Gay Rights Setback in Utah

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In an earlier post  following the November election, I noted how a Utah LGBT rights organization saw the potential for a silver lining in the LDS church’s support for Prop. 8. The organization, Equality Utah, planned a multipronged legislative agenda to expand LGBT rights in Utah based on the church’s statements that it is not antigay and that it had no problem with many LGBT rights protections under California law. That legislative agenda has, however, quickly suffered a setback in the Utah legislature. On only the second day of the current legislative session, a proposal to allow not only spouses, parents, and children but also other financial dependents to bring wrongful death actions–a proposal that has been  described as the “least controversial piece” of this multipronged legislative agenda–died in committee.

And why did this noncontroversial bill die, you might ask? According to the Salt Lake Tribune story, opponents feared that allowing financial dependents (which would include, but not be confined to, same-sex partners) to sue for wrongful death would create a slippery slope toward same-sex marriage in Utah:  “Opponents likened the bill to a ‘slippery slope’ and a ‘dirty shirt’ in a laundry basket of marital rights that could lead courts to justify legalizing same-sex marriage, similar to rulings in Massachusetts, California and Connecticut.” As an openly gay Utah legislator correctly pointed out, this argument holds absolutely no water in Utah, where the state constitution already confines marriage to a union of  a man and a woman and prohibits any “other domestic union, however denominated,[from being] recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.” Utah Const. art. I, § 29(2). Thus, the Utah courts would be hard pressed to use this, or any other, legislation granting piecemeal rights LGBT persons to justify extending the right to marry to same-sex couples.

Well, so much for silver linings when some legislators are willing to so blatantly mischaracterize the legal effect of a bill meant to help a wide swath of nontraditional families around the state.

-Tony Infanti

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