ST. GEORGE — Amid a festive atmosphere, dozens of community members met at Benja’s Thai Garden near Red Cliffs Mall on Wednesday evening to view a screening of a documentary film highlighting the life story of a man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. What had been shaping up to be a smaller gathering soon morphed into a large celebration after the morning’s two Supreme Court decisions on the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. The high court’s rulings were widely understood, by those in attendance, to give cause for merriment among advocates of government recognizing same-sex marriage.
DOCUTAH screening at Benja’s
DOCUTAH, a project of Dixie State University, hosts year-round film screenings in the community, punctuated by an annual film festival. The next festival, DOCUTAH’s fourth, will be held Sept. 3-7 at several venues in Springdale, Kanab, St. George, Ivins, and Mesquite, Nev.
Wednesday’s event was the latest manifestation of a longstanding partnership between DOCUTAH and Benja Peterson‘s local restaurants, in which Peterson herself typically chooses which films to screen.
“Benja (Peterson) chose (the film) months ago,” said Christina Schultz, Dixie State University vice president of Institutional Advancement and DOCUTAH executive director. “It was a total coincidence,” she said, in reference to Wednesday morning’s Supreme Court decisions.
It was in the wake of the decisions that Melynda Thorpe Burt, Equality Utah’s volunteer media coordinator, contacted Schultz and suggested that the organization become involved in hosting the event. Equality Utah is one of DOCUTAH’s sponsors.
“We have partnerships with a lot of different groups and organizations—everywhere,” Schultz said. “DOCUTAH shows a variety of films on different subjects,” she added.
The night’s film, “Time Dances On,” offers an inspirational account of swing dance instructor Jim Cruz’s “journey to embrace and exemplify unconditional love for both himself and those around him,” according to a press release issued by DOCUTAH.
After the screening, attendees stayed around for some socializing and karaoke. The room’s lively mood was piqued especially when, amid laughter and cheers, participants sang along to a variety of tunes, including Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me,” The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.,” and “Turn It Off” from “The Book of Mormon” musical.
Views on the Supreme Court rulings, testimonies
Among the crowd was Linda Stay, whose family was featured in the 2010 documentary, “8: The Mormon Proposition.” The mother of a gay son and a lesbian daughter who both live in California, Stay said that she is not driven by ideology or politics, but by love for her children. I am not a gay rights activist, I am a human rights activist, she said, adding:
“I’m a mom. … I will always choose my children and stand up with them; and my intent was never to be against anything, but simply stand up for them. I wanted my two gay kids to have the same equal protections that our straight children have, and that’s really all that it was about; it was really that simple.”
Stay applauded both decisions that the Supreme Court reached on Wednesday morning, opining that the court ruled correctly in the Proposition 8 case by letting stand the original district court decision to overturn the California measure. The case, known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to a legal technicality.
Stay also praised the “broad language” in Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, which effectively struck down Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The opinion could open the door for more sweeping declarations by the court in the future.
Shawna and Christie Gubler of Santa Clara were also in attendance. The couple have two children from Christie Gubler’s first marriage. “They’ve only known Shawna their whole lives, and so they call her Mama and I’m Mommy,” Christie Gubler said. The pair were married under New Hampshire law in 2010, but legal complications abound.
The federal government allowed Shawna Gubler to change her name for Social Security purposes free of charge, even though DOMA was then on the books. However, while those married according to Utah law may change the names on their state drivers licenses for free, Shawna Gubler would have to pay $490 to do so.
The couple said that even though Section 3 of DOMA has now been struck down, their union is still not recognized under federal law because they are residents of Utah.
But all those in attendance were hopeful of what the future might hold for their own state of Utah.
Stay said that her son and daughter in California may consider moving back to Utah and raising a family “if they were protected here.”
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