says Mike Thompson, executive director of Equality Utah, a gay advocacy group. The answer was an indirect no–the church never revealed its position on Common Ground.

As the bills lacked LDS backing, it’s unsurprising that four died in committee and the fifth was withdrawn. To top this off, state senator Chris Buttars used the legislation to sound off on gays, comparing them to ‘radical’ Muslims and calling them ‘the greatest threat to America.’ Republican leaders, in response, booted Buttars from his judiciary committee chairmanship.…

Meanwhile, LDS leaders have remained mum. When The Advocate asked why they didn’t support Common Ground, a church spokesman suggested visiting the LDS website to view the Mormon stance on homosexuality—abstinence is endorsed.…

Regardless of LDS involvement in legislation, one thing is certain: Utah’s demographic trends favor equality. The state’s population is one of the youngest and most urbanized. In a recent poll 83% of respondents favored legal protections for gay couples, and majorities supported nondiscrimination laws. This puts many Utah residents at odds with their legislators, 90% of whom are Mormon, compared to 61% of the general population.…” (Julie Bolcer, “Peaks and Valleys: Fighting for Equality in the Mormon Church’s Backyard,” Advocate, May 2009)


“A controversial Utah state senator has been reappointed to the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee from which he was removed in February as punishment for making anti-gay remarks to a documentary filmmaker.…” (“Buttars Quietly Reappointed to Committee,” Q Salt Lake, May 14, 2009)


“Those post-Prop 8 statements gave rise to Equality Utah’s push for the Common Ground Initiative during the 2009 Legislature.  But the three-bill campaign stalled on Utah’s Capitol Hill amid arguments that such measures would take the Beehive State down California’s slippery slope to gay marriage.…” (Rosemary Winters, “Utahns cheer, jeer California gay-marriage ruling,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 27, 2009)


“What better image of a friendly, walkable city can there be than a seeing a couple stroll along the charming Main Street Plaza after enjoying a free evening concert: holding hands, engaged in small talk, taking in the night air. It’s picture perfect. Unless the couple happens to be gay.

On Thursday night, Derek Jones (right) and boyfriend Matt Aune claim they were simply holding hands, walking through the LDS Church’s easement between North and South Temple on Main Street, when they inadvertently became a target for LDS Church security officers. For their public display of affection on church property, the couple say they were detained by officers and even handcuffed. Jones was forced to the asphalt.

Following the Thursday Twilight concert, Jones, an advertising account manager for City Weekly, says he and his boyfriend thought they were alone on the plaza as they walked to their home to Capitol Hill around 11 p.m. It was a walk they’d taken on many occasions. The couple paused for a moment, Aune put his arm around Jones and gave him a kiss on the cheek. At that moment, Jones says, a number of security guards descended upon them.

’They said they wanted us to leave because of the public display of affection, and that they do not allow any sort of public displays of affection on the easement whatsoever,’ Jones says.

Representatives of the LDS Church would not return calls to comment on this story.…

As Aune pressed officers to explain, the couple says as many as half a dozen security officers responded to the call. In between security officers allegedly telling the couple their behavior was ‘unnatural’ and ‘just wrong,’ the pair were split up. Jones says he was forced to the ground on his stomach and handcuffed and that Aune was also detained and cuffed. Both, he said, were searched by church security.

‘At no time did we ever refuse to leave,’ Aune says. ‘After we were in handcuffs, they said, ‘You can leave, or we can call the police.’’ Officers of the Salt Lake City Police Department arrived and issued the pair misdemeanor citations for trespassing.…

Karen McCreary, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, was not familiar with the incident. She notes that the Main Street Plaza has been private property since 2003 when the Salt Lake City Council relinquished public easements over the property in exchange for LDS Church-owned property on Salt Lake City’s west side and money to build the Sorenson Unity Center at 1383 S. 900 West.

The 2003 city-church land swap, and the ACLU lawsuit that followed, were the final act in an eight-year battle over the plaza. When the city initially sold a portion of Main Street to the LDS Church in 1999, the sale came with four public easements, including an easement for the public to use the plaza as a through street between South Temple and North Temple. But the public easement came with all sorts of behavior rules (forbidding things such as swearing) and the subsequent arrest of a Christian preacher on the plaza began the first of two lawsuits that would take the plaza issue to federal court.

The ACLU sued Salt Lake City, arguing that the plaza conduct restrictions were unconstitutional.

In 2002, the federal 10th Circuit Court agreed with the ACLU. But one line in the court’s ruling said the city could get around the problem by getting rid of the easements. That’s what the City Council did in 2003.…” (Eric S. Peterson, ‘Kiss Off: A gay couple cited for holding hands on Main Street Plaza,’ City Weekly, July 10, 2009)


“[LDS spokeswoman Kim] Farah said the two men ‘became argumentative,’ refused to leave, and used profanity.

Aune said he felt ‘upset’ and ‘affronted’ during the approximately five-minute exchange.

‘When I was handcuffed, I was very pissed and I unleashed a flurry of profanities,’ he said.…” (Lindsay Whitehurst, “Gay couple cuffed, cited after kiss near LDS temple,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 10, 2009)


“Former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed is organizing a ‘kiss-in’ at Main Street Plaza on Sunday following an incident in which two gay men were cited for trespassing on the LDS Church-owned property.

Seed is calling for all people to bring their loved ones — husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, kids and even pets — to the downtown plaza between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. and show their love with a smooch.…

Main Street Plaza has been the subject of controversy since 1999, when the LDS Church bought the property east of Temple Square for $8 million.

Civil rights activists protested the sale, citing the loss of civil liberties and freedom of speech on what had been public space. Lawyers were hired on both sides, marking the beginning of a legal battle that went on for three years.…” (Jared Page, “’Love advocates’ plan ‘kiss-in’ at Main Street Plaza,” Deseret News, July 11, 2009)


“After an evening at the Salt Lake City Twilight Concert Series, couple Matt Aune and Derek Jones were walking through a little bit of Paris’ on their way to their Marmalade home. An arm around the shoulder and a peck on the cheek were enough to get security personnel racing to them to excort them off the property. ‘A little bit of Paris’ is Main Street Plaza, a block traded to the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after years of contention over the fact that a public easement would allow demonstrations to happen near the Salt Lake Temple.

Aune and Jones, partners of five years, say they were talking as they walked through the plaza on Thursday night at about 10:30 p.m. They stopped and Aune put his arm around Jones and kissed him upside the head. They say that several LDS security officers approached them and asked them to leave saying that public displays of affection are inappropriate behavior and not allowed on the church property.

‘I stopped. I said something. I put my arm around him and I kissed him on the side of the cheek,’ said Aune.

Then security officers approached them, asking them to leave the premises.

Aune put his arm around Jones and asked what were we doing wrong.

‘We were kind of standing up for ourselves,’ Jones said, saying they were detained ‘obviously because we were gay.’

Jones said the secrity personnel told them ‘what we were doing was just plain wrong; it was inappropriate; it was gross.’

Aune pressed officers to explain to what they say was a half a dozen security officers responding to the call. Jones said the officers called their behavior ‘unnatural’ and ‘just wrong.’ The pair was split up and Jones says he was forced to the ground on his stomach and handcuffed by Zip-ties. Aune was also detained and cuffed. Both, Jones said, were searched by church security.

Salt Lake City police officers responded and cited the couple with a Class C misdemeanor charge of trespassing.

Church officials released a statement saying that the incident had nothing to do with the couple being gay, but with crossing the line of public affection.

The City of Salt Lake sold the portion of Main Street to the LDS church back in 2003, under a very controversial sale.

At the time, the church agreed to the city’s demand for public access to the block, but demanded in turn that the church be allowed to restrict smoking, sunbathing, bicycling, ‘obscene’ or ‘vulgar’ speech, dress or conduct on the plaza.” (“Couple Cuffed and Ticketed for a Kiss on LDS Church Main Street Plaza,” Q Salt Lake, July 12, 2009)


“Supporters of two gay men who say they were detained by LDS Church security guards after one man kissed the other on the cheek will hold a ‘Kiss-in’ near Main Street Plaza on Sunday.…

Word of the event spread on Facebook and other social media, and Seed said she expects at least 50 to attend. They will attempt to gather on the church-owned Main Street Plaza, but expect to end up on the nearby public sidewalk, she said.

Organizers hope the event will lead to a meeting between church officials and leaders concerned about the incident.…” (Lindsay Whitehurst, “’Kiss-in’ to show support for gay couple in LDS trespassing controversy,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 12, 2009)


“Wearing bright red lipstick, Isabelle Warnas smiled and planted a big kiss on her husband’s cheek, something she said she has done often under the spires of the LDS Church’s Salt Lake Temple.

‘Nobody has said a thing to us,’ the 50-year-old Salt Lake City resident said.

This time, though, they had an audience of more than 100.  They were gathered for a ‘kiss-in,’ staged Sunday morning at Main Street Plaza to show support for a gay couple…

‘My husband and I can not understand the discrimination,’ Warnas said. ‘This is not right.’

The atmosphere Sunday morning was genial, and even merry among protesters.  Several LDS Church security guards dressed in suits kept a watchful eye, and turned some protesters back when they tried to cross the church-owned plaza or walk onto the property to share a kiss.…” (Lindsay Whitehurst, “Protestors gather to smooch near LDS Temple,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 12, 2009)


“On July 9, just yards from exiting the Plaza, Matt pulled Derek towards him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Derek says that particular public display of affection (PDA) was spontaneous and nothing more. But, I asked him, all those people commenting on the Deseret News, KSL and Salt Lake Tribune Websites can’t be wrong, can they? You can tell me, Derek, I cooed—you were really getting it on just to prove a point, weren’t you? You were having sex, weren’t you? You knew people were watching, yet insulted them and the LDS Church, too, didn’t you? You have an agenda, don’t you? 

Since I’d only been on Derek’s team a few minutes, he had no reason to lie to me. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We were just walking home. It was late, and it was dark. We couldn’t see anyone. If we had an agenda, wouldn’t we wait until someone was looking?’ Someone was. Derek’s cheek was still moist when security guards dressed in black approached from the darkness and asked the couple to leave. They said PDAs weren’t allowed on the plaza. But as plaza-walking veterans who, like everyone else, had witnessed plaza saliva-sharing before, Derek and Matt knew better. They didn’t know better to shut up, though. They asked why their PDA was different than that of other couples.…

‘Our plan was to go home. We weren’t drunk, and we didn’t have an agenda,’ he repeated. ‘All anybody has to do is look at the security cameras.’ Yikes! They have cameras?…” (John Saltas, “Der Plaza: Jackboots and hoodlums on the Main Street Plaza,” City Weekly, July 15, 2009)


“Protesters are planning a second ‘kiss-in’ near the Salt Lake City Temple…

The event will take place at noon Sunday [July 19], according to a listing on Facebook.…” (Lindsay Whitehurst, “Second ‘kiss-in’ planned at SLC Temple,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 15, 2009)


“Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a second, stronger statement regarding last week’s incident when Matt Aune and Derek Jones were detain and cited for trespassing on the Main Street Plaza near the Salt Lake Temple.

Aune and Jones claimed that they were stopped by church security as they were going through the plaza and paused, Aune put his arm around Jones and kissed him on the cheek.

The new statement refutes their story, saying they were ‘engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol.’…

There was much more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek. They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol. They were politely told that the Plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave Church property. Church security detained them and Salt Lake City police were called.…

Church leaders have yet to release surveillance video of the public display of affection.” (“LDS Church Releases Statement that Aune and Jones were Kissing Passionately, Groping,” Q Salt Lake, July 17, 2009)


“Aune and Jones said they have seen heterosexual couples holding hands and kissing without incident on the plaza. Church spokeswoman Kim Farah has said the Aune and Jones were not singled out for being gay and that they were ‘politely asked to stop engaging in inappropriate behavior.’…” (Erin Alberty, “Police report on men’s plaza kiss released,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 17, 2009)


“In the wake of one ‘kiss-in’ protest carried out last Sunday and ahead of another one planned for this Sunday, the LDS Church issued a statement Friday defending its Main Street Plaza property rights and its actions involving a pair of men cited there last week for their public displays of affection.

Echoing previous comments made by a church spokeswoman following the July 9 incident, Friday’s statement said the pair were asked ‘to stop engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for any couple of the plaza,’ which was ‘more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek.’

‘They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language and had obviously been using alcohol,’ the statement continued. ‘They were politely told that the plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave church property.’…

After the July 9 incident and Jones’ own blog-posts were reported by the media, about 60 people gathered last Sunday morning to stage a ‘kiss-in’ on the sidewalk just off the LDS Church’s property to protest the actions taken by the church security personnel.…” (Scott Taylor, “LDS Church defends actions in plaza ‘kissing’ incident,” Deseret News, July 18, 2009)


“The kiss wasn’t just a kiss.

So alleged the LDS Church on Friday in statement further explaining why security guards detained a gay couple on its Main Street Plaza last week.

The church’s statement said there was ‘much more involved’ than a ‘simple kiss on the cheek.’ It said the two men ‘engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol.’

Derek Jones and Matt Aune were cited July 9 for trespassing on the plaza on their way home to the Marmalade neighborhood from a Gallivan Center concert.

‘I guess they consider hugging groping,’ Aune said Friday. ‘Regardless of if a kiss is on the cheek or on the lips, it still is not inappropriate — unless you are gay, according to the LDS Church.’…

Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill said he is waiting for additional information from police and to learn whether any video cameras recorded the episode.…” (Rosemary Winters, “LDS Church: Cited gay couple engaged in passionate spectacle,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 2009)


“The Rev. Tom Goldsmith, leader of the First Unitarian Church, [said,] ‘The LDS Church responds very effectively to very overt cases of human pain and suffering,” such as Hurricane Katrina or poverty in Africa, Goldsmith says. “For some reason, they just don’t see the pain and suffering of people right here on their very doorsteps, people who are prevented from having their civil rights honored, their human integrity honored.’” (Rosemary Winters, “Gay incident reopens Salt Lake City’s Main Street plaza wounds,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 2009)


“A reprise of last week’s ‘kiss-in’ on Main Street Plaza drew a bigger crowd Sunday and resulted in some verbal jousting between the pro- and anti-gay rights groups.

The pro-gay-rights group, estimated by police to number about 100, gathered to protest a July 9 incident…

The LDS Church did not comment on Sunday’s event.…” (Arthur Raymond, “2nd ‘kiss-in’ draws bigger crowd, foes,” Deseret News, July 19, 2009)


“Later on, at the south end of the Main Street Plaza, more than  200 protesters left the public sidewalk and walked onto church property for three rounds of kissing between the plaza’s fountain pool and Salt Lake City LDS Temple.…

After 20 minutes of shouting between members of America Forever and protesters at Sunday’s event, several gay couples moved to the plaza for kissing and hand-holding, along with straight couples such as Peter Saunders, a Sal Lake City software designer, and his wife of 37 years, Gerda.…

LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined to comment regarding the Sunday afternoon protest.” (Ben Fulton, “Salt Lake City kissing protest brings cheers, jeers (with multimedia),” Salt Lake Tribune, July 20, 2009)


“There will be another, even bigger, kiss-in, one held nationwide.  It’s planned for Aug. 15.  The Great Nationwide Kiss-In will take place in seven cities, from Boston and New York to three California cities.

[Latham] Staples said the kiss-in was part of an ongoing (but this far futile) effort to get church leaders to come to the table to talk about its stance on the civil ceremony of same-sex marriages. Staples used to work for Equality California, which has been a leader in the fight to overturn the Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.…” (Riger Brigham, “Behind the Great Mormon-Gay Divide,” TheEdge.com, July 27, 2009)


“The trespassing case against a gay couple who kissed on the LDS Church-owned Main Street Plaza has been dropped.

Citing ‘significant evidentiary issues,’ the Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday it would not pursue the case against Derek Jones and Matthew Aune, whose arrest earlier this month prompted local and national protests.” (Aaron Falk, “No charges in Main Street Plaza trespassing case,” Deseret News, July 29, 2009)


“The church released video footage of the couple’s encounter with security guards to [Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sam] Gill’s office. The prosecutor said the film lacked audio and did not show the now-famous kiss.…” (Rosemary Winters and Malinda Rogers, “Prosecutor drops case against gay couple accused of trespassing on LDS property,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 29, 2009)


“The Mormon church’s vigorous, well-heeled support for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California last year, has turned the Utah-based faith into a lightning rod for gay rights activism, including a nationwide ‘kiss-in’ Saturday.

The event comes after gay couples here and in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, were arrested, cited for trespassing or harassed by police for publicly kissing. In Utah, the July 9 trespassing incident occurred after a couple were observed by security guards on a downtown park-like plaza owned by the 13 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The court case was dismissed, but the kiss sparked a community backlash and criticism of the church.

‘I don’t think that kiss would have turned out to be the kiss heard round the world if it were not for Proposition 8,’ said Ash Johnsdottir, organizer of the Salt Lake City Kiss-in.…

National organizers say Saturday’s broadly held gay rights demonstrations were not aimed specifically at the Mormon church. But observers say the church’s heavy-handed intervention into California politics will linger and has left the faith’s image tarnished.” (Jennifer Dobner, “Gay marriage fight, ‘kiss-ins’ smack Mormon image,” Associated Press, August 15, 2009)


“For more than a year, Salt Lake City leaders have cataloged cases of discrimination against gay and transgender residents who lost their jobs or their homes — simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But if the city passes an anti-discrimination ordinance to outlaw such prejudice, state lawmakers are signaling they may shred it when the Legislature convenes in five months.

‘Depending on how they carve out a protected class,’ House Speaker Dave Clark says, ‘it creates a concern that is something we would want to look at.’

The Santa Clara Republican notes there was ‘not a will’ this year on Capitol Hill to pass the Common Ground Initiative, which, among other changes, would have made it illegal statewide to fire an employee or evict a tenant for being gay or transgender. ‘I don’t anticipate there’s any more of an appetite to pass it now.’…” (Derek P. Jensen and Rosemary Winters, “Salt Lake nondiscrimination effort under fire,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 26, 2009)


“Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s proposed ordinance to address housing and workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is drawing criticism from state legislators, and even the new governor.…

Likewise, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, hinted that he might write a bill to outlaw the ordinance in the 2010 legislative session, which will begin in January.…

A report issued by Salt Lake City’s Human Rights Commission, however, has proven otherwise. The report, released in July, documented several cases of discrimination throughout the city, and noted that discrimination most frequently occurred in the areas of race and sexual orientation. In the past two years, QSaltLake and several other media outlets have reported on several cases of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who say they were fired because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. One of these people, Candace Metzler, is a transgender woman who said she was fired after transitioning at work, and who lived on the streets for a year before finding another job. On Aug. 20, Metzler organized a community forum on workplace discrimination at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

Likewise, the Utah Labor Commission revealed in this year’s legislative session that it receives an average of three inquiries each month about job discrimination based on sexual orientation. Statewide gay and transgender rights group Equality Utah had asked the commission previously to keep track of these inquiries.

The Labor Commission has to answer that Utah law currently offers no job protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers.…” (“Legislators, Gov. Disapprove of Gay and Transgender-Friendly Ordinance,” Q Salt Lake, August 31, 2009)


“The fact that all of the Common Ground Initiative bills died before getting a real chance to be voted on is an abysmal failure on the part of Utah’s legislature to protect its citizens and promote strong communities.

Before discussing the details of the proposed legislation, it is important to understand the background.  This summer, during its involvement with the successful campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8, the LDS Church repeatedly emphasized that its position was not anti-gay, but rather pro-marriage as traditionally defined.  The church issued a statement saying it ‘does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.’  It was in this context that Equality Utah, a gay-rights group, proposed the Common Ground Initiative: three bills that would have given gays and lesbians in Utah these exact rights, without jeopardizing the integrity of the traditional family or churches’ rights.  It is not easy to strike a balance that is acceptable to the LDS church, a majority of Utahns according to multiple polls, and gay rights groups, but this initiative succeeded in doing so.  Sadly, it took just under a month for Utah legislators to vote down each of the bills in committee.

House Bill 267, introduced by Christine Johnson, was killed in committee.  That means it remains legal in Utah to fire an employee or evict a tenant solely because of his or her sexual orientation.  To be sure, employers are allowed to fire employees, and landlords may evict tenants for many reasons; this bill would have applied only to clear situations of discrimination, when employee performance or tenant behavior is ignored and the layoff or eviction is clearly motivated only by the discovery of the victim’s sexual orientation.  This is not a hypothetical situation: the Utah Department of Labor receives numerous reports of this exact situation occurring every month; however, a woman who is fired solely because she is a lesbian has no legal opportunities for recompense–her employer has acted completely legally under Utah State law.…

House Bill 160, introduced by Jennifer Seelig, was killed in committee.  That means gay couples will not receive probate, hospitalization, or medical rights for their partner.…

Senate Bill 32, introduced by Scott McCoy, was killed in committee.  That means that financial dependents of all kinds–whether gay partners or a grandmother who depends on a grandson for her living–face much higher obstacles to obtaining standing in court to sue in the case of a wrongful death.…

The most common argument against the Common Ground Initiative was also one of the most fallacious: critics argued that enacting this legislation would lead to a slippery slope ending in gay marriage.  This completely ignores the fact that the Utah constitution not only explicitly defines marriage as only between man and a woman, it also disallows any other arrangement between gay couples that even comes close to granting the same rights as marriage.…

By killing all of the Common Ground Initiative bills, our legislators have let ideology trumps simple human decency.…” (Austin Smith, BYU Political Review, March 27, 2009)


“The statement by the LDS Church momentarily gave the gay community a glimmer of hope. But during the legislative session, the church—which refused request for an interview for this article—never specifically supported the Common Ground Initiative. Without the church’s vocal support, the bills had no chance on Capitol Hill.…” (Geoff Griffin, “Gay Activism in Utah,” City Weekly, September 2, 2009)


“New signs have gone up on downtown Salt Lake City’s Main Street Plaza. Visitors now are on notice: ‘The [LDS] Church reserves the right to refuse access to any person for any reason.’ 

The change addresses concerns raised about how the church notifies visitors regarding the private nature of the public-street-turned-ecclesiastical-park.

In July, church guards detained a gay couple after they shared a kiss on the plaza. The guards called Salt Lake City police, who cited the two men for trespassing. But City Prosecutor Sam Gill declined to press charges, saying the church’s signs failed to adequately warn the couple that they were entering private property.…” (Rosemary Winters, “LDS Church posts tougher signs on plaza,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 29, 2009)


“A vote on a pair of nondiscrimination ordinances that would provide housing and employment protections for gay and lesbian Salt Lake residents could come this month.

