Utah Gov. Herbert meets with gay rights groups

Utah Gov. Herbert meets with gay rights groups

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert met with gay rights advocacy groups Tuesday for the first time since saying he opposes providing legal protections for gay and transgender people.

Herbert took office in mid-August after Jon Huntsman resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Within weeks of his inauguration, Herbert said he doesn't think it should be illegal to discriminate against someone for being gay or transgender.

In Utah, it's currently legal to fire someone or evict them from housing for being gay. Herbert contends that discriminating against gay people is wrong -- but says there's no need for a law to prevent it.

He's also expressed concerns that including gay and transgender people in anti-discrimination laws could enable a court to overturn the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage and lead to other groups seeking protection.

"Where do you stop? I mean that's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes ... or people who are losing their hair a little bit," Herbert told reporters in August. "There's some support for about anything we put out there. I'm just saying we end up getting bogged down sometimes with the minutiae of things that government has really no role to be involved in."

Leaders of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah said Herbert told them he's open to having a dialogue about stopping discrimination.

"Fundamentally, he agrees that discrimination is a problem. We're coming at this from how to solve a problem we agree on. That's a great place to begin," said Will Carlson, Equality Utah's public policy director.

Carlson said Equality Utah members provided Herbert with information regarding housing and job discrimination in the state and spelled out the need for gay couples to have hospital visitation rights and the right to make emergency medical decisions.

Later Tuesday, Herbert met with the Foundation for Reconciliation, a group organized in June by current and former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frustrated by their faith's political activism in California.

Foundation director Cheryl Nunn, who lives in both Utah and Santa Cruz, Calif., said the group's executive committee is made up entirely of heterosexuals concerned about issues affecting LGBT individuals.

The foundation requested a meeting with Herbert following his comments about anti-discrimination laws. The group has asked Herbert to form a bipartisan task force to investigate inequality in Utah's legal code toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

"He described himself as a conservative who was very wary about increasing government in any way," foundation spokesman Peter Danzig said Tuesday night. "But he agreed with us that it's hard to make public policy without accurate information."

Danzig said that Herbert also said he doesn't want Utah to be perceived as a state that is rejecting or unwelcoming of any of its citizens.

Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said the point of Tuesday's meetings was not to make any policy decisions.

"This is really an information gathering and kind of an introduction to one another so the conversation can continue," Welling said.


Associated Press Writer Jennifer Dobner contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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