Kase Johnstun loves his home state, but wishes it would take this moment in history to re-invent itself.
Remember that guy in high school who thought he was clever when he spouted the overused, under-thought, and clichéd quote, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”? Remember that ignorant jerk? In the early 1990s, I was that guy. I thought I was pretty smart and witty when I touted this nonsense. I can now only imagine what my more-progressive, more-informed classmates thought of me back then. Truthfully, I don’t want to know.
For most of my adult life I’ve lived away from Utah. And there are two things that I learned moving away. First, you get to reinvent yourself. Second, you hear what other people in other parts of the country (and other countries) think about where you grew up.
Getting the chance to reinvent yourself is freeing. When you meet new people, there are no shackles of past idiocies, like the bigoted “Adam and Steve” touting, hanging around your neck.
I went to a dinner party the other night with friends I had known since high school. They are good friends, loyal friends, and loving friends, but in the back of mind I couldn’t shake the thought, “I don’t know if these people truly know who I am now. They know the me from 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, or even seven years ago when I moved away from Utah the last time.” I believe I changed a lot since then. My worldview shifted quite a bit, and with the birth of my son, I’ve matured. But I worried that my friends saw me as the same guy I used to be.
Walking in, sitting down, making new friends, and showing them the person I wanted to show them, over the last five or six years, was like starting another life, one free of my past stumbles.
Utah has a stigma of staunch religious zealotry attached to it. No one is surprised at this. And, while I understood why this is how most people outside of Utah define our state, I always did my best to share the reams and reams of cool things about the Beehive State, most importantly the people – I’m sure I’m preaching to choir about this, so make your own list in your head of all the amazing things Utah has to offer.
“How could you grow up there?” or “I bet you’re glad you got out of there?” or “I could never live there” or “How could you stand it?” were the most common questions I heard while I looked across a table or meeting room or out into my classroom while living away.
But I think these assessments are unfair and inaccurate, and I made sure to explain how most people in the state are amazingly nice, how, if I were to ever have a child, it would be at the top of my list of places to raise that child because of the family-oriented ambiance that permeates the entire state, and how, for the most part, Utah has grown up a lot. I defended my state – proudly – because I believed those judgments are unfounded and unfair.
Currently, our state is in the spotlight when it comes to same-sex marriage, and, currently, Senate Bill 100 – the Antidiscrimination Amendments – has been introduced on the state senate floor. This bill would do what 16 cities and counties have done already, protect the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace, but on a statewide level, making it prosecutable if an employer fires an employee because of their sexual orientation. I believe this bill passing is just as important as keeping same-sex marriage legal, as it protects our citizens’ civil rights.
Our nation is looking at us, peering in to see what is going to happen in our courts, wondering if our law to ban same-sex marriage will stand or if it will be seen as unconstitutional. There is a lot at stake riding on this decision, not only locally but also nationally.
I cheered when I saw photos of couples flood our courthouses to commit to each other, and I jeered when there was a stay in the ruling – I understood that the system is the system and that’s how things work – but when I heard that our governor would not honor the marriages of those who got married during those weeks, even though they would be honored nationally, I got angry. I thought about our governor walking up to me and my wife of 10 years and telling us that our marriage was invalid. What if he said that to you and yours?
Governor Herbert has been outspoken about defending the same-sex marriage ban. From the outside looking in, Utah has now become that ignorant jerk from high school who walks around saying, “God Made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” and I find that very difficult to defend.
The ruling on the ban of same-sex marriage may be out of our hands for now, but with SB 100, by contacting our representatives to express our support of it, we have a chance to reinvent ourselves.
Originally published by The Standard-Examiner
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