The public can comment Tuesday during a Salt Lake City Council hearing on the ordinances, believed to be the first of their kind in Utah. The ordinances would make it illegal to fire or evict someone because of their sexuality.…

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns are not protected by state laws.…

The proposed ordinance calls for fines of $500 for smaller companies and up to $1,000 for larger organizations.…

‘We have evidence that shows they are being discriminated against,’ she said.

Earlier this year, the commission released a survey highlighting more than 300 cases of discrimination in the Salt Lake area.…” (Aaron Falk, “Salt Lake City seeks input on gay-resident protections,” Deseret News, November 10, 2009) [NOTE THAT THERE IS NO INDICATION OF PENDING CHURCH SUPPORT FOR THE ORDINANCE, WHICH CAME ON THE SAME DAY THAT THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED.]


“The issues before you tonight are the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against. But, importantly, the ordinances also attempt to balance vital issues of religious freedom.  In essence, the Church agrees with the approach which Mayor Becker is taking on this matter.

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, for example, in their hiring of people whose lives are in harmony with their tenets, or when providing housing for their university students and others that preserve religious requirements. 

The Church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.…” (“Statement Given to Salt Lake City Council on Nondiscrimination Ordinances,” LDS Newsroom, November 10, 2009)


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its support of nondiscrimination regulations that would extend protection in matters of housing and employment in Salt Lake City to those with same-sex attraction (See Church’s official position on nondiscrimination ordinances).

The Church said the Salt Lake City Council’s new nondiscrimination ordinance ‘is fair and reasonable’ and balances fair housing and employment rights with the religious rights of the community.

The remarks, representing the position of the Church’s leadership, were read by Michael Otterson, managing director of Church Public Affairs, as part of a public comment period discussing the ordinances at a Salt Lake City Council meeting tonight.

Otterson told city council members: ‘The issue before you tonight is the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against. But, importantly, the ordinances also attempts to balance vital issues of religious freedom. In essence, the Church agrees with the approach which Mayor Becker is taking on this matter.’

The Church said that while protections in housing and employment were fair and reasonable, the Church also remains ‘unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman.’…” (“Church Supports Non-Discrimination Ordinance,” LDS Newsroom, November 10, 2009)


“In a rare public appearance before Salt Lake City lawmakers Tuesday night, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported two proposed ordinances protecting gay and lesbian residents from housing and employment discrimination.…

Otterson said, ‘In drafting this ordinance, the city has granted common-sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations — for example, in their hiring of people whose lives are in harmony with their tenets, or when providing housing for their university students and others that preserve religious requirements,’ he said.

Tuesday night’s statement was a rarity; church leaders or representatives seldom speak publicly on city ordinances or state legislation.…” (Scott Taylor, “Mormon Church backs protection of gay rights in Salt Lake City,” Deseret News, November 10, 2009)


“Hours after the LDS Church announced its support Tuesday night of proposed Salt Lake City ordinances aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination in housing and employment, the City Council unanimously approved the measures.…

The LDS Church’s endorsement was hailed by leaders of Utah’s gay community — some of them stunned — who called it a historic night they hope will set the stage for statewide legislation.

‘This is a great step,’ said Will Carlson, director of public policy for the advocacy group Equality Utah. But, he noted, four out of five gay Utahns live outside the capital and should be afforded protection as well. ‘Equality Utah will continue to work for that.’…

Tuesday’s announcement and subsequent vote follow more than two months of secret meetings between midlevel LDS officials and five of Utah’s most prominent gay leaders. Those meetings have their roots in the ‘kiss-in’ protests that took place after LDS security detained two gay men spotted hugging and kissing on the church’s Main Street Plaza.

Former City Councilwoman Deeda Seed organized the first kiss-in and called Council Chairman Carlton Christensen to talk it over. Christensen suggested to LDS leaders that a dialogue with Utah’s gay community may ease hostilities.

The officials reached out to leaders of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, proposing they huddle at the Church Office Building. The gay leaders suggested a coffee shop at the Utah Pride Center. They settled on a neutral location — the Avenues home of Sam and Diane Stewart. The Stewarts are active Mormons and close friends of Jim Dabakis, who helped found Equality Utah and the Pride Center.

Suspicion marred initial meetings. ‘These were two communities living in the same town that just had no understanding of each other,’ Dabakis said. ‘It was quite uncomfortable in the beginning.’

Slowly they built a level of trust and good will. They searched for common ground, understanding that the LDS Church wasn’t about to back gay marriage and Utah’s gay community would not stop pushing for what it considers civil rights.

The meetings fizzled a few weeks ago, but then Dabakis got a call from an LDS official asking to reconvene the ‘gang of five.’ They met four times since Thursday in the lead up to Tuesday’s announcement.

The LDS Church sees its move as an olive branch to the gay community after months of growing tension over the church-backed Proposition 8 vote — barring gay marriage in California — and the kiss-ins. Dabakis hopes it isn’t the end of the discussion, but a high point in a burgeoning ‘friendship.’…

The Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City think tank, reaffirmed its opposition to the anti-discrimination laws and repeated its call for the Legislature to overturn them.

‘Each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity,’ ‘ the group said, ‘represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage.’

Utah has a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, applauded Becker for introducing protections she would ‘love to see’ take hold across the state. Her group pushed a collection of ‘Common Ground’ bills in the 2009 Legislature that would have enacted protections, including safeguards from housing and employment discrimination, after the church said it does not oppose certain legal rights for same-sex couples. Advocates plan to try again next year.

State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City and one of three openly gay Utah lawmakers, hopes the church backs such statewide legislation.

‘If this is good and right and OK for Salt Lake City,’ he said, ‘why wouldn’t it be good and right and OK for all the citizens in Utah?’

Participants in the secret meetings note both sides spoke philosophically about the need for public policy to be formed without fear of reprisal from the Legislature.…” (Matt Canham, Derek P. Jensen and Rosemary Winters, “Salt Lake City adopts pro-gay statutes—with LDS Church support,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 10, 2009)


“[Brandie] Balken said she was not given any indication that the church might respond to Equality Utah’s invitation to join the Common Ground Initiative, which will return in 2010.

A church endorsement, she said, would be her ‘dream world.’ But she said, ‘I’ve not heard anyone allude to that. I would be stunned.’…” (Matt Canham, Derek P. Jensen and Rosemary Winters, “Stunner: LDS Church to support for SLC anti-bias ordinance,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 10, 2009)


“The position is not a reversal, Otterson said. In August 2008 the church 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.’

Church officials say the city ordinances were not discussed in the recent meetings between church staff and gay rights leaders, and that it was the mayor who put the proposals on the table.…” (Eric Gorski, “Mormons throw support behind gay-rights cause,” Associated Press, November 10, 2009)


“’We are not anti-gay, we are pro-marriage between a man and a woman. And there’s a huge difference between these two points,’ Elder L. Whitney Clayton, of the Presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy told KSL News.…” (“Salt Lake City Council OKs Gay Rights Ordinance,” Advocate, November 11, 2009)


“The first person up to speak at a work session of the Salt Lake City Council concerning two proposed ordinances that would protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment within city limits was a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.…

Former councilmember Deeda Seed, who fought and failed for such an ordinance through much of her council term, explained to the council how historic it was.

‘This is kind of a momentous occasion. Twelve years ago this very day, the council, with very different folks than you, had a very different discussion on this issue,’ she said. ‘I think it’s very appropriate that on this day we revisit this measure.’…

The church statement comes after two months of behind-the-scenes meetings between gay activists and church leaders, spawned after three ‘kiss-ins’ on the Main Street Plaza after church security ousted two men for holding hands and kissing.

Seed organized the first well-attended event and approached council chair Carlton Christianson suggesting a dialog between the church and the gay community. Christianson reportedly suggested the idea to church leaders, who agreed to start a dialog in secret.

Meetings were held in a neutral location: the home of Sam and Diane Stewart who are friends of Dabakis and active members of the church.

After a rocky start, the meetings began to build good will between the disparate parties, though it was clear to both sides that differences were unlikely to be fully reconciled. The church would not budge on fighting against gay marriage and gay leaders would not budge on fighting for them.

Six weeks into the meetings, they were canceled. But then a week ago Dabakis received a call asking him to reconvene the ‘gang of five’ for some face time with church leaders. They met almost daily leading up to the Tuesday, Nov. 10 announcement.…

After impassioned and emotional speeches from many of the council members, the motion passed unanimously.” (“SL Council Passes GLBT Nondiscrimination Ordinances with LDS Church Backing,” Q Salt Lake, November 11, 2009)


“As a public relations opportunity, the LDS Church’s statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of advocates of ‘gay rights’ in Utah. As a policy statement, it is problematic. The approved ordinances before the Salt Lake City Council are unsound in principle, clarity, and effect.

We have learned from California and other states that the meaning of marriage will die by a thousand cuts. Each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage. Of course, each one, singly and in isolation, does no violence to the meaning of marriage. However, the legal debate is far ahead of such parochial analysis. Unfortunately, homosexual activists seeking to redefine the meaning of marriage—as well as activist courts seeking to do the same—do not view these types of ordinances singly or in isolation but as a pattern of public opinion to justify radical changes to law as we saw in California.

As we have stated previously, we hold that the approved ordinances are vague, dangerously broad, and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate.

We, once again, call on the Utah State Legislature to overturn these local ordinances on the basis of sound public policy.” (Sutherland Statement on SLC Nondiscrimination Ordinances and LDS Support,” October 12, 2009)


“While the measure probably had majority backing on the seven-member City Council anyway, the church’s support was seen by gay activists as a thunderclap that would resonate across the state and in the overwhelmingly Mormon legislature, where even subtle shifts in church positions on social issues can swing votes and sentiments.…

Mr. Carlson at Equality Utah said the wording of the church’s statement was crucial. The church previously had used more neutral language when asked about antidiscrimination statutes or hate-crimes legislation, often saying that it was ‘not opposed’ to such measures.…” (Kirk Johnson, “Mormon Support of Gay Rights Statute Draws Praise,” New York Times, November 12, 2009)


“Now that Salt Lake City has approved ordinances that make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay, will the Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert follow suit?

Government and civic leaders said Wednesday the fight will be much tougher in the conservative Legislature…

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he expects the issue to come up next session.

‘I don’t know where it will go,’ he said. ‘It depends on whether they try to plow new ground with it.’ Waddoups said he would be willing to support legislation protecting employment and housing rights for gay Utahns if current statutes are unclear.

However, Waddoups, a property manager, said he wants the ‘right to protect the image of my company’ against gay employees ‘out flaunting the gay lifestyle’ during work hours. He said he also had concerns about similar behavior among his tenants. ‘I’m not going to put up with that on any of my properties,’ Waddoups said.…” (Bob Bernick, Jr., Lisa Riley Roche and Arthur Raymond, “Protections for gays face tough fight at Utah Legislature,” Deseret News, November 12, 2009)


“Then the council promptly passed it unanimously and earned a standing ovation.…

The LDS Church got hammered for its role in the passage of California’s Proposition 8…

Now one of its ostensible allies, the very conservative Sutherland Institute, deems the ordinances ‘unsound in principle, clarity and effect’ and calls on the Legislature to rescind them.…” (Peg McEntee, “The gay debate and the power of conversation,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 12, 2009)


“The LDS Church’s unexpected endorsement of two Salt Lake City gay-rights measures has many observers wondering if another surprise could follow: a friendlier reception in the 2010 Legislature for such protections statewide.

Even an LDS apostle — continuing the string of stunners –thinks Salt Lake City’s ordinances could be a model.

‘Anything good is shareable,’ Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in an interview Wednesday, referring to Salt Lake City’s new policy aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination.

He praised the efforts of Mormon officials and gay-rights leaders who sat down to discuss the issue before the church’s endorsement.

‘Everybody ought to have the freedom to frame the statutes the way they want,’ he said. ‘But at least the process and the good will and working at it, certainly that could be modeled anywhere and even elements of the statute.’

At a public hearing Tuesday, church spokesman Michael Otterson expressed strong support for ordinances that, starting in April, will ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Salt Lake City, home to the worldwide faith’s headquarters, approved the statutes in a unanimous City Council vote.

It marked the first time the church has endorsed specific, pro-gay legislation.…

Last year, Equality Utah launched the Common Ground Initiative, arguing that even those who disagree on gay marriage can agree on things like making it illegal to fire someone for being gay or providing health-care safeguards to same-sex couples. The bills were modeled after rights the LDS Church said it did not oppose. But Mormon officials snubbed an invitation to join the campaign. All three bills fizzled in the 2009 session.

At least one of the measures is poised for a 2010 comeback: an anti-discrimination statute that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s fair employment law. The bill includes the same exemption for religious organizations and their affiliates that Otterson praised in Salt Lake City’s ordinances.

That means the capital’s new rules, prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers, homebuyers and renters, do not apply to churches or small businesses. The LDS Church and its wholly owned subsidiaries, such as the towering City Creek Center condos taking shape in downtown Salt Lake City, are exempt.

Rep. Christine Johnson, the Salt Lake City Democrat who plans to float the state anti-discrimination bill for a third time in 2010, said she feels ‘immensely grateful’ to the LDS Church for its ‘fair and compassionate’ stand on the city ordinances.…

Would the LDS Church endorse similar anti-discrimination measures for Utah?

‘The church would reserve judgment,’ LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said via e-mail Wednesday. ‘We are not prepared to speculate on something we haven’t seen.’…

On Wednesday, Gayle Ruzicka, leader of the Eagle Forum, said Salt Lake City’s new ordinances are ‘very discriminatory.’

‘We expected the church not to have a problem because they’ve been carved out of it. The rest of us have not been carved out of it,’ she said. The ordinances ‘discriminate against people who have personal religious beliefs.’…” (Rosemary Winters and Peggy Fletcher Stack, “LDS apostle: SLC gay-rights measures could work for state,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 12, 2009)


“With the church on board, the new ordinance is less likely to be challenged, and the stage is set for even greater change.

Opposition to the city ordinance was forming in the Legislature, and a bill that would repeal the city law seemed a certainty. But now, LDS legislators, who comprise a super-majority on Capitol Hill, will be less likely to overturn the ordinance.

Plus, with a church-backed measure for a model, elected leaders in other Utah municipalities may be more likely to pass nondiscrimination ordinances of their own.…

LDS leaders did not oppose the initiative last year, simply stating that the church ‘does not object’ to the extension of rudimentary rights like those in the initiative to gays. But they didn’t explicitly endorse the proposal, and the bills were killed in committee. That, too, could change.

The church erected a figurative fence between the church and the gay community by supporting a gay marriage ban in California and having a gay couple arrested for kissing on the church-owned Main Street Plaza. And it can help tear that fence down, and build on the relationship forged in recent meetings with leaders of the gay rights movement, by giving its blessing to the Common Ground Initiative.…” (Editorial, “Landmark moment,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 12, 2009)


“It is possible to be cynical or begrudging in reacting to the LDS Church’s unprecedented public decision to support civic protections against discrimination in employment and housing with respect to homosexuals in Salt Lake City. I think that is a temptation to be resisted.

What the LDS church has done in Utah is an immensely important and positive step and places the Mormon church in a far more positive and pro-gay position than any other religious group broadly allied with the Christianist right. They have made a distinction – and it is an admirable, intellectually honest distinction – between respecting the equal rights of other citizens in core civil respects, while insisting – with total justification – on the integrity of one’s own religious doctrines, and on a religious institution’s right to discriminate in any way with respect to its own rites and traditions.

I believe that there are forces of discrimination and bigotry within the Mormon church – and they have recently been ascendant. But that is true of most churches and most institutions. And what I have long observed among Mormons – unlike some other denominations – is also an American decency that tends to win out in the end. I’ve never met a nasty Mormon. They put many Christians to shame in their practice of their faith and the civility and sincerity with which they live their lives. And this decision in Salt Lake City – not an easy or inevitable one – to make a clear distinction between civil marriage and other civil protections is one worthy of respect.

I do not agree with it. I see no reason why civil marriage for non-Mormons should be banned because Mormons find it anathema to their doctrines – just as I see no reason why civil divorce should be banned because it violates the Catholic church’s doctrines. But I can respect that position because I can respect the sincerity of that religious belief and see in this stance a genuine attempt to reach out and respect the rights of gay citizens in certain basic respects. Gays should and must reciprocate.

For this is not something that many other churches, including my own, have been able or prepared to do. I wish, of course, that Michael Otterson, who is also a decent and sincere man, had not framed the position in such a defensive way:

‘The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.’

That’s a lamentably inflammatory way to describe gay citizens’ genuine attempt to seek equality in civil marriage – which we certainly don’t see as ‘violence’ in any way at all. But the extremity of that quote may well have been necessary to avoid a backlash among conservative Mormons. And I would much rather focus on the positive gesture than the back-handed swipe that accompanied it.

The other thing to say about this is that it speaks very highly of the strategy of Equality Utah, the state’s main gay group, who decided to call the LDS bluff when the church said it was merely opposed to civil marriage – and not other protections for gay and lesbian citizens. Equality Utah immediately tried to get the church to endorse civil unions. That was a non-starter, but in response, we have this support for an anti-discrimination ordinance. Treating religious groups as interlocutors to be engaged, rather than as enemies to be attacked, has not been successful in most places. I did my best with the Catholic hierarchy in the 1990s and got little but contempt or terrified silence in response. Imagine the impact if the Pope came out and explicitly endorsed anti-discrimination laws for gay and lesbian people and used those words and expressed the kind of respect the Mormons just have. It would do a huge amount of good – for gay people and for the church. This Pope cannot do that; but the Mormons just did. More power to the Mormons.

For this degree of respect – even if it is not fully what I want or what gays truly deserve – we should reciprocate with respect as well. This is a moment of genuine dialogue and civil compromise. And it was accomplished in Salt Lake City among gay and straight Mormons and gay and straight non-Mormons in a way that other Christians in other places have been unable to replicate.

Leadership comes in the unlikeliest places. And when it does, we should thank God and be glad.” (Andrew Sullivan, “The Mormon Move,” The Daily Dish, November 12, 2009)


“While the City Council might have passed the ordinances absent the church’s support, some contend a series of secret meetings between the church and gay-rights advocates may have helped garner the church’s support of the new city regs.

Until recently, no one in the gay community had been willing to discuss the meetings for fear of offending the church and ending the dialogue. Those fears linger, but details have trickled out.

City Weekly has confirmed from multiple sources that in one set of meetings, businessman Jim Dabakis led the gayrights contingent made up of Equality Utah executive director Brandie Balken, Equality Utah board chairwoman Stephanie Pappas, Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission member Jon Jepsen and Utah Pride Center executive director Valerie Larabee. That ‘Gang of Five,’ as some members refer to themselves, met multiple times with representatives of the LDS Church public affairs department including Bill Evans and Michael Purdy, but no high officials.

Former Salt Lake City Councilwoman Deeda Seed attended because she organized a kiss-in demonstration on Temple Square. She reached out to current Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen, who also attended and acted as an emissary to the church.

Seed said the topics of discussion were delicate: The gay individuals discussed stories of discrimination while church representatives discussed how hurtful Temple Square protests are.…

Multiple calls to the LDS Church seeking comment were not returned.…

Even a segment on The Colbert Report that focused on City Weekly account manager Derek Jones and his partner, Matthew Aune, who were detained by church security for kissing on the Main Street Plaza.…

Jacob Whipple, also a gay former Mormon, organized the state’s largest gay-rights march in history— around LDS Temple Square, no less— in November 2008. That protest was intended to shame the church for its support of the anti-gay-marriage amendment Proposition 8, which was approved by California voters.…

Affirmation was snubbed in August 2008 when the church canceled its meeting with them and did not reschedule immediately. However, Jennings says, Affirmation’s national leadership is now meeting with LDS Family Services.…” (Jesse Fruhwirth, “Secret Gay/LDS Meetings,” City Weekly, November 18, 2009)


“The so-called ‘gang of five’ consisted of Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken, Equality Utah’s board chairwoman Stephanie Pappas, Utah Pride Center Director Valerie Larabee, Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission member Jon Jepsen and, of course, Jim Dabakis, who has been described as the group’s leader. The five met, said Dabakis, with ‘mid-level’ church officials, whose names he declined to give. However, City Weekly has reported that these officials were Bill Evans, Michael Purdy and other members of the church’s public affairs department.…

He would say, however, that the six weeks of meetings between the ‘gang’ and church leaders favored the personal over the political.

‘In none of our meetings did we talk about political issues,’ he said. ‘We didn’t talk about the city ordinances, we didn’t talk about that kind of thing.’…

‘We think there are a lot of commonalities that we were able to find and talk about,’ he said. ‘It sounds crazy, but there’s a little bit of a kumbaya moment in a very cynical world.’…

Councilman Carlton Christianson also credits Seed for getting him involved in the meetings.

‘I probably would not have been there if it hadn’t been for [her],’ he said.…

‘Their endorsement was a direct response to the onslaught of negative press they’ve received over the last year,’ RadioActive producer, QSaltLake columnist and radical queer activist Troy Williams told City Weekly.…

Reportedly, the discussions lasted six weeks before breaking off and then started up again abruptly. Dabakis said he was never given a reason for why talks ended or why the officials present decided to open them again.…” (“The LDS Church and the ‘Gang of Five,’” Q Salt Lake, November 23, 2009)


“Exemptions to the ordinance include religious organizations and businesses, businesses employing 15 or fewer people, federal agencies based in Salt Lake City and groups like the Boy Scouts of America whose ‘rights of expressive association’ could be compromised by hiring a gay or transgender employee (the organization does not allow gay members).…

Exceptions to this ordinance cover single-family dwellings (when the owner possesses fewer than four properties in the city up for lease or sale) or properties with four or fewer units. Additionally, properties owned by religious, nonprofit and charitable groups are also exempt, as are dormitories owned by private and public educational institutions if ‘the discrimination is based on sexual orientation or gender identity for reasons of personal modesty or privacy or in the furtherance of a religious organization’s sincerely held religious beliefs.’…

But while some legislators had previously discussed running a bill to ban the ordinances in the 2010 General Legislative Session, none have so far stated that they will definitely do so. In fact, notoriously anti-gay Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, has now said that he may draft a bill that would extend housing and employment nondiscrimination policies like Salt Lake’s statewide. Before the LDS Church’s support for the ordinances, Buttars was among their most vocal opponents.

