When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
And turn ‘em off
Like a light switch
Just go back
Really, what’s so hard about that
Turn it off
Turn it off
These infamous, satire-ridden lyrics from the acclaimed musical Book of Mormon may need a rewrite.
If you had to name the next state you believed would legalize gay marriage, Utah probably wouldn’t be high on your list. But it’s time to suspend your disbelief: a Federal judge overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban this past weekend, making it the 18th state where same-sex individuals can legally join lives with their partners. The 53-page ruling, released by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, declared that Utah’s 2004 referendum violates same-sex couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Shelby also commented that the legalization of same-sex marriage yields absolutely no effect upon heterosexual marriages: “In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens.” (To which many of us in California might reply, “No duh!”)
Predictably, many groups in Utah have not received the news with such nonchalance. Some state counties may be held in contempt and even face lawsuits for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking to wed in this unforeseen window of opportunity. Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert claimed that the ruling “has created a chaotic situation” in the state, and urged Shelby to grant a motion to stay the decision until the state’s appeal claws its way the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. Shelby refused and, predictably, plaintive whimpers about judicial activism followed soon thereafter.
Now the reaction that everyone’s been waiting for: that of the Mormon Church. According to the church’s public statement, it “continue[s] to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.” Infamous since 2008 for leading the charge behind California’s Proposition 8 (which has since been overturned), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long harbored unegotiable views regarding the strictly procreative roles of men and women within heterosexual, “traditional” marriages.
It seems that Utah is not invulnerable to the same generational shifts in cultural attitudes that are oft referenced in the success stories of gay rights measures in other states. (Sidenote: congratulations to New Mexico’s highest court for its under-the-radar legalization of gay marriage last week! Sorry that Utah stole your thunder.) The strongest indicator of our nation’s psychological shift on the issue of gay marriage may in fact be the undercurrent of change making its way through the Mormon community from the inside. Today only 39 percent of Mormons oppose any form of legal recognition for gay couples, dropping a whopping 30 percent from 2004. Additionally, groups like Affirmation have risen up in protest against the Church’s damnation of LGBT individuals to offer fresh perspectives on their integration into the Mormon community, giving hope to LGBT Mormon youth who are often homeless or ostracized simply due to their sexual orientation. According to Kelly Patterson, a political scientist at BYU, “It’s the younger members of both Republicans and the LDS faith who are driving a lot of this change.”
In the meantime, the 700+ same-sex couples who have married in Utah since Friday wait with bated breath as their home state figures out how it intends to treat their unexpected unions. Will the state allow them to file joint income-tax returns? Will it allow them to enroll their new spouses in state insurance programs? Worst case scenario: new marriages could be proclaimed invalid if the legal appeal succeeds. Best case scenario: Shelby’s overthrow of Utah’s ban could set the stage for a Supreme Court decision affecting all 50 states.
A little advice to the good people of Utah: if you feel tempted to cast a shadow over the joy of newly married same-sex couples, take a minute to think about the meaning of Christmas and turn those “pesky feelings” off “like a light switch.” After all, tradition is no excuse for bad behavior.
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