Utah TV Station’s History of Censoring Gay Content

Posted By on December 27, 2013

There’s been some controversy this week, after an internal memo from Mormon-owned TV station KSL in Utah leaked out showing management directing staff not to show footage of gay couples kissing.

“Please avoid using kissing footage in your stories about Amendment 3,” reads the email, apparently written by Managing Editor Keri Wilcox. That’s a tall order considering every news station and newspaper in Utah has been filled with pictures of happily married couples for the past week.

Mormon-owned news outlets have some history with either censoring LGBT content from their viewers, or going out of their way to give credibility and voice to those who are opposed to equal rights for all citizens.

Remember the stink last year when KSL announced they had decided to censor “The New Normal,” a new NBC show that featured gay parents? There was also the time when the Deseret News, a major Utah newspaper owned by the Mormon Church, posted a story that used an anonymous internet commenter from a different site as an official source, using their quote about how gays are like alcoholics.

The Salt Lake Tribune posted a quick article a couple of days ago, as this rumor started going around, which quoted KSL’s executive vice president of news saying that no such policy banning footage of gay couples kissing exists.

But Seth Bracken, who used to work for the Deseret Digital Media Team which includes both DeseretNews.com and KSL.com, says otherwise. “When I worked on the Deseret News Web team we were not allowed to show photos of gay couples kissing. It was official and written policy,” Seth tells me.

Seth even provided a few other examples of KSL and Deseret News censoring affection between gay couples. “For example, we were banned from acknowledging that “8: The Mormon Proposition” [a 2010 documentary about the Mormon Church's involvement in California's Prop8] existed, even when we were listing all other Sundance Film Festival information. When we listed movie times and locations we were not supposed to list the information for ‘8: The Mormon Proposition’. If I recall, some editorial information was used (in stories).” Seth says some info about the film made it online anyways, but it was against policy for it to happen.

Bracken also detailed one other instance of censorship, during the several “kiss-in” protests in downtime Salt Lake between 2009-2011, where gay couples shared a quick smooch in public. According to Bracken, it was a big challenge for the digital editors to find photos of the protest without actually showing any of the kisses themselves.

How the media portrays LGBT people matters. It would be almost unthinkable to find a wedding story that doesn’t show some footage of lots of hugging, kissing and tears. By refusing to show any of that for gay couples, it dehumanizes them and perpetuates the idea—if subtly—that gay couples are somehow worth less than straight ones. The media plays a powerful role in the movement for equality, and a perpetuation of the idea that gay couples are somehow different or lesser than straight couples by a major new station can have lasting impact on the lives of not only LGBT adults, but LGBT kids for a long time to come.

EDITORIAL: Gay Marriage Must Stand in Utah

Posted By on December 22, 2013

**Article was originally written for Utah Political Capitol

Friday afternoon, Judge Robert J. Shelby shocked the state and nation when he lifted the ban on same-sex marriage by overturning Utah’s Amendment 3 to the state’s constitution, ruling it unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection  and due process guarantees of the United States Constitution.

It is the opinion of Utah Political Capitol that Shelby was correct in his decision.

Like all amendments to the state constitution, Amendment 3 was approved by the citizens of Utah at the ballot box with just over 65 percent approval. The amendment, simply reading “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect,” and preemptively denied same-sex couples from ever receiving anything close to the rights of heterosexual couples in Utah.

For this reason, many conservative organizations who supported Amendment 3 are claiming that a federal, activist judge, has usurped the will of the people.

Indeed, this is true. The will of the citizens of Utah (at least, their will from 9 years ago) has been undercut—but not by an “activist judge,” but by the law.

In 2004, the Massachusetts courts had just ruled gay marriage legal in that state. Identity politics (politics featuring an “us vs. them” mentality) were in full swing nationally during the Bush vs. Kerry election, and conservative states were rushing to try and shore up their own laws to prevent something similar from happening in their state. It has has since been revealed this was a tactic employed by members of the Bush re-election campaign in an attempt to get social conservatives out to the voting booths in higher numbers.

And, so, Amendment 3, was born and voted into law. But the question that now arises is whether or not Utah voters, or the State Legislature for that matter, ever had the right to vote on whether or not LGBT Utahns should receive their full rights as citizens.

It is our firm belief that in our representative democracy, the will of the people should generally be followed. However, as the old saying goes, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch,” and within the constitution the judiciary is in place to ensure the rights of the lamb are never trampled by the wolves. The will of the people must be set aside when the tyranny of the majority steps on the rights of individuals who seek nothing more than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As Judge Shelby put it, “[The wording of Amendment 3] suggests that the imposition of inequality was not merely the law’s effect, but its goal (emphasis added)… Amendment 3 thereby preemptively denied rights to gay and lesbian citizens of Utah that they may have already had under the Utah Constitution.”

