Utah could participate in Supreme Court’s marriage equality case

The fate of Utah's legally contested ban on same-sex marriage is now in the hands of the nation's highest court. Photo courtesy of the FBI.

<p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>While the fight for marriage equality has ignited controversy in many states, from California to North Carolina, many recent struggles have taken place in Utah. While the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on December 20, 2013, this practice was temporarily suspended on January 6, 2014 while courts in Colorado argued the case. Same-sex marriages later resumed, but the decision remained troubling to many in Utah.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>A large percentage of Utah residents belong to the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids the practice. Now, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to consider the issue, the state Attorney General’s Office has announced that they may take further legal action on the issue.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>The federal solicitor for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Parker Douglas, has said that the state will likely</span> <a style=”text-decoration: none;” href=”http://fox13now.com/2015/01/16/utah-to-jump-in-on-same-sex-marriage-cases-before-scotus/”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>file an amicus brief</span></a> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>supporting a state’s right to define marriage on its own terms. Currently, no decision has been reached, but the administration is expected to make a choice in the next several weeks.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>If successful, Douglas said the amicus brief could have national implications; although same-sex marriage is settled law in Utah, the decision could result in new litigation on recognizing existing unions and other questions. These new laws would then set a precedent for other states to make their own regulations regarding marriage equality and related issues.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>Though the state has yet to act, the potential brief has drawn support and criticism from LGBT groups and traditional marriage organizations alike. And while the LDS church has declined to comment on the situation thus far, their influence is undoubtedly present: in the past, the church was one of five religious organizations that filed amicus briefs on behalf of the state’s right to decide on same-sex marriages.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>Like a number of other prominent religions, the LDS church (commonly known as the Mormon church) believes that marriage is a union meant to exist solely between a man and a woman, making homosexuality a sin against God’s law. Unlike other faiths, however, Mormons believe that heterosexual marriage is necessary for members of the church to reach the highest levels of heaven. Because of this, acting upon homosexual attraction is considered a violation of church doctrine, which Mormon authorities say is subject to discipline.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>To avoid these ramifications, many LGBT Mormons choose to marry opposite-sex partners, a practice most believe allows them to remain faithful to church tenets. Recently, this phenomenon was documented by the</span> <a style=”text-decoration: none;” href=”http://www.ibtimes.com/my-husbands-not-gay-meet-cast-tlc-special-about-3-mormon-couples-1769990″><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>new TLC show</span></a> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>”My Husband Is Not Gay,” which premiered January 11. Unfortunately, research suggests that this is rarely an effective fix, with many mixed-orientation marriages ending in divorce.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>Divorce is a common event in the United States; the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that as many as</span> <a style=”text-decoration: none;” href=”http://robertbellingerlaw.com/lawyer-offers-unusual-scholarship-combat-teen-drunk-driving/”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>50% of marriages end</span></a> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>in legal separation. However, this rate is much lower among Mormons, who report a divorce rate of roughly 25%. According to a study published in the</span> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>Journal of Counseling Psychology</span><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>, the number of divorces among mixed-orientation couples exceeded both of these rates, with between 51% and 69% of these relationships ending in legal separation.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>The study was conducted by John Dehlin, a Utah State University doctoral student, USU professor Renee Galliher, and retired professor Bill Bradshaw, formerly of Brigham Young University. The researchers collected respondents from several websites, including the pro-Mormon</span> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; font-style: italic; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>North Star International</span> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>and Dehlin’s popular, critical podcast, “Mormon Stories.” They found that more than 80% of LGBT Mormons make efforts to change their sexuality, and 70% eventually leave the church. However, critics have pointed out that the technique the researchers used, called “snowballing,” is more likely to attract participants who are unhappy with their situations, rather than those who were satisfied and felt they had nothing to prove. Dehlin has countered that the method, while not scientific, is well-respected. He also stated that the researchers strove to avoid bias.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>In recent years, Dehlin has become a</span> <a style=”text-decoration: none;” href=”http://www.sltrib.com/news/lds/2050536-155/if-a-gay-mormon-marries-a”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>controversial figure</span></a> <span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>in the Mormon community. A former Microsoft employee and volunteer religious teacher, he says he eventually found a number of contradictory tenets in the Book of Mormon and other religious texts which caused him to question the nature of his faith. In response, Dehlin created his “Mormon Stories” podcast in 2005, which explores a number of popular issues, from same-sex marriage to female priesthood ordination. The podcast has become popular with a diverse spectrum of Mormons, with some episodes being downloaded as many as 50,000 times. In response, the Mormon Church has been threatening Dehlin and other activists with excommunication for years. In January 2015, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/news/local/article_4c14a6f8-9cff-11e4-9320-eb2da68597f1.html” target=”_blank”>church leaders began taking moves</a> to follow through on this threat, alleging apostasy.</span></p><p style=”line-height: 1.15; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 11pt;” dir=”ltr”><span style=”font-size: 12px; font-family: Verdana; color: #000000; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap;”>Dehlin’s punishment had been a likelihood for several months, and had only been stalled by the criticism that followed the disbandment of another activist, Kate Kelly. Excommunication is a serious threat in the Mormon community: according to Mormon teachings, being dismissed from the church means that a person is unable to enter heaven and experience the afterlife with their loved ones. With such a future ahead of them, it is no wonder that so many LGBT Mormons struggle to follow church tenets, and that the state is fighting to keep their laws in accordance with these teachings. But with studies like Dehlin’s showing how ineffective these measures may be, is it the state or the church that needs to adapt?</span></p>

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