Beware confusing a legal win for a political one.
Monday was a monumental day in Utah as marriage equality came to the Beehive State. It’s a whiplash-inducing development, coming so quickly. Two years ago, just six states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage. Now, it covers more than half of the U.S. population.
But, for all the joy of those happy couples finally being able to exercise a right the rest of the state already has, there’s a stark reality we still must deal with. A solid majority of Utahns are not in favor of same-sex marriage, and I doubt a single mind was changed about the issue on Monday. Those who opposed same-sex marriage probably felt the same way on Monday evening, while those who advocated for it were elated.
Winning in the court means we all have to act differently. The state has to allow same-sex couples to marry and recognize marriages performed in other states.
People are not going to start thinking any differently because of a court decision. There’s absolutely zero political will behind Monday’s developments. The danger is some will confuse a court victory for changing the hearts and minds of Utahns. That did not happen.
Legislators did nothing to effect this change. In fact, the only public vote taken on the issue resoundingly came down against same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is still a toxic political issue in Utah. 61% of Utahns say they are opposed, with 53% saying they are “completely opposed.” 87% of Republicans are opposed to same-sex marriage as are 54% of political independents in Utah. Only Utah’s Democrats favor same-sex marriage, with 79% coming down in support.
Just because this issue is resolved legally does not mean there’s inertia building for other gay-rights issues. Newton’s Third Law might be the more appropriate physics principle here - that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
It’s hard to know what that reaction will look like. Maybe lawmakers will again refuse to pass a statewide non-discrimination law. Perhaps legislators will move to pass a religious liberty statute. Maybe it will motivate voters on the fence to get out and cast a ballot against pro-same-sex marriage Democrats.
I really don’t think there will be much electoral damage for Utah’s Democrats this year. Sure, the party is closely tied to the same-sex marriage movement, but nothing they did resulted in Monday’s events. There’s no motivation for casual voters to punish Democrats when they really didn’t have a hand at all in overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Utah’s Democrats really can’t claim any sort of victory here, unless its to remind everyone they were against the whole same-sex marriage ban in the first place, and certainly didn’t support efforts to defend the ban in court. That victory is pyrrhic at best, because it’s simply saying “told you so” to people who have little interest in hearing it. Not exactly the way to win people to your side.
More likely there will be very little forward progress for Utah’s LGBT community on Capitol Hill. We’re already seeing it in the ridiculous suggestion that the state rewrite laws to acknowledge same-sex unions by calling them “pairage” instead of marriage. Does that sound like lawmakers are ready to declare a cease fire on the issue?
Don’t expect the statewide non-discrimination bill to pass anytime soon. I think it will be a few years before lawmakers are ready to come around on the issue.
The speed with which Utah went from banning same-sex marriage to allowing the practice is stunning. Less than a decade elapsed from the time Amendment 3 passed to the court decisions striking down the ban.
Healing the wounds inflicted by both sides will take some time. Amendment 3’s short life was less than a decade. I’m guessing it will take longer than that for many Utahns to accept this new reality.