That same constitutional principle of equal protection and due process is what granted the vote to women, to people of color, and is also what prevented nationwide votes on whether to ban religions such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in an age when it surely would have passed.

Opponents, such as the conservative lobbyist group Sutherland Institute, are arguing that there is definitive proof same-sex couples marrying harms the “tradition” of one man and one woman marriages, and further proof that same-sex couples make bad parents, and that the purpose of marriage between one man and one woman is to encourage child bearing.

Yet, as equal marriage for gay couples has been debated in courts across the country over the last decade, not once have opponents managed to produce any evidence of such claims. Judge Shelby asked the state’s lawyer, “Is it the state’s position that it would be constitutional, if the state chose to do so, to enact a regulation or law requiring that individuals who wish to marry submit to fertilization testing to prove that they’re capable of procreation? Is that constitutional?” The state lawyer could only answer that no, that would not be constitutional. The California Supreme Court, when they were hearing the case there, asked the attorney for Proposition 8 what harm gay marriage does to straight marriage. “I don’t know,” was the reply.

In no court case across the country have any of the arguments we hear daily against gay marriage from lobbyists, think tanks, or pundits hold up in court. This can only lead us to conclude that such arguments are little more than bad public relations.

Because we honor the United States Constitution, we must honor the ideals enshrined within it of due process and equal protection. These ideals require that our government be fair to all and give equal access to the rights and liberties afforded to us by this great nation. These ideals tell we the people that if you work hard and contribute to society, you can expect that you will be treated fairly. Indeed, these ideals tell the world that there will be equality to all with prejudice towards none.

Our state, nation, and private institutions provide several advantages to legally married couples. Citizens with legally recognized marriages receive tax breaks, are able to avoid the pitfalls of inheritance laws, are guaranteed access to insurance benefits, visit spouses in the hospital and make medical decisions, make funeral arrangements, receive fair separation of assets in a divorce, sue on behalf of a spouse, and much, much more. By denying these rights to upstanding citizens who happen to be homosexual is a clear violation of these couples’ right to equally engage their government.

The tyranny of the majority clearly violated the rights of the minority in the case of Amendment 3, and it is clear that the Judge Shelby considered the law, and not the fleeting emotions of the day, in his logical and reasoned position. This was not the response of an “activist judge,” but rather the type of fair ruling we should expect from our judicial branch. This check on the legislative branches power is exactly what we should admire in our state and nation.

And so, Utah Political Capitol applauds Judge Shelby for the courage to stand up to a public that may be angered by his decision because, after all, he did exactly what we demand he do—ensured that all are treated justly. After all, you don’t have to agree with gay marriage, in fact you can think whatever you want about it. Religions can preach whatever they wish, and set any requirements they wish for the marriages they perform. Freedom of Religion has remained intact. But whatever we might think, whatever a religion might believe, it should have no bearing on whether two loving adults are able to get married in a courthouse.

Follow Author Eric Ethington on Twitter @EricEthington

Polygamy And Marriage Equality — Are They The Same Fight?

Posted By on December 21, 2013

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**This article originally appeared on The New Civil Rights Movement

Are polygamy and marriage equality the same fight? Since my article a few days ago about a Utah federal judge decriminalizing the majority of that state’s ban on polygamy, my inbox has been flooded with passionate and varying opinions. So let’s dive deeper into this.

First some background. In Utah Judge Clark Waddoups’ ruling, it’s important to note that he did not completely legalize polygamy, the plaintiffs weren’t even asking him to. What was struck down as unconstitutional were Utah’s laws criminalizing cohabitation between married couples and other single individuals. It is still illegal for polygamous families in Utah to seek multiple marriage certificates.

The well-known attorney representing the polygamous family in the case, Jonathan Turley, based his arguments heavily on the historic 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, where the Supreme Court struck down state bans on sodomy. That ruling had nothing to do with marriage or relationships, but rather drew upon the notion of Americans’ right to privacy—that governments had no right to regulate what goes on between consenting adults in the privacy of their homes.

So on privacy grounds the fight to legalize polygamy and the overarching fight for LGBT equality are unquestionably linked. Just as in the Lawrence v. Texas decision, when intimate relations between LGBT persons were decriminalized, intimate relations between polygamous families has been decriminalized (in Utah, at least). Whether it be the intimacy between two men, two women, or plural families, a nation founded upon the principles of freedom cannot impede upon the private lives of its citizens.

