Salt Lake City close to electing 1st openly gay mayor

Former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski speaks to supporters at her election night party for Salt Lake City Mayor. Biskupski faces incumbent Ralph Becker in the mayor's race, and would be the city's first openly gay leader if elected. Salt Lake City, Utah Nov. 3, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Vote tallies indicated Salt Lake City was poised to narrowly elect its first openly gay mayor in what would mark another milestone for the LGBT movement in the conservative state with a history of hostility toward gays and lesbians.

Mayor Ralph Becker, left, and former state representative Jackie Biskupski, right, are displayed on a television screen during a Salt Lake City Mayor debate at the studios of KUED-TV. Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 8, 2015 | AP File Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Mayor Ralph Becker, left, and former state representative Jackie Biskupski, right, are displayed on a television screen during a Salt Lake City Mayor debate at the studios of KUED-TV. Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 8, 2015 | AP File Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Former Utah lawmaker Jackie Biskupski was leading two-term incumbent Ralph Becker by 1,450 votes, according to election results released late Tuesday.

Nearly 24,000 county-wide ballots remained to be counted, but it was not yet known how many involved the mayor’s race, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said.

Biskupski spokeswoman Maryann Martindale said an analysis of the votes revealed no scenarios in which Becker could make up the deficit.

However, Martindale said her camp understood why Becker wasn’t conceding and respected the process.

Becker spokesman Matt Lyon said there’s a lot of ground to make up, but a comeback was possible. At his Tuesday night election watch party, Becker acknowledged Biskupski’s lead and congratulated her on a strong race.

Former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski, right, receives a hug from supporter Elise West at her election night party for Salt Lake City Mayor. Two-term Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hopes to beat back a challenge Tuesday from Biskupski as he seeks another term leading Utah's capital city. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski, right, receives a hug from supporter Elise West at her election night party for Salt Lake City Mayor. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

By state law, no more results will be released until the final canvass on Nov. 17. Still, many LGBT people and supporters were already celebrating.

Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said Biskupski’s apparent win shows sexual orientation isn’t a barrier to serving in public office in Utah.

State Sen. Jim Dabakis, a gay Democrat, called it a historic event that would have been unimaginable to past generations in the state.

“If Utah can do it, anybody can do it,” Martindale said. “This is history in the making.”

The climate has changed drastically since 1998, when Biskupski was elected to Utah’s House of Representatives, becoming the first openly gay state lawmaker. Conservative activists urged the House speaker not to swear her in, arguing she likely was breaking state sodomy laws.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker speaks to supporters at an election party. Becker is running against former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | Photo by Scott G. Winterton, The Deseret News via AP, St. George News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker speaks to supporters at an election party. Becker is running against former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | Photo by Scott G. Winterton, The Deseret News via AP, St. George News

“There were several legislators who wouldn’t even look me in the eye — certainly wouldn’t shake my hand,” Biskupski said.

Biskupski served in the Legislature until 2011. Since then, she has worked in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office.

Salt Lake City voters also appear to have elected a second gay member of the City Council. Derek Kitchen and husband Moudi Sbeity were one of three couples who sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Kitchen has declared victory in his race.

“It speaks highly of the community here and it makes me incredibly proud to be a Salt Lake resident,” said Kitchen, who grew up in a Mormon family in the suburb of South Jordan.

Former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski speaks to supporters at her election night party for Salt Lake City Mayor. Biskupski faces incumbent Ralph Becker in the mayor's race, and would be the city's first openly gay leader if elected. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski speaks to supporters at her election night party for Salt Lake City Mayor. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Nearly two years ago, a federal judge overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban. It was among the first in a string of similar rulings across the United States that eventually paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to declare gay marriages legal across the nation.

Earlier this year, a Mormon-backed Utah law was passed that provided protections against housing and employment discrimination for LGBT people while also creating shields for religious freedom.

Church leaders now preach a “fairness for all” approach in which the right to beliefs are balanced with compassion and understanding for gays and lesbians.

The increasingly welcome environment for LGBT people is most pronounced in Salt Lake City, a liberal island in the state where Democrats can compete and win races. The city has had a four-decade streak of Democratic mayors.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker thanks staff and supporters at an election party. Becker is running against former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | Photo by Leah Hogsten, The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker thanks staff and supporters at an election party. Becker is running against former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 3, 2015 | Photo by Leah Hogsten, The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News

Becker was also well-liked by the LGBT community. He officiated one of the first gay marriages in 2013 in the jubilant hours after the ruling when gay and lesbian couples flooded the courthouse to make their unions official. Equality Utah endorsed both Biskupski and Becker.

Sophia Hawes-Tingey was hoping to become Utah’s first openly transgender elected official but lost her bid to become a City Council member in suburban Midvale.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press and MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press. Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Email: news@stgnews.com

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14 Comments

  • ladybugavenger November 5, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Who cares!

    • Rainbow Dash November 5, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      The people of Salt Lake City obviously. Now if we could only get the majority of the rest of the state’s residents to care too.

      • ladybugavenger November 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm

        Why should I care if someone is straight or gay? I don’t!!!! I care if someone is gonna hurt me or not, lie to me or not, steal from me or not, I don’t care if they are gay or straight, never will. I judge a person on their character. Oh. RD I get it, you’re saying she got votes because she is openly gay.

  • .... November 5, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    Exactly..who cares !

  • 42214 November 5, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Utah is getting more like California everyday.

  • Common Sense November 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Hopefully that’s not the only reason why they are voting for her.

    • ladybugavenger November 7, 2015 at 8:07 am

      Most likely the only reason she was voted in. wouldn’t want the gays crying discrimination.

  • Rainbow Dash November 5, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    Congratulations Ms. Biskupski

    • mesaman November 5, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Exactly..who cares???

  • 42214 November 5, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    I’m pretty sure your church cares Mesaman. Just read on KSL that children of gay couples can’t join the LDS church. Now that is really something to be proud of.

    • ladybugavenger November 6, 2015 at 7:54 am

      That’s a good thing that the church won’t allow them to join. it will save the people a lot of heartache from joining a cult.

    • mesaman November 6, 2015 at 4:43 pm

      So? What’s it to you? You are NOT a spokesman. just a whiner.

    • ladybugavenger November 6, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      Policy change. They are accepted now.

  • Terry November 18, 2015 at 7:20 am

    Utah is Very Confused. 1Corinthians 14:33

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