It’s been a tumultuous summer, to say the least, in just about every way imaginable. All across the nation the dominoes are falling. The floodgates opened by Judge Shelby last December have created a tidal wave of change, bringing hope to millions of Americans.
That hope and joy have been tempered, however, by the reactionary backlash of the bigots in our midst. While the overwhelming majority of federal judicial decisions have been very strong (to the point of almost brutal) in support of equality those rulings have also all been stayed pending final resolution by the United States Supreme Court.
In Utah we’re at the vortex of this swirling tide. In addition to the Kitchen v. Herbert case, which now appears to be on the fast-track to SCOTUS, the Evans case demanding recognition of the 1,300 or so legally-contracted marriages is also pending in federal court. Utah’s government is now leading the charge to maintain institutionalized bigotry through marriage law.
In the midst of the marriage discussion, Utah’s Legislature opted for the coward’s way out and refused to reconsider statewide nondiscrimination protections in housing and employment for LGBT citizens. Given their stated excuse, waiting for Supreme Court action on marriage, and their backward, provincial, and generally bigoted track record, don’t look for any movement on statewide protections this year, either.
Adding just a bit more to the confusion, Equality Utah finds itself in search of a new executive director. Brandie Balken, arguably the most stable and level-headed of this community’s leaders, has left the state for a new opportunity. EU’s board chair, Cliff Rosky, has indicated that the search for a new executive director is going well, and that Balken prepared the organization well for the transition, but this is still a break in continuity and the new ED, whoever it is, has awfully big shoes to fill as we approach the 2015 session.
It’s pretty easy, with all of this happening, to take a step back and wait for the dust to settle. Doing so, however, would be a big mistake. Now is the time to focus. Now more than ever. I expect the 2015 session to be a morass of backward nonsense. Hate legislation, thinly if even, disguised as religious freedom or family protection will be the order of the day. Keeping these bills off the books will require extreme vigilance and herculean effort.
I predict that Equality Utah is going to be stretched pretty thin during this upcoming session, fighting fire after fire. I also don’t anticipate that there will be too many legislators that will be willing to risk their personal political capital pushing for a bill, like statewide protections, that is opposed by Republican leadership. We learned that lesson last year, when not a single member of the Senate was willing to make the motion to pull the bill from committee.
As we head into 2015 and beyond, it has become increasingly important that we maintain our focus and keep up the work for equality. Now is the time to work in the legislature to prevent backsliding through seemingly innocuous legislation that will create additional loopholes in the guise of religious freedom. Gains in the realm of nondiscrimination protections will have to come from municipalities, something that Equality Utah has done very well in years past.
And while it seems that marriage equality will become the law of the land within the next year or two, there is still much work to be done toward ensuring full equality for all Utahns.
Stay focused and keep fighting the good fight!