This week on Utah NOW we’re exploring the legal and social dynamics in the debate over gay marriage. What does this national conversation reveal about Utah? Our fears…our values…our judgments…and just what’s at stake? This week’s “In Focus” segment profiles a lesbian and heterosexual family.
Studio guests include Monte Stewart of the Marriage Law Foundation, Jane Marquardt, chair of the Board of Equality Utah and Jeffrey Nielsen from BYU’s Philosophy Department
The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy utilizes public forums and debate to answer the question: Will same-sex marriage hurt or help marriage as a social institution?
Equality Utah's mission is to achieve equality and justice for LGBT Utahns and their families. Visit this site to get informed and to get involved.
The Marriage Law Foundation engages in key court cases addressing the definition and role of marriage. This site provides legal resources to defend and protect marriage.
[Doug Fabrizio, Host]:
Utah’s annual Gay-pride Day last Sunday was more than a celebration…amidst the costumes and floats were banners expressing a claim to full rights of American citizenship. The parade came just days before a vote in the U.S. Senate on a constitutional amendment that would prevent same sex marriage. The amendment failed – but the debate rages on. Tonight- what does this national conversation reveal about Utah…and what’s at stake…
Hello, and welcome to Utah NOW. I’m Doug Fabrizio. On Wednesday the U.S. Senate defeated a proposed amendment to the constitution that would ban gay marriage. The vote didn’t necessarily reflect a national uncertainty about the issue – polls show most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of gay people getting married – but re-working the country’s founding document is apparently another thing entirely.
So – there are two parts to this debate – first - do the anxieties about traditional marriage rise to the level of changing the constitution… but second – and here’s the heart of the matter really – what is the place of homosexuals in American life – should they have the right to get married and how would it change the social structure of the country if they did. Central to all of this is what we mean as a society by the term family…
In Focus: Family Portraits
I met Kim ten years ago, and we’ve been together ever since. We have two boys…our oldest, Riley, was born in Massachusetts, and I actually just had Casey seven weeks ago, and he was born right here in Salt Lake City.
Ruth and Kim Hackford-Peer have a pretty ordinary routine for their daily lives. In some ways it doesn't seem to matter what you call the relationship legally. For them, it's a family. The Duncan’s have their own routines and family that fits a more traditional role. Bill is a lawyer, Kathy stays home with the kids.
And we have six children, Rachel who’s nine, Margaret is 7 ½, Katie is six…and they’re all little ballerinas. Today is Brigham’s fourth birthday, and then Bruce is two, and Abigail is 5 months old. And we have five chickens.
Bill Duncan has been involved in marriage law for nearly ten years now so he and Kathy have a very specific way of defining the term.
I think marriage has everything to do with the continuation of family…past and future generations…and the rearing of children in an environment where they have a mother and a father. Where they have a connection to their ancestors.
But Kim and Ruth Hackford-Peer think of their relationship in the same way, as connecting this generation to the ones that came before.
Her Grandma called…Grandma Jo called…What Grandma Jo said was “Well, you gotta get married! Otherwise, it’s like she’s just shacking up and you’re going to be living in sin!” [LAUGHS] And so then Ruth had to explain to Grandma that we couldn’t get married. That’s why we had a commitment ceremony…because it was really important to Grandma that we did something…she said “It’s gotta be public and you gotta say you love each other. Otherwise I don’t care what it is or what you call it or where it is or anything, but you’ve gotta do it.”
When Kim and Ruth lived in Massachusetts, state law recognized them as co parents of Riley, a legal acknowledgement that transferred to Utah. But being born in this state, Casey is seen very differently by Utah law, a fact that confuses and frustrates his parents.
This isn’t…you know, temporary; this isn’t “because it’s fun.” This is our life, and it’s lifelong. And our friends and family are now able to help us as a family.
