In the days since Utah’s Amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman was struck down, Utah voters have not taken to the streets in angry protest. Some national media are concluding that Utahns are not “too upset about it” and that even “in a red state, even in a state that’s the second most religious in the country, people are OK with this.” But there’s a better explanation.
Contrary to popular portrayals, supporters of traditional marriage are not the angry, hate-filled bigots they have been stereotyped to be. Utahns have shown in word and deed that you do not have to be against anyone to affirm the purpose of marriage — to unite children with the man and woman who made them. As one Utahn told the LA Times, “we have a message to the gay and lesbian people who live among us—we don’t hate you, it’s nothing like that. But we believe what we believe. And our conviction is strong.”
Contrast that respectful response to the angry mob that hurled insults and threats at 6-year old Ruby Bridges while U.S. Marshals escorted her to an all-white elementary school after federal courts ruled that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutionally discriminatory. Although the gay-marriage movement is often analogized as the “civil rights issue of our day,” Utahns did not support Amendment 3 to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and their response to it being struck down shows that.
Rather than taking to the streets during the Christmas holiday, supporters of traditional marriage gathered with their families. And for most of them, the overwhelming reaction to the news about Amendment 3 was one of sadness, not anger at gays and lesbians.
Sadness for what it means to redefine — to change — the meaning of marriage from its transcendent roots across cultures and time as the union of complementary halves — the Biblical “one flesh” — to a fundamentally genderless institution.
Sadness for children, who rely on marriage as the only means to tie their fathers to their mothers and to themselves, preserving their “historical and genealogical identity in this world”
Sadness that society would assume children don’t need a mother and a father. This, in spite of the fact that decades of our best research show that children not raised by their married biological parents (e.g., divorced, step-parent, cohabiting) have, on average, twice the levels of risk for problems. And though there are few scientifically rigorous studies of same-sex parenting, larger sample studies suggest similar cause for concern.
Sadness that in changing the age-old purpose of marriage from uniting men and women, society undermines the pillars of marital prevalence, permanence and monogamy, each vital to creating a bond strong enough that “a child’s heart can rely upon it.” For though many gay and lesbian couples earnestly desire a marriage of fidelity and commitment, some advocates admit, “We lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change”
Sadness that we who are concerned about redefining marriage are publicly branded as bigots whose sole motivations are animus and malice against gays and lesbians.
Sadness that as a result, religious believers must violate their conscience or have civil claims brought against them. Take Cynthia Gifford, who rents her farm for private events. She has gay employees and once hosted a birthday party for a young man with lesbian parents. She is clearly not prejudiced. But Gifford is now being sued because she politely declined, for religious reasons, to host a same-sex marriage. Other business owners have already been punished in other states, including, for example, Oregon, New Mexico, and Colorado. A judge in New Mexico called it the “price of citizenship.”
We are conscious in writing that some may read these words and ask, “But what about the sadness that I have felt for so many years? For my loneliness and fear of being rejected before I told my family and friends that I felt attracted to the same sex? For the insults and the jokes and the careless insensitivity at school, at church, at work, and, worst of all, at home? For the noisy harangue that ‘those people’ — me — were destroying society? For tempting, debilitating thoughts that I was never good enough and that God did not love me?”
To any who may ask such questions themselves or on behalf of a loved one, we emphatically agree that must change. You or your loved ones deserve better. All are owed dignity and respect. We are grateful that much of the prejudice and mean-spirited attitudes we witnessed in our youth have diminished significantly. We also recognize that there is a long way to go.
But changing marriage is not the way. Let us work together and find the path that is. With all of the love that we can muster, we say with a clear conscience: To be for marriage, you do not have to be against anyone. There is something unique, special, and sacred about the legal union of a man and a woman. Amendment 3 codified that principle in Utah’s Constitution. To be for it, Utahans need not be against anyone.
Michael Erickson is an attorney. Jenet Erickson is family science researcher. They live in Salt Lake City.