A bill seeking to expand government intrusion into Utahns' private agreements is slated for consideration Wednesday, Feb. 9, by the state House Judiciary Committee. [Update: The bill was pulled from the agenda Wednesday morning.]
House Bill 182 ("Voiding Transactions Against Public Policy") should concern libertarians and privacy advocates as well as LGBT organizers. The measure, sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, would add the following language to the Utah Code:
An arrangement, agreement, or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable.
On its surface, it seems pretty innocuous, if not actually redundant -- after all, the state already has a means for voiding "unlawful" contracts. It's one of the things the court system has always been pretty good at.
But it's the mention of "public policy" that sounds suspicious, particularly when we consider another bill sponsored by Christensen, House Bill 270 ("Family Policy"), which
Specifically, HB270 would amend state law to include language such as:
The institution of marriage and family, consisting of the legal union of a man and a woman and children conceived and born to, or adopted by, the married couple as father and mother, is the fundamental unit of society and the optimum environment in which to nurture and raise a child.
Marriage and family predate all governments and are supported by and consistent with the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World, affirmed in the nation's founding Declaration of Independence.
Now, invoking the Declaration of Independence as a way of justifying God does seem a little ... well, defensive. (It's as if the authors anticipated that any mention of deity would surely provoke an attack from godless atheists -- because there are so many atheists on Capitol Hill.) Still, the Declaration also affirmed that all men are created equal -- which is good to keep in mind when considering legislation that seeks to marginalize gay and lesbian families.
On its surface, HB270 seems like a lot of philosophical blather. But, when we put it together with HB182, we find that it's a lot of enforceable philosophical blather. Any agreement which fails to uphold the primacy of marriage between a man and a woman becomes void ab initio -- which means the courts could not uphold, say, inheritance or custody agreements between gay or lesbian couples, since, according to state law, God wouldn't like it.
Seems pretty obvious Christensen's aim is to make life more difficult for gay and lesbian families. But, if that's the case, why doesn't he come right out and say it? Perhaps he wishes to dodge a repeat of 2006, when his identical bill was defeated.
If Christensen's wish is to disguise this intent, then, taken together, HB182 and HB270 amount to a complicated anti-gay stealth bill. It almost make me nostalgic for the days when legislators were brave enough to bash gays openly! Things were simpler then.
Of course, by the Law of Unintended Consequences, Christensen's ophidian strategy is bound to have surprising results. What other private contracts might unexpectedly be affected by HB182?
I wasn't sure, so I searched through the Utah Code for mentions of the phrase "public policy." Turns out, Christensen's law could also increase government meddling in agreements relating to labor law, the ski industry, water rights, child welfare, and civic organizations.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
HB182 is up for Judicial Committee consideration Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 4 p.m. Equality Utah has issued an Action Alert.
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