[Bill Duncan, Marriage Law Foundation]:
Marriage is a way that our society has of bringing together the man and the woman who might create the child, to provide for that child, for each other…and in a way they’re creating the future. We can’t say on the one hand “marriage is really valuable because it brings men and women together to provide for the future in the most responsible way” and then on the other hand say at the exact same time say “Well, marriage is whatever you want it to be, and whatever your choices are we just want to give you approbation for that.”
The children will suffer? I just don’t understand how that can happen given the love and support that is automatically there because of the work that goes into it. I don’t know very many folks of same-sex couples who do have accidental children. It’s always planned. It’s always worked for.
The amendment to the Constitution failed in the U.S. Senate this week. The questions about family and marriage in this country are becoming more pointed. The gay community meantime is realistic about changing the laws any time soon, right now they'll settle for something less than the certificate and hope for incremental change in American thinking...
I think it’s fine to call what I have a “Civil Union.” But then heterosexual people need to call what they have a “Civil Union.” So, I think that it needs to be the same. So if a Civil Union is about the civil rights then everyone has a civil union. And then if the marriage is about the religious practice, then folks that want to get married can get their religious stuff that goes along with that. But I still would feel…not quite equal if I had a Civil Union and you had a marriage…even if it came with the same rights.
This I think is at the core of the change that we can expect…that is that society then has to change from one message: “marriage is important because children need a mother and a father” to a new message: “every relationship needs to be treated exactly the same.” And we’ll gain some things from that, maybe some tolerance and kindness to people that haven’t received it in the past who deserve it…but I think we’ll lose so much that it won’t be worth the trade.
The legal questions of this issue are clearly bound up with the moral or social ones – here to help us sort out the intersection between the two are two lawyers who know the territory well. Jane Marquardt is the Chair of the Board of Equality Utah and Monte Stewart is the President of the Marriage Law Foundation. Welcome to you both…
Monte Stewart, how do you describe what's at stake in this debate?
[Monte Stewart, President, Marriage Law Foundation]:
Let me start with the words the Massachusetts court used when they mandated same-sex marriage in that state... Marriage is a vital social institution...and it is. Social institutions, especially those like marriage, provide great benefits to our society, and that's why society sustains them, including through its laws. But social institutions are nothing more than shared meanings. It's those meanings that transform people, teach people, and that is so with marriage. Man-woman marriage is one social institution, genderless marriage or as the media likes to call it gay, gay marriage, that's a vastly different institution and ...
What do you mean when you say the gay ... the media likes to call it gay marriage? You don't approve of that term?
It’s misleading. Same-sex marriage is misleading, certainly, because it suggests to people that, they, we have our own kind of marriage and we're going to get a new and a different kind. That's not true. There will only be one marriage institution in our society. The law will see to that. So every society must choose, it must choose either man-woman marriage institution or the genderless marriage institution, and they are radically different.
How are you reacting to sort of the terminology here and the question of what's at stake?
[Jane Marquardt, Esq., Chair, Board of Equality Utah]:
I disagree that they are radically different. In allowing two consenting adults who aren't related to marry each other to enter into a marriage contract is a simple matter of fairness. And the way that Mr. Stewart would like to define it simply is unfair to a whole class of people, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people who cannot marry under the laws as written. I think when we discuss this we have to make a difference in our minds between religious marriage and marriage sanctioned by the state. And certainly each church is free to sanction the kind of union that it wants to sanction, but when you talk of state sanctioned marriage and the rights and privileges that come with that, it's not fair to exclude an entire class of people, it's not fair to exclude gay people because we are not allowed to marry the person that we're in love with because that person is of the same gender.
How do you react to the distinction that a Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints could keep gay people from getting married in a church, for example, or a temple but on a sort of temporal more secular basis you don't see a distinction between those?
The distinction Jane refers to is highly artificial and really doesn't hold up. In the United States, we have one society-wide social institution known as marriage. The religions, the churches play a role in sustaining and supporting that. Our laws, our civil laws have a role in supporting and sustaining that. But we have a shared understanding across this country and across religions about these concepts that make up this institution and that make it so valuable to us. At the core of those concepts is the union of a man and a woman.
