The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
The world didn’t end when marriage equality was instituted in Utah for a grand total of 18 days. In fact, for a state that has long had a love affair with marriage, it’s really not too surprising that over 1000 same sex couples rushed to their county buildings to get married. It’s also not surprising that no heterosexual marriages were reported harmed in that stampede.
But opponents of marriage, despite social scientific, political, constitutional and philosophical arguments that would suggest otherwise, are trying to persuade Utah moderates that marriage equality does irreparable harm to the state of Utah. Here are a few of those arguments.
First, the social science. Even though no straight couples were harmed during the 18 days of marriage equality in Utah, opponents argue that it is the long term effects of same-sex marriage that they are really worried about. However, decades of social science research on same-sex couples exists–and it suggests that same-sex families are as well adjusted as opposite sex families. And to the extent that marriage strengthens any relationship, it’s clear that it would also strengthen same-sex relationships.
Second, the political. With all this handwringing over the political consequences of marriage equality, especially as much of it comes from the conservative end of the spectrum, it becomes easy to forget that marriage is an inherently conservative institution. The conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan has been arguing this for decades. The tradition of marriage, founded as it is in forming and preserving the familial bond, is a particularly conservative relationship for its emphasis on stability. Despite the conservative nature of marriage as an institution, there are still those on the extreme right who would have moderates believe that marriage equality is a communist-inspired plot to destroy religion.
Third, the constitutional. Opponents of marriage equality argue that it will damage religious institutions. Marriage-as-a-civil-institution–which is what it became as soon as governments started handing out marriage licenses–is quite different from marriage-as-a-religious-institution. As a secular right, and one that government through various tax incentives has deemed worth promoting, marriage should be available to all. As a religious ceremony, Utah’s various religions are still free to marry whomever they please. Even today, an opposite-sex couple who doesn’t abide by the dictates of a particular religion is, by virtue of the first amendment, barred from participating in a marriage ordinance. The same would still hold true for a same-sex couple.
Fourth, the philosophical. Opponents want moderates to think that the will of the people is being overturned. Even though Amendment 3 passed with 66% of the vote, that vote can’t be said to express precisely the will of the people. Utah’s paltry voter turnout numbers being what they are, Amendment 3’s 66% pass rate represents only 36% of the voting age population, which itself is an even smaller fraction of the state’s entire population. In the ten years since Amendment 3’s passage, we’ve seen a significant increase in acceptance of same-sex marriage — not only across the country but also here in Utah. Many political analysts question whether a similar amendment would even pass today. But, at any rate, courts are meant as an extra-democratic corrective to what can sometimes be the tyranny of the majority.
We must remember our own history. If the tyranny of the majority were allowed to go unchecked by the judicial branch, states could still practice segregation and refuse interracial couples the right to marry. We look back on these majority-accepted laws as wrong, but at the time, the debate was heated and hostile, not unlike today.
Marriage equality won’t destroy the institution of marriage, despite the arguments to the contrary. If anything, it strengthens it by providing the opportunity for more and more people to participate. Our hope is for an expedient judicial review and the restoration of marriage equality to Utah. After all, commitment, marriage and family security are all Utah values.