This November, Utahns go to the polls to choose a new governor. In memory of my fearless friend, Bob Henline, I reached out to the major candidates running for the state’s highest office to get their stance on issues important to LGBTQ+ parents. Democrat Chris Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah from Salt Lake, and Libertarian Dr. Daniel Cottam, a weight loss surgeon from North Salt Lake, agreed to answer my questions. Their Republican opponent ignored multiple emails and calls requesting his participation – yet he claims to be an ally.
Last year, a boy being adopted by two dads was bullied by his substitute teacher. What steps will you take to ensure it never happens again?
Peterson: Teachers bullying LGBTQ students and their family members is completely unacceptable. Utah has anti-bullying laws that prohibit this, require teacher training, and impose reporting obligations on schools. I support and will use authority as governor to fully implement these rules.
Cottam: In 1974, the Libertarian party platform included the rights of gay people to marry and adopt children. In your scenario, this child is trapped in a school that is not supportive of the right of gay people to adopt and raise children. I support the right of funding following the child, meaning when incidents like this happen, the parents should have the right to transfer to any public, private, or home school of their choice.
What, if any, legislation do you want to pass specifically helping the LGBTQ+ community?
Cottam: I believe that LGBTQ rights are human rights. Thus, there should be no need for additional laws passed to address these issues. If those rights are not being granted, redress should be sought through the court system. A good example of this was gay marriage. Gay marriage was a human right, and it was addressed through the court system.
Peterson: I am open to feedback and conversations with the LGBTQ+ community on reform to Utah law. I believe Utah should adopt a public accommodation law that protects Utahns in day-to-day business operations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity like it protects workers and renters. We should pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals in financial services, and prohibit health insurers from discriminating against LGBTQ+ couples and individuals. I also believe Utah should adopt a family medical leave law with an inclusive definition of what it means to be a spouse or child that accommodates LGBTQ+ families, and we should mandate nondiscrimination within jury service.
The “Fairness to All” law (aka the Utah Compromise) is seen by some as a national model for balancing religious freedoms and LGBTQ+ rights in housing and employment. Others feel it codifies religious discrimination. Where do you stand on the issue?
Peterson: This law provided some important protections for LGBTQ+ Utahns in employment and housing. But it did not extend to other essential issues such as discrimination in public accommodation, finance, and insurance. If I am elected Governor of Utah, I intend to continue to push for broader anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ individuals and families.
Cottam: Unfortunately, we cannot stop or legislate people from being ignorant, stupid, or irrational. I also believe people have the right to make bad choices. In this state, there is a lot of religious discrimination all around, but making more laws will not stop that. Again, if an LGBTQ person is denied a human right that is being enjoyed by the majority, redress should be in the court system.
Do you support passing a public accommodation law?
Cottam: The state must be blind to sexual orientation. Passing laws like this one create special classes of people and by its definition, a special law means special treatment. This is something that should never be done by the state. The state can, and should, pass standards for jobs and contracts that if met should allow anyone regardless of their orientation to participate in government employment or contracts.
Peterson: Yes, absolutely.
President Trump has turned back many LGBTQ+ rights. What specific steps will you take to protect us?
Peterson: I will: (a) meet with and listen to LGBTQ+ advocates; (b) negotiate with and persuade state legislators to pass legislation that explicitly helps the LGBTQ community; (c) appoint a diverse executive branch of government that includes qualified LGBTQ+ individuals in boards, commissions, cabinet positions, and other state administrative roles; (d); make special efforts to provide more mental health and counseling resources for at-risk LGBTQ+ children; and, (e) serve as a positive role model for Utahns by modeling inclusive, open-minded leadership that opposes discrimination against LGBTQ+ community in public or private life.
Cottam: As governor of Utah I don’t make laws or appoint the attorney general. As such, I am limited to what I can do in my role as governor to “protect LGBTQ rights.” I can be a voice of support for the community. I can make sure there is no discrimination in hiring and firing at the state level. I can be seen at events sponsored by the LGBTQ community. But unlike some states, I can’t direct the Attorney General to enforce or prosecute anything in Utah. I also can’t fire the Attorney General if he or she doesn’t protect human rights. I can, and would, speak out if I saw this happen to the people in this state.
Why should LGBTQ+ voters choose you?
Cottam: The LGBTQ community has always wanted to be viewed as a normal part of society. The Libertarians have felt this way since the 1970s and still do. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. A vote for me is a vote for normalcy and a vote to be left alone by the state.
Peterson: I will fight harder and go further for LGBTQ+ Utahns than my opponents or any other past governor in the history of Utah. I will be a better ally.
Do you consider yourself an LGBTQ+ ally?
Peterson: Yes, because I listen to and care about all people, especially those who are suffering. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced special hardship for too long in our society. I hope to do my part to right past wrongs and forge a better, more diverse, more inclusive future for our state. Indeed, a central theme of my campaign has been and will continue to be: #UtahforAll.
Cottam: As a Libertarian governor, my job is to be blind to sexual orientation. If anyone’s human rights are being trampled on, then I am an ally.
There you have it — gubernatorial candidates answering questions important to LGBTQ+ parents. When you cast your vote for governor, choose a candidate who stands with the community. Two of them are at least willing to tell you where that is.
You’ll always be my Pumpkin, Bob. Your loving, Princess.