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Governor Huntsman Drops a Bombshell
February 16th, 2009

Locals hold a candlelight vigil to show appreciation for Gov. Huntsman's new support of same-sex civil unions

by Jacob Hodgen

Candlelight Vigil
A crowd gathers outside of Gov. Huntsman's
mansion to show their support

While gay rights activists celebrate Governor Huntsman's recent announcement that he now supports civil unions for homosexual couples, pitchfork supplies across the state are running low as the conservative right plots its revenge.

"We have the ability to enhance equal rights toward others, and we haven't done enough of that, and we need to have a further debate and discussion in this state about what that means," the governor stated last week. Many conservative groups are outraged by Huntsman's decision, which they feel is a bitter betrayal of what has been an otherwise crystal clear position on an untouchable issue for them.

The decision sparked angry protests by anti-gay activists, some of who sported T-shirts reading, "homosexuals are anti-species." State senator Chris Buttars of West Jordan is deeply concerned and has been circulating a statement amongst his colleagues warning that civil unions in Utah will "threaten marriage and religious freedom." Gayle Ruzicka of the Utah Eagle Forum is also not amused. "Shame on him," she says. "Does he want to go work for Obama?" This type of criticism is becoming more and more common, and she might not be completely off track.

Rumors are beginning to swirl that this announcement is part of a new Huntsman strategy to try and broaden his national appeal for a potential White House bid in 2012. The bold move appears to be paying off, as the governor is now starting to receive national attention for his controversial decision.

Candlelight Vigil

However, not all are Utahns are angry. State senator Scott McCoy of Salt Lake City has campaigned for gay rights in Utah for years, and he feels this is a step in the right direction: "the governor and others are coming to a debate and saying: 'There are areas where we can stand together rather than stand divided.'"

In celebration of the announcement, members of Utahns for Marriage Equality group held a candlelight vigil outside of the governor's mansion last Wednesday night to show their support. Jacob Whipple is an organizer with the civil rights activist group the All For One Initiative and was one of about 100 people who attended the event. He says that he was shocked by Huntsman's statement, but that it was pleasant surprise. "I was incredibly impressed with him. I believe that it's the mark of a true leader to be able to step aside from his personal or religious beliefs and do something right for someone else. These LGBT issues don't affect Governor Huntsman directly, but he was willing to make a very bold and controversial step as the leader of our state and do something for the families of the LGBT community." Whipple says that several of those who attended brought letters of appreciation that were delivered via a security guard to the governor.

Candlelight Vigil
Around one hundred people showed up to the event

Not all members of the gay community are entirely pleased with the motives behind the decision. Will Kidman, who lives in Pleasant Grove, tells me that this is a bittersweet victory at best, "I think it is a really good move on Huntsman's behalf. Utah tourism has taken a big hit (especially the Sundance Film Festival and ski resorts) not only because of economic hardships, but also a boycott of our state in response to Prop 8. That said, it is still sad to me thinking it is in response to a monetary issue instead of basic human decency."

The jury is still out as to whether or not Utahns believe Huntsman is trying to build "common ground" or if he is just flexing his Machiavellian muscles in a tactical maneuver try and build a broader support base. One thing is for certain: Huntsman's rather radical actions of late are keeping everyone guessing, and his plans for his time as Governor--whatever they may be--are becoming increasingly grand.

Photography courtesy of Brian Gordon

To view more images from the event, click here to view an online album.

Reader Comments

Alex Pingree

This article is hilarious! I love it. I'm impressed with the objectivity of the writing. Good work Jacob.

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