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Utahns call for civility in contentious same-sex marriage debate

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11 2014 5:10 p.m. MST

James Humphreys, Utah Log Cabin Republicans

Courtesy of James Humphreys

SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Burns in "MASH" once said, "It's nice to be nice to the nice."

There isn't much nice going on in the public debate over marriage in Utah. Comments boards, Facebook and Twitter are rife with demeaning posts. Shrill voices in various forums inflame more than educate.

Name-calling reached a crescendo Wednesday with the state's decision to place all same-sex marriages that took place in Utah on hold.

"I'm seeing a whole lot of passion that is poorly directed and a lot of anger that's being shown," said James Humphreys, who as the head of Utah Log Cabin Republicans finds himself in the unique position of having a foot in both the conservative and the gay communities.

"The attitude of both sides, quite frankly, is ridiculous," he said. "I'm stuck in the middle."

Utahns are missing a "grand opportunity" to find common ground, Humphreys said. "They would rather hurl stones at a glass house than get their hands dirty and build a house together."

One Facebook commenter would be decidedly against any attempt to join hands.

"Utah has the right to make laws as it sees fit. A majority of its citizens decided that 'traditional' marriage is what they wanted for their state. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, there is a simple alternative, MOVE TO A STATE THAT EMBRACES YOUR VALUES!!!"

Perhaps it was a post like this — "Mormons are very sad and confused people hiding behind hate. A brainwashed group of people that so afraid to think out side the box!" — that prompted a plaintiff in the court case to ask advocates of same-sex marriage to "march forward respectfully."

"It's been very disconcerting to see certain behavior on social media," Moudi Sbeity posted on Facebook on Wednesday, adding there's no reason to attack organizations, religious groups or people.

"It is not our position to correct them, nor is it our right to belittle them. When we do so, we are no better than those who are trying to shut us down," he wrote. Sbeity and his partner Derek Kitchen are among the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged Utah's definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

In an interview, Sbeity said, "I just felt like I got tired of seeing those posts, and I really feel we need to stand united as a community in a very civil process." Many of the negative comments, he said, are directed at members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sbeity said Kitchen has family members on his father's side who are very active in the LDS Church and support the couple.

"When I see these posts, I automatically think those people that are writing negative comments toward LDS folks could be directing that toward what is effectively my family that is largely innocent," Sbeity said.

The LDS Church issued a statement regarding the recent court decisions on same-sex marriage Friday, which includes a call for civility.

"While these matters will continue to evolve, we affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree," the statement says.

The church statement also said those who support traditional marriage should be able to express their views without recrimination.

"Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. The church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution," the statement said.

Jenet Erickson, a family science researcher who supports traditional marriage, said more could be done to understand the feelings and experiences of people on both sides of the debate.

"What engenders respect for people is understanding them," she said.

Erickson, who has taught at BYU, and her husband, Michael, have periodically written about marriage. She said he insisted they read a book about gay people before writing a word.

"We only have part of the truth until we can understand, walk in their shoes," she said. "That's what's hard, the camps are so separated from each other."

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said both sides need to be respectful of the other as society wrestles with the marriage question. People who have religious views about marriage and those who don't must find a way to coexist, he said.

"We're at a point right now where, believers, because the culture has begun to move on this, are in some ways being retaliated against because of their views, and that's wrong," he said. "In the same way, it's wrong for believers to discriminate or retaliate against those who have a non-traditional view of marriage."

Frank Pignanelli, a former Democratic state lawmaker, said it's really a time for sensitivity on both sides.

"It may be years before this thing is addresses and resolved," he said. "Instead of making people uncomfortable over this, let's go back to where we need to go and establish a basis for common ideals. No one wants discrimination to happen. No one wants people to be isolated because of their sexual orientation."

Pignanelli, a Deseret News columnist, said there can be civil dialogue, but it needs give and take on both sides.

Contributing: Robert Trishman

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

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