Civil Liberties

Utah's Governor Endorses Same-Sex Civil Unions

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Last week Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican who is serving his second term and does not plan to run for a third, surprised political observers by announcing that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples. This was a turn-around for Huntsman, who in 2004 backed Amendment 3, which added a clause to the state constitution that, in addition to declaring that "marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman," says "no other domestic union may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equal legal effect." Gay rights activists had given up on a bill to repeal that second part of the amendment after concluding there was no chance the legislature would approve it. Huntsman's endorsement probably won't change that bill's prospects.

The governor's reversal may reflect his true feelings. "He had to be dragged to the altar of Amendment 3," a spokesman for the socially conservative Sutherland Institute told The Salt Lake Tribune, "and everyone has known since then that Governor Huntsman would rather be nice than right." Then again, the civil union endorsement may be part of a plan to move toward the center as Huntsman prepares to run for president in 2012. Or it could be a little of both.

In saying yes to civil unions but no to gay marriage, Huntsman is taking basically the same position as our current Democratic president, the Republican he beat, the Republican he succeeded, and the Democrat who came before that. (All favored allowing gay couples to make most, if not all, of the same legal arrangements as heterosexual couples, and all opposed calling the relationship "marriage"; sometimes they also questioned the "union" label, but it's not clear this quibble amounted to a practical difference in policy.) There's a reason this stance is so popular: It leaves a lot to the imagination. Depending on the details, the difference between a civil union and a marriage may be substantial or semantic (as it essentially is in California, where opponents and supporters of Proposition 8 nevertheless fought passionately over the word marriage in the last election). It's not even clear that most Utah voters, who supported Amendment 3 by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004, disagree with Huntsman's position. While a recent Tribune poll found that 70 percent of Utahns "oppose civil unions," in a Deseret News survey "47 percent of those polled supported civil unions compared to 42 percent who did not." I'm guessing the question was worded somewhat differently in the two surveys.

While same-sex unions are considered a lost cause in Utah for the time being, the prospects for banning discrimination against homosexuals in housing and employment appear to be much stronger. In other words, Utahns are more inclined to abridge freedom of contract and association than they are to require that the government treat citizens evenhandedly. Clearly they did not read my recent column on this subject. They may also have missed my columns advocating the separation of marriage and state or, short of that, a change in the terms of the debate that could help end it.

[via The Freedom Files]

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  1. Of course the problem with “freedom of contract” in this context is that it amounts to the freedom to abuse and humiliate.

  2. “We’ll let gays get married, we just won’t call them married. We’ll call them butt-buddies. Man and wife; butt-buddies.”

  3. Things like this are good news. It’s a bit bizarre to me that so many still have this hang up about the word marriage, but if gays can get practically everything else from a something with a different name, then hey let the fools have their tar-tar sauce.

  4. Let churches marry whoever they want.

    Revert all the legal stuff for everyone to civil unions.

    Everyone (who has more than 2 brain cells) is happy.

  5. What Some Guy said.

  6. But the next thing y’know, someone’ll be fixin’ to marry two people at once!

  7. In other words, Utahns are more inclined to abridge freedom of contract and association than they are to require that the government treat citizens evenhandedly.

    I agree that the government should treat homosexuals just like they treat heterosexuals, and that private people have the right to discriminate. The cynic in me understands why most people take a different position. May people mistakenly feel that gay marriage would some how lessen their heterosexual marriages. So, they want the government to violate the rights of homosexuals by banning gay marriage. These same people want to feel good about being nice to gays. Since the vast majority of them are not employers or home sellers, they have no problem violating the rights of employers and home sellers by banning employment and housing discrimination. It’s a classic case of making other people sacrifice for a value that one is not willing to sacrifice for oneself.

  8. classwarrior | February 18, 2009, 5:49pm | #

    Of course the problem with “freedom of contract” in this context is that it amounts to the freedom to abuse and humiliate.

    Classwarrior, I am a freelance editor. Please either hire me to edit something or explain why you are “abusing and humiliating” me by not hiring me.

  9. It’s a classic case of making other people sacrifice for a value that one is not willing to sacrifice for oneself.

    That’s what we said to our kid too! Ya think it made a difference?

  10. jtuf: If you’re black and have ever been told “We don’t serve blacks here” you’ll know what I mean.

  11. Revert all the legal stuff for everyone to civil unions.

    Better still, eliminate the state from the equation altogether. Marriage existed long before governments had anything to do with it.

    -jcr

  12. “Better still, eliminate the state from the equation altogether. Marriage existed long before governments had anything to do with it.”

    Bad idea. The government should register couples, because there is a legal obligation which comes with this, especially when kids come into the equation.

  13. classwarrior | February 18, 2009, 10:07pm | #

    jtuf: If you’re black and have ever been told “We don’t serve blacks here” you’ll know what I mean.

    I know what you mean. I’m male, and both my undergraduate and graduate alma maters had female only dorms and female only colleges. Niether university had male only facilities, which means their offerings where both separate and unequal. While I feel that having the female only facilities with no male counterpart was immoral, I think calling it “abuse and humiliation” is a stretch. I also believe we can fight discrimination without bringing in the heavy guns of the government.

  14. Leave it to Warty to be flip about a serious subject. It should be “civil butt unions,” you callous jerk.

  15. Revert all the legal stuff for everyone to civil unions.

    Not necessary.

    Get the state out of the marriage/union business altogether.

  16. This would be the same governor who opposes Intelligent Design teaching in school.

    On the one hand, I applaud this guy. On the other, I’m worried about him. Remember that governor in Illinois who shut down death row? Got a lot of applause from the bien-pensants?

  17. Here is a question for libertarians. Is the Atlas Foundation still libertarian or social conservatives? The leading antigay group in Utah is the Sutherland Institute which has received funding from Atlas and is part of their network. Atlas gave money to the Religious Right group Maxim Institute in NZ to fight legalized prostitution and civil unions and brought a Maxim leader to Utha to meet with the Sutherland Institute people.

    Is all that money from the Templeton people (tens of millions) to Atlas changing the libertarian views of Atlas? It appears so. Also remember that Templeton and his wife gave $1.2 million to promote the antigay Prop 8 in California.

    It appears that Templeton funding has helped fund various antilibertarian viewpoints and is corrupting the Atlas people. Libertarians should stop supporting Atlas Foundation and donate to better organizations.

  18. Let freedom ring! Thank you Governor Huntsman for your support of Lgbt’s through Civil Unions. Anyone should be permitted to civilly wed the person of their choice. The times-they-are-a-changin’.
    Visit: http://www.civillywedd.com

  19. Get the state out of the marriage/union business altogether.

    Civil unions for all. I tend to think that having a standardized template for these partnerships is a good idea, so long as the template can be altered by contract.

    I’m also enough of a Burkean to think that some social incentives to form life partnerships is a good idea, and to think we should go slow on expanding civil unions for more than two partners.

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