Gay marriage, a political “hot topic” for several years, has become a bigger issue than ever before. Federal judges across the nation have struck down gay marriage bans in several states, with Utah’s own Amendment 3 receiving national attention due to the cut and dry nature of the law and the states conservative roots.
Local politicians have pledged unwavering commitment to fight the ruling and keep the amendment in place, including Attorney General Sean Reyes, who will be representing the state as Amendment 3 makes it to the steps of the Supreme Court.
But, is this really what Utahns want and does the average citizen care about the topic as much as elected leaders do?
According to a recent poll by Dan Jones and Associates with UtahPolicy, the answer is a strong yes. 54 percent of Utahns “completely support” the state’s battle to uphold Amendment 3, with 8 percent being “somewhat” supportive of actions being taken. The poll also notes that only 31 percent of those polled oppose the fight.
The same poll also found that, In addition to having a majority support for keeping Amendment 3, 53 percent of state residents oppose gay marriage entirely, while almost a quarter of those polled support the idea of same-sex marriage.
The survey found something rather surprising, however. Even though the majority of the state doesn’t want to see the law stuck down, almost six out of ten believe that the Supreme Court will find Utah’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional with a mere 17 percent believing the states efforts will be successful and Amendment 3 will be recognized as constitutional. A quarter of those polled simply did not know how the court would land.
This sharp contrast of people who support the gay marriage ban to those that ultimately don’t think the Amendment to Utah’s Constitution will stand could be foreshadowing of future events, given the large percentage of laws and amendments, similar to Utah’s Amendment 3, that have been stricken down recently in other states.
The decision on Amendment 3 isn’t the only piece of legislation regarding gay rights that lawmakers may have to address in coming years.
Views are appearing to change in the Beehive state, as nearly three out of four people surveyed stated that their views on same-sex marriage have become somewhat or much more favorable. This sentiment appears to be echoed in a second poll by Dan Jones and Associates released a day later that found that the majority likely voters feel that non-discrimination laws could be updated to include protections for the LGBTQ community.
According to a poll, nearly 60 percent of Utahns are in support of legislation banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and employment environments. This includes support from half of all Republicans polled, including 48 percent support from those who self-identify as members of the Tea Party. Given the percentage of people in support of Amendment 3, these figures are surprisingly high and point to the apparent fact that, though Utahns may not be ready for same-sex marriage, the majority of the state’s citizens support more equal rights.
Majority support for non-discrimination for the LGBT community has existed in Utah since 2010, but the legislature has failed to act. During the 2014 legislative session, Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George) proposed SB 100, which would have added gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s list of prohibited reasons to deny housing and employment. The bill never received a hearing as lawmakers felt that it was best to wait for the federal courts to decide on Amendment 3 prior to tackling non-discrimination.
The idea of adding LGBT citizens to anti-discrimination law was first introduced to the legislature in 2008 when former Democratic Representative, Christine Johnson, introduced HB 89. In that time, only Urquhart’s 2013 version of a non-discrimination bill, SB 262, has managed to receive a committee hearing – before ultimately failing to be heard on the Senate floor. During that same timeframe, local leaders have passed ordinances that do ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation within their jurisdiction.
It is unclear if and when the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Amendment 3, however arguments would not begin until at least October of this year at the earliest. Even if the case is fast-tracked, the a final ruling would be released is summer of next year. Until then, Utahns only can speculate what the verdict will be, and, if the legislature holds fast to the idea of waiting for the Court, non-discrimination laws may not advance until the 2016 legislative session.