SALT LAKE CITY — An administrative law judge says the state of Utah can’t block Elizabeth Solomon from using her license plate to tell the world “GAYSROK.”
Utah State Tax Commission Administrative Law Judge Jane Phan ruled against the state, saying there was no good reason to prevent the Park City woman from having that plate — which can be read “Gays are OK” or “Gays rock” — or another one saying, “GAYRYTS.”
“The narrow issue before us is whether a reasonable person would believe the terms ‘gays are ok’ and ‘gay rights’ are, themselves, offensive to good taste and decency. It is the conclusion of the commission that a reasonable person would not,” Phan wrote.
It’s not yet an outright victory for Solomon since the state can appeal the July 19 decision.
“We’re discussing it, and we have 30 days to do that,” said Barry Conover, deputy director of the commission, which oversees Utah’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Tax Commission officials were to consult with the state attorney general’s office about a possible appeal, Conover said.
“It kind of opens up the door for all types of people who want to make a license plate a public forum, for every initiative,” he said.
Dani Eyer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, which represented Solomon, countered: “The government can’t pick and choose what subjects it likes and does not like.”
Solomon said she considered the judge’s decision a victory for her daughter, who is gay, and for two gay male friends.
The former volunteer with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Washington, D.C., decided to put a pro-gay message on a vanity plate last winter. The DMV asks those applying for such plates to offer three choices in case one or two are denied for “having connotations offensive to good taste and decency,” according to state law.
The state denied all three of Solomon’s choices, saying license plates were not a public forum.
Her initial appeal resulted in the division reversing itself on wording for one plate: “GAY WE GO.”
“I said, ‘Oh, no, no, I want all of them,’ ” she said on July 27. “You’re not getting off this easy.”
After’s Solomon’s appeal hearing for the other two plates, Phan agreed with the Tax Commission that the plates were not a public forum since the Legislature had placed restrictions on their content.
However, a vanity plate can only be denied if it contains one of the words or the subject matter specially listed in that statute, which Solomon’s three choices did not.
The commission also cited additional criteria for its denial, saying the proposed plates “relate to sexual functions and express superiority of gender.”
Phan discounted the first commission contention “that sexual functions could be interpreted so broadly as to encompass the word ‘gay’ such that the license plates would be prohibited.”
Phan also disagreed with the gender superiority argument, saying the word “gay” applies to both homosexual men and women.
If and when Solomon is ever allowed to display her gay-rights vanity plate, she fully expects her vehicle to be vandalized.
“I’m very prepared to have my car keyed and my tires slashed,” she said. “I’ll just get it fixed. It won’t stop me; I’ll buy more cars and get more plates.”