Unlike previous sessions, this year the Utah Legislature seems to be avoiding so-called "message bills." There are no resolutions attempting to define marriage, or bills to wrest public lands from federal control. Instead, there are more modest efforts, mostly aimed at clearing up ambiguities or inconsistencies in existing laws. And after watching the legislative debacle in Arizona last week, all we can say is 'thank goodness.'
The Arizona legislature found itself the target of nationwide ridicule after passing a bill that would allow businesses to deny service to gays using the pretext of religious freedom. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill but not before a slew of corporate heavyweights threatened to pull their business from the state if it upheld the blatantly discriminatory legislation.
Arizona's leaders are learning the hard way that most of the country is moving away from bigotry and toward a new era of tolerance and equality. They are also finding that, in today's hyper-connected landscape, public sentiment, once inflamed, can hone in on a target with alarming precision. Immediately after the legislature approved the bill, the NFL let it be known it was considering pulling the Super Bowl from the state next year and other corporations alluded to similar punitive actions should the bill become law.
As Brewer alluded to in her veto, the bill would have been a setback for her state's economic comeback.
For its part, Utah has no shortage of legislators who like to support the religious right. One Utah Senator purportedly drafted a bill similar to Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion bill that was quietly abandoned. His colleagues are likely thinking, "Man, I'm glad we didn't try that."
We are too.
For a brief moment in December, Utah was on the forefront of marriage equality. It was short-lived but it felt good to be listed among the more tolerant states in the Union. In fact, more than once, Utah has chalked up progressive marks, despite its overall conservatism. For instance, Utah was among the first to allow women the right to vote, and among the first to elect a female legislator.
While it was unfortunate that Brewer's statement led with the economic downside of the bill rather than a strong statement about its inherent prejudice, many, including Arizonans, were grateful that she shot it down. Here in Utah we are especially grateful that our legislators are spending more time taking care of business than telling people what to believe.