Meanwhile, the ordinances’ success and the church’s backing has re-energized Equality Utah. The statewide gay and transgender rights group drafted four pro-gay bills last session known as the Common Ground Initiative. Despite polls showing that a majority of Utahns favor protections for gay and transgender people like those the Salt Lake ordinances provide, each bill failed to make it onto the Senate or House floors for debate.…” (“An In-Depth Look at Salt Lake City’s New Nondiscrimination Ordinances,” Q Salt Lake, November 24, 2009)


“LDS church spokeswoman Kim Farah said her church’s support of the ordinances was not a response to Equality Utah’s requests. Instead, she said, church officials affirmed the ordinances because ‘the city managed to draw a bright line between religious freedom and family issues and civic issues like housing and employment.’…” (“Mormons back housing, job rights for Salt Lake gays,” Christian Century, December 15, 2009)


“When Salt Lake City embraced anti-discrimination ordinances for gay and transgender residents last fall — snagging a landmark endorsement by the LDS Church and widespread support from city officials — more shifted than public policy.

Public opinion — throughout Utah — jumped, too.

Support for some gay rights, short of marriage, climbed 11 percentage points across the state from a year ago, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune poll, and shot up by 10 percent among Mormons.

Two-thirds of Utahns (67 percent) favor employment protections and safeguards for same-sex couples such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights, up from 56 percent in January 2009, when pollsters asked the same question. (This year’s survey of 625 frequent Utah voters has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points; last year’s was 4.5 percent.)

Opposition dropped, overall, from 40 percent to 23 percent. Among LDS respondents, it plummeted from 48 percent to 28 percent.

‘This isn’t a gradual change of attitudes. This is a fairly dramatic jump,’ says Matthew Burbank, chairman of the University of Utah’s political science department. ‘Clearly, the fact that the LDS Church was officially endorsing this position had an impact on people.’…

But despite that widespread public support, state lawmakers won’t to be passing an anti-discrimination law this year.

On Friday, Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, announced a ‘compromise’ in which she is shelving, until 2011, her bill to ban housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

‘There’s more educating and more work to be done,’ Johnson says, ‘to get to the point where we can run a bill confidently, assured that the Legislature will support it.’

In the latest poll, Utahns do not show more openness toward two other gay-rights questions: civil unions and adoption.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a popular Republican who declared his support for civil unions in February 2009, appears not to have budged opinion on the issue. This year, 28 percent of Utahns polled say they support amending the Utah Constitution to permit civil unions for same-sex couples. (In 2009, 25 percent backed such a move, but the change falls within the poll’s error margin.)…” (Rosemary Winters, “’Dramatic jump’ with Utahns for gay rights,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 29, 2010)


“Utah lawmakers will not consider a law that would ban discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the workplace and in housing, and will instead spend the next year studying the issue, key lawmakers said Friday.

In exchange, opponents of gay-rights legislation will drop any effort to prevent local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination laws this legislative session.

Gay-rights advocates had hoped to build on recent momentum created by the Salt Lake City Council, which passed nondiscrimination ordinances last year. Those ordinances passed after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it would support the measures.

In Utah, few law changes occur if the church disapproves. More than 80 percent of state lawmakers are Mormon, including Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican.

Mr. Herbert has said he disapproves of discriminating against gay men and lesbians, but that he does not think it should be illegal.

In calling for a type of legislative cease fire, lawmakers are hoping to avoid drawing national attention to Utah in the battle over gay rights during an election year.…

The church has not publicly weighed in on a statewide nondiscrimination law.” (“Utah Lawmakers Won’t Take Up a Ban on Discrimination Against Gays,” New York Times, January 31, 2010)


“Openly lesbian legislator Christine Johnson addressed a volunteer service organization of pro-gay LDS families about the state of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights in Utah and the steps they can take in keeping these topics at the forefront of state politics throughout 2010 and 2011.…

Johnson also discussed her three-year effort to pass a statewide law forbidding housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Her attempt this year came to an abrupt end early in the session, however, when she and other lawmakers brokered a compromise with House and Senate Republicans. In exchange for dropping all gay-related bills, Republicans agreed not to preempt gay and transgender-inclusive housing and employment ordinances in Salt Lake City and County.…

While Johnson said she had hoped the LDS Church — which supported Salt Lake City’s ordinances last year — would support her efforts to get her housing and employment bill onto the House Floor, their support was not forthcoming, she said.  Ultimately, Johnson tabled her bill seeking statewide housing and employment protections for gay and transgender people in order to protect the city and county ordinances passed in 2009.…” (“Johnson Addresses Gay-Friendly Mormons at Meeting,” Q Salt Lake, March 29, 2010)


“In one motion, the Logan City Council on Tuesday night mandated that employers and landlords cannot discriminate against gays, lesbians or transgendered people in the city limits.…

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, Council Chairman Jay Monson said he received more than 250 calls and e-mails ‘for’ and only 10 ‘against’ the ordinances, all from Logan residents and business owners.…

On Tuesday night, Monson defended his support of the ordinances and clarified the stance of the area’s largest church after calling the LDS headquarters in Salt Lake City on Monday. 

‘The [LDS] church supports nondiscrimination ordinances, period. Certainly, I was told that this applies to Logan as much as any other place in the world,’ Monson said Tuesday before calling for the vote. ‘They do and I do and I agree that this is not the answer for everything … But it is a step in the right direction and it is long overdue in my thinking.’…” (Arrin Newton Brunson, “Logan adopts ordinances to stop anti-gay bias,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 18, 2010)


“Then, last summer, an incident on the sidewalk near the Mormon temple — gay couple Derek Jones and Matt Aune indulged in a quick kiss on what was technically church property — lit the fuse of an unlikely rapprochement. Church security pounced on the couple, wrestling them to the ground in handcuffs and handing them over to the police.

Williams and his fellow SLC troops again jumped into action. We took over church property with not one, not two, but three kiss-in events. We really like to protest, and we really like to make out, he says. Imagine the site of crazy queer people getting it on in the shadow of the temple. This time the church security stood far away.…

The group at the Red Iguana included Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah; Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center; Jon Jepsen, a board member of Equality Utah; and Jim Dabakis, cofounder of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center.

Over chips and salsa, Dabakis explained that he had been trying to open up a dialogue with the Mormon Church for well over a decade with no success. But after the PR disaster Prop. 8 created for them, he finally got the return phone call he’d been waiting for. The kiss-in sparked the first secret conversations with the church, Dabakis says.

It’s hard to exaggerate the breakthrough that call represented. The church wanted to meet at their Joseph Smith building. Dabakis suggested the Utah Pride Center. Eventually, they landed in a progressive Mormon family’s home. The first meeting was a revelation, says Dabakis. I think it was less hatred and dogma than ignorance. I mean, they just had no clue who gay and lesbian people really are. One of the first questions was, What do you want to be called? LGBT? BLT?

It was not a love fest the entire time, says Jepsen. It was on, and then it was off, and then it was on secretly. But over the next few months, they began to get to know one another on a personal level, eventually even becoming close with each others families.

The dialogue culminated at Christmas, at the annual Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert — the Academy Awards for Mormons. They not only asked this group [those at the table] to come, but they hand-delivered the tickets to the pride center and equality office, says Dabakis. And when these four arrived on church property holding their partners hands, the Mormon leaders didn’t recoil or drag them away in handcuffs. Instead, they hugged their partners and walked them all into the VIP section.

For Larabee, that invitation represented a complete change of heart. But not everyone feels that way. ‘People are really suspicious of it as well,’ says Williams. ‘A lot of the reaction was, “This is amazing,” but a lot of it was great mistrust.’ Many suspected the church of maneuvering to dilute the ugly press it had received after Prop. 8.

But when the Salt Lake City Council debated a nondiscrimination ordinance offering protections for same-sex couples in medical care, hospital visitation, and insurance rights, Williams and his colleagues saw an opportunity to test the church’s commitment. They insisted that a neutral stance from the church would be unacceptable this time around. Last October, the church made history by publicly supporting the ordinance, a shift that maybe only those raised in the Mormon Church can fully appreciate. As Jepsen puts it, When the church came out in support of the ordinance, they were giving Latter-day Saints—not only in Salt Lake City and in Utah, but across the country permission to be in favor of these basic rights. Dabakis jumps in excitedly. Before the church gave their statement, 17% [of people in Utah] were in favor of antidiscrimination. The Deseret News [SLCs major newspaper] did a poll afterward, and it was up to 69% within days.…” (Dustin Lance Black, “Pillars of Salt,” Out, May 24, 2010)


“[Jim Dabakis] After Prop 8 and the kiss-in at Temple Square with Matt and Derrick, they [LDS Public Affairs] reached out to us. And when we met them, one of them said, ‘It’s such a pleasure to meet the BLT community.’ They were trying.” (Troy Williams, “A Conversation with Jim Dabakis,” Q Salt Lake, July 22, 2010)


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited prominent gay activists including Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black to its Christmas concert in Salt Lake City over the weekend.

According to ABC 4 News, Black, software entrepreneur Bruce Bastian, and a handful of Utah gay activists were among the VIP guests at the Saturday concert in Salt Lake City.…” (“LDS Church Invites Gay Leaders to Christmas Concert,” Advocate, December 23, 2010)

[In the same packet is the following, from blogout.justout.com: “ABC 4 News is also being told that the Church has met previously with both Black and Bastian, one of the founders of WordPerfect. This, reportedly, to get more information about gay issues.”]


“[Dustin Lance] Black has been meeting with Mormon leaders over the past three years since they played a major role in getting California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 passsed in 2008. He wanted to start a dialogue to help move the church in a more gay-friendly direction.…” (“Dustin Lance Black Talks About Winning Hearts and Minds Within Mormon Church,” the-pathfinderblog.blogspot.com, June 26, 2012)


“Attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in quiet discussions with leaders of Utah’s gay and lesbian community, trying to hammer out language for a statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination that the church could support.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, opened a bill file on Thursday — the last day to request attorneys draft legislation — titled Housing and Employment Amendments and will sponsor the legislation should an agreement be reached.

If the LDS Church, the state’s largest faith to which nearly 90 percent of the Utah Legislature belongs, were to endorse the anti-discrimination bill, it would be a major boost for efforts to pass the legislation, which has failed the past several years.…

Brandie Balken, executive director of the group Equality Utah, would not comment specifically on the discussions with the church, given their sensitive nature.

‘We have been working with many community partners, but we’re not ready to release a bill,’ she said. The talks have been going on for eight months and she assured that a bill would be introduced, hopefully next week, but she said the groups will ‘take the time necessary to work on the language until we have the best possible bill.’

Scott Trotter, a spokesman for the LDS Church, said the church has been contacted as ‘one of many community stakeholders.’

‘The discussions are very preliminary. At this point there is no bill for anyone to respond to,’ he said.…

Last year, Utah businesses made a major push to pass the ban on housing and employment discrimination, but the bill was voted down by a Senate committee. This year, the business community, through the Salt Lake Chamber, has again made it one of its legislative priorities.…

[Gayle Ruzicka] ‘If the law looked like the Salt Lake [City] ordinance, that would be very, very upsetting and something that, as always, I have opposed and will continue to oppose in every way possible unless I get some kind of revelation,’ she said.…

Paul Mero, president of The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank, said discussions about an anti-discrimination law have been going on for years, and said that the church’s representative and attorney on Capitol Hill keep ‘ shooting the request up to the Quorum of The Twelve and First Presidency, trying to get them to agree to this.’

So far, Mero said, his understanding is church leaders are not all in agreement, and the LGBT groups may have to give up too much to get the church’s support.

Mero said one of the sticking points is whether churches as institutions should be exempt from the discrimination ban, or if adherents to the faith should be, as well. Giving followers of the faith an exemption guts the bill.

Whatever the final bill looks like, Mero said his group will fight against it.…” (Robert Gehrke, “Mormon church in talks on statewide law to protect gays from bias,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 7, 2013)


“Reports that attorneys for the LDS Church are meeting with representatives of Utah’s gay and lesbian community raise the welcome possibility that the church will put its weight behind a proposed statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.…

Given the Legislature’s antipathy toward the LGBT community, only the LDS Church’s imprimatur could wring approval of a statewide ban from a body that is around 90 percent Mormon.…

While continuing to defend Prop 8 in a case pending before the Supreme Court, the church has reached out to gay and lesbian Mormons in significant ways: acknowledging a biological basis for same-sex attraction and extending full fellowship to any gay member endeavoring to live a single, celibate life.…” (Editorial Board, “A Helping Hand: LDS Should Support Equal Rights,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 18, 2013)


“A Utah Senate committee voted to move a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote by the full Utah Senate. The Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted to approve the bill in a 4-3 vote.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steven Urquhart, R-St. George, and faced strict opposition from two of the largest lobbying groups in the state — Utah Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute.…

Paul Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, called the bill a ‘public relations’ stunt and said the bill would not stand up on its own merits.

‘The legislative politics of nondiscrimination has more twists and turns than a daytime soap opera. But we’re policy people and it’s difficult to advise on public relations,’ Mero said.  ’After five or six years of hearing this bill, and every year the bill is rejected, I’m sure the proponents might be a little frustrated. But when you can’t win on its merits, all that’s left is to ask legislators, ‘Pretty please?’’…

Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CHG Healthcare, said his company cannot attract the best talent while discrimination is still legal in the state.…

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said he could not support the bill because he believes homosexuality is immoral and passing the bill would condone the activity.…

The committee heard testimony from six people who opposed the bill and six who supported it. The bill will move to the Senate floor for a full vote. If passed, it will need approval from the Utah House and governor before becoming law.” (“Utah Senate committee passes statewide anti-bias bill,” Q Salt Lake, March 7, 2013)


“A proposed statewide non-discrimination law ran into expected opposition in the state Senate and won’t be debated before the gavel comes down on the Utah Legislature on Thursday night.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart said he had ‘great conversations’ with his colleagues about the bill but they are ‘just wondering if they can bring themselves to vote for it.’

In the end, the St. George Republican said he doesn’t have the votes to pass SB262 this year.…

Urquhart said he intends to bring the bill back next year.…

The Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted 4-3 last week to advance the measure to the full Senate, with two Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor.

Proponents of the proposed law celebrated the vote as a historic moment in Utah. The bill has advanced further than similar measures proposed the past five years.…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Thursday saying it has not taken a position on SB262.

‘The church is on the record supporting non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian citizens related to housing and employment,’ said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. ‘We also believe that any legislation should protect these rights while also preserving the rights of religious conscience — to act in accordance with deeply held religious beliefs — for individuals and organizations.’…” (Dennis Romboy, “Proposed non-discrimination law won’t be heard on Senate floor,” Deseret News, March 11, 2013)


“Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, whose portrait of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk won an Academy Award, was approached for informal talks by Mormon officials after he narrated a documentary critical of the church called ‘8: The Mormon Proposition.’ Church officials were surprised to learn that he, a young, gay man, deeply wanted a family. ‘That was this big ‘ah ha’ moment,’ he said.

But Black said the initial invitation came only after the church was pilloried in public. ‘They didn’t contact me after making ‘Milk’. They contacted me after making ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’,’ said Black, who was raised a Mormon. He since has introduced HRC leader Griffin to church officials, at the December dinner and a concert following, while continuing talks.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy said its hospitality did not signal a change in position. ‘Being committed to marriage between a man and a woman does not mean that we do not love and care for all of God’s children. Having conversations with gay rights leaders, speaking about compassion and respect for all, and inviting people to attend a concert do not equal pulling back from supporting traditional marriage due to negative publicity during Prop 8,’ he wrote by email.” (Peter Henderson, ‘Insight: Silent or supportive, conservatives give gay marriage momentum,’ Reuters, March 25, 2013)


“Here in Utah, the LDS Church has a powerful voice in this debate. But after supporting a non-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, the Church has gone silent on sharing those protections with everyone else. That’s wrong, and I know I’m not alone in that belief.…” (Chad Griffin, “HRC President to LDS Church Leaders: Stand Up for Non-Discrimination Protections,” HRC Blog, June 9, 2013)


“Much has been said of late regarding LDS Church involvement in our social and political affairs. Seemingly, this came to head with their overt involvement in California’s ‘Proposition 8’ marriage equality debate, when they suffered from negative national press. In fact, many observers have argued that the backlash over their involvement in that campaign has prompted the LDS Church to adopt a softer stance, which has since helped marriage equality measures in other states.

If you live in Utah, however, it isn’t hard to see that the Mormons have not softened at all, they’ve merely changed tactics to a much more subtle, and more dangerous, type of involvement. Two recent events signify this new strategy and the problem we face as equality activists in Utah.

The first instance of their more subtle approach occurred on Jan. 29, 2013, when LDS attorney Von Keetch filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in defense of Proposition 8. The brief, however, was not filed solely on behalf of the LDS Church, their name was buried among a list of other, smaller faith groups. This document is filled with the same oppressive arguments and bogus social-history claims that have been the hallmark of LDS opposition to marriage equality since the inception of this debate. Instead of continuing their losing campaign in the public arena, they’ve changed battlegrounds to one wherein the public scrutiny is less intense, but the stakes are much, much higher.

The second instance was localized here in Utah, during the 2013 General Session of the Utah State Legislature. As in previous sessions, Equality Utah prioritized a bill that would prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Reports surfaced that EU was involved in negotiations with various ‘stakeholders,’ including the LDS Church, and that the bill would be released once the final language was agreed upon by all stakeholders. The bill was to be sponsored by a prominent LDS state senator, Curt Bramble.  Bramble, historically one of Utah’s most conservative Republican legislators, remarked to the media that he would bring the bill forward if the LDS Church approved the final language.

As the 45-day general session dragged on with no bill released, some observers starting to worry. The community was constantly assured by Equality Utah’s Executive Director, Brandie Balken, that the bill was coming, they were just working diligently to make sure they ‘got it right,’ which is Utah political doublespeak for ‘Mormon-approved.’ This approval never came, Bramble backed out, and the bill was released near the end of the session through a new sponsor, Southern Utah Republican Steven Urquhart.

For the first time in history, after years of attempts, the bill was passed favorably out of the Utah Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. Utah’s LGBT community celebrated this victory, but it was short-lived. The bill cleared committee with just a week left in the session, and with internal vote counts predicting failure, the sponsors pulled the bill without it ever being debated on the floor of the senate. Throughout the process none of the bill’s sponsors or advocates would acknowledge the role of the LDS Church, but Senator Bramble’s earlier remarks put it into focus: The Church would not approve the language. Negotiations were allowed to drag on to such an extent that the bill timed out at the end of the session. Another victim of church-state politics in Utah.

Yet the strategy of Utah’s LGBT advocates is to continue negotiating behind closed doors of Utah’s capitol and to avoid any statements or actions that might arouse the ire of the LDS Church. That is the strategy of a bygone age, and one that only serves to reinforce the perceived power of the LDS Church. They are losing this battle in the realm of public opinion, which is why we can’t afford to let them switch battlefields.…” (“Empowering our persecution,” Q Salt Lake, June 21, 2013)


“Despite overwhelming public support and a ‘blue note campaign’ pleading with Utah legislative leaders to allow Senate Bill 100, which would expand existing anti-discrimination law to include LGBT citizens, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R-Sandy) said in a press conference this morning that he will not allow the bill to move forward this legislative session.…

Utah House and the Senate leaders decided early in the session not to hear any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender-related bills for fear that rhetoric on both sides of the issue may affect the pending appeal of the Dec. 20 ruling by Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told House and Senate Republicans in a closed-door session that if any LGBT-related bills receive a public testimony, it was “inevitable that some lawmaker or member of the public would say something offensive: and could damage the state’s case.

Niederhauser said the high emotion behind the bills made leadership decide not to hear them during the appeal.…” (“Niederhauser: Sorry for the tweet, but no-go on SB100 anti-discrimination bill,” Q Salt Lake, February 3, 2014)


“It started with a kiss.

Matthew Aune and Derek Jones were heading home from a Bon Iver concert on a summer night in 2009, strolling through Main Street Plaza just east of the Salt Lake Temple, the holiest site in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Aune bussed his partner on the cheek. Church security guards appeared. The twenty-something men said they were cuffed and forced to the ground. The church’s official statement said the couple had been ‘engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language’ on private church property, an account the two men vigorously contested.

The encounter, highlighting fissures between the powerful church and Salt Lake City, the increasingly cosmopolitan city it calls home, ultimately set the stage for Tuesday’s historic announcement by Mormon elders that the church would support protections in certain cases for gays and lesbians against discrimination in employment, housing and some public accommodation.

The 2009 incident opened the door to an unlikely series of back-channel talks between mid-level church officials and members of the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community. Meeting in private homes and other venues, they spent much of the next five years exchanging views, discussing policy changes, even socializing. They shared jokes, music and sometimes tears.…

The journey began three days after the public affection controversy, when protesters massed in front of the Salt Lake Temple for a Sunday ‘kiss-in’ organized by a former city councilwoman named Deeda Seed. Shortly thereafter, church officials and LGBT leaders agreed to meet for the first time.

Within a week, 10 men and women from opposing camps were sitting down in neutral territory — the graceful Salt Lake City home of Mormon philanthropists Sam and Diane Stewart, who had previously hosted President George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain.

That first meeting ‘was awkward, but then we went around the room and talked about our personal journeys,’ said state Sen. Jim Dabakis, a gay Democrat who describes himself as ‘a cultural Mormon’ and has been involved in the process from the start.

‘It lasted 21/2 hours. It was a remarkable meeting,’ Dabakis recounted. ‘The representatives from the church said, ‘We want to meet again next week.’ … Without those conversations, we’d still be two camps ensconced in the mountains shaking their fists at each other.’…

The meeting was tense at first, but warmed up when the group began to speak of their lives. Balken talked about being born and raised in Utah, growing up in a small, rural community, loving to garden, wishing she had paid more attention when her grandmother taught her to preserve fruits and vegetables.

Dabakis told of his difficult youth, of a father who struggled to make ends meet, a mother who was brought low by depression, and a church — the Mormon Church — that took him in and cared for him, a church that he could no longer be part of because of his sexual orientation.

He talked about ‘how important the Mormon community was to him and how he lost it because of something he can’t change,’ Seed recounted. ‘That was one of those transformative things. I know I was listening to Jim with tears in my eyes.’…

Church spokesman Michael Purdy, who has been involved in the conversations from the beginning, said in an email Friday that at the time the group began to meet, ‘there were a lot of misunderstandings between the LGBT community in Utah and the church.’

At the first meeting, Purdy said, ‘introductions were made, feelings were shared and questions were asked by all involved. The entire conversation, and those that followed, was defined by feelings of love and respect and a desire to make things better.’

