How Utah's Compromise Could Serve As A Model For Other States
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's hear from a state whose leaders wish they could quietly handle the contentious issue of LGBT rights. The state is Utah.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It's majority Mormon, majority Republican and deeply conservative. When the federal government said schools must let transgender kids use the bathrooms they choose, Utah was one of 11 states that sued. Yet a Utah state senator says he'd rather the state itself find some compromise.
INSKEEP: Stuart Adams has a story to tell about an approach to LGBT issues. He co-sponsored legislation that some conservatives elsewhere are now promoting for themselves. The story starts as courts began legalizing same-sex marriage, which Utah had banned.
STUART ADAMS: In November of 2013, a federal court judge actually overturned that Constitutional amendment. And that sent shockwaves through the entire state. There were people that actually wanted to secede from the nation, if you can believe that.
INSKEEP: Instead, Utah lawmakers passed legislation that was backed by the Mormon church and by pro-gay rights organizations. It protects LGBT people in the workplace and elsewhere, although not in religious institutions.
ADAMS: Well, the question we were facing as to whether to strengthen our religious liberties and strike back and whether or not to have any type of accommodation for the LGBT community. The LDS church stepped forward, to their credit, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And they said rather than try to run those issues separately, they said, we think there ought to be a bill that combines the two issues.
INSKEEP: Meaning you can't be rejected from renting an apartment or getting a job or any number of other things because of your sexual orientation?
ADAMS: That's right. So it protects you as far as employment and as far as having a place to live, having housing. At the same token, which was the great thing that legislative action can do that a court ruling can't do is, a court ruling can give those protections to the LGBT community. But it can't finesse those. So as we gave those protections, we actually exempted out religious schools.
INSKEEP: Well, now how has this compromise withstood the test of time? And of course, we're not talking about very much time at all. But so much has happened. First, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, including in Utah. How has the law stood up in view of the fact that there are now legally married gay and lesbian couples in Utah?
ADAMS: Yeah. My understanding is it works seamlessly and flawlessly. There haven't been challenges. People within the community feel like both sides are protected. And again, no one got everything they wanted. No one was totally happy with it. But everybody got the protections they needed to be able to function with society.
INSKEEP: What about a couple of the other cases that have come up in other states? Can someone refuse service to a same-sex wedding?
ADAMS: We did not deal with public accommodations. We bookended this at housing and employment. And yet, I think if you walk down the streets of most cities in Utah and ask people whether there was protections for the gay and lesbian community, they would say yes. Most people don't differentiate between housing and employment protections and public accommodations.
INSKEEP: Meaning that legally, somebody might be able to refuse service. But the general perception is that service will be provided.
ADAMS: That's right. And I think that's an issue that, in the 45-day legislative session, we weren't able to tackle that specifically. But generally speaking, I think the perception, like you indicated, was that there are protections.
INSKEEP: Have people in Utah now been talking about trans people and bathrooms?
ADAMS: Absolutely. We think we we were handling that community in a very sensitive and a very appropriate way, and to have federal - the government insert their efforts into our local school districts and local schools, people are pretty frustrated.
INSKEEP: If we extended the principles of your compromise, your Utah compromise, to this new issue - or, new to many people, issue of where to go to the bathroom, how would the principle apply, do you think?
ADAMS: The sensible way to attack any issue is that we respect the legitimate concerns of others. We dealt with the issue as part of the legislation when one of the big sticking points was actually the definition of gender identity of transgenders (ph).
And we actually - as we dealt with that definition, used the American Psychological Association, who'd done a lot of work on the issue. Through their processes, it takes about six months of psychological evaluation for someone to actually have a DSM-5 designation of gender identity. And my understanding, and at least those that I've talked to, felt like Utah's definition was something that was not perfect but was acceptable. And part of this solution is get the right definition so that we don't have inappropriate behavior inside restrooms.
INSKEEP: Well, now that's really interesting. You're saying part of the solution is to define who we're talking about here because one of the anxieties that gets thrown out all the time is some boy goes into a girls restroom just because and uses this defense. That's what you're saying.
ADAMS: That's right. And so the - when you're dealing with especially sensitive issues inside of schools, whatever the resolution is, it has to be respectful of everyone. And I think there's a way to do it, if, again, you try to look at the legitimate concerns.
INSKEEP: Have your own personal views of this issue evolved through doing this work?
ADAMS: They have. I have deep-seated religious beliefs. And I was a very conservative legislator. My religious principles are not in any way, shape or form compromisable. But I actually believe I'm living my religion now as I look out and try to do good to those that maybe don't agree with me, those that may hate me or loving my neighbor or trying to be respectful of other people. I believe those are good, Christian religious principles that we ought to not just talk about, that we ought to actually live and act on. Before, I think I was a little bit selfish and wanted to make sure that the rights I had weren't extended to anyone else.
INSKEEP: You thought that you were following your religion less by being stricter in your interpretation of things?
ADAMS: Yeah. I mean, as I - if you're a true Christian, you surely want to take care and love your neighbor. And at some point in time - you know, at the very beginning is - my impression was that perhaps I needed to restrict the ability for anyone to exist that didn't agree with me. And that's not a great principle, is it?
INSKEEP: Senator Adams, thanks very much.
ADAMS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's Utah State Senator Stuart Adams on his state's approach to LGBT rights. The state is still challenging a federal directive on the use of school restrooms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.