Seventeen years ago, on Jan. 30, 1996, the Utah State Senate held an illegal closed-door meeting to attack education officials for simply entertaining an idea, which would allow a high school student to form a gay-straight alliance in her school.
Before then, and certainly since, Utah's LGBTQ community has faced a continual barrage of anti-gay attacks from our elected officials. Our attorneys would call it de jure denigration. I call it systematic discrimination.
In recent days, legal counsel for Speaker Boehner and his far-right colleagues have submitted briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that:
"In short, gays and lesbians are one of the most influential, best-connected, best-funded, and best-organized interest groups in modern politics, and have attained more legislative victories, political power, and popular favor in less time than virtually any other group in American history."
I'd like to invite Speaker Boehner to visit, and meet members of our LGBTQ community. He'd quickly learn that legislative victories are hard, if not impossible, to come by in Utah. In fact I've lost ground since 1996 and am firmly rooted in the demographic of second-class citizen.
On Jan. 30, 2013, Utah Pride announced our intent to file an amicus brief in the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, to illustrate how wrong and disingenuous many of the arguments being made against LGBTQ equality are.
In 2004, when Utahns passed "Amendment 3" -- our version of the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that many states have adopted -- there were already two state laws that forbid gay couples from marrying. In fact, one state senator stood on the floor during the debate on the amendment and compared passing the measure to not just encouraging someone not to smoke cigarettes, but forcibly pulling the cigarette out of the smoker's mouth and stomping on it. The senator cautioned his colleagues that the anti-gay marriage amendment went way too far. That same senator then turned around and cast the decisive vote to forward the measure to Utah voters.
Despite more than seven in 10 people in Utah supporting a statewide measure to prevent discrimination in employment and favorable statements from the leaders of the Mormon Church for such a measure in Salt Lake City, the repeated efforts of courageous legislators to pass such a measure has been stymied by Utah's Republican super-majority.
Although the 2003 Lawrence v Texas decision effectively prohibited state sodomy laws, Utah has yet to repeal its law. Though former Utah State Sen. Scott McCoy introduced legislation to repeal Utah's unconstitutional sodomy law, the bill never got a committee hearing. In a column about legislative conflicts of interest -- such as a financial gain -- one of Utah's largest newspapers suggested that Sen. McCoy, Utah's first openly gay senator, had a conflict by introducing the bill to repeal the ban. The systematic discrimination is not confined to Utah's Legislature; it runs through many other major public and private institutions.
Utah legislators are so intent on targeting LGBTQ people that they've passed legislation that calls into question the legality of a teacher answering in the affirmative if asked by a student, "Is it okay to be gay?" These continual and oppressive attacks have a dramatic effect, particularly on queer and questioning youth. I regularly hear stories of young people who are bullied and harassed. Many feel the same leaders who should offer them protection sanction this behavior. I have heard too many stories of young people who take their own lives because of the isolation and rejection in their lives. Utah Pride has a vibrant and active youth center, and I do everything I can to embrace and support young people throughout Utah. I know from our firsthand experience that the de jure denigration by our state's political leaders has a chilling effect on the young LGBTQ people of our state.
This systematic discrimination must stop. To this end, Utah Pride has retained a dynamic, bipartisan and well-respected legal team to advocate this message to the United States Supreme Court. Utah Pride hopes to assemble a nation-wide coalition, primarily from "red states" where the list of anti-gay and anti-transgender legislation runs long. I know there are many who share our reality.
Voting on Proposition 8 was limited to people in California in 2008. However, the measure had a deep and traumatizing impact on Utah's LGBTQ community. The Mormon Church's involvement in the anti-gay measure was headline news and a magnifying glass was placed on Salt Lake City, world headquarters of the Mormon Church. Old wounds were opened and betrayal by family members, friends and neighbors who supported the measure compounded the emotions. Our community took to the streets in an effort to be heard and show gay and transgender relatives and friends in California our solidarity.
Though some advocate for a state-by-state effort for marriage equality, in Utah I know that such an approach will leave our destiny uncertain indefinitely. I cheer and send our unwavering support to our queer friends and allies in places like Minnesota, Maine, Washington and Maryland. Their victories in November's election were historic and timely. Without an affirmative decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in both the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, generations of Utahans and citizens from other states may never celebrate complete acceptance.
The president's inauguration gives us hope. His statement was eloquent: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. For if I are truly created equal, then surely the love I commit to one another must be equal as Ill." I encourage the president to put his words to action. The president should instruct the Solicitor General to weigh in on the Proposition 8 case. "Our journey is not complete until [all] our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law."
Utah Pride felt obligated to set foot on this path and is excited that the legal team I've assembled is bipartisan, similar to the incredible team of Ted Olsen and David Boies. Our lead counsel consists of two prominent local attorneys. Paul C. Burke was a founding board member of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council. He was honored in 2012 as Utah's "Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year" for his work defending the legal rights of a lesbian teenager who had been abused. Brett L. Tolman is the former United States Attorney for the District of Utah, having been appointed by President George W. Bush. Prior to serving as U.S. Attorney, Mr. Tolman served as Legal Counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. With this team I hope to demonstrate that being a champion of LGBTQ equality in Utah is a matter that need not know partisan boundaries.
I look forward to the day that all LGBTQ Utahns -- in fact, all LGBTQ Americans -- are treated equally under the law. I hope these two cases help bring that day closer, and hope the Supreme Court hears the often unheard voices of people from Utah and other politically oppressive states through our amicus brief.