A new Zions Bank/UtahPolicy.com poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates showed that 61 percent of Utah likely voters oppose same-sex marriage with 29 percent supporting. At the same time, some 58 percent believe the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down Utah's gay/lesbian marriage prohibition.
Further, nearly 60 percent support anti-discrimination laws to protect people with same-sex attraction. These results raise a lot of questions.
Are Utahns conflicted on the issue of same-sex marriage?
Pignanelli: “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” — Aldous Huxley
This poll reflects the typical Utahn — expressive of his/her heritage and culture, sympathetic and practical. The survey results make sense applied against the turbulent dynamics of the marriage issue. Utah is a center of moral conservatism — explaining the majority opposition. (The next logical sequence of this commentary is a reference to the American expressions of poll respondents reading political tea leaves, coffee grounds and wine sediments. For obvious reasons, I will choose a safer, but less flavorful, alternative.) Pragmatic Utahns “read the writing on the wall” regarding the Supreme Court on the issue. Fundamentally fair-minded and reasonable, Utahns accept domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
The poll also underscores the mistakes made by opponents to same-sex marriage. If religious leaders (including the LDS Church) — using their compassionate and inclusive themes — controlled the national strategy and messaging, the national trends on the issue would be different. Instead, callous right-wing extremists dominated the airwaves with their hateful bile. (Taking shots at Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter is a moral imperative for me.) Americans do not experience a radical “gay agenda” when interacting with family members and friends of a different sexual orientation. The harsh rhetoric backfired.
Webb: Most Utahns are unlikely to support same-sex marriage until the question of its impact on family life and the raising of children is fully understood. Nothing is more important to faithful members of the LDS Church, both practically and doctrinally, both now and through the eternities, than the marriage relationship and the family unit.
After centuries of traditional marriage, the same-sex marriage revolution, including the dramatic change in attitudes and avalanche of court decisions, has occurred so rapidly that the real impact on families is unknown, although both sides hold very strong opinions.
Still, Utahns are practical enough to understand that we’ve reached a tipping point and the same-sex marriage tide is not likely to be turned back. Even a U.S. Supreme Court decision leaving the regulation of marriage to the states won’t reverse the overall direction.
Another interesting statistic from the research indicates 81 percent of active voters over age 65 oppose same-sex marriage, but the level of opposition drops with age. Some 50 percent of Utah active voters 18-24 favor same-sex marriage, while 41 percent oppose. In the near future, will a majority of Utahns accept same-sex marriage?
Pignanelli: Every hour, scores of older opponents to same-sex marriage pass to the after life and are replaced with babies who will grow into supporters. This demographic dynamic is unalterable. As a longtime public speaker, I state with experience that defending traditional marriage with younger audiences increases in difficulty every year. Millennials do not care about 5,000 years of human traditions. They easily declare their gay and lesbian friends are not causing the destruction of heterosexual marriages and the American family. Younger citizens embrace marital rights for same-sex couples.
Webb: Remember that young liberals often grow up to be old conservatives. I grew up in the ’60s, and most of the counter-culture hippies are now part of the Republican establishment. Still, attitudes about same-sex attraction are changing and people of all ages are more accepting — and that is good. Gays and lesbians have been able to come out of the shadows, into the mainstream, and among them are friends and family members who we all know and love.
Almost 60 percent of Utahns favor antidiscrimination laws protecting gay and lesbian people. Will this prompt legislative action in the 2015 session?
Pignanelli: While most Utahns abhor discrimination, they are unlikely to contact their legislator on the issue. Conservative organizations will push lawmakers against such legislation and will prevail in the absence of countering communications from constituents or others.
Webb: I have wonderful gay and lesbian friends and I don’t believe they should be subject to discrimination in areas of housing and employment. I don’t believe these views contradict my religious convictions in any way.
However, other people have deeply held religious views that might make them reluctant to rent a basement apartment, for example, to a same-sex couple, married or not. We have all read reports in national media about merchants and others whose religious views lead them to not want to provide products or services for gay weddings.
Thus, if an anti-discrimination law includes a religious freedom exemption for certain circumstances, I believe it could pass the Utah Legislature. If religious freedom is not taken into account in drafting such a law, I doubt it will be approved.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail:email@example.com.