bad calls

The Deal Utah’s Lawmakers Struck to Skip Voting on Anti-Discrimination Is a Bitchslap to Gays

If New York’s marriage battle taught us anything, it’s that your civil rights are worth negotiating. Want to get married? Get in line behind the lawmaker using your right as a power play. And now in Utah, lawmakers have opted not to try to push through a statewide anti-discrimination law, with the understanding that opponents of gay rights won’t try to block local jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination ordinates — just so they can keep their jobs. This makes no sense.

The news, from the Associated Press, doesn’t identify who these “opponents” (lawmakers? faith groups?) to anti-discrimination laws are, but in Utah, when dealing with the gays, the obvious finger pointing starts and ends with the Mormon Church. Except the Church is on the record in support of anti-discrimination efforts. As the AP notes, “In Utah, few law changes occur if the church disapproves. More than 80 percent of state lawmakers are Mormon, including Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican.”

Which means either LDS is either lying about its public position on anti-discrimination, or legislators who don’t want anti-discrimination measures in place aren’t falling in line with LDS.

Moreover, public opinion polls show support across Utah is growing for anti-discrimination measures for gays; an swell of support grew after Salt Lake City, home to LDS, passed an ordinance. “Two-thirds of Utahns (67 percent) favor employment protections and safeguards for same-sex couples such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights, up from 56 percent in January 2009, when pollsters asked the same question,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune about its poll of 625 frequent voters. “Opposition dropped, overall, from 40 percent to 23 percent. Among LDS respondents, it plummeted from 48 percent to 28 percent.”

So why are the two sides of the debate joining forces in a veritable ceasefire? Because by delaying a vote — and instead passing a measure to “study” anti-discrimination for a year — it lets lawmakers off the hook on a “controversial” issue in an election year. And these legislators pose the second part of the arrangement (that opponents won’t interfere with local anti-discrimination measures) as a net positive. Which is akin to Republicans like Scott Brown saying they won’t support federal gay marriage, but hey, if you want to expend the time, effort, and cash for a piecemeal approach to localized (i.e. state-by-state) marriage rights, go right ahead. And they’re doing us the favor?

Meanwhile, there’s no word from the state’s gay groups like Equality Utah, which so far hasn’t made available a statement on the situation; its last “News Room” entry is from February 2009.

Don’t think this is such a big deal? Then let us break it down in the simplest of terms: Utah’s elected officials just placed the ability to keep their jobs above preventing gays and lesbians from being fired from their jobs or denied housing. And some of us vote for these people?