Gov. Jon Huntsman stirred fresh debate when he came out in favor of same-sex civil unions last week. New exclusive poll numbers show Utahns are divided on this issue.
Supporters of gay rights held a vigil to thank the governor for his stand on civil unions. Conservatives spoke out too and said when it comes to gay rights the governor does not speak for them.
"Our community needs to heal. We've had some divisive debates," Huntsman said.
A new poll by Dan Jones and Associates for KSL-TV and the Deseret News shows one-third of Utahns now have a less-favorable opinion of the governor, but his overall approval rating remains at 80 percent. As for civil unions, 47 percent support them and 42 percent oppose them.
House bills proposed this session prohibit discrimination in housing and employment related to sexual orientation; another deals with a same-sex couple's right to medical decision making and inheritance.
Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, is the sponsor of the anti-discrimination bill. "These bills will not lead to civil unions or gay marriage but are to improve the quality of life for Utahns," she said.
Melanie Schertz has a unique perspective. The single mother added her mother to her insurance in 2006 when Salt Lake City let employees designate someone other than a spouse for coverage. She thinks everyone should have the option.
"In this day and age, who's to say what a family is?" Schertz said. "My mom didn't have any insurance, and her medications were costing us, just the medications alone that were generic were over $400 a month."
Add to that visits to the doctor and medical bills after her mother took a bad fall. "Had that happened before we had gotten this, we would have lost everything," Schertz said.
We also asked Utahns who support civil unions why they do. The greatest percentage says it's a matter of fairness and equal rights, not an alternative to marriage for gay couples. Like Schertz, many support civil unions for the legal and financial benefits.