Scott D. Pierce: Utah Gov. Herbert will look bad in future docs about gay-rights movement

First Published      Last Updated Jun 30 2016 02:32 pm

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert needs to watch more TV.

There's no need for him to spend his valuable time watching sitcoms, dramas or reality shows. But, clearly, he hasn't spent enough time watching documentaries about the civil-rights movement.

Two such documentaries aired in the past couple of weeks. "Freedom Summer" was the latest in a series of outstanding programs on PBS. And CNN's "The Sixties" included the riveting two-hour episode "The Long March to Freedom."

Neither documentary made any effort to draw parallels between the civil-rights movement in the 1960s and the gay-rights movement today, but the similarities are unmistakable.

Had Herbert seen either documentary, one would hope it would give him pause about his continued fight against same-sex marriage.

You watch those programs, and your jaw hits the floor. It's astonishing to see then-Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett insisting that the end of segregation would be the end of life as we know it.

"God was the original segregationist,'' he declared. ''He made the white man white and the black man black, and he did not intend for them to mix.''

Barnett, Alabama Gov. George Wallace and various other racist mayors and sheriffs insist they're just upholding the laws of their states.

Sound familiar?

The tone may have been different, but the message was the same five decades later when Herbert responded to a federal court striking down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

Decades from now, clips of his public statements will be part of documentaries about the fight for gay rights. Viewers' jaws will drop when they hear him say that governors and attorneys general who choose not to defend their state's same-sex marriage bans were taking "the next step toward anarchy."

Future documentarians will salivate when they come across the clip of Herbert saying, "What you choose to do with your sexual orientation is different in my mind than what you're born with as far as your race."

And those future documentarians will, no doubt, draw the parallel between the LDS Church's stance and Herbert's statement, "What your attraction may be is something else, but how you act upon those impulses is a choice."

Viewers will cringe. Herbert's children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be embarrassed. In those future documentaries, Utah will play the part of Mississippi in the 1960s — a backward state whose elected officials fought to deny many of its citizens basic rights.

Herbert will be remembered. But not in the way he hopes.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.