Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

Utahns call for civility in contentious same-sex marriage debate

By Dennis Romboy, Deseret News

Published: Sat, Jan. 11 5:10 p.m. MST

 James Humphreys, Utah Log Cabin Republicans

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:, Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

1. 10CC
Bountiful, UT,
Jan. 11, 2014

I readily admit I don't understand two instances of great anger regarding marriage in our nation's history:

1) Why was there such visceral opposition to LDS polygamy, in the 1800s and leading up to statehood for Utah? Why was this such an offensive issue to everyone else?

2) people today thinking that gay marriage is a threat to... well... *anything*

2. IndeMak
South Jordan, UT,
Jan. 11, 2014

We are of the human race and we all need each other. Allow God to judge. In the interim, let's be kinder to each other. Sheesh.

3. Bob K
portland, OR,
Jan. 11, 2014

Well, an article saying folks should be civil, just after the church said the same thing!

Despite what the article says, the majority of "non-civil" comments I have read on related topics on the DN in past weeks, were from people in smaller towns and cities in mormon areas, not from Gays.
--- there have been far more comments insisting that mormon family doctrine, God, the Bible, and tradition should trump US laws and equal treatment of citizens were from those towns. Sometimes the writer mentions that he or she is lds.

So, respectfully, I suggest that a more needed article would explain to DN readers that no matter how strong their beliefs, a religious position cannot legally cause a situation of discrimination violating the US Constitution.

I also suggest to lds people, considering the longtime history, until recently, of shunning, bullying, and discarding of Gay kids in those same mormon towns, the Prop 8 and Hawaii issues:
--- a little bit of "letting the other side vent" might be a Christian thing to do.

As far as Gay rights in the USA are concerned -- the cause is winning.

I wish more effort were going into equality for lds born Gay.

4. stanfunky
Salt Lake City, UT,
Jan. 11, 2014

I agree that civility on both sides, and bridge-building will help. However, since it has been slow in coming prior to the court ruling, it may not be instantaneous afterwards. It would be nice to wake up and treat each other as God's children, even those who do not believe in the same worldview as we do. In many other countries, people kill and maim, groups are eradicated in genocide. Here, we can find ways to co-exist and get along. Let's get to work doing so!

5. Maudine
Jan. 11, 2014

The State of Utah has been asked to answer one question: How prohibiting same-sex marriage furthers the stated goal of promoting heterosexual headed households.

It is great to claim that your religion believes marriage was ordained of God to be exclusive between one man and one woman. But you need to recognize that not all religions believe that and that your religious beliefs are not a valid basis for infringing on the religious beliefs of others. (Some religions believe it is a sin to drink or smoke - yet those things are legal.) This is not to say you shouldn't vote according to your beliefs or conscience, but some things should never be up for a vote.

It is great to claim that thousands of years of tradition support one man one woman marriages and children being raised in those families. But this claim ignores history. Many cultures have had polygamy. Many cultures have had same-sex unions. Many cultures had children raised by wet nurses, nannies, tutors, sent off to boarding schools, or apprenticed out at very young ages. You cannot ignore/rewrite history and then not expect people to think you are acting with animus.