Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-3 to adjourn without voting on HB 234 – Adoptive and Foster Parents Amendments.
The three who voted to continue the hearing were Republican Representatives Lowry Snow (Santa Clara), Craig Hall (West Valley City), and Fred Cox (West Valley City).
Sponsored by Representative Angela Romero (Democrat – Salt Lake City), HB 234 proposes changing “man and woman” to “couple” or “spouse” within the adoption and foster parent statutes.
Brent Platt, director of the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), said the department supports Romero’s bill because it brings Utah statute in line with federal law.
The committee’s chairman, Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper), interrupted Platt to say that same-sex marriage is only legal by federal case law (in other words, legal by a court ruling).
“I’m talking about the Supreme Court decision,” Platt responded. “One decision,” said Christensen. “I’m trying to be clear.”
Christensen later asked an official with the Utah Attorney General’s Office who directed him to review the state’s laws in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
David Carlson, director of the Child Protection Division at the Utah Attorney General’s Office, also expressed his support for the bill. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down the ban on same-sex marriage last year, he was asked by the Utah Department of Human Services and DCFS to take a look at statutes relating to the DCFS’ activities to find any terms that may be in conflict with the ruling. “So that’s what we did, and that was the genesis for the bill,” said Carlson.
Christensen asked Carlson if the agencies independently asked him. Carlson confirmed that was correct.
A short time later, Christensen further interrupted Carlson to ask whether the state had an expanded focus if the court decision was limited to a decision about who can marry.
Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) attempted to ask whether Christensen was violating legislative rules by interrupting the sponsor’s presentation, but Christensen refused to recognize King. An argument between the two ensued and Christensen threatened to immediately end the meeting.
“I would appreciate questions after my presentation,” Romero interjected. “You will. This is part of it; it’s ongoing,” Christensen responded.
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said he understands that not all Utahns approve of the ruling but the state law needs to reflect the decision. “We in the LGBT community seek the opportunity to enjoy the full blessings and protections of the nation that we love. What we seek is nothing more or less than a fair shot at the American dream. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we continue to have these important conversations. We deeply appreciate the respectful dialogue that we’ve been able to have around this.”
Laura Bunker, president of United Families International, said that study after study shows that children have the best chance for success in life with three pillars growing up – a mother, a father, and a marriage. “Until we have deep, longitudinal research showing otherwise, the law should continue to uphold the gold standard for children.”
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, echoed Bunker’s sentiments. “Children need a male and a female parent. It is definitely in the best interest of a child if they have a mother and a father. They deserve a mother and a father.”
Jackie de Gaston, a family law attorney, said that for her dissertation she analyzed a national sample of families and looked at the outcomes of children from a number of different parenting situations. “On every measure of what we want for our children, the data told us that the best family for the child is a mother and a father.”
She believes we should be focusing less on adults’ rights and more on children’s rights. “It’s kind of a selfish thing that we look at the rights of the parents and forget about what is best for our children.”
Referring to members of the LGBTQ community as “promiscuous,” de Gaston wondered aloud if legal marriage will change that at all. Romero interrupted to ask Christensen if de Gaston’s testimony was germane. He responded in the affirmative.
Citing the late hour and the concern leveled at the bill, Representative Keven Stratton (Republican – Orem) made a motion to adjourn and take up the matter again at a later date. Christensen tried to delay the motion, but King pointed out that it is a non-debatable motion. “I was trying to err on the side of courtesy counsel,” said Christensen. “You didn’t do that,” King responded. “Yes, we did. You can’t have a selective version of order,” said Christensen.
The committee then voted and the meeting was adjourned.
Romero issued a statement late Friday emphasizing that the law is very clear on the subject and Utah statute should reflect that. “The law of the land is clear and now the laws on the books need to reflect that. I’ve worked with the Department of Child and Family Services and many others to make sure that this law is evenly applied to all those loving parents searching to make their families complete by including a child. These children need stability, and there are many qualified couples who are waiting to give that to them. This is one of the many pieces to legally ensure that all families have the same rights. Children thrive when they are loved and protected.”