You know, Monte, when you talk about the idea of the institution of marriage, there's some abstract terms that you use. Concept and idea. But I wanted you to see if you could be a little bit more tangible in terms of how it will threaten the institution of marriage. That is, what's your tangible image of this country, what will happen if we allow same-sex couples to get married? For example, do you see a higher crime rate or more abortions or teen pregnancies, things like that? How do you tangibly see it?
I tangibly see it in this way, we will lose the social goods, the fruits, if you will, that come now from this meaning of the union of a man and a woman. First and foremost, we will no longer have any support for the right of a child to know and be brought up by his or her mother and father, biological parents with exceptions being allowed only in the best interest of the child, not those of any adult. That is an important right for children. We will see the loss of that structure, if you will, that ...
More promiscuity, is that what you're talking about?
Across the spectrum there is a consensus that the movement from a man-woman marriage to a genderless marriage will certainly destabilize the old institution and eventually will deinstitutionalize it, to use a big word that I’m sorry to use but that gets right to the heart of it. So the goods of man-woman marriage, and it does produce unique goods, will be lost.
Let's talk about two things in response. One is that marriage has changed over the history of this country. It used to be that once a woman married, she lost any right to own property. We used to have rules that blacks couldn't marry whites. In fact, if you look at the debate that was held in the United States Congress in about 1912 when an amendment was introduced to amend the U.S. constitution to ban interracial marriage the things that were said about why that was necessary are very similar to what's being said now about why we need to ban gay marriage. There are things that are changing in our society, but those are not bad. And Monte talks about the rights of children. Let's look at the rights of children. The rights of children, we saw in that clip the two children born to Kim and Ruth; do those children have the same rights that children born into ...when parents are allowed to marry? No, they don't have right to health insurance and Social Security from both parents. Those children are being deprived simply because of people who are afraid of change are saying, “Oh, we can't change that marriage at all or therefore marriage will become meaningless.” It's our position that marriage does have an important role in society, and allowing gay people to participate in that will strengthen that marriage. It's those of us that are kept outside saying we think that is a good thing and we think we want to preserve those relationships with our families and we want in. And the debate is who should get in.
I’ll try to sort of prod you towards an abbreviated response. Monte, I wonder if it comes down to a concern that maybe you and others have about genderless marriage or gay marriage, however you want to call it, conferring a kind of normalcy on homosexuality. That is, I’m wondering if you worry about that as being an effect of all of this.
Well, there's no question about it that the institution of ... or the beginning of genderless marriage would completely eliminate the norm that our society has sustained for a long time that the preferred or the normative sexual relationship is married man-woman.
Does this get to the heart of it, do you think?
It does. The debate we've heard in the senate this week is discrimination against gay people. They're calling it an amendment to the Constitution, but embodied in that discussion is, we don't want gay people to marry, we don't want states to ... We want to make it clear we're drawing a line and those of you who are gay are on the outside. Simply doesn't work especially since many of us who are gay and lesbian have not only now raised children, we're into raising our grandchildren. And to say that all of us should not participate in the rights that a heterosexual couple can have one minute after obtaining a marriage license from the state is simply not fair.
Jane, Monte, thank you very much.
Vox Populi: What would America be like if gay marriage were legal?
That question of how this country would change – what would be different if same-sex marriage was legal – is the one we used for this week’s Vox Populi. The answers were gathered in downtown Salt Lake City this week and also at Sunday’s Gay-pride Festival…
I think it would fall apart. I absolutely think it's against all moral issues of the world.
I think America perceives some big catastrophic event, of it changing their morals and their beliefs, and I just think things would go on a status quo.
I think the people who want it are living in committed relationships today anyway and those who are opposed to it are doing their thing separate anyway.
