Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Having its day in court: Utah’s argument against same sex marriage to be heard

On the road to its goal of retracting the decision of Judge Robert Shelby, who struck down Utah’s ban on same sex marriage just before Christmas, Utah will finally have its chance on April 10. That’s the day the state sends its “experts” to try persuading appeals court judges that same sex marriage must be banned...and the basis of their argument is because of children.

That’s the idea, anyway, to present to three learned judges of the 10th Circuit Court studies they claim show kids growing up in same sex households turn out worse than kids of hetero couples. The problem with that argument, and what is undoubtedly causing heartburn amongst the Utah legal team heading for court is that one of their experts has been found “unbelievable” by Judge Bernard Friedman in Michigan on March 21, 2014.

Judge Friedman found a witness unbelievable.

Judge Friedman heard and dismissed those arguments from Mark D. Regnerus. Regnerus is counted on by Utah to be seen by the courts as an expert on the subject of children of same sex couples.* Will having Regnerus’ dubious “study”* thrown out by a federal judge in Michigan damage Utah’s case? It remains to be seen, but how can it not hurt?

 Mark Regnerus. It’s gotta hurt.

I believe that Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, is a pragmatic person. Without any noticeable charisma, he shows the personality of a kitchen mop (does the job without any bells and whistles). That doesn’t make him an ineffective leader, and I believe he has shown some leadership in his dealings with the state legislature. I also believe when it comes to fighting same sex marriage he has been placed in a tough situation. Because of the overbearing influence of the Latter-day Saints church on Utah politics they have to be leaning on Herbert to see things their way. But the LDS Church isn’t providing millions of dollars necessary to fight same-sex marriage.** It is left to us taxpayers — the willing and unwilling — to pay the costs to fight their battle.

Herbert is left trying to justify the cost of that battle. He may realize he has already lost. He just can’t be shown to give up; his conservative and church-going constituents demand he fight it out to the end. Because of those he is beholden to, his church and his conservative supporters from the Republican Party, he has to put up the fight, no matter what it costs the state.

There is no group the Utah legislature appeases more than the LDS Church. Every year before the legislature meets some legislators discuss proposed bills with Church leadership. Like the Roman emperors of 2000 years ago it’s a thumbs-up or down situation. If the church gives thumbs-up to the proposed bills they will be passed. If thumbs-down, well, there you go. They are consigned to the legislative trash barrel. Is that even legal, mixing church and state like that? In Utah the line is often crossed. No one really believes there is a true separation of church and state in this state.

Without really having to do anything but be a presence the Mormon Church can exert influence on laws and society in Utah. You could hardly call them an official registered lobby, unless you consider them to be a sort of de facto, elephant-in-the-room lobby. Everyone in the legislature knows the Church’s reach. Those who go against them will feel the chill as a shadow falls across them and their future political aspirations.

On the other hand there are vocal lobbies who work the legislative sessions relentlessly. There are the usual special interest groups, and we expect that. In the case of Utah, though, often the anti-federal philosophies of those tea party-types in the legislature can hurt the wider population for the benefit of the few. Philosophically the biggest lobbies would be the NRA,*** and those pitching oil and gas schemes for Utah’s wilderness areas. But another very powerful lobby is the Eagle Forum, a national right-wing group run  locally by Gayle Ruzicka. Ruzicka is a 70-year-old woman who wears her conservative armor and does battle with liberal dragons. She has powerful friends; she and many of her allies are from ultra-right Utah County, home of Brigham Young University and the most solid group of conservatives in the state. When I was in high school the big conservative powerhouse was the John Birch Society, based locally in Provo (Utah County), which had basically one enemy, communism. It eventually lost its thunder and influence. I believe it was because of its single-issue agenda. The Eagle Forum has no limit to its agendas. It is more of a morality-based organization, fighting those ever-present minions of the devil and their Satanic ideas (like the notion of all people being equal under the law). They fight against sex education and against educational programs they think lack “Utah values.” The whole idea of same sex marriage sends them into nightmares of apocalypse and fiery damnation.

Letters in the local newspaper often ask, ‘Who is this Ruzicka woman and who elected her?’ The letter-writers miss the point. She doesn’t need to be elected. All she has to do is get her base out to either support or defeat a candidate. That is controlling the entire legislature, much more powerful than being a single lawmaker.

Mormons are often asked to share their testimony as to the truthfulness of their belief in the LDS Church. Okay, two can play at the testimony game. It is my testimony that reason and human dignity will prevail, and gay people will have full rights to marriage and all of those benefits (including the bad parts) of marriage. Those like Gayle Ruzicka and her eagles will have to find something else to fight off, because it will be the law of the land. Not only in the home of the Saints, Utah, but everywhere in these United States.

*“How Different are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same Sex Relationships: Findings from the New Family Structures Study” (2012).

**After all, they were a group visably active in California with money and funding for an anti-gay marriage law a few years ago...a law since found unconstitutional.

***A group which probably doesn’t even need a full-time lobbyist in Utah, since the Republican legislature is snug in its pockets.

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