OPINION – Well, we got our answer last night.
The governor and attorney general’s office think the legalization of same-sex marriage is such a threat to our way of life here that they sought emergency relief from a federal judge’s ruling yesterday that overturned an amendment to the Utah constitution that banned gay marriage.
Polygamy, on the other hand, is not such a pressing issue, at least in the eyes of the governor and attorney general.
As soon as Judge Robert Shelby filed his opinion Friday, striking down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban for being “an unconstitutional violation of due process and equal protection,” the attorney general’s office made an oral request for an emergency stay of the decision pending a filing of an appeal, the emergency stay was denied late last night. Utah is now one of 18 states that allows same-sex marriage with this ruling that comes just one day after same-sex marriage was allowed in New Mexico.
The response to last week’s federal court decision overturning the state’s anti-bigamy/anti-polygamy law remains in limbo as the attorney general’s office decides if it should appeal the ruling.
Apparently, polygamy and the inherent abuses of that culture pose a lesser threat to the state than the willingness of a same-sex couple to make a marital commitment.
In 2004, 66 percent of Utah voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that stated: “Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman,” and “no other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially legal effect.”
Utah wasn’t alone in this action as 10 other states passed similar amendments.
This whole thing was an inevitable house of cards, built on a foundation of religion rather than law. The two do not always mix, as noted by the First Amendment, which not only guarantees us religious freedom, but freedom from religion.
And, religion was at the heart of both laws that were overturned.
Polygamy was the chit laid on the table when Utah desired statehood. To be accepted into the Union, Utah had to give up plural marriage, a concession that has sat poorly with some over the years, particularly the fundamentalists who have settled along the Utah-Arizona state line in an area they call Short Creek where polygamy, despite social and legal conventions against it, has been practiced since the group that splintered from the mainstream LDS church settled there.
Opposition to same-sex marriage is also a religious matter. It is considered sinful, an aberration by mainstream religious organizations. No matter how much the various church leaders try to put a more positive spin on things and give the appearance of welcoming members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community into their flock, most will not offer them a marriage ceremony. It’s their right to do so, of course, but, that doesn’t mean that right should be extended to a law that governs all people. That’s why we have separation of church and state in this country.
Our laws are supposed to be based on protecting the individuality and pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, as long as that pursuit does not harm others.
And, that’s where the two decisions come into play.
The polygamy ruling was not made with an understanding of the full context of the polygamous community – particularly the fundamentalists who allow the underage marriage of girls to men, the rescinding of women’s rights, and the abuse of the welfare system.
The same-sex marriage ruling was based on a much broader scale of understanding. While there is no argument that same-sex marriage is certainly not within the traditionally defined conventions of marriage, it does no harm and does not threaten the institution of marriage or the family unit. If anything, it is further enhancement of the ideal that families are good things that unite people in love and purpose and, that same-sex marriage allows that institution to multiply.
Marriage is not simply about procreation. It is about partnership and unity. It is an expression of love and commitment that isn’t measured in the number of children born as a result of the union, but by the power of two people who entrust their hearts, minds, and souls with one another, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Most importantly, same-sex marriage is an act among consenting adults. There is no coercion at work here, as in polygamous cultures where one’s eternal salvation is based on adherence to the tenet of plural marriage; where young girls are forced to become child brides; where absolute fealty to a church leader is a requirement with terrible consequences for those who do not fall into line.
But, the rulings have been made and the natural response is, what happens next?
The attorney general’s office is putting together the paperwork to file a request for stay of the ruling that, I imagine, will be filed as soon as the courts open Monday morning. Judge Shelby said he will expedite his decision on the request and I have no reason to doubt that, however, I fully expect the request to be denied.
What will follow will be a long, drawn-out court fight that will cost the state a lot of money in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, I don’t expect the attorney general’s office to work as diligently to fight the polygamy ruling. It has, unfortunately, a history of having no interest in the polygamy woes out in Short Creek and even though it will give some lip service to the ruling, I don’t think much will come of it until something as egregious and vile as the case built against FLDS Warren Jeffs in Texas comes to light in Utah.
That’s why, on one hand, I congratulate the LGBT community for a decision that offers equality, at least in the eyes of the law, and on the other, worry about what it will take for our state officials to realize that the physical, emotional, and financial price it will pay for the polygamy ruling was wrong.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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