It's a matter of politics, it's just a piece of paper that would allow insurances, you know, small things like that, but it really has no effect on the emotional union of people.
I think that marriage is supposed to be a man and a woman because the purpose is to have children and ... If you're two of the same sex, you can't do that.
A marriage needs to be between two people who choose to enter into that type of contract and not defined by gender.
I think the fact that those equalities aren't offered to us make it even more difficult for us to feel socially accepted.
We would have laws that would protect us when we're in relationships and if we choose to have children, because children aren't protected if there is not gay marriage.
I think there would be a loss in the traditional notion of family. I think it would not be a good thing for the notion of families and there would be an undermining of it.
My choices don't affect the rest of the world. If I choose to be happy and I choose to be with another male and that makes me happy, then everyone should embrace that because it doesn't affect them.
I think in the long run America would be worse off just because I believe in the traditional values of the American family and that every family should start with a marriage between a husband and a wife.
Last Sunday – an Op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune by Jeffrey Nielsen – a philosophy professor knocked more than a few Utahns off balance. Nielsen is no dissenter to his faith – he describes himself as an active, practicing Latter-day Saint – but his comments rejected the premise that church leaders should be blindly obeyed. In particular Nielsen took on the church’s stated position opposing gay marriage. Jeffrey Nielsen is joining us this evening… and professor – welcome….
I want to ask for of all if you feel at all vulnerable these days or at least uneasy about being so public about a fairly personal opinion.
[Jeffery Nielsen, Philosopher and Author]:
Right. Well, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails since the opinion piece came out and without exception they even express some expectation that I am in a vulnerable position. So, yeah, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable, I’ll admit.
I wondered what it was in particular that inspired you to write this piece. I mean, as I understand it, you don't have any people in your family who are gay.
You don't really know any gay people, if any at all. So what was the clincher?
The decision making process was difficult and stressful, but the motivation is quite simple. I did it for my own children. I think as any decent parent who loves their kids, they want their kids to grow up in a better world, a world that's worthy of them and a better world a world that teaches intolerance to people whom I consider to be normal and good and decent, is that world worthy of my children? Is a world that fails to be open and transparent and makes us fearful of expressing opinions, is that a world or a church that's worthy of my children? And that's what motivated me to write, to sort of find out whether this is a world and a church that's worthy of my children.
So, in essence, this is a moral question.
It is. It is not a religious or theological question, for me it is a moral issue. What is our obligation when it comes to treating one another as human beings?
Jeff Nielsen, how important to this conversation is the question of whether gay people are born that way or whether they choose to be gay.
For me I think it's central. I think coming to understand is and I believe though I’m no scientist that the evidence points in that direction that is that that is central to it. I think as I think about this concept of marriage it comes down to me as a philosopher thinking there have been many basic concepts since society that we thought were absolute and fixed and then we came to realize we were making some arbitrary distinctions that were unjust and we challenged those, made the concept more inclusive and that was a more just, more equitable result. When it comes to marriage I think we're making an arbitrary distinction not allowing good people into that institution.
I wonder what it means to sustain your leaders, sustain being a term within Mormon leaders and I wonder if it has anything to do with your views about leadership. You've written about leadership and your book and you take on kind of hierarchical structure in business and I wonder if you're thinking about the Mormon Church, for example, that it could be limiting or has place and effect in all of this.
I believe regardless of a person's position or responsibility or role or title in any organization that everyone has the equal privilege to speak and shares an equal and reciprocal obligation to listen and I simply don't accept there is any institution or organization or even religion where people have no reason to speak or express their opinion. And this is just one of those cases.
What do you think would happen to this country ...
I think we would find we've added committed, caring couples to this institution that would strengthen it. If I can just tell a quick story. I was talking with two wonderful woman the other day, a lesbian who was telling me about her partnership with another woman and they decided to have a baby. And they were a bit worried to tell her father about this, who was an older, very staunch LDS member. They were worried that he might reject them or be upset or didn't know what exactly what happened. But what he said when they told him, his only response was, “Well, that's what families do.” And it's my hope that in the not too distant future when we talk about a gay couple that desires marriage, the response will be, “Well, that's what families do.”
