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Utah Rep Launches Legislative Assault on LGBT Rights

Utah Rep Launches Legislative Assault on LGBT Rights

Utah State Representative LaVar Christensen went a step further than simply opposing marriage equality this past week when he introduced legislation that could make certain contracts between gay and lesbian couples unenforceable, would prohibit the state from recognizing same-sex couples and their children as a family and would scrutinize existing and future policies and legislation in the sole interest of propping up the married heterosexual family unit.

Christensen is the author of Utah’s 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage in the state as a heterosexual union, but the legislation he has just introduced goes a lot further.

From On Top Magazine:

One of the measures states that married heterosexual families are the “fundamental unit of society.”

 

“We still hold up that this is what we know and all the evidence and all the history shows that the best environment for raising and nurturing children is in that traditional and natural family unit,” Christensen told Salt Lake City-based Fox13now.com.

 

The bill states: “Marriage and family predate all governments and are supported by and consistent with the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World, affirmed in the nation’s founding Declaration of Independence.”

 

Christensen has actually introduced four separate bills which I’ll look at below, each of which may be a cause for concern and not just for LGBT rights advocates.

 

House Bill 270 “Family Policy”
The bill would make explicit the definition that “family” comprises a legally married man and woman plus children, and mandates all relevant laws and regulations be carefully scrutinized to see how they impact “family and the protection of children.” The bill lists the following as areas of concern: “dissolution of marriage, crime, poverty, immorality, violence and other conditions that place added responsibilities on individuals and communities through publicly funded and administered social programs and government services.”

 

The bill also calls for the promotion of the married heterosexual family at every turn. Christensen told ABC news that this would not be retrogressive but would enable Utahns to “[go] forward with our founding principles firmly in place.”


House Bill 269 “Commission on Civic and Character Education”

The bill requires that the state spend 1% of state LAND (Learning And Nurturing Development) money “for the purpose of providing leadership to the state’s continuous focus on civic and character education in public schools.” 

 

James Humphreys of Utah’s Log Cabin Republicans has raised a concern about this one, saying, “In essence, what he is attempting to do is to ensure that his definition of character or moral character is taught in the public schools.”


House Bill 182 “Voiding Transactions Against Public Policy”

This is perhaps the most innocuous sounding yet potentially the most troubling. Gay rights advocates have warned that together with the first bill on family policy, this legislation could render contracts between same-sex partners void.

Previously introduced in 2006, the bill reads as just a single sentence: “An arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable.”

 

Christensen has denied that this bill is anti-gay and has said that it is designed to combat gambling and drug contracts. During previous legislative debates however, Christensen did admit that while generic contracts could not be voided the legislation had potential to void contracts between same-sex couples in areas that were perceived to conflict with existing policy (which one notes he wants to broaden to bolster heterosexual marriages).


From Q Salt Lake:

 

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Ross Romero asked Christensen, “will the passage of this bill have the effect of precluding gay and lesbian couples from contracting, as they have, from such things as transferring assets, having property agreements, having joint trust agreements, and life estate transferring or property contracts?”

“As it relates to that specific question, the answer is, ‘no,’” Christensen responded. “There are certain agreements that are so generic in nature that are outside, in the private community. If you want to walk into a title company and for 10 dollars purchase a joint tenancy deed and fill it out to whoever you want that person to be, you can do it. If you want a durable power of attorney to make medical decisions, you can do it. Those agreements do not violate public policy.”

Christensen went on, however, to note the case Jones v. Barlow, in which the two women in a lesbian relationship filed for joint custody between Keri Jones and the biological mother, Cheryl Barlow. Christensen represented the agreement as a “de facto marriage, de facto adoption, de facto divorce in violation of public policy.”

[...]

“But if we have on our statute specific marriage laws, and if we have a marriage recognition policy – in that situation, if there was a conflict between the two, and the existing statute that establishes our specific policy on that specific issue, that would prevail.”

This joins nicely with:

House Bill 109 “Religious Liberty Recognition”
According to the bill’s text, the law would explicitly affirm that “the free exercise of religious liberty is a recognized exemption to otherwise generally applicable laws and a valid defense to claims of discrimination by others.”

There are a few thin caveats mentioned in the text, but the bill’s wording would seem to indicate that Christensen is trying to codify religious freedom of expression in such a way that could overrule, for example, Salt Lake City’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that was passed in 2009—one among several entities in the state to offer such protections.

 

The Church of Latter Day Saints supported the non-discrimination measure, but several religious conservative groups have actively opposed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. However, as a matter of course the ordinances themselves carry religious exemptions for small businesses and religious institutions. Christensen’s proposed change in the law would seem to expand those exemptions almost exponentially.

Understandably, gay rights groups have condemned the above legislation for the impact it could have on same-sex couples and LGBT rights as a whole.

From the Salt Lake Tribune blog:

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said the group is “deeply concerned” about the proposed [Voiding Transactions Against Public Policy] law.

