Bryan Schott's Political BS: Sore Losers and Sore Winners on Same-Sex Marriage

Written by Bryan Schott on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

Thank goodness the Supreme Court stepped in and temporarily stopped same-sex marriage in Utah.

 

I don’t say that because I’m opposed to marriage equality. I predicted at the end of last year Utah’s appeal would be rejected and same-sex marriage would become the law of the land.

No. I’m glad everything has been put on hold pending appeal because open warfare over the issue during the 2014 legislative session is the last thing we need heading into an election year.

Had the Supreme Court not intervened, I’m 100% sure at least one (maybe multiple) same-sex couple would have had a wedding at the Capitol during the session, essentially rubbing opponents’ noses in the issue. It would have been quite the spectacle, but exactly the wrong thing at the wrong place and the wrong time.

How do you think that would have gone over on the Hill? Not very well, I reckon. How do you think it will play among Utah voters, most of whom are Republican? Same answer.

Now, that can’t happen, and Utah will be better for it. In fact, leaving the process to the 10th Circuit is ideal.

Having the issue “in play” in 2014 would have been very dangerous for Democrats and marriage equality advocates. When you’re on a losing streak and finally get a big win, the urge to taunt your opponents and publicly revel in victory is very real. The satisfaction of the “in your face” moment is amazing - but it can also become obnoxious very quickly. It’s hard to win with class and decorum when you’ve been losing over and over and over. It’s easy to overreach...to press your advantage too far.

I’m sure Amendment 3 is already going to sneak into debates and discussions where it’s really not germane. Imagine how often that would happen if it were not tied up in court.

Judge Shelby’s ruling was a HUGE win for groups that are used to perennially being on the losing side.

But, it’s also a stinging loss for lawmakers and voters who supported Amendment 3. Continued and ever larger victory celebrations could set off a “slow burn” on that side of the issue, and those legislators have many, many, many ways to punish those who offend them.

Already I’m certain the statewide anti-discrimination ordinance that made it out of committee in 2013 is dead on arrival this year. There’s no way Republicans will add to the momentum, and no Republican up for election will vote in favor because it won’t allow them to demagogue on Shelby’s ruling. Yes, I do realize they are not the same thing, but it’s a distinction that will be hard to make in the minds of voters - many of whom may still be upset.

The gate swings both ways here. Just like the Democrats who are not used to winning, Republicans are not used to losing. Often the side that suffers an unexpected loss at the hands of an underdog tends to react harshly. That could result in blowback that may manifest itself in a number of different ways. It could take the form of an even more extreme anti-federal government narrative. Maybe we will see those who advocate for marriage equality having a harder time getting their bills passed. I’m not completely certain what it will look like, but anger over the ruling is building and it’s going to come out somewhere.

If they’re smart, Republicans will let the anti-discrimination bill out of committee and on to the floor for a vote to put Democrats on the record in favor of the issue. It could swing some votes in tight races.

The ruling will also push Rep. Jacob Anderegg’s proposed religious liberty constitutional amendment on the ballot. HJR 1 would keep religious organizations from being required to solemnize marriages that go against their tenets. The amendment is really not necessary, but it’s tailor made for the Amendment 3 ruling. Let us not forget that Utah voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 3 in 2004.

Getting HJR1 on the ballot will almost certainly boost turnout in 2014 - just like Amendment 3 did in 2004. That will probably hurt Democrats at the polls and hamper their efforts to expand beyond the borders of Salt Lake County. It won’t be hard to paint the Democrats as the pro-gay marriage party - especially considering how close they are to Equality Utah. Depending on timing, if Judge Shelby’s ruling is upheld by the 10th Circuit, it could be extra problematic for Democrats at the polls in November.

Make no mistake, the Amendment 3 ruling is a big deal. It’s timing was surprising and caught nearly everyone off guard. The completely inept response to the ruling by the Attorney General’s office contributed to the situation we have now.

Is it cause for celebration? Sure. But that glee should be tempered a bit, because the game is far from over. And, as any good coach knows, you can’t win the contest with just one play.

Nobody likes a sore loser, but even fewer like a sore winner.