Kirk Johnson Still Excited About Social Conservative Defeats in Utah

Western-based reporter Kirk Johnson has celebrated Utah's moderate Republican Jon Huntsman, now Obama's ambassador to China, and the repeal of Utah's antiquated liquor law. Now the easily excited reporter is down to celebrating a city ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays in hiring.

Thursday's story "Mormons Win Praise for Stance on Gay Rights" by Kirk Johnson, about a local ordinance in Salt Lake City, appears to have no national news import other than patting the back of the Mormon Church for doing the right thing. In Times-land, that entails declaring support for a proposed ordinance forbidding discrimination against gays in housing and employment (the Church retains its opposition to gay marriage).

Johnson, who is based out West, is hypersensitive to signs of compromises by social conservatives as a welcome sign of conservative in retreat, especially in conservative Utah. Back in March he got excited about the repeal of the state's liquor law. Today he's writing of an even more parochial event:

The Mormon Church has been a target of vituperation by some gay rights groups because of its active opposition to same-sex marriage. But on Wednesday, the church was being praised by gay rights activists in Salt Lake City, citadel of the Mormon world, for its open support of a local ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing and employment.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously Tuesday night, made Salt Lake the first city in Utah to offer such protections. While the measure probably had majority backing on the seven-member City Council anyway, the church's support was seen by gay activists as a thunderclap that would resonate across the state and in the overwhelmingly Mormon legislature, where even subtle shifts in church positions on social issues can swing votes and sentiments.

"It's the most progressive and inclusive statement that the church has made on these issues," said Will Carlson, the manager of public policy at Equality Utah, the state's largest gay rights group. "What they've said here is huge, in protecting residents in other municipalities, and statewide."

Johnson quoted no one against the measure.