Utah’s new commemorative state flag becomes official

Utah's newly approved commemorative state flag marking the 125th anniversary of statehood. | Image courtesy of The Organization for a New Utah Flag www.newutahflag.org, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — It’s official: Utah has a new commemorative state flag, as Gov. Spencer Cox signed SB 48 into law Tuesday.

Utah’s newly approved commemorative state flag marking the 125th anniversary of statehood | Image courtesy of The Organization for a New Utah Flag www.newutahflag.org, St. George News

Utahns will be able to fly the new commemorative design throughout the rest of 2021, the 125th anniversary of Utah’s statehood.

Whether it will become the new permanent state flag will be up to the state flag task force that also was established through the new legislation.

For the remainder of the 2021 calendar year, government entities are authorized to display the new commemorative flag underneath the current state flag, according to the text of the new law, which was sponsored by Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton in the state Senate and Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, in the House.

Private businesses and individuals may fly the new flag as they see fit, with or without the current state flag. As with any state flag, it should always be positioned beneath the U.S. flag if they are flown together.

The commemorative flag’s design specifications, colors and symbolism are also defined and explained in the new bill. Among the details:

  • Specific red, blue and gold tones, defined by their color values. The white used is pure white.
  • A central beehive, symbolizing the Utah’s designation as “The Beehive State,” and its official motto “Industry,” inside a blue circle ringed with gold.
  • Four diagonal quadrants, symbolizing Utah’s designation as the “Crossroads of the West.” The upper one is blue, signifying the Great Salt Lake, while the lower one is red, representing the red rocks of Southern Utah. The two side quadrants are white, indicating the snow-covered Rocky Mountains.
  • The five sections are also meant to represent Utah’s five indigenous Native American tribes: Ute, Navajo, Paiute, Goshute and Shoshone.
  • A white star, representing Utah’s joining the Union as the 45th state in 1896.

Jonathan Martin, spokesman and designer for the nonprofit Organization for a New Utah Flag, told St. George News the group has been lobbying for a new flag design for the past couple years. The design described in the legislation and featured in the photos accompanying this story, is the main one featured among several options depicted on the organization’s newutahflag.org website

Copies of the newly approved flag, 3-by-5 feet in size, can be ordered from the group’s website for $20 each, with discounts given for multiple orders.

Martin said a few hundred flags have already been sold through the site but stressed that the organization was never meant to be a moneymaking venture.

In fact, now that the chosen design has been designated an official state flag, it enters the realm of public domain, Martin noted.

“Because it starts to become a symbol of the state, or is associated with the state on an official level, copyright apparently doesn’t quite apply. It’s like a different rule,” Martin said. “I’m not an expert on this matter, but I just know that we can continue to sell flags, but so can anybody else.”

Utah’s newly approved commemorative state flag marking the 125th anniversary of statehood, is shown alongside a U.S. flag. | Image courtesy of The Organization for a New Utah Flag www.newutahflag.org, St. George News

Martin says he expects it won’t be long before the design starts showing up on clothing, merchandise and paraphernalia, and he is excited about that prospect.

Originally from Texas, Martin said he knows the flag of his home state “like the back of my hand.”

“I think people who aren’t even from Texas know it like the back of their hand,” he said. “That’s powerful. That is significant.”

However, the same can’t be said for Utahns, he noted, who’d be hard-pressed to draw from memory their state’s current flag, which, like those of some two dozen other states, merely depicts the state seal against a blue background.

“I’m going to be frank, I’ve looked at that flag 1,000 times the last two years, and I could not, hand over heart, 100% replicate our flag. Yeah, I can’t do it,” Martin said.

“So when people say, ‘Well, why do we need a new flag?’ I say right back, ‘Well, can you tell me what our flag looks like?’ And generally, they will say it has a beehive. And then, like a deer in the headlights, their mind just goes blank.”

During his remarks on the Senate floor as he introduced the bill back in early February, McCay had noted that Utah’s flag ranked 36th among the 50 states in a poll conducted among flag lovers by the North American Vexillological Association. 

“This isn’t the Utah I know and love,” McCay said during his remarks as he cited several examples of distinctive and highly popular state flags, including those of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California and Colorado.  

“We’re distinctive; we’re unique. And I believe that our flag ought to reflect that,” McCay said.

After passing the Senate by a vote of 24-4 on Feb. 5, State Flag Amendments, designated SB 48 in the 2021 Utah Legislature, went to the House, where it stayed in committee until it underwent a few modifications and ultimately came to a vote on March 4, the day before the legislative session ended. It ended up passing the House 49-23, after which it went back to the Senate, which approved the updated version, 26-3.

The bill was one of 172 pieces of legislation that Cox signed into law on Tuesday.

Martin also noted that a similar bill to consider a new state flag had actually passed Utah’s House in 2019 but ended up dying in committee before it could reach a vote in the Senate.

“But it did get it out there and get enough people talking about it,” he said. “I think for the first time, this is what happened: people really started looking at the flag.”

Martin’s father Richard Martin, a former gubernatorial candidate who founded The Organization for a New Utah Flag and serves as its chair, also spoke to St. George News and expressed his excitement to see the new design gain official status.

“The red, white and blue really comes out in the design in the sunlight,” he said. “And when someone sees that, immediately they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s good looking! It’s really attractive!'”

Richard Martin said he’s looking forward to seeing the commemorative flag flown at schools and public buildings statewide, including on top of the Capitol Building,

“And then, when everybody sees it, hopefully, they’ll say, ‘Hey, that is a beautiful flag,’ and then we’ll just go from there,” he said, referring to the possibility the commemorative flag will eventually be adopted as the regular state flag.

Richard Martin said he the biggest obstacle throughout the process has been people’s tendency to resist change.

“It’s like pulling teeth,” he said. “Tradition is a tough thing to challenge. But then, it’s so interesting, once people finally accept the fact that change is good, and they do it. They’ll all go in once it’s out there. Five years from now, when everybody has seen it, we’ll be thinking, ‘Of course, we should have done that.'”

The nine-member state flag task force is expected to be appointed by June and have its first meeting later that month. The group will have until November to come up with as many as 10 design recommendations for Utah’s state flag, which will then go back to the Utah Legislature for next year’s session.

Jonathan Martin said he’s hopeful the new commemorative flag will catch on and resonate with Utah residents, even if it doesn’t end up becoming the official state flag permanently.

“People need to understand that this is not the state flag, but it is a state flag,” he said. “It is an official state flag. And, what I would like to see is, if say, this doesn’t ultimately become the state flag, I’d love to see it become the ceremonial flag of Utah, so it can be flown during state holidays like Pioneer Day, that kind of thing.”

“When you do have something, then it just becomes part of who you are and you’re proud of it,” he added. “It’s almost part of your identity to a degree.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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