Judging by the letters that have been pouring into The Tribune’s Public Forum – thank you, by the way – and by the comments appended to the online versions of Tribune articles and editorials in recent weeks, it is clear that many Utahns are downright ashamed of their state leaders for spending all that money and political energy defending Amendment 3, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
I’ve got some good news for you folks: It could be worse.
You could be living in Kansas.
There, the state House of Representatives – whose august halls I was known to occasionally haunt, four governors ago – recently approved a bill that would allow both private firms and government officials to deny their services to same-sex couples. In the name, sponsors say, of defending religious freedom and preventing persecution of a faithful minority.
Yes, just talking about this goofy bill in Utah might be unwise. It might encourage new mischief on the part of some Amendment 3 supporters. After all, these good folks were shocked by the federal court decision that found Utah’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Many of these people clearly feel persecuted as they watch the sincerely held religious beliefs that used to form the unquestioned foundation for marriage, and a lot of other laws, suddenly examined by more and more judges, legislators and just plain folks and found seriously wanting.
This shortcoming is all but certain to be directly related to the increasing number of Americans who check the "none of the above" box on surveys asking their religious preference. Such melding of religion and politics still has quite a bit of strength in it, though. Enough for such a rare pro-discrimination bill to pass the Kansas House by a margin of 72-42.
And enough for a lot of folks, both inside the Sunflower State and elsewhere, to ask the famous question, "What’s the matter with Kansas?"
That was the title of a famous editorial written by the godfather of Kansas newspapermen, William Allen White, more than 100 years ago. It was also the title of a discerning book by my contemporary ex-Kansan Thomas Frank. White’s answer was something about too many rabble-rousers disrespecting the folks who today would be called job creators. But Frank’s more recent conclusion is more to the point. It is that moneyed interests – such as the Kansas-based Koch brothers – win elections by promising frightened and powerless people to protect them against the fear du jour – immigrants, blacks, abortionists, feminists, gays – even if those fears have to be whipped up or created out of whole cloth. The real goal, though, is to implement policies that harm those same average people – gutting public education and environmental protections, foiling attempts to raise workers’ wages or make affordable health care as available here as it is in civilized nations.
As a friend of mine said when a previously popular Democratic congressman from Wichita was unseated by a Republican who was tea party before tea party was cool, the workers in the city’s aircraft plants were more worried about losing their guns than losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, the president of the Kansas Senate was heard to say that the anti-gay bill would probably not be considered by that chamber. Too much confusion over what the bill would really mean in practice. Too much other pressing business. Too many disapproving letters to the editor, from normal Kansans who are just as ashamed of their political leaders as a lot of regular Utahns are of theirs.
What’s the matter with Kansas? Not much more than what’s the matter with Utah. And nothing that the rising voices of both states won’t, eventually, fix.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, can tell you stories about Kansas liquor laws that would surprise even Utahns.
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