Commentary: Miscalculations hamstring both sides of hate crimes legislation debate

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) House representatives watch the board as the House reaches the two third majority after the Legislature called itself into special session on Wed. April 18, 2018, to attempt to override Gov. Gary Herbert's vetoes of two bills.

In the wake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ clarification of its stance on hate crimes legislation, lawmakers, advocates and political news media are speculating about how far hate crimes legislation will progress in the Utah Legislature. The answer to this question may come down to whether both sides of the debate continue or abandon their past political miscalculations.

Opponents of such legislation have miscalculated by pursuing victory through doing nothing on the issue. We’ve seen this approach fail here in Utah in debates over marriage, housing and employment, and beyond: The failure to prevent the expansion of Medicaid or the legalization of medical marijuana comes to mind.

Uncompromisingly opposing reform can delay popular changes to the law. But the most likely outcomes are enactment of the policy that is being opposed, and increased distrust toward representative government among people who are left feeling that their voice was ignored. Doing nothing politically to address the plight of vulnerable segments of society is ultimately an unsustainable and ineffective approach to politics and public policy.

Proponents of hate crimes reform have miscalculated by embracing rhetoric that diminishes those who oppose hate crimes laws — blaming their opposition on bias against the LGBTQ community and the church’s neutral position on the issue.

These arguments leave little space to consider opponents to hate crimes legislation as reasonable or rational people who simply think differently on a controversial issue. It suggests that those who oppose hate crimes legislation either do not or cannot think independently of a perceived church position and/or are motivated by malice toward LGBTQ people.

You don’t persuade lawmakers to support your cause by diminishing their intellect or good will, and doing so will naturally block legislative progress. It will also fail to help those in need of protection by pushing the debate away from what can easily be agreed to, such as the idea that all people have a right to public safety.

Both sides’ miscalculations have produced rhetoric that stokes anger, resentment and bitterness that threatens to poison our politics and undo the good will created by Utah’s consensus approach to housing and employment nondiscrimination and religious liberty. That package of legislation unified communities and improved the law for everyone. The debate over hate crimes has divided communities and improved the law for no one.

Both sides must take thoughtful consideration of the facts. Over one-third of states do not include sexual orientation, and two-thirds of states do not include gender identity, in a hate crimes law. These states run the gamut of the partisan and ideological spectrum.

National LGBTQ advocacy organizations such as LAMBDA Legal also point out that many LGBTQ advocates believe the impact of hate crimes laws is more negative than positive — especially for racial minorities — preferring community-based solutions to the police or criminal justice system. It appears that concerns about hate crimes laws are about more than one institution or attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.

Progress on hate crimes legislation will require a consensus-driven, principled compromise on hate crimes. Utah’s recent history provides a model: Package revised hate crimes legislation that strengthens safety for all people with additional protections for freedom of speech, association and religion — which are under assault by a political extremism that embraces intimidating a disfavored group or viewpoint into silence.

If both sides can recognize their past political miscalculations and put the interest of those who need protection and the state as a whole above personal politics, partisanship or ideology, Utah can make progress on hate crimes legislation. What’s more, Utah will be an example to other states that want to bypass partisanship in favor of collaboration, compromise and increased safety for all.

Derek Monson | The Sutherland Institute

Derek Monson is vice president of policy for Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Salt Lake City that advocates for free markets, civil society and community-driven solutions.

Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen | PARITY

The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is executive director of Parity, a New York City-based organization that promotes and affirms LGBTQ and religious identities.