Update: Issue 174

Same-Sex Marriage Temporarily Legalized in Utah

Federal Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled on 20 December 2013 that Utah’s Amendment Three, Article 1 Section 29, which defines marriage as being solely between a woman and a man, is unconstitutional. “The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” Shelby wrote. Utah then became the 18th state to have legalized same-sex marriages.

The first same-sex marriage performed in Utah was between Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson who obtained a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office at about 4 p.m. the day of Shelby’s ruling. Anderson tweeted a photo of himself and Ferguson captioned, “Me and my new husband!! My polygamous Mormon great grandparents would be so proud!”

In an interview with Joanna Brooks for Religion Dispatches, Michael Ferguson said, “Any anger or bitterness I’ve accumulated from living as a gay man in Utah, when we got married yesterday, it disappeared. A weight has been lifted from my heart.”

More than 100 people received marriage licenses that day, the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office staying open until about 7:45 p.m. to accommodate the crowd. Another 1000 people waited outside the Weber Country Courthouse on Saturday 21 December after officials said they intended to open on Saturday. However, the courthouse ultimately stayed closed due to “security concerns.”

Meanwhile, officials in Box Elder, Duchesne, San Juan, Uintah, Utah, and Wayne counties did not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying that they were awaiting instructions from state officials.

Governor Gary Herbert released a statement saying, “I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah.” The Utah Attorney General’s Office requested an emergency stay on Shelby’s decision while they prepared to appeal the decision.

However, the stay was denied on 24 December by the 10th District Court of Appeals. When 26 December arrived, all holdout counties were providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “We have no choice,” said San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson.

Richard Davis, a professor of political science at BYU, wrote in the Deseret News that gay marriage proponents should be “as concerned about the process as they are happy with the outcome.”

“For example, if a Utah federal judge ruled that there was a constitutional right to life for all unborn children (and that abortion clinics must close) and then refused to stay the decision, would that decision then be heralded by many who support Judge Shelby’s same-sex marriage decision[?]”

He also argued that Shelby’s decision “upset the finely tuned compromise the Supreme Court achieved last summer when it allowed states to make separate same-sex marriage policies.”

However, Davis also admitted that the acceptance of same-sex marriage was part of a growing social tide. “Perhaps it is time for Utahans to think about adjusting to a new reality of same-sex marriage,” he wrote. “In an age when too many people discount marriage through simply living together or opt too hastily for divorce, perhaps we should be heartened to see so many people embracing the institution of marriage.”

On Monday, 6 January 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court blocked further same-sex marriages in Utah while state officials appealed their case. The action put Utah’s same-sex wedded couples into a legal limbo, not knowing whether their marriages will be recognized by the state in the future. However, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Utah’s married same-sex couples would receive federal benefits afforded to married couples.

On 10 January, the LDS Church posted a document to its online newsroom, outlining its stance on same-sex marriage. “Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established,” it read. It further instructed, “Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same-sex marriages.”

Gina Colvin, a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, wrote on her blog KiwiMormon that the Church’s newsroom posting had sent unnecessary ripples through its congregations worldwide.

“Of all of the political issues that the Brethren could have gotten their knickers in a twist over, why same-sex marriage? . . . It’s not exploitative, it’s not cruel, it doesn’t create poverty, it’s not a precursor for war, excessive corporatism, or exploitative economics, it’s not mean, it’s not intolerant, it’s not sexist, it’s not abusive, it’s not a social disease and it won’t steal your car or hold you at knife point. Heck, it doesn’t even deny the existence of God. It’s simply the legal formalization of a monogamous relationship of choice.”

“The fact is, there are 20 democracies around the world that have legalized same-sex marriage,” she continued. “The walls of heterosexual marriage haven’t imploded in these places.”

The State of Utah filed its opening argument against Shelby’s decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday 3 February. According to the LA Times, the state argued that “limiting marriage to one man and one woman fulfills ‘a compelling governmental interest’ rooted in tradition and religion.”


Meanwhile, Allen Oyler, stake president of the Beaverton Stake in Oregon, received the Beaverton Human Rights Award in early January 2014 for his efforts to reach out to gay Church members in his stake. He organized meetings in each of the eight Beaverton wards where he discussed the Church website Mormonsandgays.org and then gave time to a four-person panel: a father and his gay son, a longtime Church member, and a man who had been living with a same-sex partner before joining the Church.

“The piece of the message I want to make sure our congregation understands is that as members of the Mormon Church, we should be in the forefront of compassion and love and outreach to others,” Oyler said during an interview with the Oregonian.


Church Addresses Environmentalism

A recent “Topics” page on LDS.org contends that “The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other.”

“Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations,” it reads, “rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights.”

The page offers links to information on Church conservation practices, tips for recycling and gardening, and scriptures and sermons addressing environmentalism, including an address from Marcus B. Nash of the First Quorum of the Seventy to the 2013 Wallace Stegner Center Symposium on the environment.


Polygamy Decriminalized in Utah

The Stars of TLC’s reality series “Sister Wives” helped overturn Utah’s anti-polygamy laws last December.

U.S. District Court judge Clark Waddoups’ ruled that, though there is no “fundamental right” to practice polygamy, key parts of Utah’s polygamy laws are unconstitutional as they violate both the First and 14th amendments.

Though Utah’s bigamy laws still technically stand, Waddoups defined bigamy as fraudulently acquiring multiple marriage licenses.

The polygamous family of Kody Brown issued a statement saying in part, “Just as we respect the personal and religious choices of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow citizens will come to respect our own choices as part of this wonderful country of different faiths and beliefs.”

Their attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote in a blog post that the ruling will allow “plural families to step out for the first time in their communities and live their lives openly among their neighbors.”