The Battle is Won

They came out in Levis. They came out in flannel. Some wore dresses. Some wore fine suits. Some looked like they had just gotten off from work. People waited in long lines. Many waited with them, to witness the moment, to share the moment. A Boy Scouts troop brought some of them pizza.

This was the scene in Utah. Utah, the nexus of Prop. 8. US District Court Judge Robert Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, calling it unconstitutional. He then refused to stay his order. When word got out, folks got in line and got hitched. The scenes looked no different then similar occurrences in ¬†other states that began allowing same-sex couples to marry. The lines were long, but folks waited.

They waited because they knew that the moment might not last long, that the state government, in particular Utah Governor Gary Herbert, worked feverishly to halt the marriages. Governor Herbert’s administration appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. They were refused. They appealed again. Refused. They appealed to Judge Shelby, the one who started the whole thing with his ruling. He refused. They tried the Tenth Circuit again. Again, they refused to stay the decision. And folks kept lining up, lining up to exchange vows, hold hands, kiss, declare their love for each other, for all the world to see.

Finally, the government of Utah appealed to the US Supreme Court: stop the marriages. Stay the decision, so that we can appeal it to the Tenth Circuit for a proper hearing. It took until this past Monday, January 6, but a stay did come. Justice Sonia Sotomayor could have made the decision herself, but she decided against that and routed it to the entire Court. They unanimously and perfunctorily ordered that the marriages be stopped, so that the case could continue. It will ultimately reach the Supreme Court one day, just as California’s Prop. 8 did.

The government of Utah complained that to allow gay folks to get married would have caused “confusion,” because in their minds, the decision was still in question. After all, it was only a district court judge who made the ruling. And they want to appeal and appeal and appeal until they get their way.

Their way, however, is the wrong way. Guided by a Mormon principle that denies the existence of same-sex couples, they feel duty bound to halt such unions at all cost. This was the motivation behind the Church’s support of Proposition 8. Prop 8 passed, and marriages were halted. But then Prop 8 was over turned by District Court Judge Vaughn Walker. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled, just last June, that Judge Walker’s original ruling should stand. Marriage equality returned to California. It is entirely possible that the same fate awaits Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. We’ll have to wait and see.

But that’s not what makes Utah’s conservative, Republican government wrong about their stance against marriage equality. They are conflating religious duty with the rights and responsibilities of a civil government. Utah, like the United States as a whole, is not a theocracy. One religion’s dogma cannot trump civil rights, no matter what one might think of those rights. The Mormon Church has every right not to bless the marriages of same-sex couples. But they have no right to dictate to a civil government that those rights are barred from a class of people.

That’s part of what makes Utah’s government wrong. But the most important part can be seen in the faces of those who were married during the wonderful, frenzied period when it was legal in their state. I recognized those faces as my own. My husband and I married last November here in California. We saw a glow in each others’ faces that cannot be described, even if they were the same faces we had been looking at for close to 20 years. That’s love. Those couples who got married knew exactly what they were doing, and why. They were not acting out. It wasn’t a phase they were going through. They were not intentionally thumbing their noses at a repressive society — well, maybe a little, but that wasn’t the main thrust of their action. They married because they loved each other, and they wanted the acknowledgement of that fact and the rights that our society and laws afford couples who wish to claim it.

So you see, the government of Utah already lost the battle. They can appeal, they can stay the decisions. They can even refuse to recognize the over 1000 marriages that occurred before the stay happened. But this genie has long since left the bottle. There is no turning back. Already in other states, anti-equality laws are being challenged in the courts. In time they will all fall. Love will triumph. You can see it on the face of everyone who stood in line and patiently waited all over Utah, one of the most conservative states of the Union, for that moment when they could say to each other, “I do.”

© 2014, gar. All rights reserved.

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