Liquor laws in Utah have long been fodder for jokes and complaints, both from out-of-state visitors and from non-Mormons in Utah who roll their eyes at their state’s unusually strict alcohol policies. Among them:
- Anyone ordering alcohol in a restaurant has to order food as well, to discourage drinking on an empty stomach
- Bartenders aren’t allowed to mix drinks in full view of customers, but do so behind a partition (nicknamed “the Zion curtain”)
But now a Mormon legislator, Kraig Powell, is urging lawmakers to soften Utah’s liquor laws by eliminating those two measures in an effort to draw more tourism to the state.
While some changes have already happened to relax Utah’s liquor laws – most notably, a 2009 provision that allowed establishments to stop calling themselves private clubs – it’s unlikely that Powell’s proposed measure will pass, especially now that the LDS Church has issued a public statement opposing the change.
In a ten-minute Mormon Newsroom video posted on YouTube, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve explained the Church’s view that alcohol consumption should be legal but that the state should “limit the negative consequences” associated with it, particularly alcohol abuse, underage drinking, and DUIs.
Seeming to anticipate the charge that the Church should stay out of politics, he said that the Church’s “default position” on legislative issues is to not take a position at all. But on moral issues, “we’re as entitled as anyone to weigh in” and take a stand.
The Church maintains that the strict liquor laws now on the books in Utah reflect “the moral culture of the state” and should not be changed. And with the Mormon population holding steady at about 62 percent of the state’s residents, that’s a fair point. In a 2005 poll, 70 percent of Utahns approved of the state’s liquor laws—though the percentage of Mormons who thought that the laws were “about right” was nearly double that of the non-Mormons polled.
Many Mormons also point out that Utah’s strict alcohol laws (and teetotaling culture) have positive effects that enhance the safety and quality of life for everyone in the state. Utah has the lowest rate of alcohol-related fatalities of any of the fifty states, and lower percentages of teen drinking.