Cushman: ‘Politically Correct’ Laws Take Substantive Steps Toward Equality


Vivian Malone Jones, one of the first two black students at the University of Alabama, arrives to register for classes. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


In November 2020, Utahns will have the opportunity to approve a state constitutional amendment that would remove slavery as an option for the punishment of a crime. The amendment proposed in Representative Sandra Hollins’ H.J.R. 8 may come across as an empty gesture or virtue signaling to some voters, but this interpretation misunderstands the intention of the law, which is to create a constitution that protects every Utahn. This amendment may not seem like the most pressing issue facing the University of Utah’s campus, Salt Lake City or Utah right now, but it is important to acknowledge that by keeping slavery in the state constitution, the interests of many Utahns are being disregarded. Changing the law to be more inclusive is not an empty, politically correct gesture, but a sign of good leadership.

Changes in legislation are often an important step in advancing the rights of oppressed groups in society. During the Civil Rights movement, much of the progress made in the treatment of African Americans came from legal battles led by prestigious lawyers like Thurgood Marshall. Marshall was committed to forcing a lasting change in the courtrooms rather than solely utilizing protests. His strategy proved effective in 1954 with the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled state laws enforcing segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.

Gradual changes in the law made equal education, housing, and employment more accessible, helping to advance the place of African Americans in society before many Americans considered them equal. The United States has undergone significant changes since the 1950s because of many laws being enacted to address inequality, but there are still many laws across our country and in Utah that are not written to protect everyone. Changing our laws to be more inclusive is an effective way to address the inequality regarding sexuality, gender, religion and a variety of other issues that still exist in the United States today.

Keeping laws that punish or prioritize one group over another is a subtle way of ascribing a “lesser than” status to some members of society. Even small changes that make law more gender-inclusive, neutral to religion, and less homophobic are an important step to encourage cultural change and recognize the changes that have already been made. In the 2019 General Session, Utah State Representative Stephen Handy sponsored H.B. 422, which removed gendered language from the marriage code and formally removed the line of code that once outlawed same-sex marriage. What some may perceive as an empty gesture, as same-sex marriage was made legal in every state by the Supreme Court in 2015, was a legitimate way of making a more equal Utah for members of the LGBT+ community. It is the government’s job to lead and recognize when changes like this are necessary, even if they are small.

Utah’s laws are meant to advocate for the interests of and protect Utahns. As constituents, we have a vested interest in how Utah politicians spend their time. If our politicians were only spending their time in office virtue signaling to help their chances at reelection, it would be a valid cause for concern. But H.J.R. 8 is not virtue signaling. It is a worthy effort to make the Utah Constitution better serve every member of the community.

If resolutions like H.J.R. 8 were not drafted and passed, it would be a sign of legislative leadership neglecting their duties. Utahns should take the important step in making Utah’s laws more inclusive and support the amendment proposed by H.J.R. 8 on the 2020 ballot. Politicians like Hollins show that Utah legislators are willing to dedicate their time to making laws that work for the entire state. That is something we should be proud of and support in 2020 and moving forward.

Taking the time and voting to change our laws to be more inclusive and representative of the whole constituency is important for the advancement of our collective interests. Supporting such laws in 2020 is an important step in making Utah laws that work for all of Utah.


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