Seed, who helped get the process started, is neither gay nor Mormon, so once the conversations were underway, she stopped going to the group’s meetings. But that November, she got a call from Dabakis or Evans — she can’t remember which — who told her to go the next City Council meeting, because ‘something big was going to happen.’

Salt Lake City’s elected officials had been working on a package of municipal nondiscrimination ordinances to protect gays and lesbians within city limits. There was little hope of the regulation passing, however, because of the Mormon Church’s stand on homosexuality.

A year after Proposition 8 passed in California, when the Salt Lake City Council was poised to vote on the ordinances, Michael Otterson, head of church public affairs, stood up in his official capacity and caused thousands of jaws to drop.

‘The issues before you tonight are the right of people to have a roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against,’ Otterson told the council, meeting in packed chambers. ‘But, importantly, the ordinances also attempt to balance vital issues of religious freedom. In essence, the church agrees with the approach.’

That Christmas season, the LGBT activists who had come to be known as ‘the Gang of Five’ and their same-sex partners were invited to sit in the VIP section at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert, the hottest ticket in town.

‘We met in church headquarters, hugged, introduced all our partners,’ recounted Dabakis, who was not a state senator when the meetings began. ‘As they were taking us to the VIP seats, we walked across the plaza where the kissing went on. And a church elder said laughing, “Anyone want to kiss? No problem.”’…” (Maria L. La Ganga, “An embrace that swayed the Mormon Church on gay rights,” Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2015)


“Back in 2003, as now-Sen. Jim Dabakis helped reorganize and revive the Utah Pride Center, he decided it was time to draft a letter to church leaders asking for a sit-down. They refused.

In 2008, as the church led efforts to pass California’s Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage, Dabakis penned another letter. Another refusal.

After Proposition 8 passed and gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans and allies flooded the streets around the Salt Lake City Temple, church leaders soon figured out that they had a public relations nightmare on their hands.

Dabakis reached out again, and this time church leaders said yes. Five LGBT leaders, dubbed the ‘Gang of Five,’ including Dabakis, Utah Pride Center’s Valerie Larabee, Equality Utah’s Brandie Balken and Stephanie Pappas, and Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission member Jon Jepsen, began meeting with LDS Church public affairs department officials Bill Evans and Michael Purdy.…” (Michael Aaron, “Nondiscrimination laws years in the making signed into law,” Q Salt Lake, April 2015)


“A handful of legislators and other negotiators were seated around a squat wooden table in the blue-and-gold Senate lounge, struggling to resolve the remaining — and seemingly irreconcilable — differences between gay rights activists and the influential Mormon Church. Tempers were flaring.

‘The tornado and hurricane and typhoon arrived in that room that night and the wind was blowing, and the tree of our whole effort was down at 45 degrees,’ recalled Sen. Jim Dabakis (D), the state’s only openly gay legislator.

But the two sides, drawing on an unlikely trust nurtured during years of quiet rapprochement, were able that night to reach a breakthrough.…

Soon after, the church and the LGBT community agreed to an unprecedented face-to-face meeting, arranged by a former Salt Lake City Council member.

Diane Stewart, a Mormon gay rights supporter and friend of Dabakis’s, offered her 85-year-old neoclassical home as a neutral venue.

The church officials, including lobbyist Michael Purdy, arrived first and in dark suits, Stewart recalled. The more casually dressed LGBT contingent included Dabakis and four others — a so-called Gang of Five.

What began as an introductory meeting quickly morphed into an exchange of stories of prejudice and misunderstanding.

‘I don’t think anyone intended to be overtly emotional, but you know when you’re talking about your spouse or your partner or your children, it’s hard not to be,’ said Brandie Balken, a former head of Equality Utah who attended the meeting.

After a few hours, and herbal tea and snacks in Stewart’s red-and-gold dining room, the session ended, but a seed was planted. The group would meet several more times at Stewart’s hillside home and elsewhere, creating enduring and emotional friendships.…

Along the way, Balken began visiting state lawmakers in their districts, eventually making it to St. George, a city in southwestern Utah. There, she tried to make the case for nondiscrimination legislation with Steve Urquhart, a Republican state senator and a former Utah House majority whip. He said he understood but couldn’t support the bill.

Not long after, Urquhart’s eldest daughter told him that she was becoming the president of the Gay Straight Alliance at St. George’s Dixie High.

‘If this is something that you’re doing just to do, how about you don’t?’ Urquhart recalled telling her. It was a political headache he didn’t need in conservative St. George.

‘Then I said, ‘But now, let’s talk not politician to daughter. Let’s talk father to daughter, because that’s the conversation that really matters,’ ’ he continued. ‘ ‘If this is something that matters to you, then to hell with political concerns.’ ’

She responded that it wasn’t about her sexuality but about her gay friends. Life was extremely tough for them, and she wanted to offer her support, she told him.

‘I said, ‘Great, then this is something we’re doing. I’m with you,’ ’ he recounted.

Urquhart said his thinking began to shift. He stopped seeing sexual orientation as defining a person.

When Equality Utah was looking for a sponsor for its non­discrimination bill in 2013, Urquhart agreed to become its first Republican shepherd.…” (Niraj Chokshi, “Gay rights, religious rights and a compromise in an unlikely place: Utah,” Washington Post, April 12, 2015)


Balken: Prop 8 was in November 2008, and the legislative session began in January 2009.  This actually didn’t help things at all.  In many ways I think it kind of exacerbated the situation.  Honestly, Equality Utah had done its part in poking, by putting up a counter on the Equality Utah website saying, “We have reached out to the LDS Church about these basic protections that you said you supported, and it has been 49 days and there has been no response.”  Then 50 days.  Then 51 days.

Prince: Wasn’t that Jim Dabakis’s child?

Balken: I’m not sure whose idea it was.

Prince: He claims some credit for it, at least.

Balken: Well, it was up on our website.

Prince: And it got up into the triple digits, as I recall.

Balken: Oh, it did.  It absolutely did.  The specific outreach was actually to Bill Evans.  There was a phone call to Bill to say, “Look, we want to talk to you about this,” knowing that he does government relations for the LDS Church.  No success.…

So let’s move forward a few months.  Now we’re into post-legislative-session 2009.  Now we are into May and June.  We have a concert series here in Salt Lake City.  This was just after all of this reconstruction had happened and the public block had now become a part of the LDS Church property.  Do you remember this?

Prince: Main Street, between North and South Temple.

Balken: Yes, that’s right.  The Main Street project had been finished and landscaped.  A gay male couple left the concert series and walked through the temple grounds.  At one point they sat down and were holding hands.  One kissed the other.

Prince: Not as a demonstration?

Balken: No.  I think they were just walking home post-concert.  They were alone together—there weren’t witnesses.  There wasn’t a group.  They were approached by two security guards who basically said to them, “Look, public displays of affection are not allowed on church property.”  At this point there was some back and forth that happened.  I was not there, but the Colbert Report did a piece on this and showed the footage of what happened to these two men, which was caught on a security camera.  One of the men was thrown to the ground and it got a little iffy.  A complaint was filed, and it was determined that the LDS Church can say and require any kind of behavior because it is their property.  It is private property.

Now, the request was, “It should be posted clearly that this is not public property; it is private property.  So if there is to be a certain standard of behavior, you should be clear about what is and is not acceptable on this property.

Prince: So brides kissing grooms is not allowed either?

Balken: Well, according to their first statement, that would have been interpreted as such.  That’s why we were saying, “You can say whatever you want and you can require whatever kind of behavior, but you should be clear about it.”

Prince: And consistent.

Balken: That’s exactly right.  Consistent.  What the situation with this gay male couple inspired was a series of “kiss-in’s.”  This piece is important to note: this was not facilitated by the LGBT community.  The leader of the kiss-in’s was actually facilitated by a woman who used to work for Rocky Anderson, who was really angry about the Main Street deal and felt like that should be public property and not private property, and there shouldn’t be the opportunity for a private entity to control what had been used as public property for so long in the State of Utah.  Deeda Seed was the woman who organized this very first kiss-in.

That happened on the corner of Main Street and South Temple.  It was on public property, and there were probably thirty couples that got together and started kissing: straight couples and gay couples having a demonstration.  That started to take root, and it started to happen at temples in other cities.

Prince: Always just outside the church property?

Balken: That’s right.  Little public demonstrations.  It was that that actually brought a phone call to our office.  It was one of those odd phone calls that said, “Brandie, the LDS Church has representatives that would like to meet with Equality Utah.  Are you available?”

Prince: Who did the phone call come from?

Balken: Jim Dabakis was the one who called me and said, “They want to meet with us.  Are you willing to come?”  “Absolutely!”

What had happened was that Deeda Seed was a good friend with Carlton Christensen, who sits on the Salt Lake City Council.  He is a committed, dedicated LDS Church member.  I think he served in a bishopric.  I think maybe Carlton reached out to Deeda and said, “This is getting a little out of control.  There is a lot of anger.  Emotions are running very, very high.  We think it is important to maybe sit down and have a meeting.  Are you willing to sit down and have a meeting around these kiss-in’s?”  Deeda said, “Yes.”  “So let’s bring together some folks from the LGBT community and from the LDS community and see what we can do.”

Deeda was in that meeting, Carlton was in that meeting, I was in the meeting, my board chair Stephanie Pappas was in the meeting.  Jim affectionately began to call it the Gang of Five.  There was Stephanie, myself, Jim, Jon Jepsen who had worked with Equality Utah and also worked with the Utah Pride Center, and Valerie Larabee, who is the executive director of the Utah Pride Center.

Prince: At some point I’d like to talk to everybody who was in that meeting.

Balken: Absolutely.  I’m happy to get you their contact information.  So there were the five of us, and then Michael Purdy, Bill Evans and John Taylor from the Church.

Prince: This was the very first meeting?

Balken: The very first meeting.

Prince: Was it the first ever between the Church and any type of LGBT delegation?

Balken: It could very well be.  I know that Jim met Bill—he either met him or had the first real personal conversation at one of the kiss-in’s on the corner.  Bill had come out to sort of scope out what was going on, and Jim had come down to see what was going on.  Jim was there dressed, as Jim frequently is, in a business suit.  There were people who drove by and started yelling at both Bill and Jim.

Prince: Thinking Jim was a Mormon official?

Balken: That’s right.  It had an impact on Jim to see that sort of hostility.  That should be noted as well, as a part of it.

Prince: Bill has given me a little bit of this.  Once he retires, I’ll ask him to go on the record.

Balken: Yes.  So we all came together at the home of Sam and Diane Stewart.  I think Jim facilitated the hosting, knowing that Sam and Diane were friendly to LGBT people, but were also faithful LDS people.  So it was a little bit neutral ground.

The first meeting, Greg, was not focused on any issue, any conversation.  We didn’t walk in—at least I didn’t walk in, and I think you would hear this reflected back from Bill and the others—it wasn’t like, “Well, what are we going to do about Prop 8?  What are we going to do about these kiss-in’s?”  The first meeting focused on two things.  The first was just the baseline getting to know each other.  “Where are you from?  What is it exactly that you do?  How did you get to this point in serving the community?”

Prince: Had you had any relationship with any of the three church guys?

Balken: No.  I’d never met any of them before.  I didn’t even understand the importance of the name Bill Evans.  There was no frame of reference for me.

The second key component, beyond the getting to know you, was really focused on, “What do you see happening in our community right now?”  There was almost complete agreement around the profound concern about how hurt our people were at that time.  It wasn’t just happening to one side or the other.  People were really wounded, and people were really struggling to relate to each other in a way that was safe.  There was no parameter for conversation.  It seemed like any time LDS and LGBT had any interface, it was just adding to the fire.  It was more and more othering each other, which is a profound tragedy when we are sharing families, and we are sharing neighborhoods, and our kids go to the same schools, and we are working in the same office buildings.  The tension and the wounding had gotten really significant.

So not only the acknowledgement of how hurt people were, but also a commitment to our responsibility to help our people, that as community leaders or as members of a faith community, or just members of the community at large, that we all had an equal investment in doing anything that we could to take care of our people, to lessen some of the wounding that was really all around us.

There was also a discussion about how the national focus on the State of Utah wasn’t really helping things.  You still see that to this day, Greg.  Nationally, people love the story of conflict between LDS and LGBT.  They are hungry for it.  I cannot tell you how many phone calls I get, looking to dig up that story.

Prince: And there is still plenty of raw material.

Balken: Oh, absolutely!  Absolutely.  But what people don’t want to hear is that Mormons are good parents who love their kids, who are working to understand this much like Catholics are, much like Evangelicals are.  People want to paint Mormons as an extraordinarily difficult, secretive and hostile community.  I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s true.

Prince: No, but Prop 8, perhaps more than any event in the Church’s history, catapulted them into that arena.

Balken: It absolutely did.  And yet, although a lot of investment in Prop 8 was made by the Mormon Church, a huge investment was made by Catholics, as well.

Prince: Yes.

Balken: But we didn’t see that same reaction.…

So we got together about every two weeks.  Initially the conversation was really focused on, “What do we see in our communities?  Is there anything we can do?  We know we have a responsibility to take care of our people.  How do we do that?  What does that look like?  What do we perceive as helpful or not helpful?”

Prince: “We” now being both sides of the table?

Balken: That’s right, both sides of the table.  We weren’t a big-W “We,” but we acknowledged that as community members we were all in this together, even though we may be approaching it from different places.

Then we started to talk about different things that we had commonality on.  One was homeless youth.  We all have an investment in lessening the population of homeless youth.…

It became an open and really pretty friendly space.  It wasn’t public.  There was an unspoken agreement that we weren’t going to go out and talk about what was happening there.  It was just for us to explore, and if there were opportunities, then we could pursue them as community members with unique positions to better our community and to help out our people.…

Bill [Evans] actually started coming to a series of home visits with LGBT people, where he would go to people’s homes and sit and talk with them as couples.  This wasn’t just happening with LDS people; it was also happening with other faith communities.  I attended a couple of those as well, as a person in an LGBT relationship with a family.  I would go to those and talk about my experience, and there was the creation of a safe space, an intention to learn about each other.…

So this was happening as a side note to the work that we were doing.  All of this time, we were working with Carlton, who was on the Salt Lake City Council; working with other city council members, working to set the stage to pass this non-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City.

Prince: Without any LDS Church involvement yet?

Balken: Well, Ben McAdams and Carlton, and I think J. T. Martin—his name is not coming to me and I’ll have to check that to be sure; it was another man who is no longer on the council—were also working.  I don’t know which channels they were using or whom they were talking to, to make sure that the LDS Church had seen the language of the ordinances and did not have anything that had red-flagged them with regards to that.  There was never any assumption that there would be support; we were hoping that they could see the language and not oppose.

We did that as a community partner, and we didn’t just do it with the LDS Church.  We did that with property owners, we did it with business owners, we did it with the faith community at large.  It was important to us—and I think you should always do this when you are looking at good public policy—you bring people to the table and ask them what they think.  None of us is smart enough to create policy that is good for everybody, if we don’t invite everybody to look at it.

So the LDS Church was invited in that format, and Ben McAdams was one of the key folks who did that outreach.  “Have you seen this?  What do you think?  How do you feel about it?”

We actually didn’t talk much about the city ordinances.  The Church knew they were coming.  They knew that we had been working on the votes.  There had been that sort of conversation, but there was never any discussion of, “Will you, or will you not support these?”  At least in those meetings there wasn’t.  I did not ever have that conversation with anyone from the LDS Church about the ordinances.

We got a call the morning of the day of the council meeting where we were going to a vote.  “Can you come to an impromptu meeting with the gentlemen?”  We affectionately call them the Brethren.  “Of course we can come.”  We went up and they said, “First we want to say that we know that the intention of these meetings was not this, and that this was never requested.  But we wanted to let you know that we have the intention of releasing a public statement in support of passage of these ordinances this evening, and we wanted you to be aware of that before you walked in.”

Prince: These were the same three guys you had been meeting with?

Balken: Yes.  

Prince: Did that blow you away?

Balken: I was completely stunned.  One, because it had never been a topic of conversation.  It had never been a request.  And it seemed, in my perspective, a much bigger step than say a tandem service project.  A much bigger step.  But that’s what they said.

We showed up at the city council chambers that evening, and Michael Otterson was there.  He stepped up first, before any public testimony was heard, and released a statement that is now on their website.  That’s how it played forward.

From that point, Greg, it was that year that we got our first invitation to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.

Prince: This was 2009?

Balken: Yes, November 2009.…

Christmastime 2009 was the first time that we got an invitation to come to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.  We were treated very respectfully and it was a wonderful occasion.

Prince: Who was the “we”?

Balken: All of my staff were invited, with their partners.  Valerie was invited with her partner.  Jon, obviously, was invited.  Jim—I think there were about fifteen of us that all went.  Bill met us at the statue of Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and we walked over together and enjoyed the concert.  I have been very fortunate and grateful to attend the concert every year since 2009.

That, I think, was the foundation of the relationship that several leaders within the LGBT community have with several folks within the LDS Church—those original conversations that came out of that breaking down of our community.…

The second thing that I believe really profoundly is that if anyone had walked into that meeting without the intention of taking care of our people and building our community—

Prince: The city council meeting?

Balken: No—our first meeting with the LDS Church.  I think if anyone had walked into that meeting with the intention of, “I’m going to make you feel bad,” or, “I’m going to show you that you are wrong,” or, “I’m going to prove to you that what you believe is—insert negative word here—,” I don’t think we ever would have had the outcomes that we have had.  Because our intentions were “we love our families, we love our people, we care deeply about them,” and because we were willing to be really authentic about that, and showed our responsibility to our people—that framed everything that has come after it.…

Balken: Bill—I don’t know the right way to say this, Greg, but this is the best I can do—Bill has a much higher level of literacy than most people do around LGBT issues, because of the immense number of conversations Bill has been engaged in on these issues.  John is simply too new to the party to have that level of literacy just yet.

Prince: This is purely a speculative question: What was the relationship of Bill being assigned, from the professional staff, to push Prop 8 through, to his subsequent advocacy?

Balken: That’s a really good question.  I actually count Bill as a friend.  Bill and I have had some very candid, but also very respectful conversations around this specific topic.  Bill will consistently say, “I was one of the lead people on Proposition 8.  That was my job.”

(Brandie Balken, April 11, 2013)

Prince: So what, then, was the progression of events that led to that meeting with you and Bill Evans and a half-dozen other people?

Dabakis: That goes back a little earlier.  There was a need in the mid-90s for a community center in Salt Lake.  There had been one, but it had kind of fallen apart.  The executive director ran off with the money and there were thousands of dollars of back payroll taxes overdue.  It was a mess.  I had told my tax accountant, who is a lesbian, that I would make a contribution.  I thought at that time that we needed a community center, but I wanted her to check it out first and see if there was anybody to give it to who was responsible.…

So we went through a year of all of this.  Finally we got a new board and got things resolved.  The center became the hot place for LGBT people to go.  We hired staff, opened the doors, and got programs going.  Now the budget is in the millions.  They have I don’t know how many people on the staff.  They just bought a 16,000 square foot new center.  It’s been a tremendous success—most of that success after I left.  All of it after I left.

During this, as one of the founders and as the first chair of this new LGBT center, I sent a letter to the LDS Church.  “Look, we are all here in the same town.  There ought to be areas that we can get together on.”

Prince: Was that addressed to any person?

Dabakis: It was to the President of the Church.  Within a few days a letter came back, signed by a guy I never heard of, a functionary named Bill Evans, who wrote back and said, “President Hinckley has said this about so-called gays.”  It wasn’t a very complimentary thing.  “There is no reason to meet.”  And that was it.  That was our first brush with the Church.…

I was the first chair of Equality Utah.  I pulled out my pen, and I wrote a letter to the President of the Church: “We’re all under the same sun.  There ought to be a way we can communicate.”  Well, the answer came back as basically the same letter.  But this would have been five or six years later.…

So now we speed ahead to 2009.  No contact.  You know, the frustration up until that phone call in 2009 was that there was no discussion between the Church and the LGBT community.  There was no talk.  There was no channel, none, either internally, for LDS-LGBT people, or with the broader community.  Nobody knew what went on or how it went on.  Occasionally there would be a General Conference talk with this or that, or there were periphery discussions, that somebody knew somebody who may have something.  But there was absolutely no dialogue.  None.

We get to the summer of 2009.  There had been a controversy about Main Street, as you may recall.

Prince: Right.

Dabakis: Main Street had been closed between South Temple and North Temple, and the Church wanted to build a plaza there.  The city had negotiated an arrangement, but part of that arrangement was that it would be open.

A couple who were going from the Gallivan Center on Fourth South up to their house in the Avenues were heading home after a concert [July 10, 2009].  They had probably had a beer or two.  As they were walking home from this conference—I haven’t talked to these guys, but I suspect that they weren’t trying to make any political statement; they were just holding hands—they got to the plaza, and there was a peck between the two of them, and then they continued on.  Well, Church Security came out of everywhere.  There is wonderful video about all of this.

Prince: From security cameras?

Dabakis: Yes, from the security cameras.  The video was subpoenaed.  The security guys kind of knocked them down, and it was really an ugly incident.  Some of the video is in Reed Cowan’s documentary.

Prince: Eight, the Mormon Proposition?

Dabakis: Yes.  It became a big deal.  Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart came out and interviewed the kids and interviewed Church Security.  It was just an ugly scenario.  In direct community response to that, the community decided to have a kiss-in on a Sunday.

Prince: Meaning the LGBT community?

Dabakis: Yes, the LGBT community.  They invited people to go to the plaza and have a kiss-in.  The Church, of course, said, “We don’t know how to handle all of this.”  On the designated Sunday in that summer of 2009 [July 19], hundreds of gay couples arrived and had a kiss-in.  It was during that kiss-in that I bumped into a friend of mine, Deeda Seed, who had been a Salt Lake City councilperson and had worked for Rocky, and now works for an environmental agency.  As we were talking I said, “You know, there is a better way to do this, Deeda.  This is just stupid.  We are here and they are there, and we have never had a discussion!  We have gone through the turmoil of Prop 8, and it’s just impossible that we’re not talking.”