But the similarities between the two struggles do, perhaps, diverge legally at that point. In the case of marriage equality, LGBT families are fighting for equal access to the same protections and laws that benefit straight couples. In the case of plural families, the fight is not for equal access to existing laws, but rather the creation and formation of a new kind of marriage—requiring the creation of not only new marriage laws, but also estate, tax, death and all other related areas of code. (I say “new” in that plural marriage laws do not currently exist in the United States.)

One of the primary points of interest in the feedback I have received was my use of the word “choice,” in describing polygamous relationships. Believe me, I did not choose the word lightly. LGBT people around the world have struggled for decades to help our neighbors understand that we do not choose our sexual orientations or gender identities, just as no one chooses to be heterosexual or cisgender. But do innate characteristics such as orientation, gender identity, or race also apply to polygamous communities? I don’t see it. True, we do not choose the people we fall in love with, nor does the fact that we may already be in a relationship preclude the possibility of falling for someone else. But choosing to form a relationship with multiple people is just that, a choice—just as the decision two men or two women or a man and a woman make to form a relationship is a choice.

Some may believe, and certainly many who have contacted me believe, that plural marriage is a civil right. Honestly, I don’t have the answers there, and not knowing anyone personally in a polygamous family likely holds me back from understanding the movement better.

But regardless of personal feelings, or the debate over whether polygamous marriages are a legitimate civil rights struggle, the fight is different from marriage equality. There is certainly crossover around the issues of privacy, and the right to do what you please at home. But at the end of the day, polygamy is not pushing for equal access to existing laws. Which fight is more important is up to you (or perhaps neither are more important), but I have yet to see any arguments convincing me that they are the same.

I am not unsympathetic to the plight of plural families seeking simply to be left alone. We all deserve to be able to live the way we choose. But directly correlating the fight for marriage equality to the fight to legalize plural marriage is a legal and logical leap I cannot make in my own mind.

Follow author Eric Ethington on Twitter @EricEthington

Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Law

Posted By on December 16, 2013

sister wives

**Originally posted to The New Civil Rights MovementPart 2, “Polygamy and Marriage Equality: Are They the Same Fight?” can be seen here.

There could not be a stranger moment in time. Amidst the excitement and celebration of the fifteenth and sixteenth states to pass marriage equality, and the historic passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through the U.S. Senate, in the remote Western state of Utah, a federal District Court judge has just ruled part of that state’s ban on polygamy is unconstitutional.

Jonathan Turley, lead counsel in the case brought forward by the stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives,” announced the ruling Friday in a blog post, calling it a victory equivalent toBrown v. Board of Education, andLawrence v. Texas.

And here I am, left wondering if the comparisons between polygamy and the hard-fought freedoms the LGBT community has recently achieved are actually comparable.

We’ve heard the comparisons for years, “Gay Marriage leads to polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia!” How many times have those words dripped from the mouths of people like Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, Peter LaBarbera, and Rick Warren?

The potential legalization of polygamy calls into question everything we know and think of in marriage. The very thought of polygamy is rank with images of 55-year old men marrying 12-year old girls, of trapped teenagers beaten and killed for trying to escape polygamist compounds in the deserts of Utah and Texas.

So what are the implications of this ruling? Is it going to become the latest sideshow for those culture warriors against equality to hold up as supposed proof that they were right?

To put it plainly, yes it is.

What’s important to remember are the simple and fundamental truths. The struggle for same-sex marriage has only been, and will continue to only be about one thing: equality—that joyful little word that fills our hearts and keeps us pushing. It’s about leveling the playing field and being able to say without any doubt that no other human being in our country has rights that we do not. We were born Gay, or Lesbian, or Bisexual, or Trans*, and we will always be so. We have every bit the same right to marry the person we fall in love with that our neighbors have.

Polygamy? It’s not an innate characteristic, it’s a choice. The struggle for polygamy is not about equality, but about privacy. It’s a fight to keep government away from the choices of consenting adults. It’s an important distinction to make.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about polygamy. On one hand I’ve always felt that the government shouldn’t be in the business of legitimizing or sanctifying any marriages. On the other hand, polygamy actually is a redefinition of marriage, and frequently used as an excuse for abuse and persecution of women and children.

But however you feel about it, as the nation no-doubt erupts in Utah/Mormon/Polygamy jokes over the next few days, it’s important to speak out about the differences between equality and privacy.

We only want what everyone else already has. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

INFOGRAPHIC: Yeah, that’s right people. Keep thinking Unions are the ones who are out to get you.

Posted By on December 11, 2013

Yeah, that’s right people. Keep thinking Unions are the ones who are out to get you.

Organized labor is what created the American Dream in the first place. Every step we take to dismantle unions is another step towards losing all of our rights as workers.

