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Opinion: Look to the polls — same-sex marriage, the Great Salt Lake and Joe Biden

The polls are in and voters have shown what matters to them — and what is no longer an issue

SHARE Opinion: Look to the polls — same-sex marriage, the Great Salt Lake and Joe Biden
Heidi Thomas and Meggane Vasquez participate in the Rainbow March and Rally in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 6, 2021.

Heidi Thomas, left, and Meggane Vasquez, right, look at each other during the Rainbow March and Rally that began at the state Capitol before heading to Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Sunday, June 6, 2021. The event was part of Pride Week activities to support Utah’s LGBTQ community.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

Your columnists are weirdo political junkies who get high from consuming any sort of polling data. Our favorite newspaper (this one) and the Hinckley Institute of Politics are providing readers a banquet of surveys this year. We share some of the most intoxicating morsels.

In a September Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey, 72% of Utahns agreed that marriage between same-sex people should be recognized by the law as valid, while 23% disagreed. Back in 2004, 65.86% of Utah voters supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage only as the legal union between a man and a woman. This indicates a major shift in opinion in a relatively short amount of time. What caused this and how does this affect Utah politics?

Pignanelli: “Given shifts in public attitudes and the (Supreme Court) decision, gay marriage is unlikely to reemerge as a major issue in U.S. electoral politics.” — Justin McCarthy, Gallup 

The great national movements (i.e. women’s suffrage, enactment and repeal of prohibition, civil rights, etc.) were fostered by brilliant tacticians who understood the American psyche. This includes the leaders of the same-sex marriage initiative. 

Prior to the 2015 Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, 31 states adopted constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex unions. In response, activists departed from legalistic arguments and utilized data driven appeals to demographic groups. Many of their opponents adopted a strategy of demonizing gay and lesbian citizens, which most Americans rejected because they were comfortable with friends possessing a different sexual orientation. Further, perceptions began percolating that these unions were not harmful to the traditional institution of marriage. These emotions only increased over time.

Same-sex marriage is no longer an election issue. Indeed, current campaign messaging must be sensitive to insure a perception of fairness and compassion.

Webb: When I was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in what was then small-town Utah (Orem), LGBTQ people weren’t even visible for the most part. Those that did come out were likely to be considered abnormal, or even dangerous, and they were made fun of. Thankfully, we’ve come a very long way since then. Today, almost everyone knows and cares about someone who is gay, probably multiple people. The list may include family members, friends, neighbors or leaders in the community. We care about them and obviously want them to be happy and to live full and meaningful lives, including all the joys of loving and romantic relationships.

So the poll results are not a surprise.

I personally believe that strong, well-functioning families are the bedrock of society and the more people who are in committed, loving and long-lasting relationships, whatever their sexual orientation, the better off society will be. Casual sex, multiple partners, indifferent relationships and poor parenthood are serious threats to society.

Recognizing same-sex marriage as legally valid, however, is not the same as supporting it on a religious or doctrinal basis. I accept and support the freedom of religions and their leaders to decline, on theological grounds, to perform same-sex marriages. And religions should be free to doctrinally recognize marriage as only between a man and a woman.  

In the same poll, 80% of respondents expressed concern about the dwindling water levels in the Great Salt Lake. Some 73% approved of the Utah Legislature taking action to mitigate this problem. Will this support produce further action on the lake? Could it become a campaign issue?

Pignanelli: Speaker Brad Wilson, along with other state leaders, were instrumental in highlighting this issue to constituents. This is imperative because solving the Great Salt Lake shrinkage, and other water usage issues, will require a massive restructuring of how this resource is utilized.

The survey response emphasizes a critical element of democracy. Leaders who undertake educating the electorate as to sacrifices needed, along with the vision for resolution, of difficult problems will garner support. Utahns possess the common sense and intelligence to respond appropriately to nonpatronizing respectful entreaties. The poll reveals a deep goodwill to support the necessary hard decisions.

Webb: I applaud Utah policymakers who are focused hard on saving the Great Salt Lake. It’s terrific that Utahns support the effort. It’s going to be very difficult and will require a lot of money and sacrifice to make a real difference. Brown lawns and the high price of Israeli-like crop watering techniques hopefully will not erode the support. 

The poll also revealed that the economy was the most important issue to voters when selecting a U.S. senator or member of Congress. Also, 58% of Utahns disapprove of the performance by President Joe Biden. How does this impact the upcoming November midterm election up and down the ballot?

Pignanelli: Election Day is less than a month away and economic concerns are unlikely to be diminished. Republican incumbents will directly benefit. The red wave will also assist GOP candidates in swing districts. Only unique local strategies can push against these forces.

Webb: Republicans are poised to win big in Utah. The GOP has done a nice job of providing the right environment for job-creating businesses to be established and flourish, while seeing to the social and human services needs of Utahns. Thus, not much reason exists to change governance.  

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.