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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The future of same-sex marriage and immigration

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 6:47 p.m. MDT

Traditional marriage supporters and same-sex marriage supporters gather at Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Traditional marriage supporters and same-sex marriage supporters gather at Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Utah summers are wonderful, with picnics and cooling off at the pool. But even amid the sunshine, politicos gather in dark corners to ponder current events. Here are some discussion topics:

Before its summer recess, the U.S. Supreme Court dropped a few bombs on proponents of traditional marriage, gutting the federal Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to revive California's Proposition 8 — effectively reinstituting same-sex marriage in that state. The net effect is tossing the issue for states to decide, and activists on both sides are gearing up for more battles. How does this play out in Utah?

Pignanelli: "I was against gay marriage until I realized I didn't have to get one." — James Carville

In the near future, there will be some noise — perhaps a lawsuit — but not much activity (a selfish desire because protest marches add 5 minutes to my commute). Long term is different.

Polls indicate most Utahns — especially under 30 — support civil unions/domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. State officials are extraordinarily successful in recruiting businesses to relocate operations to the Beehive State. But soon companies will ask whether the benefits they provide to gay and lesbian employees can exist under Utah law. While the prohibition of marriage may not be problematic, barring any unions between employees and partners (which our constitution does) will be an issue for large enterprises. Economic development and jobs will be on the line.

Both of these dynamics will increase in intensity. Therefore, I predict that by the end of the decade the Utah Constitution will be amended to allow civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Webb: Utah's constitutional protection of traditional marriage will remain in force for many years, but the national trend is clearly in favor of same-sex marriage. Policymakers should keep the fundamentals in mind: The family is the basic unit of society, crucial to strong communities, a strong nation and individual happiness. Policies that strengthen families should be pursued.

The U.S. Senate passed immigration reform with Utah's two senators splitting their votes. Now it's the House's turn to act. How will Utah's House delegation respond to pressure from business and community groups favoring comprehensive reform?

Pignanelli: The immigration debate is highlighting how the delegate/convention system empowers a minority of tyrants to defeat the will of the populace. A majority of Utahns support the immigration legislation. Every major business, agricultural, technology, religious and charitable organization endorses the bill. Any group that boasts rational humans as members has embraced it. But their pressure is diminished.

State delegates are only .002 percent of the voting age population but control the convention and nomination process. Our congressional delegation cannot ignore this reality and must pay deference to their demands, regardless of how absurd. Proponents of reform should consider shifting the artillery toward political party officials.

Webb: As I've written previously, Congress spends way too much time sticking its nose into all sorts of things where it has no business. But immigration policy is an unambiguous federal responsibility. Congress suffers its lowest approval ratings in history. This is a test of Congress' ability to get anything done. Every member of Congress agrees the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. If they can't fix this, they might as well resign and slink home in shame.

The Senate has passed an immigration package with serious flaws but also some very good provisions. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than the status quo. Ideally, the House would fix the Senate flaws and produce something even better. Utah's business and community leaders, plus the vast majority of citizens want real results. We'll see if they have courage to do the right thing.

Why do Utah state legislators continually complain about the federal government? Is state/federal tension health or counterproductive?

Pignanelli: My response to this often-asked question regarding Utahns antifederal psyche begins with a nod toward Fort Douglas (and the explanation it wasn't built to defend against Native Americans). This ingrained hostility, combined with Feds controlling 60 percent of Utah lands, breeds easy political gains with anti-Washington speeches. Because society and technology is ever changing, there should never be a permanent solution to this tension. It is a necessary and vital component of our republic.

Webb: State lawmakers all over the country chafe under federal domination — rightly so. The nation would be far better off if the federal government did less, and the states more. The Founders purposefully established three branches of government and two levels of government so the branches and levels would compete for power, thus preventing any branch, level or individual from amassing too much power.

Unfortunately, through neglect, court decisions and statutes, states have lost considerable standing in the federal/state relationship and we no longer have balanced federalism. States are mostly relegated to groveling before the federal government on every issue imaginable.

And the nation is the worse for it. A major reason the federal government is broke, dysfunctional and disrespected is that it has taken on far more than it can successfully execute. So state leaders should push back against federal encroachment. They are fulfilling a role the Founders expected of them. We need more push back, not less.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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