Salt Lake City elects first openly gay mayor amid setbacks

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former Utah lawmaker Jackie Biskupski on Tuesday became the first openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City, the capital of the conservative state where the Mormon church and a small town judge delivered setbacks last week to the LGBT community.

Official election results show Biskupski won 52 percent of the votes to defeat two-term incumbent Ralph Becker.

The victory by Biskupski marked a milestone for LGBT people in Utah who have made major strides in recent years.

“Today is not just about making history,” Biskupski said. “It is about people. It is about affecting change.”

Her supporters cheered when the results were read at an elections canvass meeting. Becker showed no reaction and later issued a statement congratulating Biskupski, and vowing to work with her to ensure a smooth transition.

Biskupski takes over after progress on gay rights was temporarily marred in recent weeks when a judge ordered a foster child to be removed from a lesbian couple and placed with a heterosexual couple. The judge cited the well-being of the child as the reason for his order.

The ruling set off a firestorm around the state and nation. The judge quickly reversed his decision and took himself off the case.

Days earlier, the Salt Lake City-based Mormon church issued new rules targeting gay members and their children, prompting widespread backlash. The new policy bans baptisms for children of gay parents until the kids turn 18 and disavow same-sex relationships.

Biskupski is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and said she hopes the faith reconsiders the policy. She told The Salt Lake Tribune that one of her first goals as mayor would be to meet with church leaders and discuss the policy.

The church and the LGBT community have “come so far in the last year to bridge the gaps between us, that this new policy feels confusing to many,” she said in a statement.

Earlier this year, the church endorsed a statewide anti-discrimination law that protected gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing and the workplace.

It’s a contrast from 1998, when Biskupski was elected and became Utah’s first openly gay lawmaker. She recalled that some of her colleagues in the heavily Mormon and conservative Legislature wouldn’t shake her hand.

LGBT issues didn’t define the tight race between Biskupski and Becker.

Salt Lake City is a liberal island in the state where no Republican has been elected mayor in four decades. Gay rights group Equality Utah endorsed both Becker and Biskupski.

Becker has been called an ally of the LGBT community, helping pass a 2009 city anti-discrimination ordinance. He also officiated dozens of the first gay marriages in 2013 in the hours after a surprising ruling overturned Utah’s same sex marriage ban.

Becker, 63, was hoping to win a third term as mayor but came out of election night 1,450 votes behind Biskupski. With just 5,000 votes left to be counted in recent days, Becker did not concede.

Salt Lake City voters also elected Derek Kitchen, who became the second gay member of the City Council, election results showed.

He and his husband, Moudi Sbeity, were one of three couples who sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

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