On Jan. 28, Utahns are invited to “Stand for Marriage—Stand for Amendment 3” at the Utah State Capitol Rotunda at 7 pm. Opponents of Amendment 3 have called for a rally on the Capitol steps a few hours before.
Despite our differences, there is much that can unite us. We can agree to respect each other’s right to freedom of expression. No one should feel afraid to express their deeply held beliefs in the public square. On this issue, especially, we need more understanding, not less. And the more we listen to one another, the more apt we are to see our common bonds, which for many include a common religious heritage and a belief that we are all brothers and sisters.
We cannot, of course, ignore the painful divisions that exist. Hundreds of same-sex couples are asking: What gives you the right to keep us from marrying the person we love? How would our marrying affect you? Why do you oppose us having what you have? Conscience forbids us from taking such personal questions lightly. As some will find any answer we might give incomprehensible—predetermined to see our explanation as mere hatred or bigotry—we hope and pray for understanding.
At the heart of the matter is the meaning of marriage. Utah’s Amendment 3 defines marriage to mean the union of a man and a woman. As such, marriage is a public symbol that men and women are complementary and that their union is special, unique, and sacred—preeminently so because that union ignites the procreative power that is the God-given miracle of new human life. And for that reason, marriage is also more than a symbol; it is the bedrock institution of society and civilization. It is the means by which an innocent, vulnerable child is united to his or her mother and father and becomes entitled to their mutual love and care.
Redefining that meaning of marriage changes it for everyone. Marriage cannot be expanded to include same-sex couples without first eliminating the profound and deeply held belief that marriage means the union of a man and a woman. Two different meanings cannot coincide in the law. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Either the law recognizes that there is something special, unique, and sacred about the union of a man and a woman or it does not. And if it does not, there will be consequences. That is especially true if traditional beliefs about marriage are branded as discriminatory—as the product of irrational prejudice and hateful bias—and then systematically driven from the public square.
Some will decry the legal recognition of a “deeply held belief that marriage means the union of a man and a woman” as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. No one should be ashamed, however, for recognizing that marriage has deep religious significance. Far from a sectarian doctrine, marriage between a man and a woman is a social and religious practice that transcends culture and time. The fact that Utah voters codified this transcendent meaning of marriage into Amendment 3 does not violate the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of religion is not freedom from religion. Religious and moral beliefs are no less entitled to inform the law than any other beliefs. And attempts to silence religious expression from the public square are an affront to the American ideals of religious liberty and freedom of expression.
For these reasons, Amendment 3 is about our families, our children, and our religion. And that is why we feel compelled to “Stand for Marriage.”
In writing this, we are conscious that others see Amendment 3 much differently. We know that for many it reminds them of insults and injuries, of fear and rejection, of intolerance and prejudice. While we affirm that being for marriage does not mean being against anyone, we can appreciate why some would doubt our sincerity or mistrust support for Amendment 3. Mindful of our own shortcomings, we acknowledge that people of good faith have “passed by on the other side,” as did the priest and the Levite, without taking sufficient time to understand same-sex attraction or to listen to the experiences of gays and lesbians. We are grateful for resources such as www.mormonsandgays.org and www.ldsvoicesofhope.org. They illuminate realities too little understood. Speaking for ourselves, these resources have revealed the “beam” in our own eyes when we have sought to cast the “mote” out of other’s eyes.
At the same time, we also invite opponents of Amendment 3 to walk in our shoes and to understand our genuine concerns for family, children, and religious liberty. Differences will remain, but all voices should be heard. Though we have very different beliefs about the meaning of marriage, we are equally entitled to advocate for our beliefs in shaping public policy. We trust that the “better angels of our nature” will yet find a way to recognize the dignity owed all individuals while preserving the meaning of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Michael Erickson is an attorney. Jenet Erickson is family science researcher. They live in Salt Lake City.