Utah governor’s comments on choice, sexual orientation draw criticism from LGBT advocates

Posted at 9:35 PM, May 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-23 17:22:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Forty-seven years ago, a young couple from Caroline County, Virginia became the faces of a landmark decision legalizing interracial marriage.

Today, the Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia has become part of the argument used in many gay marriage cases across the country, including Utah.

On Thursday, it prompted controversial remarks from Gov. Gary Herbert.

“What you choose to do with your sexual orientation is different, in my mind, than what you’re born with as far as your race. So, I don’t think they’re exactly the same,” Gov. Herbert said.

In his monthly news conference, the governor was responding to a question about whether or not he agreed with the analogy that the ban on gay marriage is similar to the former ban on interracial marriage.

Initially, he said no, suggesting it was a choice to be gay.

“I think it’s unclear,” Herbert said. “I expect there may be different gradations. Clearly, the actions involved in sexual activity ultimately may end up being choices. What your attraction may be is something else, but how you act upon those impulses is a choice.”

The governor's answers prompted a harsh response from the LGBT community.

“Governor Herbert’s comments are tone deaf,” said Steven Ha, executive director of the Utah Pride Center.

During a press conference, Ha said he expected a state official to have a better understanding of the people he serves, even if he doesn’t agree with them.

“It reminds me of a default language to bigotry,” Ha said. “I felt hurt immediately because those languages seem to be coming from a lack of understanding.”

While Ha applauded other states for refusing to defend their bans on gay marriage, Gov. Herbert criticized them for ignoring the will of the people of their states.

“For elected officials, governors or attorney generals, to say, ‘Pick and choose which laws we’ll enforce,’ I think is a tragedy and is the next step to anarchy,” Herbert said. “We have an obligation as a state, as a governor, as the Attorney General’s Office, to defend those laws until those laws are changed.”

On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that Utah must recognize more than 1,200 same-sex marriages performed when the state’s ban was temporarily lifted.

“I applaud Judge Kimball from the standpoint that he had the wisdom to issue a stay against his judgment, 21 days, for us to take time to analyze it and to review and see what would be the appropriate action for the state to take,” Herbert said.

In the next couple of weeks, the governor plans to meet with Attorney General Sean Reyes to determine how to respond to the ruling.