Worried that his 2nd Congressional District race could be sidetracked by an "irrelevant" issue, Monday night Democrat Ross Anderson said he would poll his constituents and vote on any same-sex marriage bills as his constituents wish, regardless of his personal support for same-sex marriages.
However, Anderson added that he wouldn't vote for any bill, no matter what the topic, that he believes unconstitutional. And parts of a current bill before Congress that would restrict same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, he believes.Anderson's clarification of his stand on same-sex marriages comes after media reports on the issue and a press conference Monday morning by about 20 northern Utah Democratic officeholders and candidates. The Democrats said that while they support Anderson's candidacy and agree with him on some issues, they vehemently disagree with him on same-sex marriages and his opposition to the death penalty.
"Some in the media and some (Democratic) candidates are obsessing on this (same-sex marriage) issue," said Anderson Tuesday morning.
But Anderson clearly had (and may still have) a real political problem. The LDS Church's First Presidency two years ago issued a statement opposing same-sex marriages. The church is actively opposing efforts in Hawaii to legalize same-sex marriages. There currently is no state or nation that sanctions same-sex marriages.
Upward of 60 percent of 2nd District residents are members of the LDS Church, polling shows, and Anderson will likely need some of those votes if he's to defeat Republican challenger Merrill Cook. Cook opposes same-sex marriages.
"This (same-sex marriages) is a very different issue for a lot of people. Our most revered institution is involved," said Anderson. "I hope that, as a community and a nation, we will all seek greater understanding and compassion - and judge each other less harshly. I also hope that our politicians will finally refrain from the politics of division and fear."
In a Deseret News story that ran over the weekend concerning Anderson's political problem with the same-sex issue, Brigham Young University political science professor David Magleby, himself a Mormon and a Democrat, said same-sex marriages is a salient issue, an important issue, with many voters, and Anderson would be mistaken to discount its impact.
Anderson won a primary battle last month, in part, due to support by the Gay and Lesbian Utah Democrats. And GLUD supported Anderson over rival Democrat Kelly Atkinson, in part, because of Anderson's strong support of same-sex marriages and other gay and lesbian issues. Atkinson is against same-sex marriages.
GLUD founder David Nelson said Tuesday that his group is "disappointed and angry" at Anderson over the "change" in his same-sex marriage stand but will still support him. Anderson "is trying to become a centrist" by the change, said Nelson, but he's broken a promise to support same-sex marriages in all cases, and it could cost him "up to 8 percent of his core support (gays and lesbians in the 2nd District), and I don't know if he can afford to write off" so many Democratic voters.
Anderson said he met with GLUD leaders before issuing his statement and is disappointed over their reaction. "They agreed. I can't believe some of them were hiding in waiting to take pot shots at me now. I have not waffled at all; I will never back away from my deeply held personal commitment to equal rights for all. But on this sensitive issue, as a representative of all the people in the 2nd District, I'd vote my constituents' wishes, the only responsible thing to do."
Charlene Orchard of the Utah Human Rights Coalition said she and her members still respect Anderson. "Ross has been incredibly consistent in his support of everyone's rights under the Constitution. It's what we admire about him. While our group doesn't endorse candidates, I know many gays and lesbians are pleased with his support of our issues," she said.
Anderson said Tuesday that the simple truth is that his personal beliefs on same-sex marriages, or the death penalty or any number of other "minor" issues just won't be a factor in the U.S. Congress.
"Issues like (same-sex marriage) shouldn't be decided in Congress anyway, they should be decided by the states and in the courts," said Anderson, a local attorney who is seeking office for the first time.