Deeda apparently made a phone call or two, and apparently suggested that I might be somebody to talk to.  Or maybe they saw my old letters.  I don’t know.  But within hours of the kiss-in—it was very quick—I got a phone call.  They said, “Would you like to meet?”  I said, “Who is this, really?”  They said, “It really is the Church.”  It was Bill Evans, I think.  I said, “Where do you want to meet?”  He said, “Why don’t you come down to the Joseph Smith Building?”  I said, “Why don’t you come down to the Pride Center coffee shop.”  It was a joke, but there was no laughter from him.  So I said, “Oh, that would be wrong on two grounds, wouldn’t it?”  Silence.  So I said, “Look, I have an idea.  Let’s go to the home of my friends, Sam and Diane Stewart.  They are as Mormon, temple-paying people as you could ever want, and they’ve got a beautiful house that is in the Avenues.  We’ll go there and we’ll talk.  It’s neutral territory.”  So Bill said, “OK.”  Then I said, “When do you want to meet?  And by the way, I can’t go to this alone.  I’m out of these loops now.  There are much smarter people than I am.  I’m happy to go, but we need a group.”  He said, “OK.  That’s fine.”

So I called Diane and said, “Can we use the house?”  She said, “OK.”  Sam is the head of Wasatch Advisors, which is a $12 billion mutual fund company.  They have a fabulous house with great art.

So off we went.  I thought it would be two or three weeks later, but he said, “We’re going to meet Wednesday.”  That was in about two days.  I called Brandie Balken, who was executive director of Equality Utah; Stephanie Pappas, who was board chair; Valerie Larabee, who was the head of the Pride Center; and Jon Jepsen, who had just been in a bishopric and looked like a missionary.  He had two or three kids, and was gay.  There were five of us.

We got to the assigned time.  We were going to meet for about 45 minutes.  It was very, very hot.  I got there at the same time as Bill, but we didn’t know each other.  As I got out of the car, I had my missionary garb on—the white shirt and the whole thing.  I thought, “I can play their game.”  Of course, they were dressed the same way.  I said, “You guys, it’s so hot.  Let’s just have our first truce.  Let’s all leave our jackets in the car.”  They went, “OK, we’ll do that.”  So we did that.

We got inside, and it was a bit awkward.  Bill was there, and John Taylor was there.  Who is the media guy?

Prince: Michael Purdy?

Dabakis: Yes.  Mike was there.  It was the three of them and five of us.  It was tense.  It was really tense.  These were the enemy.  Look at what they had done in Prop 8, what they had done in Prop 3 in Utah, changing the Constitution.  There was plenty of reason for there to be animosity.

Prince: Did you know, at that point, that Bill had been the point man on Prop 8?

Dabakis: No, we didn’t know.  We just knew they were from the Church.  When we got there, I said to Bill, “This is Sister Stewart.  I want to introduce you.”  They didn’t know the Stewart’s.  I said, “Look, I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds, but I told the Stewart’s that if they let us use their house, that you guys would agree to 7% tithing for a year.”  Bill just looked over at Purdy, and they were petrified.  They were worried!  And then I started laughing, and it became a bit of an icebreaker.

Prince: Did the Stewart’s sit in on the meeting?

Dabakis: Diane came, and I invited her to sit in.  She came and gave cookies, and then she left.

It wasn’t me; it might have been Bill, but somebody said, “Why don’t we just go around the room and talk a little bit about ourselves and say how we came to this meeting and what our background is.”  We started with the church guys.  John, I think, had been a mission president in Mexico.  He gave his biography.

Both in that meeting and in subsequent meetings, the tone changed dramatically as people began to tell their personal stories, and the difficulties they had in life as a result of discrimination in the Church.  LDS people are emotional—not Mitt Romney—and if you tell a good story and truthful story, they react that way.  This was no exception.  So as we began to tell our stories, it became clear to me that this had been a very intellectual, very academic, very legalistic battle for them.

Prince: Without a personal face.

Dabakis: There had been no personal face.  They had been in the bubble of the Stewart Reid’s, who is a state senator now and is the leader of the anti-gay movement in the Senate.  They were just talking to themselves, reinforcing their own ideas, and they had never really sat down before and listened to real LGBT people tell their stories and tell their connection to the Church.  It affected them.  I don’t know whether it was that first meeting or a subsequent meeting—which happened immediately.  At the end we said, “Well, shall we meet again?”  The meeting had gone on and on and on, way past the allotted time.  Bill said, “Yes, we want another meeting.”  I thought, “Well a month?  Two months?”  He said, “No, we want to meet next week.”  And we did meet the next week.

Prince: Was the first meeting just “getting to know you”?

Dabakis: Yes.  The meetings never really became about legislation.  I don’t know that we ever really talked a bill or a sub-paragraph or a legal definition.  It was much more about personal stories, personal issues, and helping them to get an understanding that gay people are human.  They are much more interested in their swamp cooler getting turned over than they are in whatever the fantasy is that straight people think they are thinking about.

That led to a serious, continuing discussion, just meeting to meet and talk.  As they began to—I think—recognize that there was a whole dimension to this issue that hadn’t even been under consideration, it began to affect things.  My goals were two-fold.  One was to try to get the Church, internally, to change its attitudes and policies toward its own LGBT people.  In my opinion, they were clearly locked into the 1950s in their approach to homosexuality.  The cadre of people that were whispering into the ear of senior church leaders were brought up, and their best academic research was from the 1960s and 1970s, and it simply had not changed.  It was a time warp of misinformation—or at least, not up-to-date information.  So you ended up with a church that was making a 1950s and 60s political statement externally, and internally you ended up with Social Services and Correlation and Curriculum and General Conference speeches that were devoid of the very latest in academic research and in anything that had to do with relevant data from the last 40 years.

Subsequently, you ended up with a church that was completely out of touch, certainly with dealing with their own people.  They had a group called Evergreen, which seriously could have walked right out of the 1960s and 1970s.  It was a bit of a church-industrial complex that had been built in there, because the Church supported this.  The leadership within Church Social Services that was responsible for homosexuality was this same, little clique of out-of-touch and out-of-date doctors that were getting contracts from the Church.  Evergreen was funded by the Church.  So there was an almost-conspiracy to make sure that the policy makers were getting misinformation, because their programs and their monies depended on it.

Prince: Dean Byrd started his career in Maryland and lived in our ward.

Dabakis: I’m sorry for that, for the people of Maryland.

My own, personal goal for this was a change internally as well as, on a political level, if not an affirmation, at least neglect.  Slowly we began to infuse the bureaucracy with different ideas.…

Part of this process is arranging a quiet, almost silent community meeting between the Church and LGBT leaders, both here and, more important, nationally.  Slowly we were bringing people into the Church Office Building.  They were having lunch.  We were talking.  There were serious discussions.  And the Church was coming out, I think, with a new perspective and a new view.  And frankly, a lot of people in the LGBT community as well.…

We continued the discussions until, for some reason, the Church said, “No more meetings.  We can’t meet anymore.  Don’t tell the other people.”  They had said, “Look, sometime if we say there can’t be anymore meetings, it just means what it means.  It certainly wouldn’t have been our decision, but we can only do what we can do.”  All along the way it was quite clear that these guys were not out there operating on their own.  But I don’t know on what level or who was giving the signals.

I had gone to Washington to the Human Rights Campaign.  There was a meeting of the inner sanctum.  I wouldn’t have been there had it not been for a very large donor who had invited me.  I was sitting in the back like staff, not at the table.  HRC had decided—their budget is $80 million, they have their own building, they are a power lobby nationally—they had decided one of the strategies they needed was to do what Washington does, and that is to find somebody to vilify as a way to raise funding, to have a shriek message.  Whether it is Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi, it is somebody you can use to rally your troops, by focusing on the evil.

At this table were Hollywood producers, the biggest money guys—the billionaire kinds of guys.  There were very, very high-level hi-tech people.  The plan was, “Who should we go after for the maximum effect?”  At the top of the list were the Mormons.  They had even gone to the trouble of coming up with a “Slam the Door” storyboard, which would have instructed people on how to slam the door on Mormon missionaries.

Prince: Year?

Dabakis: This was 2010, I think.  So Hollywood would get the biggest actors to drive traffic to a site.  If you get Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and every A-lister, and the message is, “Hi!  Mormons hate gay people.  Look at what they did in Prop 8.  So when those Mormons come to your door, slam the door!  And sign our petition that you will slam the door on Mormons, because they are hateful.”  That kind of thing.  These were the Hollywood guys who produced “Will and Grace.”  They knew how to do this.  Then you had the tech guys.  The guy who is now the CEO of Apple was there.  Then you had guys like the guy from Denver who donates hundreds of millions of dollars.  Suddenly you are dealing with a very effective group of people who are going to fight back.  The Mormons thing the war is over.  “Hey, we are reaching out.  We are doing stuff.”  But the war hasn’t even begun.

At this moment I am not to be meeting with the Church.  We can’t meet anymore.  So I called and I said, “Look, we should meet.”

Prince: Did they know anything about what was going on?

Dabakis: No.  Nobody knew.  Nobody in the country knew, except for the people in the room.  They also had four or five other groups.  This had very little to do with the Mormons, per se.  They were just the best on their hit list.  I said, “I know we can’t meet, but we damn well ought to meet.  If you want to go somewhere, I’ll go somewhere.”  So we met and I said, “You guys, I don’t know what I can do.  I wasn’t even a principal.  But there was a #2, #3 and #4.  I need some thing to take back to get you guys bumped down to #2, #3 or #4.  Otherwise, it is going to happen.  Good luck.  It could take a generation for you to get back to where you are, when you get fifty, sixty, eighty million hits because Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga and every big star in the country is saying, “Slam the door!”

I didn’t hear anything.  And then I heard something.  They said, “What do you have in mind?  What can we do?  We get this.”  I said, “Well, a Salt Lake City ordinance is coming up.  It’s a non-discrimination ordinance for housing and employment.  It has no teeth, and it’s not marriage.  There is no historical animosity.  You don’t have to change anything.  You can find a way around it.  I can’t promise, but I can go back and say, ‘You know guys, here is what they are doing.  We are making progress.  Back off.  Go after the Christian Scientists,’” or whoever was their #2.  “I can give no promise on my part.  I just can’t do that.”

There were negotiations and whatever.  Then, the Tuesday of the ordinance vote, they called me and asked if I could get the Gang of Five to meet over at the Stewart’s.  I said, “OK.  But I’m not going to get everybody together if you’re going to be against it.”  They said, “What do you think about, ‘Will not oppose’?”  I said, “’Will not oppose’?  No!  Will not oppose is legislature code that says that the Church is OK with it.  The liquor law changes, ‘the Church will not oppose.’  This or that, ‘the Church will not oppose.’  It means it’s OK to vote for it.  No.  That gets you nowhere.  It’s a laughingstock.  Nobody is even going to notice, and if they do notice, they’ll just notice it as peculiar and weird.  You have to support!  Support!”  “Well…”  I said, “It’s up to you guys.”

So I gathered everybody over at the Stewart’s.  I said, “Is this going to be good news?”  They said, “Just get everybody there.”  So we got everybody there.  We met at 4 or 5 o’clock, and the city council meeting was at 6.  They had greased the wheels to have their guy, Michael Otterson, speak first at the public hearing.

Prince: Was Otterson at the Stewart’s?

Dabakis: No.

Prince: Had you met with Otterson?

Dabakis: No.  So I said, “Look, are we going to be happy?  What are you doing here?”  They still wouldn’t tip their hands on where they were going.  They would just smile and say, “We just wanted to make sure you were all going to be here.”  I thought, “Oh, brother!”

I had also asked to speak, and the city council person had put me right after Otterson.  I said, “I have two speeches here.”  So Otterson stood up and said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports”—I thought, “All right!  Great!  We’re there.”  And, of course, a lot of good stuff came out of that nationally.  But the other part that nobody knows—and probably nobody should know for a few generations—is that they came to that good, wily, spiritual decision in a circuitous way.

Prince: With a howitzer pointing at them!

Dabakis: Well, yes.  Subsequently, I was able to go back to Washington and say, “All right, look.  This is where it is going.  Blah, blah, blah.”

After that, the dialogue has never been closed off again.  We have had a good working relationships.  As issues come up, sometimes we just don’t agree on stuff, but there is always a dialogue.

The first December after we met, the Church began to invite the members of the Gang of Five and their partners to the Tabernacle Choir concert.  That sounds weird, but it’s kind of the “LDS Oscars,” 50,000 people can go, and there are a million ticket requests.  The first year, I wasn’t a legislator and I wasn’t a politician at all.  We met in the Joseph Smith Building.  We talked, and we were all there with our partners.  We walked over to the Conference Center, and in order to get from the Joseph Smith Building to the Conference Center, we had to walk across the famous plaza.  As the ten of us were wandering over, one of Bill’s friends said, “If anybody wants to kiss, it’s OK.”  We had a wonderful meeting where we introduced the people we had been working with, and then we sat down in the VIP section.  I happened to sit next to the president of the Utah Senate.  We knew each other, but not particularly because of politics.  He said, “What are you doing here?”  I said, “Oh, the First Presidency invited the queers to the meeting, so here are my four gay and lesbian colleagues.”  Michael Waddoups [the Senate president] was just dumbfounded with the whole thing.  Not only were they in the building, but they were sitting next to him in the VIP section.

Over the next months and years, when leaders of the LGBT community, from Rick Jacobs to Joe Solmonese, who was the president of the Human Rights Campaign, came, I brought them in.  Sometimes we just had a meeting, sometimes lunch.  Sometimes there have been strong differences of opinion, but a lot of times not.  A lot of times, both sides begin to see each other, and as crisis has broken out, these channels have been very helpful.…

Prince: This is amazing stuff, Jim.  And it’s important stuff, too.

Dabakis: Well, frankly, nobody knows.  There is not a soul.  I didn’t want it out about the HRC thing.

Prince: But that makes it understandable now.  That’s the code.

Dabakis: In a real way it demeans the Church’s effort, so I really don’t want to put it out there.

(James Dabakis, August 2, 2013)

Dabakis: I think the day after Prop 8 passed, they were astonished at the blowback.  I remember the church statements being, “Well, both sides had their say, the voters spoke, and we are expecting to have respectful civility, and everything will be back to normal.”  This kind of insular decision making which had led to the Prop 8 decision, where I suspect there was nobody around the table that had experience with the LGBT community or understood what the possible reactions would be; I don’t think that voice was heard.  So the pushback was strong, it was immediate, it was targeted, and the Church early on was saying, “Wait a minute!  We weren’t the only ones.  What about the Catholics?  What about the other people?  How come we have become the face of Prop 8 passing?”

So in that context, there was an incident.  It may not be the most factually correct, but the most outrageously funny depiction of this incident is from Jon Stewart in The Daily Show, where in a piece of disputed territory that was once Main Street of the city and that the Church purchased in a long, sordid battle—at one time the Church promised to make it a “touch of Paris in Utah”—the Church got this block of Main Street, and made a very considerable and sizable and substantial contribution to a community center in another place.  But there was controversy about this strip, that is where I was leading.  So it’s after Prop 8, and a gay couple are walking from the Gallivan Center up Main Street to their house in the avenues.  Perhaps they had had an adult beverage or two, although I don’t think they were drunk, and walking across this disputed piece of land, my guess is that, since it was night, this was no protest.  They thought there was nobody around.  One gave the other kind of a peck on the cheek.

As that happened, the monitoring by LDS Security was watching.  They came out—really, go look at the video.  It’s very funny, what happened.  There is the shadowy, actual video.  Church Security is marching out there, and one of them ends up on the ground.  I guess it would be scary for the people involved, but looking back on it, it’s an interesting situation.

Prince: But it was a Rodney King Moment.

Dabakis: It was.  So national score or ridicule came on as a result of this incident.

The next weekend, the LGBT community decided that they would make an issue out of this.  A protest was planned, and dozens and dozens of gay couples went on a Sunday afternoon to the spot of the incident, and had a kiss-in, in effect defying Church Security to arrest everybody or call the police or do something about what would happen.  Of course, Church Security stood down and there was kissing, and that was that.  I know.  I went.  Stephen was away so it was awkward for me—I didn’t have anybody to kiss at midnight or when we did all the kissing.

So that was Kiss-In One on Sunday.  Another group decided, the next week, to have an even bigger, broader kiss-in.  It was after Kiss-In One and before Kiss-In Two that City Councilwoman and former assistant to the Mayor, Deeda Seed, called me and said, “Jim, I think we ought to talk about this as a community.”  I said, “Great.  I’m willing to talk.  I have written to the Church at least twice, as the new chair of the Pride Center and as the new chair of Equality Utah, as the founder of both of them, and that was my first letter out.  They responded back negatively.”  But that had been earlier.  So Deeda said, “Fine.”

It was just a couple of days later when I got a call from Bill Evans, who had signed both letters saying, “There is no reason to talk to the so-called gays.”  He quoted President Hinckley, I think, in one of the letters.

Prince: And he used the word “so-called”?

Dabakis: Yes, “so-called gays.”  I said, “I will be happy to meet, but I’m not really the Head Homo anymore.  I’m off to doing other things.”  I was not in politics at all.  I wasn’t a senator, I wasn’t a party chair.  I was just a normal guy.

Prince: “So-called normal.”

Dabakis: Yes, you’re right.  “So-called.”  So off we went.  Bill called me and I said, “Who is this really?  Who is this calling me?”  He said, “It’s Brother Evans from the Church of—“ and I said, “Come on, you guys, I’m not buying this.”  Bill didn’t smile, and it dawned on me that he was serious.  I said, “When do you want to meet?”  He said, “I’d like to meet Wednesday or Thursday,” which was in a day or two.  I said, “Look, I’ll find four or five people, but there are other community leaders.  Where do you want to meet?”  He said, “Well, why don’t you come down to the Joseph Smith Building?”  Being the wise guy I am, I said, “Well, why don’t you come down to the Pride Center coffee shop?”  No smile, no laugh on Bill’s side.  I went, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s bad on a couple of grounds, isn’t it?”  Still no laugh.  So I said, “Let me work a little bit on where to meet.

At that point, I had to find the right representatives for that first meeting, and also work a place.  I had an idea for where to have it.  Stephen and I have terrific, very close friends in Sam and Diane Stewart, who are terrific art collectors.  Sam has been very successful in starting a big mutual fund company called Wasatch Advisors.  They are tithe paying, temple recommend, completely believing LDS, and I thought they would be a good bridge because we are such good friends.  So they agreed.

Then, I asked Valerie Larabee, who was the head of the Utah Pride Center; I asked Brandie Balken, who was the head of Equality Utah; Stephanie Pappas, who was the board chair of Equality; and John, who looks just like a Mormon bishop and had been in a bishopric and had decided he was gay, with four or five kids, just a terrific young man.

We arranged for the meeting.  When we arrived, it was very hot.  I had put on my best missionary clothes.  I had a white shirt, I had a dark suit, I was ready to go in; and as I was getting out of the car, four church people were getting out of their car.  We all had these bulky suits on, and I said, “Look, you guys, let’s make the first deal now.  You take your jackets off and I’ll take mine off.”  So we all took our jackets off and put them in the car and headed into this big, beautiful, amazing mansion.  The Stewarts live on B Street.

We got in there and there were nine or ten of us, and it was very tense.  We had never really had a serious discussion between our community and the LDS Church.  It just hadn’t happened before.  There had been a lot of talking through the newspapers or yelling at each other, or chanting, or miserable comments made at General Conference.  There had been this outside communication, but to actually sit down hadn’t happened before.

In an effort to break some of the tension—we were in one of the great private rooms in all of Utah, with a Georgia O’Keefe and a Henry and some of the greatest art anywhere—I said to the Mormons, whom I didn’t know, I introduced Diane Stewart, who was there.  I said, “I hope it’s OK with you, but in honor of the Stewart’s letting us use their room to meet, I’ve told them that for a year they only have to pay 6% tithing.  I hope I didn’t overdo my authority.”  Not a smile.  I could see Bill Evans’s face drop, so I said, “I’m just kidding.”

So we sat down, and what had been scheduled for forty-five minutes to an hour lasted over two hours.  We didn’t begin with anything political.  We just went around the room and everybody told their story about how they got to that meeting and what their connection to the LDS world was, and what their connection to the LGBT world was.

Prince: Was Prop 8 part of the discussion as they told their stories?

Dabakis: I don’t think we talked about Prop 8, unless it was our own personal story.  It was apolitical, as I remember.  I don’t think we talked about any bills.

It got very, very emotional.  I don’t there was anybody that was—

Prince: Not angry emotional?

Dabakis: No, no.  Emotional in that we recognized a germ of something was happening in that meeting that had never happened, and that ought to have happened long ago.

Prince: Did the church people also recognize that?

Dabakis: I believe so.  I don’t want to talk for them, but I think Bill Evans and Michael Purdy and the others were well aware that something dramatic had happened.  We didn’t know where it would go or how it would play out or if this would be the last meeting.  I remember at the end saying, “Should we meet again?”  They said yes, and I said, “Do you want to set something up in a month or two?”  Bill Evans said, “No, no.  We want to meet next week.”  It was clear that we were meeting.

I exchanged contact information with Bill and he said, “Look, there is another demonstration coming, a kiss-in.”

Prince: Kiss-In Two.

Dabakis: Yes.  He said, “Would you mind coming down Sunday?  I think we’ve had a good interaction here and I really would like, in case some problems come, to have you there.  We don’t want another incident with Church Security.”

Prince: “You” meaning the five of you?

Dabakis: No, “You, Jim.”  So Sunday, I put on my missionary clothes and I went down and stood there, awkwardly because I didn’t know him very well, next to Bill Evans.  We watched and I said, “You know, I’m not going to interfere in any way.  I think what they are doing is great.  It wasn’t a good thing that your security guys did.”  He said, “I understand.  We’re just here if something happens.”

As I was standing there with Bill, on South Temple Street, it became apparent that there were a lot of people showing up.  A more militant group had joined, a lot of them not gay.  This had been organized by one of the underground newspapers, as opposed to the community the first week.  So the people were a little more hardcore, and they were there perhaps as much for a good time as for any kind of protest.

So I’m standing there in my suit and Bill is standing next to me and we were talking, still somewhat awkwardly, and a car started going by.  The passengers were screaming at us with profanities.  They were assuming that I was part of the church group because I was standing there with a tie and a white shirt and it was Sunday.  I started looking over at Bill, and they were screaming names at us.  Finally, when I’d had five of six of those cars honking and doing things, this group of guys started screaming swear words at us and gave us the finger, so I turned around and gave them the finger back.  They looked at me shocked, and I swung it out there.  Bill looked at me and said, “They think you’re with me,” and I said, “Well, I get that a lot.”  So the car of shocked people went zooming by, and we got through that day.

We did meet the next week, and many weeks and many times.  I think the Salt Lake ordinance was going to pass anyway that fall, but I think the Church’s stand on it was impacted by our meetings and our discussions.  And there were many meetings afterwards.  It was not always upbeat.  There were strong disagreements, and there were times when we didn’t meet for a while.

