Judge OKs Utahn's 3 'gay' plates

Motor Vehicles Division has 30 days to appeal

Published: Thursday, July 28 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

The letters may say gay, but a Park City woman says love is the only message she wanted to send with personalized license plates that read "GAYSROK," "GAYWEGO" and "GAYRYTS."

Primarily, Elizabeth "Beano" Solomon wanted to publicly state her love for her daughter, who is gay, and for two gay friends she is close to and considers her sons. She said she also wanted to show support for the many other parents, friends and other gay people who are struggling "in places that are not gay-friendly." The plates had very little, if any, political motivation, she said.

"This is about showing that I love my children," she said. "I did this for them."

However, Solomon's plates were denied by the Motor Vehicles Division of the Utah State Tax Commission, which said personalized plates are a "non-public forum" and not a place for the expression of controversial opinion. Additionally, the Motor Vehicles Division said the plates would be "offensive to good taste and decency, relate to sexual functions and express superiority of a gender," according to Utah State Tax Commission documents.

Solomon appealed the decision and last week the tax commission overturned it, ruling that a "reasonable person" would not find the terms "offensive to good taste." The plates also did not reference sexual functions, only a sexual preference that carries a much broader definition, and did not express the superiority of a gender since both male and female homosexuals use the term to describe themselves, according to the ruling issued by administrative law Judge Jane Phan.

The Motor Vehicles Division has 30 days to appeal the decision, at which time the commission would have a formal hearing. Motor Vehicles Division officials have not decided whether they will appeal. After a formal hearing, either party has the right to appeal the issue to state courts.

Regardless, Solomon was proud that she challenged the Motor Vehicles Division's decision, even after a compromise was offered that would have allowed her to use the "GAYWEGO" plate. Now, she is actually hoping to push the issue further by offering to make a donation of $50 to the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Utah for every additional gay-themed plate that people apply to have on their car.

While the gay-themed plates are a new issue for the Motor Vehicles Division, it is not uncommon for license plates to be denied, said Barry Conover, deputy executive director of the commission. For instance, "REDSKIN" and "REDSKNS" plates were determined to be racially offensive by the Utah Supreme Court in 1999, even though they referenced the football team, not Native Americans. On the other hand, a plate thanking God was permitted by the commission after first being denied.

There are a number of reasons to prohibit plates, Conover said, and even though sexual references or double-entendres constitute the majority of denials, public safety is actually one of the primary concerns. Plates that advocate gang violence or racial hatred are among those posing the biggest problems, and because they often use street slang, can be the most difficult to interpret.

Personalized plates actually cause enough problems that Conover said he would prefer that they not be allowed, although that would cause "a lot of public outcry" from people who want to express their enthusiasm for their hobby, family or self. So the content must be limited.

"A license plate's whole purpose is to identify the vehicle and protect the owner," he said. "It was never designed to be a place for a public forum."

If and when Solomon is allowed to display her gay rights vanity plate, she fully expects her vehicle to be vandalized.

"I'm very prepared to have my car keyed and my tires slashed," she said. "I'll just get it fixed. It won't stop me, I'll buy more cars and get more plates."


Contributing: Mark Thiessen, Associated Press

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com

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