Lawmakers reject bill addressing adoptions by gay couples

Rep. Angela Romero (D) sponsors the bill to strike state law requiring preference be given to heterosexual couples in adoptions. Photo by Rick Bowmer, AP.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers have rejected an effort to strike parts of state law requiring officials to give preference to heterosexual couples in adoptions and foster care placements.

Some conservative lawmakers on a House Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that they believe the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage last year only guarantees same-sex couples can marry. They say it does not give them the right to adopt.

Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Angela Romero sponsors the bill and says changing language such as "man" and "wife" to gender-neutral terms like "spouse," brings Utah in line with the court's ruling and prevents lawsuits.

The committee voted 5-5 Wednesday morning to keep the bill from advancing, though it could be revived later.

According to a Gayly report earlier this month, the vote had been delayed at a meeting on February 12 after legislators cited worries about the late hour and concerns that some had about the measure.

Officials with the Utah attorney general's office and state child welfare division testified in support of the bill, saying it brings Utah in line with last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

But a House judiciary committee voted 8-3 to leave for the day without voting on the measure.

The move followed critical comments from several same-sex marriage opponents and intense questioning from the committee's conservative chairman about the same-sex marriage ruling and who asked state officials to look at changing Utah's law.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams told lawmakers that he recognized that many in Utah felt the Supreme Court ruling was a loss and that they don't oppose same-sex marriage out of malice. Williams said the LGBT community wanted equal opportunity.

Several conservative speakers then urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, arguing that children do better in homes with heterosexual married parents.

"The law should continue to uphold the gold standard for children," said Laura Bunker with the conservative group United Families International.

Brent Platt, the director of Utah's child welfare agency, said the department supported the bill because it would make the state's adoption and foster care law conform to with federal law.

The committee's chairman, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, interrupted to point out that same-sex marriage is legal by case law, which means it is legal by court ruling as opposed to a law passed by Congress.

"I'm talking about the Supreme Court decision," Platt responded.

"One decision," Christensen said. "I'm trying to be clear."

Christensen later asked an official with the Utah attorney general's office who directed him to review the state's laws in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

David Carlson, who directs the Utah Attorney General's Child Protection Division, said the state Human Services Department and child welfare agency asked for the review.

"So they independently asked you to do that?" Christensen asked.

Carlson said that was correct.

Christensen started to ask whether the state had an expanded focus if the court decision was limited to a decision about who can marry.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, tried to ask whether Christensen was violating legislative rules by interrupting the presentation, but Christensen wouldn't allow the discussion. He and King argued briefly and Christensen threatened to end the meeting before allowing it continue.

Orem Republican Rep. Keven Stratton, citing the late hour and concern that people had about the issue, called for the committee to adjourn and resume discussion of the issue at a future meeting.

Rep. Romero later sent out a statement saying the law of the land is clear on the issue and Utah's laws should reflect that.


AP writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this story.

The Gayly- 2/24/2016 @ 2:12 PM CST