One of my efforts was to try to bring outside voices to the Church for consideration, national and local.  We brought the head of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, and four or five people from HRC, and we had a special luncheon with church leaders.

Prince: On neutral ground?

Dabakis: No, right in the Joseph Smith Building.  I brought Lance Black, the kid who grew up Mormon and who won the Oscar for “Milk.”  A number of national gay rights leaders, and not a lot of fanfare—just bringing them in.  We had discussions, and they began to see the outside world and how things are viewed.  It didn’t necessarily change their point of view, but at least there were more calculations as they made decisions.…

There were these moments where we were beginning to trust each other, and that first year, in 2009, the LDS Church invited the five of us that had been meeting, and our partners, to meet in the Joseph Smith Building and then go over to the Conference Center for the “Mormon Academy Awards”—the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert.  It’s hard to get tickets for that, and we had these VIP tickets.

As we met in the Joseph Smith Building, by now we were friends with these four or five people that we were meeting with regularly from the Church.  We introduced our partners and there were hugs, and it was a warm, wonderful moment.  I remember walking across from the Joseph Smith Building to get to the Conference Center, and we were led by these people who had become friends to us.  As we walked across that plaza, I knew we had come somewhere when one of the brethren turned back and said, “Anybody want to kiss, no problem.”  That said that we were friends.  We were making wisecracks with each other.  They were a little bit horrified at my early attempts at humor, but now they were regularly coming right back at me at meetings.

Prince: So this was Christmas 2009?

Dabakis: Yes, 2009.  I was not political yet.  I hadn’t started politics yet.  I was just a guy.  As we got to the VIP section I slumped down, and I noticed that the president of the Utah State Senate was sitting next to me, Michael Waddoups, who later became the mission president to Italy.  He was known as being a very hardliner.

Prince: And a friend of Chris Buttars.

Dabakis: Yes, he put Buttars as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  So I plopped down and he said, “Hi, I’m President Waddoups.”  I said, “Hi, I’m Jim Dabakis.”  He said, “Why are you here?”  I said, “I’m here as part of the homosexual delegation that has been invited by the First Presidency as special guests.”  He just looked over me, and then grabbed his program and his wife’s hand.  So we were starting to make changes.

(James Dabakis, April 8, 2015)

Evans: When Prop 8 came along, I was very heavily involved.  Following the election, I got a phone call from Will Carlson, who was the legislative director for Equality Utah.  He is a guy with an edge.  He said, “You’ve got to be good to your word now, because during Prop 8 you said you weren’t against certain rights being given to gays and lesbians.”  So they put out a package of a half-dozen bills or so, called their “Common Ground Initiative.”  I said, “I’ll get back to you.”  I never got back to him.

I didn’t know this, but at the time Jim Dabakis said to Equality, “Let’s put up a counter on our website.  Every day it will have a number, saying, ‘It has been X number of days since we contacted Bill Evans, and we’ve had no response.’”  Well, that finally got up to around 100 days, and they took it down.  I didn’t know that, but Jim told me later.

So fast-forward a little bit.  That was the legislative session of 2009.  In the summer of 2009 there was an incident on the Main Street Plaza where two gay guys were embracing, and whatever else they were doing.

Prince: Right.  It got national attention.  

Evans: They got arrested, and the following Sunday a woman by the name of Dida Seed [sp?] who had been on the city council and chief-of-staff for Rocky Anderson after that—she is white and straight and non-Mormon, but she incensed at how these guys were treated.  So she called for a rally.  They had a big turnout here.  Then they announced that they were going to do it a week later.

In between, Dida was feeling bad that her call for protest had gotten out of hand.  She contacted a member of the city council and said, “Can we see if we can get the LDS Church and the leadership in the gay community to talk to each other, and maybe calm this thing down?”  So as a result of that, a colleague and I, in the middle of the week, were authorized to go to a meeting that included some of the gay leadership in the community, including Jim and Brandie.

Prince: Had you known either of them prior to that?

Evans: No.  I was probably persona non grata prior to that.  I can tell you, Greg, that the Lord had great interest in that meeting.  I felt his spirit around our building of relationships with LGBT folks.  We walked in expecting a pretty hostile atmosphere, but it could not have been more cordial and welcoming.  That’s where I got to know Jim.

We met a few times, and even though one didn’t lead to the other, the relationship building created an atmosphere here where we recommended support of the Salt Lake City ordinances, and that’s what happened two or three months later.

Prince: You’re aware of the national reach of that, I presume.

Evans: Yes, to some extent.

Prince: Rick Jacobs was elated with that.

Evans: The following Sunday, they had this second “kiss-in,” as they called it.  The first Sunday, security kept them off the property.  The following Sunday they made the decision just to let them on, but the people who came didn’t know that until they got on.

I didn’t go the first week, but I decided to go the second Sunday.  I’m down there, and here is a Hispanic family.  They are Latter-day Saints from somewhere in Central or South America.  They had, at that time, a very strongly hateful ministry against gays.  So they went down there with their signs: “God hates faggots,” stuff like that.  We tried to ask them to go, and their response was, “If President Monson comes down here and asks us to leave, we’ll leave.  Otherwise, we’re staying.”

I called Jim—he had given me his phone number.  I said, “Jim, I just want you to know that these people down here are not here at our direction, nor do we want them there.  But they are there, and you need to be aware of that.  Well, he was on his way.  He and I stood by the side of the building here and watched all this play out.  It was a much smaller gay crowd and they let them on this time, so they kind of diffused their anger.  Jim and I are standing here on Main Street and South Temple, and this car, clearly of gay people, comes by.  Jim’s dressed like you and I [business suits], and they start hurling all of these insults toward him, thinking he is a straight Mormon.

But that began what, to me, is just a choice experience.  I have felt the Lord’s spirit so strongly at times in interacting with some of these people who have been hurt and who have been very, very angry at times.  To see that changing—Heavenly Father loves these children, and I think that we have an opportunity to minister to them in a way that they won’t find that kind of interaction anywhere else.  And yet, we can maintain our standards.…

Evans: In the last three years—this will be year three or four, I’ve lost track—we’ve invited a number of gay leaders to the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Program.  They way we arrange it is that I meet them by the Joseph Smith statue downstairs in this building [Joseph Smith Memorial Building], and we walk over to the Conference Center together, and we all sit together.  That was one of my concerns, and it was a concern raised by some of my colleagues who said, “What happens when we have all of these public displays of affection?”

Prince: Has it been an issue?

Evans: None.

(William Evans, November 18, 2012)

Prince: So what else is going on?

Evans: Maybe the most important thing that might come out of this legislative session is a statewide non-discrimination law.

Prince: Right.  That’s what we were talking about at that session before the December dinner at the Alta Club.

Evans: That’s correct.  We still haven’t worked it through internally, as far as the Church touch-points are concerned, but we are getting a lot closer.  I can see possibilities.  But once we get it worked through internally, then we have to sit down with the LGBT folks and see if we can all agree on what it is that we can all agree on.  It’s going to require, on both sides, some give-and-take, and maybe some significant give-and-take.  But the possibility of a model where a conservative religious community supports basic non-discrimination rights within employment and housing, and an LGBT community that supports a reasonable protection of religious conscience in the same area could be a very positive and very powerful model.

Prince: Nationally?

Evans: Yes.  And that’s where we are headed.  We could be there within days.

Prince: With the mormonsandgays.org website, the LDS Church has leap-frogged other churches.

Evans: I agree with you.

Prince: I think it is poised to be in a leadership position now that nobody would have dreamed of four years ago.

Evans: Absolutely not.  You are right.

(William Evans, February 5, 2013)

Evans: Coming out of Proposition 8, with which I was very significantly involved, the polarization and antipathy and animus were at a pretty high pitch.  That didn’t seem to abate a lot for what seemed to me to be quite a long time.  Through circumstances that were quite unusual, we were brought together—“we” meaning some of us in Public Affairs were brought together with some of the leaders in the LGBT community.  In our initial meeting, we went around and talked a little bit about our individual backgrounds.  I fully disclosed, in that meeting, my involvement with Prop 8, and I did so unapologetically.

What happened almost immediately was the recognition that while we would not agree on the issue of marriage, there were other areas where we could pursue agreement and pursue relationship building.  To me, that is a very powerful model.  I think for too many people it is either/or, and that, John, is what you were saying earlier.  That kind of polemical thinking doesn’t lend itself to relationship building very well.  And yet, we have found an area where the development of relationships is rich and very gratifying.  Of course, there are lots of offshoots from that, including the relationship that we are developing here with you.

(William Evans, June 27, 2013)

Granato: Jim Dabakis and I really started to hit it off.  Fortunately, they brought their own cars.  She left, and Jim and I continued to talk.  Then he said, “I know that you’re close with President Monson.  I have a real situation.  We have been meeting, as a gay community, with staunch LDS people and some people from Public Affairs, and we’ve been making some progress.  I was told by Bill Evans that we can’t meet anymore.  He just called me yesterday.”  I think that’s how he put it.  “Could you maybe call President Monson?

So I called up there and I was told by a very dear friend in the office, “Well, he’s not going to change church doctrine.”  I said, “I don’t want that changed.  I’m not looking for that.  But there was some great dialogue going.”

That night, at 10:30, I got a call from Evans.  “What did you do?  I’ve been told to get back on track and hold these meetings.”  Not that I’ve got any clout; I only try to do what’s right, and I don’t like to see someone being kicked when they don’t deserve it.

(Sam Granato, June 25, 2014)

Evans: Let me turn it around a little bit.  More than Mormon bureaucrat, which I was, I was deeply involved with Prop 8.  Coming out of that—I knew part of this but not all of it—coming out of Prop 8 was a great amount of hostility and anger aimed toward us.  Will Carlson was with Equality then, and he was their legislative guy.  He was pretty aggressive and confrontational.  He called me up—I didn’t know him—and said, “All right, the election is over.  We have a set of bills we are going to introduce into the legislature.”  I think there were six or seven of them dealing with work, housing, adoption, whatever.  But not marriage.  He said, “You have said that you support basic civil rights for LGBT people.  Will you support this package of bills?”  I said, “I’ll get back to you.”

But I never got back to him.  It wasn’t deliberate, really.  I couldn’t make that decision, and the people I worked with were so traumatized by that post-Prop 8 experience that they just didn’t want to deal with it.

I found out later that on their website they actually put up a counter.  That is, they said, “It’s been 10 days since we contacted Bill Evans, and we haven’t heard from him.”  And each day the number went up.

Prince: So you were named on the website?

Evans: I was.  It got up over 100 days, and eventually they took it down.

The next summer after Prop 8—the summer of 2009—there was an incident on church property downtown that got dubbed the “Kiss-In.”

Groves: I know all about the Kiss-In.

Evans: All right.  On the Sunday following the arrest of these two men, there was a huge demonstration where people wanted to come onto church property and kiss.  Church Security kept them off.

Then, we—Public Affairs—received a phone call from a member of the Salt Lake City Council.  He said, “The woman who organized the Kiss-In is wondering if there isn’t a better way for us to deal with these differences.  Could we get together and talk?”

So a couple of us got permission to talk.  In that room initially—we met at a place just outside of downtown Salt Lake, the very nice home of Sam and Diane Stewart.  They have a really nice home.  So we met there.

So this colleague and I walked in.  It was Brandie Balken, Jim Dabakis, Valerie Larabee, Stephanie Pappas and John Jeppson.  I had never met any of them before.  I ended up sitting right next to Brandie.  They could not have been more gracious, Sharon, and their humanity more evident.  There was this immediate connection.

From that point forward, there have been times when I have just had my breath taken away.  I have been so filled with love and feeling for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  I was so not that—it wasn’t that I was hostile before; I just didn’t have the connections.

(William Evans, Sharon Groves, November 19, 2014)

Knox: For an organization that prides itself on discretion, I think it was a great surprise to the leaders of the Church.  They were taken aback by the fact that the LGBT community would call them out on it.

Then, it was surprising to me when we met with church leaders in Salt Lake City, at the obvious soul searching they had done because they realized that they were perceived as mean.  It’s the least likely thing in the world that a Mormon would ever want to be perceived as.  So I think they did a lot of soul searching as a result, and we are now beginning to see the results of some of that as we are moving forward politically, and they are being a partner, of sorts, with the folks at Equality Utah and other places around some legislation that protects LGBT employment and those kinds of things.

Anyway, it was just of interest to me, as a person who is looking in from the outside at the Church, at the fact that they were not monolithic in their response in the way that the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the other hand, was just steadfast: “We are against this.  We don’t care who knows it.  The Knights of Columbus are putting the money up for this, and we are the other half of that equation with funding Prop 8 in California, and we don’t care who knows it.”  It seemed to me that the leaders of the LDS Church learned some things about both themselves and the rest of the country, and certainly about LGBT people in the process.  But in that process, they hurt an awful lot of LGBT folks.  The campaign against Prop 8 was horribly demeaning, and pitted neighbor against neighbor in yard sign wars and this sort of thing, in ways that we will not know the ramifications of for a generation or more.  All of that was funded by collection plate money.  It was a terrible thing that they did, in my opinion, but it cause some soul searching.

Prince: You referenced a meeting in Salt Lake.  Tell me about the timing and the substance of that meeting.

Knox: This is why I hate to refer to anything out of my memory.  We’ll need to go back and check, but it can be easily looked up.  There was good press coverage of it at the time.

Prince: Was it pre- or post-Prop 8.

Knox: It was post-Prop 8.

Prince: OK, that’s the important point.

Knox: HRC, and particularly the Religion and Faith Program, which I led at the time, was empowered—by that I mean HRC empowered our program—to confront the [LDS] Church in some protest kinds of ways in Utah and elsewhere around the fact that they were funding this terrible political campaign.  We did so, and ultimately that resulted in an invitation from the church leadership—and by that, I don’t mean the Twelve; I mean functionaries of the Church.

Prince: Probably Bill Evans was one of them.

Knox: Bill Evans, the communications director, was the primary person.  The invitation was to have Joe Salmonese, the president of HRC, and myself and Fred Sainz, the communications director at HRC.  The three of us sat down with Bill and a couple of other people who I don’t remember, and just had a good, frank conversation about what this was doing to LGBT people, and how hurtful it was, how completely out of step we felt it was with the principles of the Mormon Church to be actively seeking to hurt someone, considering their history of having been misunderstood and oppressed over the years.  It was a good and frank conversation.  I wouldn’t characterize Bill’s thoughts, because it was a private conversation which we agreed to keep private.

But we then were able to come out and say, “Thank you for this meeting, but we still disagree and the facts on the ground haven’t changed, and the Church is being recalcitrant.”  From our perspective it clearly put them, in the public’s mind, where they deserved to be, and called them out for their behavior in formal fashion.  We went into the meeting fully prepared to hear “We’re sorry; we’ll do something different,” or whatever.  We did not hear any of that.  There wasn’t any kind of a change of policy or action at that point.  But it did clarify, I think for them, that they were dealing with people who were serious about marriage and who were not trying to undermine marriage or family, and that we were as serious about that as they were, and that they had a real problem on their hands because we were also serious about keeping them in the news about this as long as it took.

Prince: Do you recall if that meeting was before they came out in favor of the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinance?  That was in late 2009, a year after the Prop 8 election.  I just wonder if your meeting was one of the stimuli that got them to come out in front of that issue.

Knox: Honestly, Greg, I don’t remember any detail about the date.  We just need to check the facts.  My sense is that it came in the order you described, that we had the meeting and then they came out in favor of the nondiscrimination ordinance after that, but I’m not confident enough of it to say so.  

(Harry Knox, October 27, 2015)

Pappas: When we came out with the Common Ground Initiative, we took basically the five points that the Church said they didn’t oppose.  We then flipped it around and said, “OK, if you don’t oppose these, would you support them?  Would you support civil unions?  Would you support workplace and housing?”  It was shortly thereafter when the Salt Lake City Council put forward the ordinance of fair workplace and housing within the city.  It wasn’t statewide and it didn’t affect everything.  I was at the meeting when the spokesman for the Church spoke up and said that the Church supported that ordinance.

Prince: That was Mike Otterson.

Pappas: Yes.

Prince: My understanding is that he spoke first.

Pappas: Yes.

Prince: And that was not accidental.

Pappas: No.  Especially on the heels of all this other stuff—the Common Ground Initiative, all of the heat the Church was getting—the Salt Lake City Council finally steps up and says, “We want to put this ordinance in place.”  And the Church stepped forward and said, “We support this ordinance.”  That was a tipping point.

Prince: That was a year out from Prop 8.

Pappas: Correct.

Prince: And the Common Ground Initiative had failed in the interim.

Pappas: It had, but it had had such a positive effect.  We were getting national press.  The New York Times picked us up, the Washington Post—we were getting so much national press, and I actually feel—my perspective, and I don’t know all the inner workings of the Church—that they were feeling the pressure.

Prince: Unquestionably.  The one institution in the entire world that they fear the most is the New York Times.

Pappas: Interesting.  And we were getting coverage.  We had Common Ground Initiative and we were getting quotes.  The New York Times was calling us up to get more information.  Suddenly this thing we started, this little, local Utah organization, really started changing the conversation across the nation.  Part of my belief is watching what happened from that time to today, and the marriage we have, and the equality that people are experiencing today, I really believe the seed was planted then.…

When we were in the meetings of the Gang of Five, it was really clear that that was starting to become so—a division of perspectives was happening within the church hierarchy.  Those meetings were so interesting.  First of all, I was probably one of the only non-LDS background people there.  The guys from the Church were so careful in whatever they said.  You knew that they were just kind of a mouthpiece of communication.

Prince: They had their handlers, and they weren’t in the room.

Pappas: Right.  It was very cordial, very diplomatic, they were warm.…

Prince: All right, so now Prop 8 had passed, and Whitney Clayton has given you an opening.  Take it from there through the Gang of Five.

Pappas: Mike Thompson and Cliff Rosky were talking the day after the election.  Of course, they were devastated and depressed.  On the one hand they were happy with some of the political things that had happened during the election.

Prince: Like Obama.

Pappas: Right.  So now, they were talking about, “What are we going to do?”  Cliff was the one who came up with the idea.  The next thing you know, Mike was calling me and saying, “We have to do this thing.”  So we held a press conference, and that was when we rolled out the Common Ground Initiative.

Prince: This was without any discussion with church people yet?

Pappas: Correct.  I wish I had my documents with me.  We basically went through the Church’s position verbatim, “We don’t oppose this, we don’t oppose that,” so then we said, “OK, if you don’t oppose it, let’s twist it and say, ‘Would you support, would you support, would you support?’”  That is, civil unions, fair workplace, housing, all of that.

Prince: Was there any response from them?

Pappas: Not directly.  Of course, we couldn’t get any direct conversation with them at that point.  Here is the other thing—the Common Ground Initiative got up and running, and it ran for that year throughout Utah.  It actually became common vernacular.  People were saying, “Common Ground.  Common Ground.”

Prince: Even though it failed in the legislative session.

Pappas: Yes.

Dalzen: It set the tone nationally.

Pappas: It set the tone nationally, and people were starting to use Common Ground as a common phrase throughout the nation.

So Mike Thompson finished out that year, and it wasn’t until Brandie was on board that the Gang of Five started.  So there was time that went by there, a good year’s worth of time, because Mike left in April.

Dalzen: In the meantime, there had been a lot of negative press around the LDS Church, much more negative press than they ever would have anticipated.

Prince: They didn’t think they’d get any, because with Hawaii, Alaska and Prop 22 there had been zero blowback.

Dalzen: Exactly.

Prince: They thought Prop 8 would just be business as usual.

Pappas: Exactly.  And that was one of what you called the Unintended Consequences.

This was a long conversation.  The Common Ground Initiative was a yearlong conversation following the blowback from Prop 8.  And then there were the court cases.  The NCLR [National Center for Lesbian Rights] picked it up.  Have you talked to Kate Kendell?

Prince: Yes, over the phone.

Pappas: She is awesome.  So then, all of a sudden, the court cases were coming up and everything started rolling.

During that whole year, people were wounded.  Really wounded and feeling so disenfranchised.

Prince: In Utah as well as California?

Pappas: In Utah.  There were so many hurt feelings and turmoil, and it lasted a long time.

It was after Brandie came on that one day I got a call from Jim Dabakis.  He was like, “Hey, I want you to be a part of this.  We are having a meeting with the Church tomorrow.”  It was fast, the next day.  We were at a movie, and I had to walk out of the movie to take this call from Jim.  He was talking about how we were going to have this meeting at Diane Stewart’s home, and there were going to be church officials there.

Valerie Larabee was there, Brandie Balken was there, Jim Dabakis was there, John Jeppson and then myself.  Then, there were three members from the Church, and there was also this other woman who was on the city council, Deeda Seed, who really was instrumental in setting it up.

So that’s when those conversations started, and they were secret.  We were bound not to talk about it.  Then, pretty soon, it started leaking out, and then pretty soon I was reading about us in the paper, the Gang of Five.  I was like, “How does everybody know this stuff?”

Prince: Do you have any idea who leaked it?

Pappas: Yes.  Probably Jim.  That’s when we really got to start knowing Bill Evans and who he is.  What a great character.

Prince: To this day he will defend Prop 8, because he is a good soldier.  But in the same breath he will say, “And we wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”  That is true, and that is one of the huge unintended consequences of this whole thing.  It unwittingly moved the entire church in a way that it would not have done otherwise.

Pappas: That’s right.  I remember in one of those meetings just talking to people and saying, “Look, you have families.  If the Church is truly about families, you have families who are suffering.”  I mentioned all the young boys in Provo.  There was a rash of about two-dozen young men—not LGBT folks—who all had died of drug overdoses.…

Part of my reason for bringing that up was just saying, “Look, there are these things that are happening and they are not getting talked about, and people and families are suffering and dying.  It’s the same thing with the LGBT movement.  You have people and families who are suffering and dying and committing suicide and being torn apart, and if the Church really is about families, then there is an issue here that needs to be addressed, because we are losing people.

Prince: This was in a Gang of Five meeting?

Pappas: Yes.  We talked about it there.  There was a lot of social grace, but sometimes it was hard to get into the issues because there was a way that they couldn’t talk.  Depending on how the individual man may have been feeling himself, he couldn’t completely talk about that because he still was representing the Church.

Prince: What was their body language?  Did it register with them when you started to talk about broken families and suicides?

