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Laura Seitz/Deseret News, File

Committee approves judge nominee despite LGBT concerns

By Dennis Romboy  |  Posted Nov 14th, 2016 @ 8:06pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker who proposed legislation that drew fire from the LGBT community received a unanimous recommendation Monday from a state Senate committee to be confirmed as a judge.

Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, apologized during a Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee hearing, saying he was "truly sorry for the offense I caused" and that he has "evolved" since then.

"I am not anti-gay," he said under intense questioning from committee members, including Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay member of the Legislature.

Dabakis voted in favor of Powell, though he called it a really hard to decision.

"I believe you. I believe what you said. I believe you're going to be a good judge," he told Powell.

Gov. Gary Herbert nominated Powell to fill an upcoming vacancy on the 4th District Court. The full Senate will consider the appointment Wednesday.

Powell considered using the word "pairage" in a bill to define a married same-sex couple after the U.S. Supreme Court made gay marriage legal nationwide. His legislation also would have required the state to favor heterosexual parents over same-sex parents in adoption and foster care.

The proposals didn't go anywhere.

"This was an extermination order on LGBT families. That's the way it was perceived," Dabakis said.

Powell told the committee he felt like he was in the middle of competing voices when he proposed the legislation that he said also tried to advance LGBT rights, which brought heat from people who oppose same-sex marriage. He said he did not intend to make same-sex parents feel inferior and that he felt like he was accommodating their concerns.

Being gay, lesbian or transgender is not something that needs to be cured, but protected and respected by government, especially the courts, he said. Powell said he would treat LGBT people equally before the law.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams sent an email to supporters last week raising questions about how Powell would rule on disputes between same-gender spouses, noting the lawmaker is on the record advancing bills making a second-class status for gay and lesbian parents.

During the meeting, Williams said he accepted Powell's apology. He said he believed Powell when he said he would be impartial and rule without bias or prejudice.

But Alliance for a Better Utah policy and advocacy counsel Chase Thomas said while he appreciated Powell's apology, he still has concerns.

"Rep. Powell may have backtracked on his stated desire to explicitly discriminate against LGBT parents who were trying to adopt, but his legislation as actually proposed still allowed for judges to act upon implicit biases they may hold toward LGBT persons," he said.

Regardless of whether he ended up putting the bill forward, it shows a disregard for the Constitution, Thomas said.

Weston Clark, who has two adopted children with his husband, said he still has concerns about Powell given his public statements on those issues. He wondered if an LGBT family would be able to walk out of his courtroom knowing they were treated fairly.

Parenting is stressful enough, and "questioning the judgment of a judge is way too much to ask," Clark said.

Heber City Councilwoman Kelleen Potter, the mother of a gay son, said Powell is committed to avoiding the appearance of bias, noting he refuses to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists and political action committees.

"This guy ticks with ethics, transparency and inclusiveness," Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, told the committee.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

Dennis Romboy
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