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Utah faces boycott after push by Mormons vs. gay marriage

Activists target state's tourism after Prop. 8 win

By Brock Vergakis
Associated Press / November 9, 2008
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SALT LAKE CITY - Utah's growing tourism industry and the star-studded Sundance Film Festival are being targeted for a boycott by bloggers, gay rights activists, and others seeking to punish the Mormon church for its aggressive promotion of California's ban on gay marriage.

It could be a heavy price to pay. Tourism brings in $6 billion a year to Utah, with world-class skiing, a spectacular red rock country, and the film festival founded by Robert Redford, among other popular tourist draws.

"At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line on this one," said gay rights activist John Aravosis, an influential blogger in Washington, D.C.

"They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards," he said. "You don't do that and get away with it."

Salt Lake City is the world headquarters for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts about 62 percent of Utah residents as members.

The church encouraged its members to work to pass California's Proposition 8 by volunteering their time and money for the campaign. Thousands of Mormons worked as grassroots volunteers and gave tens of millions of dollars to the campaign.

The ballot measure passed Tuesday. It amends the California Constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual act, overriding a state Supreme Court ruling that briefly gave same-sex couples the right to wed.

Yesterday, tens of thousands of California protesters spilled into the streets of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Modesto in hastily organized and peaceful demonstrations over passage of the measure.

The backlash against the church - and by extension Utah - has been immediate. Protests also erupted outside Mormon temples, Facebook groups formed telling people to boycott Utah, and websites such as mormonsstoleourrights.com began popping up, calling for an end to the church's tax-exempt status.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah said in a statement about the temple protests that it is "disturbing" that the church is being singled out for exercising its right to speak up in a free election.

"While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known," Farah said, "it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process."

The church had said in a statement after Tuesday's vote that "no one on any side of the question should be vilified, intimidated, harassed or subject to erroneous information."

Aravosis, editor of the popular americablog.com, is calling for skiers to choose any state but Utah and for Hollywood actors and directors to pull out of the Sundance Film Festival. Other bloggers and readers have responded to his call.

"The main focus is going to be going after the Utah brand," he said. "At this point, honestly, we're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state."

Gay rights groups did not immediately weigh in on calls for a boycott. A Sundance spokeswoman didn't return messages. Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said that she's aware there's been discussion of a boycott.

What kind of economic, religious or political impact, if any, a boycott might have is unclear.

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