Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Same-Sex Marriage Debate Long on Rhetoric, Short on Facts

Get ready for the Great Same-Sex Marriage Debate in the Utah Legislature.

OK, the debate won’t really be much about gay marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal this week to hear five state appeals on the subject basically means we have legal same sex marriage in Utah and 29 other states.

Not much GOP legislators can do about that (although if they could, they probably would.)

So instead we’ll have debates on bills that have some – even if only slight – connections to same-sex marriage.

And the overriding questions will be:

— Will GOP legislators take out their anger over same-sex marriage on other bills relating to gay rights?

— Will Republicans pass something that basically violates, or greatly weakens, other nondiscrimination laws in an effort to protect “religious freedom?”

My guess is yes.

My hope is no.

The 2015 Legislature will be a time of lengthy floor and committee speeches long on rhetoric and emotion, short on actual fact.

State Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is the sponsor of a bill – twice failed in the Legislature – that would extend anti-discrimination law in housing and employment to gays and lesbians.

Basically, it follows the language of 19 local government ordinances that says a gay person can’t be denied housing, or forced out of housing, just because they are homosexual (exemptions for small businesses and few-unit landlords).

Same thing goes for employment, can’t fire a person just because he is gay (same exemptions).

Urquhart has been vocal in his Facebook postings on this subject.

Here is what he said:

“I am excited that the Utah Legislature will now hear my nondiscrimination bill. (After passing committee in 2013, it was held in Rules in 2014 because of the pending marriage case). I believe it will pass.

There are 2 positions legislators can take on this bill. One, support it, believing that people should not be fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation/gender identify. Two, oppose it, believing that people should be fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation/gender identity. [EDIT: SEE my "UPDATE" 4 paragraphs below to see my edited version of position 2.]

In an attempt to avoid this binary choice, some will argue that businesses (with 15 employees or more) and property owners (with 4 or more rentals) should not be regulated in this area by Government. That position only holds if a Legislator is willing to repeal our existing non-discrimination law regarding race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender, and disability. No one has filed such a simple repealer bill in decades; so, that canard isn't driving this issue. The driver, again, is simply whether Utahns should or should not be fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation/gender identity.

Another reason legislators have not supported the bill in the past is that it would supposedly create a slippery slope leading to gay marriage. There is no more slippery slope.

Do you believe that people should or should not be fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation/gender identity?”

“UPDATE: Too many comments are posted below for me to edit the verbiage above, but, as a friend correctly pointed out, I stated the positions poorly. The oppose position should read, "Two, oppose it, believing that people should be subject to being fired or evicted because of their sexual orientation/gender identity."

Sounds simple enough.

But 35 years of watching the Utah Legislature tells me it won’t be that simple when Urquhart’s bill hits the hearing process.

And watch for this argument: State government (or any government) shouldn’t force a person with strong religious beliefs to do something their religion tells them not to do.

For example: If your religion tells you same-sex marriage is wrong, morally and ethically, then you should not have to rent to a gay married couple.

But here’s the real sticking point.

In the Jim Crow South of recent past, there were all kinds of religious leaders (and followers) who used the Bible to declare that Blacks were inferior to Whites, and the races should never be mixed – in schools, in public restrooms, on busses.

Now our laws forbid such discrimination.

But watch for similar arguments to be used in the Legislature’s same-sex (or gay) debates.

Oh, such arguments won’t be so crude, or clear.

No, they will be fuzzy and religious-conscience based.

Watch for same-sex foes to say they love gay people, welcome them into their communities and homes, but warn that individual’s own rights to religious conscience can not be abridged by government – no matter how well intentioned.

Under law today, if a Black person walks into a restaurant and sits at the counter, he must be served, even if the owner or waitress doesn’t like Black people, or even believes they are damned in the Bible.

But watch for Republican legislators to try to bend personal religious conscience to say that, for example, a wedding photographer whose religion tells him same-sex marriage is wrong, morally and ethically, DOESN’T have to take pictures at a gay marriage.

Of course, why would any gay couple want to hire a photographer who doesn’t want to work at their wedding?

That’s beyond the point, will argue some lawmakers. Gay activists will search out such “religious conscience” individuals and attempt to punish them, either through public exposure or in the courts.

But how one mentally, or ethically, can separate the restaurant owner refusing to serve a Black person from the photographer who refuses to take pictures at the gay wedding, I don’t know.

My guess is if you don’t want to serve all the public, don’t go into a business that purports to serve all the public.

Some small-minded lawmakers may decide now is the time to repeal all anti-discrimination laws in Utah.

Fine, that means we don’t have to serve Blacks, or Catholics, or Jews, or women, or the handicapped at your privately-owned business which caters to the public.

Let free market enterprise take care of it.

And then I suppose we’ll see, on Capitol Hill, who really has the ear of GOP legislators, LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks, or radio talk show host Glenn Beck?

Wouldn’t the world really be a better place if we listened to Oaks rather than Beck?

Watch the 2015 Legislature and maybe we’ll see.