When Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, orchestrated his Amendment 3 campaign in fall 2004, he expressed consternation that anyone would have the audacity to question marriage as the sole domain of “a man and a woman.” Utah is sooo family values. Controversy? Please. This year, in the course of his campaign to end gay-straight alliance clubs in public schools, we get to hear Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, make slight mention of his “homosexual friends” to The Salt Lake Tribune. Whatever.
Like the serial killer in a tiresome slasher flick, our Legislature’s never-ending crusade against all things homosexual seems to resurrect itself at just the moment you think it finally might have run its course. For Republicans in Washington, D.C., the running line is, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” The Utah Legislature’s unspoken motto seems to be “If you’re not with us, you’re with those dirty homosexuals.”
By any measure, this legislative session must be the “gayest” on record, with four House bills and one Senate bill designed to limit or restrict the freedoms of gay men and lesbian women, young or old. Extending his Amendment 3 legacy, Christensen has proudly sponsored three House bills. Even when reading his quotes in the daily press, you can almost see the spittle from Buttars’ mouth every time he trumpets his Senate Bill 97. Since one bill purging Utah’s schools of gay-straight alliances isn’t enough, there to back him up is Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, with his House Bill 393. Those who insist on counting all gay-related bills might want to include House Bill 90, Salt Lake City Democrat David Litvack’s perennial attempt at a hate-crimes bill with real teeth.
One more year of legislative gay-baiting aside, what makes this year different? While Buttars veers mostly toward the policy of honesty'you really get the feeling he just doesn’t like gay people'it’s the shifty, mealy-mouthed rhetoric of these men. It’s painfully vague. It makes nebulous attempts at sounding scholarly. At times, it’s downright comic.
Of all three Christensen ought to know best that he can’t pull the wool over our eyes. This is the man who brought us Amendment 3, after all. Yet in daily newspaper accounts, he insists two of his bills are there to somehow simply clarify the law. His HB 304, he says, wouldn’t affect gay couples’ ability to forge legal contracts, it would only prevent drug and gambling transactions from going to court. Say what? His HB 327 is a direct attack on Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s offer of employee benefits to nontraditional couples. There’s nothing new about the Legislature sticking it to Rocky, or vice versa. But Christensen couches this bill as a strategy to avoid bureaucratic confusion by making people in nontraditional partnerships with public employees pay for their own benefits, unlike the legally wed.
Most appallingly, it’s with his bill voiding parental rights against the wishes of biological parents that Christensen seems most prepared to cut off the public’s nose so that he might spite a gay parent’s face. Imagine, whole families denied the right to visit a child or grandchild, all so Christensen can make his petty points about the value of traditional marriages and traditional families. Beat us over the head all you want, LaVar. It’s not as if we didn’t hear you loud and clear in 2004.
While not quite the wrench-thrower on par with Christensen, Tilton at least provides some comic relief amid all these attempts at discrimination. The Springville Republican simply wants parents to be “aware” of what club their children might attend after school. And he wants these clubs to follow the law. And even though he can’t bring himself to state so specifically, he wants gay-straight alliances to follow the law. That means, in legal language, no “promoting, encouraging or disclosing attitudes or personal conduct” regarding “sexual activity outside of marriage, regarding sexual orientation” or “information relating to the use of contraceptive devices.”
Perhaps all that, and even more, can be prohibited and regulated inside the context of a school club, but I’ll be damned if anyone’s going to put a lid on it during school lunch breaks or in locker rooms. Does assigned reading of Walt Whitman or E.M. Forster in English classes count as promoting or encouraging homosexuality? The danger lurks, folks. Also off-limits under Tilton’s bill is “promoting or encouraging self-labeling by students in terms of sexual orientation.” At least that’s a more creative term than “recruiting,” even if it reduces human sexuality to a can of food waiting for brand wrapping. Most hilarious of all is Tilton’s prohibition against clubs that promote bigotry. But included in his definitions of bigotry is harassment or denigration based upon'surprise, surprise'sexual orientation. It’s a notable sentiment in the right direction but ignores the fact that anti-gay groups hardly need a high school club in which to operate. In fact, there’s lots of hard evidence that the state’s biggest anti-gay club currently exists up on the hill. More to the point, no one needs membership in a club to yell “faggot!” inside school halls, and that’s a large reason why gay-straight alliances exist today.
So let Buttars brag that his bill banning gay-straight alliances also prohibits, as he’s put it, “Nazi clubs, abortion clubs.” Let all the lawmakers throw out their lame, side-stepping justifications. It would be so much easier and waste much less time if they all publicly admitted they just don’t like homosexuals. Such honesty might not stop their bills from becoming law, but it would be a step in the right direction all the same.