“It could be used to create a filter for public agencies and a way to target laws, services and funding that currently help single Utahns or Utahns with families that differ from Representative Christensen’s,” she said.

[...]

Balken worries the two bills together [House Bill 182 and House Bill 270] could be interpreted as stating that same-sex relationships are against public policy and so contracts, such as medical directives and wills, between gay and lesbian couples are void and unenforceable. Such a policy could impact anyone who depends on relationships besides those with a spouse or child.

“If that is how it is construed, then this would have implications for a great number of Utahns,” Balken said.

However, this legislative assault seems more encompassing than just applying to same-sex couples. It would also appear to impact heterosexual couples who are unmarried but have children, defining away their right to be recognized as a family in the way married couples are. In addition, the invocation of the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World” as being the basis of public policy would seem yet another issue of wider concern.

Even separately these bills are cause for concern given how apparently overreaching they are, but when put together they amount to a determined attempt at imposing a very narrow agenda on the state of Utah’s citizens.

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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to brianchildv.

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69 comments

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10:03PM PST on Feb 17, 2011

There are no laws of nature as you are implying "Zolt"?...who wrote them and where are they written? and dont say its in "my bible" because its not. Religious losers like yourself will use "its in the bible" as your response for everything. PROVE IT!!! PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS OR SHUT THE HELL UP! its in the bible is not the end of a discussion. its just the beginning. by the way: I couldnt care less what that book says about anything EXCEPT the parts that christians leave out that they dont follow. When was the last time a christian gave all their money to the poor? your book tells you to do that. also the book says women are to remain silent in church. I love to see some of these church going bitches be told to shut it up in church. that would make my day.

4:17PM PST on Feb 15, 2011

noted :-0

2:29AM PST on Feb 13, 2011

If I get that religious politician correct, he wants to have legislation that only gives the right to marry to fertile couples of the opposite genders.

Then the state has to set up special medical centers to do physical and emotional check-ups on every such couple. The couples entering into matrimony will then have to sign a document stating they will have children. If they don't, there's going to reprecussions?

This is legislation that will set up standards going all the way into your bedroom!
Get it Mr. Politician: Not everyone wants to get married for the purpose of procreating. Not everyone want to get married to suit your standards. Some people, if not the most, actually gets married because they love one another. And get it thru your thick skull that denying a part of society the opportunity to manifest their love with a marriage ceremony, is plain and cruel discrimination! Use your political power to make Utah a better place for people to live in, get housing, jobs and social security restored.

10:24PM PST on Feb 11, 2011

i hate those mormons who are against gay rights and gay marriage. they are fake. i so sick of them.

11:34PM PST on Feb 7, 2011

I don't know why some people are so threatened by others who are different from themselves. We need more loving families of any type to stabilize society, not less. And "straight" marriages are not all storybook types... divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse.
It's time for those in America to stop trying to keep others from having basic human rights. It's time to stop the intolerance and hate or at the very least not try to legislate it.

8:51PM PST on Feb 7, 2011

I read each proposed law carefully, furrowing my brow, and trying to understand the intent, and then, thought, .... WHY? Why are you attempting to give respect and credence to a man, who obviously only wants people in heterosexual marriage?! Just seeing "Utah" in the title of the article, should have kept me from wasting my time!

Damn. So much interference in other people's business!
--Go to the church you like, and worship.
--Stay out of other people's lives.
--Move to another country if you don't believe that all men &
women are created equal.
--Move to another country if you don't believe that all are
endowed with life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.
--Move to another country if you don't believe in separation of
church and state.
--Move to another country if you don't believe that the
enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be
construed to deny or disparage others retained by the
people.
--Move to another country if you do not want to live under a
central government, as decided by the Civil War.

And leave the rest of us alone to live our lives in peace.

12:12PM PST on Feb 7, 2011

LaVar Christensen is a pinhead idiot ...

8:10AM PST on Feb 7, 2011

No one should speak of history unless they have actually READ history. There are now and always have been gays in all societies. From Native Americans to tribal Africa to China and Japan. Now and way back when. I believe homosexuality only became a problem when Christanity raised it's (ugly) head around the world. During The Burning Times it wasn't just supposed witches who were burned and hung, it was also "heretics" of all kinds, and that would have included gay people. It's a sorry fact that most of this type of legislation comes from the Religious Reich.

7:42AM PST on Feb 7, 2011

I think the gay community should start a church of their own. The Gay Church of ------. Thereafter they could cry foul and religious discrimination to all who oppose their families. Because this is religious discrimination; but we don't call it that. People who oppose gay marriage are against it based on religious reasons, and religious reasons only. It is disgusting to me that a church that was chased from towns because they believed in multiple marriage and then disallowed black people on the grounds that they were descendants of Cain can have anything to say about others.

3:39AM PST on Feb 7, 2011

i can't imagine any of these bills will be passed. no one in their right mind would vote them into law, & someone not in his right mind introduced them. how did this goofball get elected anyway?

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