Alongside dropping temperatures across much of the country, on Monday morning we also felt the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of same-sex marriages in Utah blow a chill across the jubilation of the last two and a half weeks.
While supporters of marriage equality are of course disappointed that weddings have been halted for now, there is still much to celebrate. I think the fact that we saw approximately one thousand marriages in just two weeks is compelling evidence of the enduring value of civil marriage throughout our society. Even among the numerous LGBT Mormons who have left the LDS Church – and who were among many of the newlyweds – it is clear that the importance of marriage and family lives on.
But perhaps most importantly, the events of the past few weeks highlighted the fact that even in Utah, thousands of committed couples and families exist regardless of whether or not the law treats them fairly. And when given the chance to demonstrate their commitment, they were ready.
Each marriage in Utah serves as a stark reminder that those who view civil marriage equality through the lens of sexual morality have completely missed the mark: the availability of civil marriage didn’t create these couples and families. They were already a part of our society. The only question for us should be: will we treat our neighbors as ourselves? Or will we hypocritically claim that while marriage is in the best interests of society because it strengthens and protects the families of heterosexual spouses and children, that somehow the same is not true for these gay and lesbian couples and their children?
As a result of Judge Shelby’s ruling, Utahns have been exposed to the real-life families who are affected by the discrimination that has existed in our society. We have seen their faces and know their names. We can move past the charged rhetoric and ask very concretely: Are the seven kids of a lesbian couple in Provo going to be better off if their family is denied the same legal protections that the big Mormon family down the street enjoys? While the debate in Utah will continue for some time, it will not be the same.
As an ally, I take heart from the fact that attitudes change through exposure to lived experience. Indeed, as Mormons we believe that the whole reason that we were sent to earth was to learn from our own experience. And there is evidence that when confronted with facts on the ground, Mormons are apt to change their minds on matters of public policy, even if they don’t change their religious beliefs. We should remember that after a decade of seeing the negative effects of Prohibition on society, and its ineffectiveness at actually stopping the consumption of alcohol, Utahns voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 18th Amendment in 1933. This came in spite of the objections of LDS Church leaders, most notably President Heber J. Grant. Similarly, even though many Mormons today may still choose to believe that gay and lesbian relationships are immoral, they are increasingly seeing that hurting these families is detrimental to society and in fact does nothing to further their “moral agenda.”
The most powerful influence in the LGBT rights movement has always been for individuals to come out of the closet. At the close of 2013, we saw over a thousand couples come out to their communities not just as gay and lesbian individuals, but as families. Though the weddings have stopped for a season, Utah’s “Marry Christmas” will undoubtedly further the cause of equal rights within the state, across the country, and yes, even among Mormons.