As I begin to write of another sad incongruity in Utah liquor laws, I know the words will fall on many deaf ears. I don’t feel sorry for that; that’s our lot. Rather, I feel sorry for the LDS church. For the life of me, I can’t understand why a body so embraced of spreading the gospel continues to tolerate an unnecessary impediment to its mission. I simply can’t comprehend why a religion that is currently led by a brilliant messenger, a religion anxiously seeking acceptance as a major world religion, a religion that believes its path to salvation the gilded one, allows its image to be overridden by and entangled in matters of liquor.
Liquor wasn’t that big a deal to the early Mormon settlers. Today, though, liquor is the DMZ separating Mormons and non-Mormons; more so than tobacco and more so than faith. And there are few on either side of that line who doubt—whether true or not—that the LDS church is the prop behind Utah liquor law.
This week, a worker at the private club in the Salt Lake Airport Hilton was fired because he allegedly racially discriminated against a female patron. LeDora Hankton of Minneapolis had every right to file her suit. And right now, LeDora Hankton—like many others before her—is telling her friends and papers back home how she came to be insulted and embarrassed in a Utah private club. Private clubs are under the aegis of a Utah state agency. The agency is dominated by male Mormons and reports to a mostly Mormon Legislature. Who do you think will get the hard-knock of bad publicity from Ms. Hankton’s experience? Well, he lost his job, but it won’t be the waiter. It will be, again, Utah and the LDS church.
No one knows anymore why the Legislature, and by extension, the LDS church, continues the folly of keeping that relic called “private clubs.” Private clubs control people, not alcohol consumption; then again, maybe that’s the idea. But most people don’t like that kind of control. With journalists and tourists, it’s ammo for plenty of bad PR. If Utah and the LDS church ever want to be rid of the Godzilla of bad public relations surrounding Utah liquor law, they need only get rid of private clubs.
I once saw a black couple try to enter a Salt Lake City private club. They watched as the doorman found a sponsor for a white couple in front of them. He turned to the black couple and asked that foolish phrase, “Are you a member?” They turned and said something like, “Well, screw this honky mofo state anyway. Let’s go home.”
The doorman was not discriminating at all and had already looked to me to sponsor the couple. It was sad and embarrassing to watch. Somewhere out there, that couple is spreading their own gospel that Utah is one screwed-up place, and well, you know who controls Utah.