For Utah Gov. gay marriage is a giant worth fighting

Pennsylvania’s conservative governor announced Wednesday that he will not appeal a federal court decision that invalidated his state’s gay marriage ban because he believes an appeal has little chance of succeeding. Meanwhile, Utah’s politically similar Gov. Gary Herbert, along with Attorney General Sean Reyes, has continued his crusade against gay marriage in an effort that is quickly becoming quixotic.

In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the novel’s protagonist is besotted by his quest to restore the old chivalric norms. That self-infatuation plays out in numerous foolish expeditions like the one described below; it bears a striking resemblance to Utah’s own quest.

At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.”

“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.

“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”

“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the sails that turned by the wind make the millstone go.”

On the issue of gay marriage, some Utahns see giants where there are only the long sweeping arms of windmills, they see righteous warfare where only millstones are grinding their way inexorably into the future. But gays aren’t the only giants some of Utah’s leaders are intent on fighting.

The giant of federal intrusion into state matters is another spectral cause. The state legislature has spent more than $500,000 to study taking over federal lands. One legislator, Rep. Ken Ivory, has made it his life’s work, even at the risk of compromising his ability to legislate without serious conflicts of interest. (Somewhere in there is a lesson about moderation).

I understand the allure of windmills, the idealistic lust for winning the lost cause. There’s something noble about pursuing a cause through to its end. Most of my causes are lost ones. But there is an art to determining which lost causes are still worth fighting for.

Pragmatism has served us far better as a state than our idealism ever has–read any biography on Brigham Young for an understanding of how well a careful pragmatism can serve a leader and his people (the ox in the mire only scratches the surface of this approach).

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