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SALT LAKE CITY -- Politics is once again making some very strange bedfellows. A senator once outspoken against homosexuality is teaming up with an openly gay lawmaker to ban discrimination.
West Jordan Republican Chris Buttars said earlier this fall he would consider sponsoring an anti-discrimination bill after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke out in support of two ordinances to that effect in Salt Lake City.
But now Buttars is in talks to co-sponsor legislation being introduced by Salt Lake Democrat Christine Johnson, an openly gay representative.
Equality Utah sees the news as something of a victory.
"LGBT people are people," says executive director Brandie Balken, "and they deserve the same basic protections and access under the law as the rest of the citizens of Utah deserve."
She says it's a wonderful development to get the backing of a prominent Republican, a positive step toward getting other gay rights legislation introduced if not approved.
"I think that we may get a lot more traction in the legislative session this year if we can actually get a Republican co-sponsor in the Senate, versus someone just running it in the House," she says.
Rep. Johnson's bill would roughly mirror the Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinances approved in November. They forbid eviction or firing of someone based on their sexual orientation, extending protections already afforded on the basis of other categories such as religion, gender, ability and color.
Just a week after those ordinances were approved by the Salt Lake City Council, Sen. Buttars said he would consider sponsoring legislation allowing other local governments to follow suit, but going on to say he wasn't interested in going beyond housing and employment rights, nor was he bending on his stance against gay marriage.
The bill that will be introduced by Rep. Johnson will mark the third time the democrat has tried to get such a bill passed, but the first time she's had the support, let alone the co-sponsorship, of any prominent republican.
Sen. Buttars came under fire earlier in 2009 for remarks on a taped interview suggesting that gays lack morals and pose a threat to security.