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February, 20th 2009

Huntsman, Civil Unions and Utah

– Liz Mair

Last week, Utah Governor (and Republican) Jon Huntsman shocked a variety of political onlookers by announcing his support for same-sex civil unions (not least of whom was Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka, who offered as a reaction "Shame on him" and conjectured that Huntsman must want to go work for President Obama... because, of course, there's no other sensible reason to support civil unions for gay couples).

Some pundits speculated that this was a risky move for Huntsman, whose name has been mentioned as a possible 2012 Republican presidential prospect.  But, it seems that may not be the case, based on polling done last week by Dan Jones and Associates for KSL-TV and the Deseret News:

[O]ne-third of Utahns now have a less-favorable opinion of the governor, but his overall approval rating remains at 80 percent. As for civil unions, 47 percent support them and 42 percent oppose them.

Setting aside the 80% number (an approval rating most governors would proverbially kill for), these figures are astonishing.  Utah is widely considered one of the 2 or 3 most conservative-- fiscally and socially-- states in the country.  And yet, there, more voters support same-sex unions than oppose them.

If that isn't evidence of changing attitudes with regard to a key social issue in our society, I'm not sure what is.

(Disclaimer: I'm a Huntsman fan, and his change of position on this issue, in particular is one I welcome.  Also worth noting about Huntsman are the facts that he earned a "B" rating on CATO's Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors in both 2008 and 2006, being bested by just four governors in each year, and his service as US ambassador to Singapore, deputy US trade representative, and U.S. trade ambassador.  He also has been outspoken about environmental issues including climate change.  Here's a sample quote: "If we’re going to survive as a party, we need to focus on the environment... There’s a fundamental tone deafness with our party when it comes to the environment. ... The last place we can be as a party is be viewed as the anti-science party. That’s not a model for the future.”) [intro]

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