Pappas: Yes, I think it did.  But they were quite stoic.  They couldn’t always lean in in a certain way.  I think part of it was that fine line they were walking.  I don’t think there was ever a time when they weren’t feeling as though they had to represent.  But I do think those early conversations were part of what really helped get us where we are today.  The Church did come forward when they supported the Salt Lake City ordinance.  That was also the start of all the ordinances across the State of Utah.  We couldn’t get the statewide protection, so we were going county by county.

Prince: Did the Salt Lake City ordinance thing come directly out of your meetings?

Dalzen: It was more of an Equality Utah strategy.

Pappas: I think it was influenced by our meetings, but I don’t think it came as a direct result of them.  I think the pressure from the Equality Utah Common Ground campaign, I think the conversations, I think membership—I think all of that kind of leaned itself toward them coming forward and saying, “We support this ordinance.”

Prince: Were you surprised when Otterson showed up at that meeting and made his statement?

Pappas: Yes, a little bit.

Prince: Would it have passed anyway?

Pappas: I think it would have, but what a difference it made.  You know what it was?  It was then people’s ability to say, “Oh, yes.  I support this, but now I can support it openly.  I can support it with my full self, because now the Church has said it’s OK.”

Prince: “They’ve given us cover.”

Pappas: “They’ve given us cover.”  There was a sense of relief and joy and happiness that I felt reverberate through the room.  When you are living in shame and you are living hiding out, it’s just different than living openly.  It doesn’t matter if you are talking about LGBT issues or if you are talking from a church perspective and being able to say, “Wow!”…

Prince: OK, so we get the city ordinance passed.  That’s six years ago.

Pappas: So every year we would go to the legislature and say, “What about statewide?”  Every year.

Prince: Did that start with Prop 8, or was it going on before that?

Pappas: I think it was going on before that, but more earnestly since Prop 8.  Every year it was shot down.  Equality Utah even hired some people to represent them up on Capitol Hill, Republicans to talk to Republican Senators and Representatives, trying to open up the conversation.  You’d get a little bit of ground, and then it would just get lost.  It was devastating.  Year after year after year you’d be banging your head against the wall.

Finally this year—and Brandie is gone—we got some traction.  It was also timely.  It had to happen.

So anyway, every year we would get some support, we were thinking we had some good opportunity, and in the end it would fall through.  It wouldn’t get out of the House.  It wouldn’t get on the floor.  Something was always in front of it.  And the Church never stepped forward.  They never advocated.

Prince: They were going to at one point.  The year that you didn’t go to the dinner that I sponsored at the Alta Club, we had a meeting before the dinner.  Chad Griffin was there, Troy Williams was there, there were about a dozen people.  Bill was going to be there, but at the last minute he said, “I’m backing out because I don’t want to give the impression that could get out publicly that the Church is going to back this.”  But he still thought that the Church was going to back it.  That was a month before the legislative session began, and when the time came, they backed away.

Pappas: And it was devastating.

Prince: I never heard the reason for it.

Dalzen: It felt disingenuous.  On the one hand there was this conversation, but when it came to putting skin in the game, they pulled out.

Pappas: That happened over and over.  I remember talking to Brandie.  We were thinking we were getting traction.  We were thinking we were really going to get something this year, and then it would fall out.  That was five or six years running.

Prince: I think that all the way through it was reflective of the divisiveness at the top.

Pappas: Yes.

Prince: They couldn’t achieve a consensus.

Pappas: Yes.

Dalzen: And what was distressing is that it wasn’t even about marriage; it was about basic discrimination, basic American rights: the right to be safe at work and not be discriminated against; the right to have housing.  The fact that it took this long to get those basic protections was really hard.…

Pappas: The other thing I have learned is about when people get positioned.  A lot of the times Equality Utah had their Position Statement.  Well, a position is kind of a fixed perspective, so we changed it.  I said, “It’s not our Position Statement; it’s our Guiding Principles.  When you are fixed and I am fixed, where are we going to go?”  If I am positioned about something and you are positioned, then where do we meet each other?  Sometimes we get positioned in what we think is right, whatever it is, and you can’t move out of that spot.

(Stephanie Pappas and Kristen Dalzen, April 9, 2015)

Carol Lynn: So other things in our stake that went on.  We’re going to come to the Marlin Jensen event.  How did this go?  I have a memory that Dean and I had a conversation that we really wanted to get him to be able to talk to a smaller group of people.  Marlin was assigned as a General Authority.

Greg: As area president, or just for a stake conference?

Carol Lynn: Stake conference.   Neither Dean nor Craig knew because I had asked them; nobody knew if Elder Jensen had been assigned to our stake because of what we had been doing there, or whether it was just an automatic assignment.  But when they knew that he was coming—I can’t remember quite how this happened, but I know that I sent a letter to Elder Jensen and I think it was because Dean and I had talked about it, and Dean wondered how appropriate it would be for him to bring up with him some need.  I don’t remember, but I know I had talked to Dean about it, and I think he agreed.  I had volunteered to say, “Let me just write him a letter expressing my appreciation for whatever, and say you know there are a lot of people in our stake who are hurting.”  I can’t remember specifically, but it was something general like that that did happen.  But Dean certainly had the authority to ask Marlin to speak to a small group—which Dean said he had done before—with certain kinds of special interest things when a General Authority did come.  So he said, “This is not irregular.”  

So Dean set up this early morning, five-stake conference meeting that was by invitation only, of people that Dean knew had strong feelings about the issue and who had been hurt by Prop 8 and would appreciate some kind of a forum.

Greg: This was early Sunday morning?

Carol Lynn: Yes.  It was Sunday morning and stake conference started at 10:00.  Our meeting was at 8:00, and we went a little bit over an hour.  We were in this smaller room and I don’t think Dean even presided.  I think Elder Jensen was the first one to take—I could be wrong about that; I shouldn’t say anything about that at all, but I remember Dean was very minimized at whatever happened there.  I shouldn’t even try to remember because I’m not absolutely certain.  One of the two—I think it was Elder Jensen—indicated that that he understood that he was there to listen.  And so he just turned the microphone over to those people who wanted to speak, which we knew was going to be the case.  I had planned on not saying anything, because everybody had heard way too much from me.  There were a lot of people who wanted to talk, and you know what happens when you let people loose.  So the first two people that went up I thought, “Oh, Lordy!”  Somebody went on and on and on about something irrelevant, and I was sort of eyeballing Dean to start timing or some kind of a thing.  Then the second person got up.  It was weird, and I thought, “My gosh!”  I had not planned to, but I got up.  I forget what I said, but it was something to appreciate Elder Jensen being there and to know that history is moving forward and that we have to be moving toward a time when our gay brothers and sisters can be full members in the Church.  I don’t know what I said, but I sort of put things on a better feeling or direction or something than two kind of rogue, strange things that had happened at the beginning.  

So after me, things kind of fell into line as people—some of them were very emotional—talked about the hurt they experienced during Prop 8.  Some of the feelings that were expressed were very, very poignant.  My dear, dear, beloved friend Connell O’Donovan, whom I had known him for years—he had written me soon after Good-Bye, I Love You came out and told me that I had helped to save his life.  A dear, dear man.  I had visited with him a number of times and he personally had suffered a lot of anguish over this whole thing.  So I had invited him and he had come to that early morning meeting.  He got up and he told something of his story.  He was very emotional.  Connell is this huge, burly man who sometimes had worked part time as a bouncer in a bar.  You don’t want to run into Connell if you think he’s not on your side, but he’s just the most tender, sweet man you ever want to meet.  

So Connell just had us all in tears.  I actually had to leave that meeting early because Dean had asked me to lead a little Primary chorus singing my song, I’ll Walk With You, because Elder Jensen had mentioned that song.  He had mentioned that song in a major multi-conference thing that he had sort of based his talk on that little lyric.  Anyway, I had to leave that meeting early because I had to go rehearse with these little kids, so I’m not sure of all of it, but I was there long enough that after everybody who could had spoken, Dean was the one that called it to a close.  Then Elder Jensen got up.  I had watched him throughout, and he was taking notes.  He was visibly moved, and he was paying very astute attention.  So he got up and he was either then, or at a moment in his conversation, there were tears, obvious tears in his eyes as he said, “This is a meeting I will never forget as long as I live.  I promise that I will take your concerns back to the Brethren in Salt Lake.”  And I remember he said something like, “I know we will continue to make progress.  I don’t know that we will ever go as far as Sister Pearson has wished in her work in what she has just said, but we will continue to make progress.”  And I was able to use those lines from him in the thing that I constructed later on.  But he did say, “You know, from the bottom of my heart, personally, and as much as I can, from the Church, I am deeply sorry for the pain that all of this has caused,” or however he phrased it.  Connell later told me that in between meetings he was able to grab Elder Jensen and speak to him, and he said it was a very emotional meeting that the two of them had.

Greg: Good emotional?

Carol Lynn: Oh yes, good.  Connell said, “He did apologize to me,” and I think he did use the word apology.  

Greg: On behalf of?

Carol Lynn: I don’t know.  But anyway, Connell was very high on however the phrasing had been, that he had received something so authentically given from Elder Jensen.

Greg: And then it got in this report.

Carol Lynn: Yes, it did.  Nobody said in that meeting, “You are not to talk about what is being said in this meeting; you are not to repeat.”  There was nothing like that said.  I chose not to say anything publicly.  I don’t put anything out; it’s infrequent that I put anything out in the world on the Internet, so I hadn’t.  But somebody who was there had put out an email that had started to take off.  It had said—I don’t recall the precise wording—but that was the thing that got John Dehlin to put out his Facebook thing.  You know that he reaches everybody that’s interested, and his little headline was, “Elder Marlin Jensen Apologizes for Prop 8.”  The instant that I read that I said, “John, that’s not precisely what happened.”  I didn’t know it was going to be a big deal, but it started to be a big deal.  And then Dean was kind of on the spot.  I don’t remember what went back and forth with him and Elder Jensen or any Salt Lake people, but I said, “Well, let me write up what I know happened, because I know that word was not used.” 

So I wrote it up, and then I think Jana Riess was the one who contacted me.  She’s had her Religion Dispatches thing.  She said, “Carol Lynn, I understand that you were at that meeting.  Can you tell me what happened?”  I had already written up this thing, and so I sent it to her.  I think somebody else had asked me for something, so I sent my thing out and then mine immediately kind of seemed to be the one that had the more authoritative voice.  Dean was aware that I was doing that.

Not too much later than that, Dean and Marlin Jensen had to be somewhere else together for some totally other reason, and this whole thing got brought up.  Dean said, “Well, Marlin had said that that was getting very hot, and he said he knew that the Public Affairs people were wondering if they were going to do something; and then Sister Pearson’s piece came out and he said, ‘They stood down.’”  That was his word.  The P.A. people “stood down,” to which Dean said, “Well, we have quite a lot of things to thank Sister Pearson for, don’t we?”  And Elder Jensen said, “Oh yes, we do.  Quite a few.”  So that’s really all I can tell you about the Marlin Jensen event.

(Carol Lynn Pearson, January 12, 2014)

Rosky: In particular, what they said—and I think this was the Public Affairs Department issuing statements on the Church Newsroom—was, “The Church is not opposed to employment, housing, inheritance and health care protections” that already existed in California.  “It is opposed to marriage and adoption because they relate to the family.”

When I saw that, I thought, “Wow, this is a huge opportunity!”  I called up Equality Utah and said, “We have to use this statement.”

Prince: Had they volunteered that, or do you think they were forced into saying that?

Rosky: Who?

Prince: The Church.

Rosky: You’ll have to ask them.  I have no idea.

Prince: You can look back and say, “Hey, you should have known when you put this out there.”

Rosky: But remember, they had done this before, and there no kind of blowback like this.  California was different, although as you point out, they had done this in California before.  So that doesn’t answer the question.  It was the exact same wording.  What’s the difference?  Is the difference that there are 18,000 same-sex couples?  I don’t know what the difference was.  A lot had changed in those eight years.  One thing was that gay marriage had become legal in Massachusetts.

Prince: Under Governor Romney!

Rosky: Yes, under Governor Romney.  So they issued the statement, and I said, “This is a great opportunity for us.”  Employment, housing, inheritance and health care protections do not exist under Utah law or federal law, so we had the biggest political stakeholder in Utah endorsing four items on our agenda, and we had never secured a single item on our agenda.

Prince: And they are all big ones.

Rosky: Yes, absolutely.  At the time, Equality Utah had been running a resolution to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to appeal Amendment 3 in part, to legalize civil unions and partnerships.  This was a dead letter.  No one was ever going to pass this.  Amendment 3 passed by an overwhelming margin not long before.  Equality Utah had lost that battle.

So the suggestion came together, “Can we draft these laws in employment and housing and such?”  “Yes, we can.”  “OK.”…

Prince: Did you go to the legislature or the Church first?

Rosky: We went to the legislature with the Common Ground initiative.  We had the statement from the Church; we didn’t need another.

Prince: Don’t give them a chance to change their minds.

Rosky: Right.  They said it, and that was all we needed to hear.  So we crafted the legislation, but importantly withdrew the marriage thing.  We said, “Of course, we still support same-sex marriage, but we think that if it’s going to come to Utah, it’s going to come through the Courts; it’s not going to come through the Utah Legislature.”

But I believe the legislature did not even grant a single committee hearing on any of our bills.  It was a total stonewall.  Everything died in the Rules Committee.

Prince: This was the 2009 session?

Rosky: Yes.  Although apparently they had run and employment and housing bill in 2008, before I was here.  I was surprised to hear that, but I recently heard that from the ACLU.  But 2009 was the first Common Ground year, and it was stonewalled by the legislature.  Nonetheless it was revolutionary, because instead of playing defense at the legislature, we played offense.  We lost, but we played offense.  And that turned out to be a very good defense.  When people are saying, “The Church is opposed to discrimination.  Let’s ban discrimination”—if they are going to say no to that, it’s much harder to say yes to something that is affirmatively anti-gay.  It changed the conversation.

And we noticed that in hearings, increasingly people would have to start off by saying, “Before I explain why I oppose this bill, I need you to understand that I am opposed to discriminate.  I don’t discriminate, and some of my best friends are gay.”  I thought, “Well, this is progress.”

During that whole period, and unbeknownst to me, at some point leaders of the LGBT community here, particularly gay and lesbian leaders, started meeting with people from the Public Affairs Department of the Church.

Prince: The “Gang of Five.”

Rosky: Right, exactly.  From what I understand of these conversations, which were at Sam and Diane Stewart’s house, the principal activity was for the Church to listen to the stories of people that had grown up gay in Utah, and often Mormon and gay in Utah.  Just listen.  I know that some of the people in that meeting had been principally responsible for coordinating the Prop 8 campaign on behalf of the Church.

Prince: Bill Evans was the point man.

Rosky: Yes, and he was there listening.  So this was very real.  The people were saying, “This is what Prop 8 meant to me.”

Those meetings were happening, and then at some point in 2009, two men were coming home from a concert, and they walked down Main Street through the church plaza, and they got body-slammed by security guards.

Prince: Which was caught on surveillance cameras.

Rosky: Yes.  Then, it was on the “Colbert Report” and everything.  Colbert called me and I thought I was going to be on, but it was just for background.

Right after that, Troy Williams, not working for Equality Utah then, more of a sort of radical left-winger, organized a kiss-in at the LDS Church, where principally same-sex couples would come and kiss one another right in front of the Church.  This, I think, was not the publicity the Church was looking for, and they reached out to the Gang of Five.  “What can we do?  What concrete thing could we do to signal that we are not anti-gay?”  I think that’s when the Gang of Five said, “Well, we’re working with Salt Lake City to pass an anti-discrimination bill, based on your statement.”  The Public Affairs people said, “Send us the language.”  I believe that when they got the language it was, “We don’t know if we are going to support this, or oppose it, or remain silent.”

Some people must have been tipped off, but I wasn’t.  I went to the Salt Lake City hearing, knowing that it would pass unanimously, but not knowing that the Church was going to make a statement.  I think Brandie probably knew that the Church was going make a statement.

Prince: How did you know that it was going to pass unanimously?

Rosky: Equality Utah is a political lobbying entity, and we canvassed the council members.  So to get an ordinance in Salt Lake City, we didn’t need the Church; but the Church’s endorsement of the Salt Lake City ordinance was of great significance in getting all the other cities and counties on board.

Prince: According to Jim, the Church kind of had a gun at its head.

Rosky: I don’t do that stuff.

Prince: It was not just out of the goodness of their hearts.

Rosky: To me, that is irrelevant.  I don’t want them telling people why I do things, and I won’t tell anybody why they do things.  They can tell that.  I don’t have a gun, so I don’t know whose gun it was.  I don’t think Jim has one either, so I don’t know where the gun was.  It had better be a big gun for an organization that has 15 million members worldwide.  I don’t know what kind of gun that would be.  If you think there was a P.R. cost to the Prop 8 campaign, that’s probably right.  I have been told that public approval ratings for the Church fell 14% during the Prop 8 campaign.  I’m not a source of this stuff, and I don’t know if it’s true.  I’ve also been told that missionaries were being relocated from Europe to Africa because of the lack of popularity in Europe.  Again, I don’t know if that’s true.…

Prince: Mike Otterson was the first speaker, wasn’t he?

Rosky: Yes.  So I was writing down my talking points, waiting for my turn, and I write down, “This is not about marriage.  This is about the right to earn a living and keep a roof over your head.”  Whenever we said, “We want to ban employment discrimination,” they would talk about the story from Mormon scripture where the camel pokes its nose under the tent.  It was their version of the slippery slope.  “First this, and then marriage.”  So I wrote, “It is not about marriage.”  I’m sitting there, and this guy gets up, who I don’t know, and he says, “I am Michael Otterson.  I am the official spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  All across America, people are having a debate about morality, but that’s not what we are here to talk about tonight.  We are here to talk about the right to earn a living and keep a roof over your head.  The Church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable, and it does not do violence to the institution of marriage.”  I thought, “Did you steal my notes?”  It was so weird, although I wouldn’t have said “violence to the institution of marriage.”  

So it was such a big deal.  I knew that it was consistent with previous statements, but to actually endorse a piece of legislation and then have it pass was a very big deal.

To talk about something you just addressed, the next day Elder Holland was on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune and he said, “Everything good should be shared.”  That strongly implied that every city and county, and the State of Utah, and every state and the Federal Congress, ought to pass this.  After all, what would Christ have to say about the difference between the city and a county and a state and the federal government?  The principle is the principle.

But it also became clear very quickly that the Church was not going to appear in other cities, endorsing ordinances.  It was not going to go to the legislature to endorse a statewide law.  It would maybe answer phone calls, but would not be able to say—within a year or two there was not even a public stance on any city other than Salt Lake.  People who are opposed to LGBT protections took advantage of that and said, “That was for Salt Lake City.  Salt Lake City is different than other parts of Utah, blah, blah, blah.”  I never believed that that argument worked.  There is no distinction, from the perspective of a worldwide church.  But it was a stumbling block for us.…

Prince: Did any of those ordinances have teeth in them?  I recall that the Salt Lake City ordinance did not.

Rosky: They are all the same, and it depends on what you mean by teeth.  There was a fine.  If you were a victim of discrimination you would file a complaint with the city, and the landlord would get fined $500 or $1,000, depending on their size.  That is the maximum penalty a city can impose under Utah law.  If they were to impose more, they would be impeding on the State Legislature’s ability to impose fines and regulate the conduct of Utahns.  So it has as much teeth as it could have, but the victim got nothing.  The victim couldn’t recover.…

Meanwhile, Senator [Chris] Buttars was threatening to repeal the Salt Lake City ordinance.  It passed at the end of 2009, and in the 2010 session he was threatening to repeal it.  One of the strategies Salt Lake City was that it hadn’t even gone into effect yet.  It was designed to go into effect the day after the governor was done signing bills.  They delayed the effective date so that it would ease the legislature a bit; they didn’t have to feel like they had to repeal it.  But I remember being called into a meeting with Ben McAdams, who worked for the mayor.  What we were told was, “Republican leadership will repeal this ordinance and ban all future ordinances unless you withdraw your Common Ground Initiative.”  It didn’t want to vote no on items; they wanted us to withdraw them.  It was a really hard decision.

Prince: Was the Common Ground Initiative essentially the Salt Lake City ordinance applied statewide?

Rosky: Yes, but also inheritance rights and equal healthcare, just as the Church had endorsed in its statement.  They didn’t want them to become law, but they didn’t want to vote no against them.  Very strange.  They wanted them to just go away.  If they had repealed the ordinance we would have had a lawsuit.  Colorado did that, and they won in the United States Supreme Court.  But there are ways to do that that are harder to challenge, and they would have surely found them.  So there were some real risks on both sides.

Also, of course, getting to that point any goodwill and progress that had been made would have been destroyed.  The legislature would have been way to the right of the Church, repealing the ordinance that the Church had endorsed.  It was going to be quite ugly, and with major risks for the LGBT community.  It is not clear what would have happened there.

Prince: You mentioned Senator Buttars.  Was he in that meeting?

Rosky: No.  I met with the Democrats.  We sort of quietly agreed—it was not an easy thing to do—to stand down for one year, but not permanently.  But we knew if the Salt Lake City ordinance were able to go into effect and people could see that the sky doesn’t fall when you protect LGBT people, that that would be a huge gain, and it would build momentum in other cities and counties, and ultimately for the state.  And that’s what happened.  And Ben McAdams was critical in persuading people not to repeal that ordinance.  Even getting that off was a hard offer to get at the time.…

We also started a conversation with the Church, not just at the level of “let me tell you my story and you tell me yours,” but, “Let’s look at legislation.  What are the stumbling blocks?”

Prince: Legislation to fill in the inheritance and healthcare holes?

Rosky: No, to make the Salt Lake City ordinance statewide law.  Employment and housing for the state.  What would it take to get the Church’s endorsement for a statewide law?

Prince: So essentially SB296.

Rosky: Yes.  It was really SB100.  We just wanted the antidiscrimination ordinance.  SB296 is different.  

So basically that whole story just continues until the end of 2013, and then marriage hits Utah.  It becomes very clear that now that DOMA has fallen and marriage hit Utah, that marriage is going to hit every state in the United States shortly.  Once marriage was finally legalized in Utah—not temporarily, but permanently—then that really opened up a space, because the slippery slope concern was gone now.  Marriage and gay adoption were legal in Utah.  If you are opposed to employment discrimination and opposed to housing discrimination, and your only argument is that you don’t want to legalize that because you are worried about marriage, and marriage is here, what’s the hold-up?  So that created the space, where it was easier to see where marriage was going.