Do you regret making this statement?
No. It doesn't matter what the world might think of me, I got an email from my young daughter the other day that said, daddy I’m proud of you. At the end of the day my kids who know my heart and intentions can be proud of me.
Professor Nielsen, thanks so much for being with us.
Speak Out Utah
There are a lot of ways of approaching the issue of gay marriage. In our Speak Out Utah segment, Tom Barberi has found another angle. It's politics.
Hi, I’m Tom Barberi and I’m NOT gay...not that there is anything wrong that. So the issue of same sex marriage should not concern me. Now it seems to concern just about everybody since the Senate started debating amending the U.S. Constitution to put a stop to it. Even President Bush weighed in on the subject echoing sentiments of a whole host of religious leaders who claim that marriage is under attack. While we are at it, let’s amend the Constitution to protect us from flag burning too.
I have been trying to understand the argument against gay marriage ever since Massachusetts legalized it. I keep hearing how marriage and traditional families, as well as the very foundations of our country will be destroyed if gays are allowed to marry. I still don’t get the connection of how two gay people getting married can affect your marriage or anybody else’s for that matter, much less topple our country.
With all the real problems facing us right now, how did this issue emerge as a top priority for Washington to jump on?
It’s politics pure and simple. A classic political bait and switch. The GOP has been hurting as of late with President Bush’s approval ratings at historic lows.
The Iraq war is not going well. We have a burgeoning national debt…$3.00 a gallon gasoline… Afghanistan, Iran, Korea… Immigration….homeland security…Healthcare...Social Security…Katrina and another hurricane season right around the corner.
What’s the Republican Party do with an election just months away? You go with what got you to the dance…FEAR. It worked in the last election. Remember the color code terrorism “Rainbow of Fear” every night on the news. I don’t think that will work this time because the rainbow is the symbol of the Gay community.
Karl Rove, the “Presidents Brain” and chief tactician has decided this time to use the fear of Gays marrying to energize the conservative base. Polls have shown that 50% of Americans favor amending the Constitution, while 47% oppose it. Not only is the country split down the middle on the issue so is the White House. While President Bush supports the amendment, Vice President Cheney opposes it saying these issues should be left to individual states. Showing a fatherly concern for his gay daughter, Cheney said that the federal government should not interfere in personal relationships.
Could it be that such a divisive issue could get me to agree with Dick Cheney? Go figure.
You know we’ve always said that you were an important part of this conversation – we always welcome your e-mail comments and more than once we’ve invited you to read them yourself. Well – Larry Bergan of Murray is the first to take us up on the invitation. Larry is responding to last week’s program about the state of utah politics and the opinions of Enid Greene…
[Larry Bergan, Murray]:
Former congresswoman Enid Greene gave an editorial on Utah NOW giving her views on what would be the best way people in Utah could work to improve our state. She seemed to discount an effort by the Democratic Party to paint the Republicans as the “party of corruption”. I’m not going to make the case that every single Democrat is beyond accusation, but we all know that power corrupts, and obviously, the Republicans have plenty of that.
Not wanting to look unfairly bias, Ms. Greene was careful to include names of people from both parties who have been implicated in the corruption debate. Fortunately for the Republicans, a lot people in Utah, at least, seem to agree that all politicians are all the same, but given the current mood of the people towards the Republican Congress and executive branch, I can understand why Ms. Greene would want to turn the debate away from personalities and in favor of issues this year.
That’s Utah NOW for this evening. Thanks for joining us …. remember you can join the conversation with an e-mail… send us your thoughts to UtahNOW@kued.org. In the meantime - we’ll be back next Friday with another edition of Utah NOW. Until then, I’m Doug Fabrizio...
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