H/T The Moderate Voice


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Utah Senator Highlights the Calculated Destruction of Public Education

Posted By on December 3, 2013

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Across the country, public schools are under a constant barrage of attacks, usually from conservatives who have an interest in pushing for school-privatization where they can make a profit. Over in deep-red Utah, one state senator is proposing a shiny new example of the latest attempt to empty public schools.

Back in August, Utah State Senator Aaron Osmond (fun fact: he’s Donny’s nephew) proposed doing away completely with mandatory education laws, arguing that kids and parents should take responsibility for their education rather than being forced by the state to be in a classroom. The idea received a lot of criticism (rightly so), and even earned the young senator a couple of jokes pointed his way on the Conan O’Brien Show.

Osmond is a very candid fellow and to his credit he made the media rounds, took the criticism, and discussed his idea with anyone who wanted to talk. On one radio show, he even admitted that eliminating compulsory education would likely damage his state’s business prospects, as companies aren’t likely to move to a state actively decreasing their educated workforce numbers.

Retreating from the heat, Osmond then said he was going to take a few months to speak with parents, teachers, stakeholders and other interested parties to refine his proposal.

Late yesterday, Mr. Osmond came back with his new packet of three proposed laws he intends to put forward during Utah’s upcoming legislative session.

Bill #1 – Creates new legal liabilities for parents, requiring that once their kids turn six they sign an affidavit declaring whether their children will attend public school, private school, or home school. It also exempts private schools and home schools from all measurement standards, testing, classroom time, reporting, and curriculum standards.

Bill #2 – If parents sign the affidavit and send their children to public schools, they will now have to sign additional contracts—legally agreeing to attend all parent teacher conferences, support any and all disciplinary measures taken by teachers, and to pay for all remediation or tutoring their children might need. Should students fail to meet academic standards, summer school or remediation will be mandatory (payed for by parents, remember). Should parents fail to meet their obligations as laid out in the contract they sign (ie.. if parents miss a parent teacher conference, or cannot afford to pay for remediation), the child could find themselves removed from the public school system.

Bill #3 – Parents and school districts can now choose the number of classroom hours they deem appropriate for children to attend.

So let’s break this down. First, there are zero requirements or levels of standards for private schools or home schools. In other words, the state is removing any and all interest in whether or not children outside the public education system are receiving a proper education. They’re being taught for only two hours per week, and the curriculum teaches the Pilgrims were fleeing Sweden to avoid King Shakespeare’s communist book The Art of War? Doesn’t matter. They’re outside the public school system so the state will no longer have any authority over what or how kids are taught.

Also, notice the massive amounts of new paperwork and legal obligations now in the way for parents who want to send their kids to neighborhood schools. While the idea of getting parents more involved with their children’s education is laudable, this is a barely-masked attempt to put so many barriers in front of public education that parents simply give up. Some students are going to do poorly, that’s inevitable and a result of a variety of factors. What happens when the single parent working two jobs can’t attend parent teacher conferences? Will their kids be simply kicked out of school, forcing home school (which they don’t have time for) or private school (which they can’t afford)? What happens if that same single parent working two jobs now has to come up with money to pay for remedial coursework?

Not all parents have their children’s best interests at heart. I think it’s inevitable that you’ll find quite a few parents who select a home school option simply out of convenience. Perhaps they have a five year old at home, so they pull the 13 year old out of school for a year to act as a babysitter. With no testing, standards, or measurement of how those kids are doing, their future can fly right out the window just because their parents needed a babysitter.

Utah is one of the top states for national conservative legislation to receive testing. With conservatives controlling over 80 percent of the state legislature, almost anything—no matter how radical—can be passed into law in order to gauge public reaction and emotional responses. If it flies through easily, it can begin to spread to other states. If it meets heavy resistance in Utah, conservatives know things need to be reworked before tried out again. It’s why organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council exists, to promote these model bills which will further their own business interests. In this instance, Osmond is working closely with the Sutherland Institute, one of two local affiliates of the Heritage Foundation’s State Policy Network. There are a lot of educational software companies in Utah (and more than one Utah lawmaker who owns stakes in them) who would love to see more kids get pushed into private or home schooling so they can sell more programs.

Back in 2007, Utah voters passed a statewide referendum to repeal the legislature’s recently-passed school voucher program. Since then, vouchers have become a (mostly) nonstarter conversation in the state. Since then, however, lawmakers have put heavy restrictions on citizen referendums—making it almost impossible for citizens to repeal a law they pass. Will Utahns muster up enough outrage to stop this new push for school privatization when the session starts in January? We’ll find out.

Immigration Policies: From Kids to Adults

Posted By on December 3, 2013

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