Tribune editorial: State has no business telling people what gender they are

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Merrill F. Nelson (R-Grantsville), at the Utah State Capitol Wednesday February 15, 2017.

Utah is a state, governed by a political party, that takes some justifiable pride in the fact that it generally prefers not to muck about in people’s private business.

Yet the upcoming session of the Utah Legislature will have before it at least two bills that would reach into the most intimate and emotional parts of a person’s existence.

One is the measure that would — if passed by lawmakers (maybe), signed by the governor (possibly) and upheld by the courts (not going to happen) — forbid most abortions after 15 weeks gestation. It is, as discussed in this space last week, an unconstitutional, unscientific and thoroughly unsound idea.

Another is a proposal that would prohibit state courts from ordering, or state agencies from recording, any change in a person’s gender designation departing from the one recorded at birth. That is also a very bad idea and, perhaps even more than the proposed abortion restriction, pointless. Unless you believe that making life difficult for people you think are icky is a core function of government.

A person’s sex, gender, self-image, identification, sexual attractions, etc., etc. — and willing alterations of same — are the business of absolutely no one other than the person involved and, maybe, those with whom that person chooses to have intimate relationships. As long as all concerned are competent, consenting adults, the state’s only duty is to keep the paperwork.

Yet it seems that Rep. Merrill Nelson, a Grantsville Republican, is putting on the table a bill that would say that whatever got put down on the government document while the individual was far too young to protest is the way it will stay. No matter what feelings, actions or surgical procedures may follow, the law as Nelson would have it would say, No, government knows best.

State law on the subject is understandably fuzzy and at least one case of a person denied the ability to change his legal identification has made its way to the Utah Supreme Court. But laws such as this one have already been thrown out in Idaho and Puerto Rico, so its chance of standing in Utah is, rightly, slim.

Awkwardly, Nelson’s day job is as an attorney with the firm of Kirton McConkie, which counts The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among its more important clients. One of that church’s top leaders, Dallin H. Oaks, has urged his faith fellows to resist the concepts of gender fluidity.

Thus it will be difficult to accept, or to convince the federal judiciary of, Nelson’s claim that his bill is not religiously motivated.

That, plus the fact that Gov. Gary Herbert has said there ought to be a way for people to tick a different box on their birth certificates, means that this bill should not get any traction in the Legislature.