In fact, when marriage became legal in Utah, which was last October [2014], the Church said, “The courts have decided this issue.”  Even though the Supreme Court had not spoken yet, if you look at the Church’s statement, it was a final statement.

Prince: By virtue of the Supreme Court saying, “We are not hearing this case.”

Rosky: In Utah, right?  Strictly speaking, it hadn’t resolved it for the whole country, but the Church read the writing on the wall.  It’s impressive, because it didn’t need to.  There are still people out there who are saying, “I don’t know what the Supreme Court is going to do,” but the Church didn’t really seem to take that position.

(Clifford Rosky, March 31, 2015)

Joe: For instance, if you did a whole bunch of research to understand people better than we did—and this wasn’t obvious to me—there were great gains for us to make among Catholics that we weren’t going to make with Southern Evangelicals.  The notion of authority—and I should have remembered this from when I was being raised in Boston—lay Catholics sort of make their own rules, and they are much more willing to buck authority.  So Catholics were much more inclined towards LGBT issues and the legislative fights we were working for, and marriage generally.  You could speak directly to Catholics and sort of sidestep the leadership of the Catholic Church.  And by definition, Catholics were much more likely to make up their own minds and not follow authority.  Southern Evangelicals?  Absolutely not.  A very different order of business.

So for our work, we sort of doubled-down on Catholics.  And in places like Michigan and Ohio and other places where we were taking these fights, even if it was the fight to elect a member of Congress who was going to be more supportive pre-marriage, there was a lot of ground for us to make with Catholics.  And so we did.

I remember I went to this play by Carol Lynn Pearson.  Bruce and I went to this play that Carol had written, in Utah.

Greg: “Facing East.”

Joe: It was incredibly moving, but when I walked out I said to Bruce, “I have a hundred questions.  I just don’t get it.”  He really taught me a lot about the LDS Church, and about how a parent in the Church would react to their child.  I thought, “The path with the LDS Church is very different.  The only sort of conversation for us to have is with the leadership of the Church.  We’re not going to pluck individual LDS people out from under the leadership of the Church the way were able to with Catholics.  It’s going to be a conversation directly with the leadership of the Church.”

The other thing we learned, if we looked at it very tactically and with an antiseptic eye to how we could make change, I always felt like, on the heels of Proposition 8, we were only be able to accomplish, at best, two things with the LDS Church.  One would be to have them recognize that bad public relations with the leadership with the Church was the tactic that was going to make them notice us in the most significant way.  Rick Jacobs was somebody who was on their radar, and that showed us that bad public relations was something that they were going to respond to.  At best, what we might be able to do was to get them to internally agree that waging into these marriage fights, having something to say about these marriage fights, and putting money into these marriage fights created enough of a P.R. problem for them that they simply wouldn’t do it anymore.

I’m writing a book about lessons that I’ve learned in social change that you can apply to people in their everyday work life.  I have a chapter on this, which talks about how what our constituents, and what a lot of activists expected from us, in terms of what we would get from the Church or from different institutional settings, was very different from what I knew that we would be likely to get.  So our whole strategy with the LDS Church was simply that: if we could recognize that our audience was the leadership of the Church, and not its congregants, and if we could do things that would make them uncomfortable enough in a P.R. setting, we might be able to get that.…

But I think because of the way we conducted ourselves around the delivering of the petitions, we were able to get a meeting with what most people thought were an impressive group of church leaders.  It was Bruce and Jim Dabakis and Sharon Groves and Fred Sainz and me.  This is the meeting that I write about in my book.  I felt like it was a really transformative moment.  All of the people on our side kept saying things that I could tell, if we had been saying them to other faith leaders, we might have been able to find some common ground.  But we just couldn’t with these guys.  Fred is a blustery pit bull, and I think with Bruce and Jim Dabakis there is a lot of history and a lot of anger on both sides, particularly with Bruce.  And I’m sure the Mormon Church has as strong a feeling about Bruce Bastian as he does about the Mormon Church.

Sharon, who really hadn’t said very much, had the right profile and the right presence in the room.  She said, “Is there a way that you can look at us and see that contained within our agenda, as it were, is this commitment to believe that young people shouldn’t live in environments where the things going on around them encourage them to take their own lives?  Can you put aside all of your own history and, at the very least, respect that that is a part of our agenda and a part of our work, and that it would be reasonable for you to recognize and respect that, and to see if there is a place that we could find some common ground to have a conversation about that?”  She said it just like that, and it was like all of the energy in the room changed.  She did this thing that is very difficult to do in this big, daunting conversation about religious-based homophobia, that gave them the space to do that, that turned the conversation in such a way that they couldn’t help but do anything except say, “Yes.  We can find that common ground with you.”  It was a gesture, and I’m probably not doing it justice; but it was this moment where I think she respected them and characterized the nature of our work in a way that they were able to find common ground with us.  To my way of thinking, it was the conversation that opened up the door for them to be able to say, “If we are going to work with anybody, these are people that we could work with.  If we are ever going to find common ground, these are people we could find some common ground with.  It may only ever be around this issue of young people and homelessness and teen suicide, but that is what it will be.”  They had to respect the negative P.R. hit that continued to confront them.

I think there has been some good work done around the stuff that we found common ground on, and I know that at least in the 2012 election cycle, when there were ballot measures in four states, the LDS Church’s presence there was significantly different.  I think it may have been only in Maryland where there was a little bit of something that came up, and I feel like there was sort of a backdoor conversation where the Church really tamped it down.…

Then, it settled down and there was a smarter, methodical approach to the LDS Church specifically, where people with a better understanding, like Bruce and Jim and others were able to take a breath and say, “OK, there is another approach here.”  That was when we had to take a step back and say, “If we are going to keep this from happening again, how do we sort all this stuff out and figure out what works and what doesn’t work?”

Greg: It looks like “The Kiss,” the incident on the Main Street Plaza that was not planned, turned out to be the opening.  The negative P.R. from the church reaction to that was so severe that that gave them the opportunity to get into a meaningful discourse.

Joe: When you say the negative reaction, was there some violence or roughing up of those guys?

Greg: Yes, there was.  There were mixed accounts of it, but there was footage from security cameras that showed it was handled totally inappropriately.  The response of the local community was to do a kiss-in.  They did it more than once, and it attracted national attention.  That was when the Church realized they had to do something, and that was when Jim Dabakis and Bill Evans started to talk earnestly.

Joe: Yes.

Greg: But it also led to this group discussion, with Jim’s group known as the Gang of Five, and three guys from Church Public Affairs.  That stalled, and then it got restarted.  Here is where I am fuzzy on it, because I’m not sure how much overt or implied pressure was coming from HRC that Jim could use as a hammer.  I think there was some, from what he told me.  In other words, he was able to meet with Church Public Affairs and say, “Guys, if you don’t do something substantive, we have a problem.”  Is that a narrative that holds up?

Joe: Is this immediately on the heels of Prop 8, or later?

Greg: Later.  The Kiss was in the spring or early summer of 2009.  They were still smarting from Prop 8, but it was six months later.  But The Kiss led into the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinance later that year, when the Church suddenly showed up as the first witness at the public hearing and said, “We endorse this!”  It was a year prior to Packer’s speech, and it may have rattled him enough that he finally let it blow in 2010.  Then, he got smacked down by the president of the Church.

Joe: Yes.  I’m probably not the best one on this.  There was so much going on in 2009 that I was just going from one disaster to the next.  It’s interesting now to relive this and then realize that we didn’t even go back to deliver those petitions until the Fall of 2010.  And we may not have had the meeting with the leadership of the Church until 2012.

Greg: But in 2009 there was a series of events that began with The Kiss and ended with the Salt Lake City ordinance.  There has to be stuff in between.

Joe: Yes, and I think that is all Jim Dabakis.

Greg: I’ve interviewed Jim a couple of times already, and he has been very helpful.  Are you aware of any discussion at HRC about leverage that they might be able to apply to the Church?  Jim had talked, in general terms, about the possibility of a publicity campaign of Hollywood figures saying,
“If the Mormon missionaries come to your door, think about this.”

Joe: There was an awful lot happening.  When the violence abated a bit, there was so much negative energy directed at the Church.  Any opportunity we had to find an opening, we took it.  I remember there were all sorts of people on social media, comedians and actors, everybody was going after the Church.  It now feels to me like from Prop 8 to that bus tour was a matter of months, but it was four years!  That is something I hadn’t realized until we were talking.

The thing about Jim and Bruce was that they were the people I would always defer to.  If they would say, “I know you want to take a 2-by-4 to the Church today and do X.  Would you stand down?  Would you step back and give us a little bit of space to make X happen?”  We always were willing to do it because I always got the sense from Jim that it was to the benefit of something good potentially happening for people in Utah.  I always felt like for us to step back and give some space for them to do whatever they were doing, on a national level it might not make sense, but if it meant that they were going to be able to make some gains for folks in Utah, it was something that we needed to do.

The part that I don’t remember clearly enough, unfortunately, is what you are talking about: What happened between Prop 8 and the decision in the Fall of 2009 for them to play that role?  I remember the Church having that role in the municipal situation there in Salt Lake City; I just don’t remember the particular things that happened leading up to it.  But I do remember instances where either Jim or Bruce would say, “Give us some space to try to make some way with the Church here.”

(Joe Solmonese, January 12, 2016)

Williams: I would try different tactics.  I led organized, angry marches.  I was also involved with the first kiss-in’s that we did on the Main Street Plaza, after Matt and Derek were arrested for kissing each other.

Prince: And that wasn’t planned, was it?  

Williams: No, it wasn’t planned at all.  They were drunk and they were coming home from a concert.  Derek leaned over and kissed Matt, and the security—the Sacred Security—swept in and wrestled them to the ground.  The Salt Lake City Police Department released the footage.  We saw it, and it was awful.  It was awful!

Prince: It was a Rodney King Moment.

Williams: It was!  Deeda Seed was with the Southern Utah Women’s Alliance, and she came forward with the idea, “Why don’t you go do a kiss-in instead?”  We all said, “OK, we can do that.”  So we went onto the church property and we made out in the shadow of Moroni.  We did it three times, and the third time I gave a speech on the “Four R’s of Repentance,” and I called the Brethren to repentance.  I said they had to live by the doctrine that they taught me as a kid: Recognize, pay Restitution, feel Remorse, and Resolve never to do it again.

Then, I had to lead the kiss-in, but I didn’t have anybody to kiss.  It was an awkward moment with all these TV cameras and photographers, and I didn’t have anyone to kiss.  So I literally grabbed a stranger out of the crowd, and he would become my boyfriend after that moment.  Our first kiss was on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune, and it was this awesome, magical sort of moment.

Then, Stephen Colbert came and we did a whole reenactment of the kiss-in.

Prince: How long after the Prop 8 election was this?

Williams: It was in 2009.  As Bill Evans has said to me, “Troy, the kiss-in’s were the final straw.  That’s when we knew we had to talk.”  Dabakis was always over here saying, “We need to talk.  We need to talk.  We need to talk.”  And they were ignoring him, ignoring him, ignoring him.  And then all the angry marches happened; and then the kiss-in’s happened.…

Prince: So talk about the Salt Lake City ordinance.

Williams: Let me pull back a little bit.  Jim Dabakis is very much a visionary, and about wanting to sit down with your enemies.  He always says to me, “You don’t make peace with your friends, so this is really a hard work that we have to do.  Troy, you need to come meet the Mormons.  You need to come do this.”  But I didn’t want to do this.  I didn’t want to do it at all.  But he finally talked me into it.

I was good friends with Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the movie “Milk.”  Because I was friends with him, I was able to set up a meeting with the Church and him.

Prince: Post-Prop 8?

Williams: Yes.  And it was with Jim.  I got to tag along because I was the one who brought Lance Black into town.

So Lance would come in periodically and meet with the Church.  They started a relationship with him.

Prince: “They” being Public Affairs?

Williams: Yes.  Lance is very much a peacemaker; he really believes in the importance of this kind of work.

So when the ordinance came—the timeline is a little bit messy for me.  I remember it being awesome and I remember it being a power symbol, more than anything.  I remember them, which is so characteristic, blowing it when they opened their mouth to speak.  I think it was Mike Otterson who spoke.  I was there.  He said, “We endorse this ordinance because it does no violence to marriage.”  It was like, “You’re trying to make peace, and you’re insulting us.”  We all sat there with pits in our stomachs.  But we shook their hands.

Prince: So you had not been in on the meetings at the Stewart’s house?

Williams: No.  I was too far to the left, too radical, too dangerous to be loose with those guys.  I would pull stunts like with Marlin Jensen, so they kept me at bay, at first.  But later on, they slowly started bringing me.  I brought Lance in, and we went to a Christmas concert.  It wasn’t the time that you and I went to dinner; it was before that.

Prince: I think the time we did it was the second year they did it.

Williams: Yes.

Prince: And I think the first year was for a smaller group.

Williams: It was.  I was there with Lance Black, Bruce Bastian, Jim Dabakis, Brandie Balken.  We took a photograph ourselves all standing together in the Conference Center.  Lance, the celebrity, posted it, and the Internet exploded.  “What the Hell has just happened?”  Lance and I really loved to brainstorm about clever things to do, to really ignite the conversation and move things.  That was one of the first public stunts that we did, and it forced the Church to make a statement in the news the next day.

Prince: “Yes, we did invite these people.”

Williams: Yes, they did.  They made a P.R. statement, and it was good.  This photo of us was picked up on gay blogs all over.  It just went crazy.  “What are Dustin Lance Black and all of these gays doing with the Mormons?”  That was what I thought was so beautifully subversive.  It would be the forerunner to a later stunt that I would do.…

Prince: OK, we have yet to cover SB296.

Williams: Right.

Prince: Let me try to prompt you for a starting place.  For three years, Steve Urquhart has carried the water on this because Jim Dabakis realized that a Democrat couldn’t get it across the finish line in the Utah Legislature.  Jump in wherever you wish.

Williams: I started to get involved in 2009 with the Common Ground initiative.  Equality Utah really put together a rapid response.  The Church came out and said at one point, “We believe strongly in traditional marriage; however, we are not opposed to rights for gay people.”

Prince: That gave you a handle.

Williams: Yes.  So Equality Utah, under the leadership of Mike Thompson, jumped on that and constructed a Common Ground initiative that had all kinds of things.  It had nondiscrimination in housing and employment, there was some kind of adoption issue—

Prince: Were you part of Equality Utah then?

Williams: No, not at that point.  I was always on the fringe as an activist.  But I was also a radio person who brought Equality Utah on a lot.  So I had a good relationship with them for the most part.  They couldn’t do the protest element.  They couldn’t organize angry marches, because they always had to be the diplomats.  So there was a role for me and for other activists like me to fill that vacuum.

But then, when Brandie became the director of Equality Utah, I became more aligned with Equality Utah because Brandie and I were good friends and we had been on the radio together, and we had sat and dreamed and envisioned how we would do things if we were in charge, what the world would be like and what kinds of things we would do.  Then, all of a sudden, Brandie was in charge and I became a confidant to her.  We would bounce ideas off of each other.

Prince: Was that after Common Ground?

Williams: Yes.  Common Ground died quickly.  There was this moment, and then the legislature just shut it down.  We had three LGBT people in office.  There was Jackie Biskupski, Scott McCoy and Christine Johnson.  That was the largest number of gay folks in the legislature ever.

Prince: All openly gay?

Williams: Yes, all openly gay.  There was always tension between me and them.  I would say angry things at rallies, and they were trying to be the diplomats.  To Equality Utah’s credit, they never tried to shut me down.  But Scott and Christine—Jackie not so much—didn’t like me, and they thought I would embarrass the community, that I would say it wrong, that I wasn’t on-message.  They looked on me as a free-form activist.

In Brandie’s first or second year, Christine made a deal with the legislators to shut down all the gay bills and have a cease-fire, without consulting the community.  We were livid about that.  We were pissed-off, there were angry town hall meetings, “How dare you do this to our community?”  That was a brutal trial-by-fire for Brandie.

Ben McAdams was the third person to run the bill.  Mormon, Boy Scout-looking, conservative Democrat—he ran a nondiscrimination bill and it died quickly.  It was just one thing after another.  We had a history of animus against the LGBT community that went back all the way to the East High clubs.  I wrote up a timeline recently, when I thought my court case was going to trial, of all the legislative actions against our community: who ran the bill, what year, what the name of the bill was, etc.  I have that for you.

We just kept getting the shit kicked out of us every single time.  We were just trying to have the most basic protections in the workplace and housing.  It’s basically including us within the existing antidiscrimination laws.

Prince: So the guy who took you to his company party couldn’t be fired.

Williams: Right.  The LGBT movement has been informed and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, and, of course, the Feminist Movement, and the Suffragists and Abolitionists before them.  All of these rights were laid out in the Civil Rights Act.  Wanting to be included within that is really just wanting to be a full American, wanting to be a full citizen of the United States with all of the rights and privileges and blessings and responsibilities that come with being an American.  It happened for our African-American brothers and sisters; it happened when women got the vote and when they got other rights in the Civil Rights Act.  Having that kind of dignity and respect means so much, to be fully included in the legal and social fabric of our state and our nation.

Cleve Jones, Harvey Milk’s protégé, said something publicly after Prop 8 that was seared into my consciousness.  He said, “Our agenda is nothing less than full civil equality in all areas governed by civil law.”  I memorized that, because that was it.  That’s what we had to go for.  So all of this stuff we are trying to do in a legislative arena, in the absence of a federal law, we have to advocate for at a local level.  Giving anything was seen to be a slippery slope to marriage.  That’s what their model was: “If you give non-discrimination rights, the next thing you’re going to do is give marriage away.”

Prince: Was there any place where that had actually been the sequence?

Williams: Yes, in Connecticut and Massachusetts and the other Eastern States.  That was the pattern.  They got nondiscrimination first, and then all of a sudden they got marriage.  So the legislature was saying, “There is no way we are going to give on this.”  The closest we ever got was three years ago, Senator Urquhart’s first year.  We got it out of a committee hearing, and then it died.  That was the big victory, that we got it out of a committee hearing!

Senator Debakis whipped us up and said, “Troy, even though this is a small thing, it is a step forward, and you have to celebrate it.  Don’t be cynical about this; celebrate this!”  Jim has truly been my mentor through all of this.  He has been the person coaching me.  He has an irresistible spirit about him, and a vision that captures you and pulls you along.  So we saw it as a victory, as a step forward.  Senator Urquhart, God bless him, he is so freaking conservative on ever other issue!

Prince: Did you ever talk to him about how he came over on this one?

Williams: Yes, definitely.  And he’s really good on sex education issues as well.  But everything else, I am horrified by his political track record.

So he is the standard bearer for this.  He is the one pushing it.

Prince: At risk.

Williams: At risk.  At total risk.  I’m like this ass.  I wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune and it said—I was trying to be nice about it—“Senator Urquhart, you are awesome on gay issues and you are awesome on comprehensive sex education issues; but here are some other issues that are also equally important to gay families.”  I talked about his resistance to the Affordable Care Act and extending Medicaid, and his support for school vouchers.  I said, “All of these issues impact gay families as well, and we’d love you to consider these as well.”  He didn’t take well to that at all, and didn’t like me for writing an op-ed that was critical of his politics.

So when I became the director of Equality Utah, he was pissed that I was the person who was chosen.  I had just been arrested.  He didn’t want me to get arrested.  He wanted me to be able to stand down and to walk away from the doors, but I refused to.  That made him angry, and then I had this op-ed, so he thought I was the worst person to lead Equality.  He went right to the press, the day after I got picked, and he trashed me in the press and on Facebook.  I get it now, and we have laughed about it, but then it was like, “Oh, shit!  What are we going to do?  The guy who is the sponsor of our bill hates me.”

So the moratorium happened, I got arrested, and then in 2014 I got hired by Equality Utah.  So I was instantly in conflict with the sponsor of the bill.  When I went to have my first meeting with Steve, he finally had time to sit and think about me as the director.  At that point—October 10th, 2014—the Supreme Court decided they weren’t going to hear Kitchen v. Herbert, and so gay marriage was legal.  That was a week after I got hired—so that’s how effective I am!  A week after I get hired at Equality Utah, marriage equality comes to the state.

I sat down a few weeks later into the job and had my first meeting with Urquhart.  I thought, “How is this going to go?  He hates me.  How am I going to make this work?  I don’t know.”  I sat down with him and he said, “Troy, number one, you are the right guy for this.  I was pissed at you and I am going to be pissed at you again, but I know that you are the right guy for this.  Now is the time that you have to go for everything.  You don’t have to apologize for anything; you have to just go for it all, and I’m going to support you through it.”

I realized at that point that Senator Urquhart also gets political theatre.  And, of course, to save face with his base he can’t be buddy-buddy publicly with this leftist, crazy bomb-thrower.  So he had to throw me under the bus a little bit and trash me, and that was all part of the politics of the theatre of it.  I was like, “OK!  I get how this game is played.  That’s cool.  Let’s do this.”  And so we started collaborating on the legislative sessions.

Steve is tremendously optimistic.  It would be really confusing because he would go, “Troy, we are going to do this.  We are going to pass it this year.”  Then, Dabakis laid it out for me and said, “Troy, the only way that we are going to pass this is if the Church steps forward and supports it.”

Prince: The Church was ready to step forward in prior years, but then they stepped back.

Williams: Yes, they never came through.

Prince: That’s part of the story that I need to get.

Williams: They supported the Salt Lake thing, and that was it.

Prince: But they were also going to support the statewide measure.  Bill Evans was talking to me about that.

Williams: Yes, you’re right.  Then, Alex Dushku and Cliff Rosky fought and fought and fought, and never could come to consensus.  But remember that after the Salt Lake ordinance passed, Elder Holland got up in the press and said, “This will be a great thing for the whole state.”  He did say that, and it was carried by the Tribune.  So there was this idea, but we had to keep reminding people, “Remember back with the Salt Lake ordinance that the Church supported this?”

Then, there was this weird moment when the Church was working on its beta site, and then walked it back.

Prince: That was last December.  How did that leak out?

Williams: All I know is that someone from Mormons Building Bridges had it leaked to them from the Church Office Building.  Then it was sent to me, and then boom, boom, boom!  Then, the Church backed out.  I really thought that the backlash from the marriage decision was too fresh of a wound, that there would be no movement forward.  I didn’t know how I was going to do that.  I was green.  I was used to being an activist doing rallies and getting arrested.  I was not used to this backdoor diplomacy and deal making, and I had no idea how to do any of this.

(Troy Williams, March 30, 2015)