As Utah lawmakers debate whether or not to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it often appears as if there’s not much room for compromise. But don’t tell that to openly gay Sen. Jim Dabakis or the leader of the Utah Eagle Forum, Gayle Ruzicka. The two met in an open caucus as part of an ongoing series of weekly meetings sponsored by Dabakis.
As the pair discussed the importance of compromise and political ideology, Ruzicka made a strong argument for personal freedoms. The anti-abortion advocate went so far as to oppose a bill that would outlaw smoking in cars with small children.
“After they pass the law in the car, where will they go next? The home? When will it stop?” Ruzicka asked.
However, when asked about the nondiscrimination bill that would also protect people’s privacy, Ruzicka drew her own line. She said in order for her to support the bill, exceptions would have to be made for individuals who believe it would be immoral to work with gay or transgender people. This exemption would make the bill utterly useless.
“I don’t think people should discriminate, but I don’t think we can legislate that sort of thing,” she said. “I believe employers should make those choices themselves. Does it work to pass a law to tell them they can’t do that?”
Despite fervent testimony and pleas from many people in attendance, Ruzicka still insisted that being gay is a “lifestyle choice” and that it should be legal to fire or evict someone depending on who they date, marry or love. But her admonitions were slightly less barbed as usual.
When faced with a crowd full of gays, lesbians, queers and supporters, Ruzicka was calm, cool and, surprisingly, a bit shy. Her testimony was less passionate than her incantations in front of conservative legislators and activists. Her voice just slightly more timid and her responses a good deal more measured.
What Dabakis did by inviting Ruzicka to speak and provide an open and comfortable atmosphere was more than admirable. There’s no denying her influence. She controls the most powerful political action group in the state and can have hundreds or even thousands of emails, phone calls and letters sent to lawmakers in a split-second. Denying Ruzicka’s influence and power in Utah politics is folly. But working with such a strong-willed, conservative and anti-equality advocate often seems impossible. That is, until, Dabakis joins the foray.
With less than a full legislative session under his belt, Dabakis is already a commanding force on Capitol Hill and if he’s able to bring Ruzicka into a room full of gay rights advocates and have an open discussion, he ought to be commended.
Ruzicka is still voicing opposition to the anti-bias bill and pledged to oppose it. But instead of a protest or angry call for her withdraw from the scene, the meeting seemed to insert a smidgen of doubt. Instead of feeding off the fire of a personal protest, she now has faces and names to the discrimination she says she must support. I can’t help but wonder if she’s quietly second-guessing her own decision.
While a well-timed and organized protest can be quite effective, something important happened in a quiet, organized and civilized meeting with just a couple dozen people in attendance.