At first glance, the little blue notes taped on the Utah Senate doors earlier this month–a plea from Utah’s LGBT community to allow a fair and public hearing of the now-dead SB100–bear only a superficial resemblance to the ninety-five theses Martin Luther posted on the doors of All Saints’ Church. However, like Luther’s theses, those little blue notes are turning out to be the opening salvo in a discussion that will continue to resonate long after they have been removed from their doors.
Setting aside the ultimate significance of those little blue notes, SB100 should have received an open hearing in the Utah Senate for two reasons. First, the bill had nothing to do with same-sex marriage and would not have impacted how the courts interpret the constitutionality of Utah’s Amendment 3. Second, the public reaction to the bill was an argument for hearing it, not dismissing it.
First, in a press conference earlier this month, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser expressed concern that hearing SB100 would threaten the fragile detente leadership has put in place to avoid hearing other, and perhaps punitive, legislation related to LGBT Utahns. Those bills, he worried, would harm the state’s case against same-sex marriage by revealing an intent to harm LGBT Utahns. In other words, a non-discrimination bill might inadvertently lead to same-sex marriage.
This is, though better concealed, the perennial argument for opponents of Utah’s non-discrimination law. If a non-discrimination law is passed, gay marriage will eventually pass as well. Utah’s brief, 17-day flirtation with same-sex marriage lays bare the logical fallacy of this claim. Either Utah has defied the law of gravity–our slopes slip both ways?–or there is no causal connection between non-discrimination laws and same-sex marriage. Indeed, our history suggests that if causation does exist, it slips the otherway.
While it is true that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and color, predated the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Loving v. Virginia, Utah repealed its anti-miscegenation law one year before the Civil Rights Act. Marriage got here first.
Second, Niederhauser suggested the Senate should forgo discussing the bill because of emotional reactions to it. He wanted to hold off any deliberation while temperatures cooled. But SB100, in one variation or another, has existed for half a decade and experienced significant debate last year.
Meanwhile, organizations like the Sutherland Institute and Eagle Forum participated in the debate by mounting an aggressive, and expensive, campaign to ensure that the freedom to discriminate remained legal in Utah code. The Senate’s refusal to deliberate was a tacit endorsement of critics of the law. By capitulating to a small and vocal minority, they ignored the majority of Utahns who support the non-discrimination bill. In this case, doing nothing was doing something.
The truth is, the debate is happening with or without the Senate, which is why I return now to those little blue notes.
My own sense of history would have me believe that just as Luther’s notes became the catalyst for a new church, so might those little blue notes be a catalyst for a new Utah–one in which LGBT Utahns are counted as legitimate members of Utah’s citizenry. The LGBT community’s posting of their thesis–hear SB100–was a very public assertion of their right to Utah citizenship.
Those notes will prove to be more significant than SB100 and, in Utah’s current political climate, perhaps more brazen than Luther’s otherwise academic approach to correcting ecclesiastical abuses.