Utah government, like most U.S. states, is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The current governor of Utah is Gary Herbert, who was sworn in on August 11, 2009. The governor is elected for a four-year term. The Utah State Legislature consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. State senators serve four-year terms and representatives two-year terms. The Utah Legislature meets each year in January for an annual forty-five-day session.
The Utah Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Utah. It consists of five justices, who are appointed by the governor, and then subject to retention election. The Utah Court of Appeals handles cases from the trial courts. Trial level courts are the district courts and justice courts. All justices and judges, like those on the Utah Supreme Court, are subject to retention election after appointment.
Further information: Women’s suffrage in Utah
Utah granted full voting rights to women in 1870, 26 years before becoming a state. Among all U.S. states, only Wyoming granted suffrage to women earlier. However, in 1887 the initial Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed by Congress in an effort to curtail Mormon influence in the territorial government. One of the provisions of the Act was the repeal of women’s suffrage; full suffrage was not returned until Utah was admitted to the Union in 1896.
Utah is one of the 15 states that have not ratified the U.S. Equal Rights Amendment.
Main article: Constitution of Utah
The constitution of Utah was enacted in 1895. Notably, the constitution outlawed polygamy, as requested by Congress when Utah had applied for statehood, and reestablished the territorial practice of women’s suffrage. Utah’s Constitution has been amended many times since its inception.
Alcohol, tobacco and gambling laws
Utah’s laws in regard to alcohol, tobacco and gambling are strict. Utah is an alcoholic beverage control state. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulates the sale of alcohol; wine and spirituous liquors may only be purchased at state liquor stores, and local laws may prohibit the sale of beer and other alcoholic beverages on Sundays. The state bans the sale of fruity alcoholic drinks at grocery stores and convenience stores. The law states that such drinks must now have new state-approved labels on the front of the products that contain capitalized letters in bold type telling consumers the drinks contain alcohol and at what percentage. The Utah Indoor Clean Air Act is a statewide smoking ban, that prohibits smoking in many public places. Utah is one of few states to set a smoking age of 19, as opposed to 18, as in most other states. Utah is also one of only two states in the United States to outlaw all forms of gambling; the other is Hawaii.
- Same-sex marriage in Utah
Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah on December 20, 2013 when judge Robert J. Shelby of the United States District Court for the District of Utah issued a ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert. As of close of business December 26, more than 1,225 marriage licenses were issued, with at least 74 percent, or 905 licenses, issued to gay and lesbian couples. The state Attorney General’s office was granted a stay of the ruling by the United States Supreme Court on January 6, 2014 while the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case. On Monday October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States declined a Writ of Certiorari, and the 10th Circuit Court issued their mandate later that day, lifting their stay. Same-sex marriages commenced again in Utah that day.
In the late 19th century, the federal government took issue with polygamy in the LDS Church. The LDS Church discontinued plural marriage in 1890, and in 1896 Utah gained admission to the Union. Many new people settled the area soon after the Mormon pioneers. Relations have often been strained between the LDS population and the non-LDS population. These tensions have played a large part in Utah’s history (Liberal Party vs. People’s Party).
Utah votes predominantly Republican. Self-identified Latter-day Saints are more likely to vote for the Republican ticket than non-Mormons, and Utah is one of the most Republican states in the nation. Utah was the single most Republican-leaning state in the country in every presidential election from 1976 to 2004, measured by the percentage point margin between the Republican and Democratic candidates. In 2008 Utah was only the third-most Republican state (after Wyoming and Oklahoma), but in 2012, with Mormon Mitt Romney atop the Republican ticket, Utah returned to its position as the most Republican state.
Both of Utah’s U.S. Senators, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, are Republican. Four more Republicans, Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, Jason Chaffetz, and Mia Love, represent Utah in the United States House of Representatives. After Jon Huntsman, Jr., resigned to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Herbert was sworn in as governor on August 11, 2009. Herbert was elected to serve out the remainder of the term in a special election in 2010, defeating Democratic nominee Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon with 64% of the vote. He won election to a full four-year term in 2012, defeating Democratic Businessman Peter Cooke with 68% of the vote.
The LDS Church maintains an official policy of neutrality with regard to political parties and candidates.
In the 1970s, then-Apostle Ezra Taft Benson was quoted by the Associated Press that it would be difficult for a faithful Latter-day Saint to be a liberal Democrat. Although the LDS Church has officially repudiated such statements on many occasions, Democratic candidates—including LDS Democrats—believe that Republicans capitalize on the perception that the Republican Party is doctrinally superior. Political scientist and pollster Dan Jones explains this disparity by noting that the national Democratic Party is associated with liberal positions on gay marriage and abortion, both of which the LDS Church is against. The Republican Party in heavily Mormon Utah County presents itself as the superior choice for Latter-day Saints. Even though Utah Democratic candidates are predominantly LDS, socially conservative, and pro-life, no Democrat has won in Utah County since 1994.
David Magleby, dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Brigham Young University, a lifelong Democrat and a political analyst, asserts that the Republican Party actually has more conservative positions than the LDS Church. Magleby argues that the locally conservative Democrats are in better accord with LDS doctrine. For example, the Republican Party of Utah opposes almost all abortions while Utah Democrats take a more liberal approach, although more conservative than their national counterparts. On Second Amendment issues, the state GOP has been at odds with the LDS Church position opposing concealed firearms in places of worship and in public spaces.
In 1998 the church expressed concern that Utahns perceived the Republican Party as an LDS institution and authorized lifelong Democrat and Seventy Marlin Jensen to promote LDS bipartisanship.
Utah is much more conservative than the United States as a whole, particularly on social issues. Compared to other Republican-dominated states in the Mountain West such as Wyoming, Utah politics have a more moralistic and less libertarian character according to David Magleby.
About 80% of Utah’s Legislature are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while they account for 61 percent of the population. Since becoming a state in 1896, Utah has had only two non-Mormon governors.
In 2006, the legislature passed legislation aimed at banning joint-custody for a non-biological parent of a child. The custody measure passed the legislature and was vetoed by the governor, a reciprocal benefits supporter.
Carbon County’s Democrats are generally made up of members of the large Greek, Italian, and Southeastern European communities, whose ancestors migrated in the early 20th century to work in the extensive mining industry. The views common amongst this group are heavily influenced by labor politics, particularly of the New Deal Era.
The Democrats of Summit County are the by-product of the migration of wealthy families from California in the 1990s to the ski resort town of Park City; their views are generally supportive of the economic policies favored by unions and the social policies favored by the liberals.
The state’s most Republican areas tend to be Utah County, which is the home to Brigham Young University in the city of Provo, and nearly all the rural counties. These areas generally hold socially conservative views in line with that of the national Religious Right. The most Democratic areas of the state lie currently in and around Salt Lake City proper.
The state has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964. Historically, Republican presidential nominees score one of their best margins of victory here. Utah was the Republicans’ best state in the 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2004 elections. In 1992, Utah was the only state in the nation where Democratic candidate Bill Clinton finished behind both Republican candidate George HW Bush and Independent candidate Ross Perot. In 2004, Republican George W. Bush won every county in the state and Utah gave him his largest margin of victory of any state. He won the state’s five electoral votes by a margin of 46 percentage points with 71.5% of the vote. In the 1996 Presidential elections the Republican candidate received a smaller 54% of the vote while the Democrat earned 34%.