04 January 2014

Stirring Up A Hornet's Nest In The Beehive State?

If you are anything like me, you probably never expected to use "Utah" and "same-sex marriage" in the same sentence.

But it looks like we may have to get used to such a locution.  As I've mentioned in an earlier post, a court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.  Since then, hundreds of couples--most of them in Salt Lake City--have exchanged vows.

Meanwhile, the state has appealed Judge Robert Shelby's decision to the US Supreme Court.  The Beehive State's (With a name like that, the state wants to ban gay marriage?  Who do they think does all of those beehives?;-)) lawyers have argued that Judge Shelby--who, by the way, is a conservative Republican-- in essence, created a Constitutional right by ruling that the ban violated Federal guarantees of equal protection. In response, according to lawyer Peggy Tomic, advocates of same-sex marriage have filed papers in the Supreme Court in which they argue, in essence, that gay people aren't harming anyone by getting married in Utah.

Even if the Supreme Court grants the appeal--which, I believe, seems unlikely--it will still be something of a surprise to provincial New Yorkers like me that same-sex marriages ever took place in Utah.  But, as I've done some research, this turn of jurisprudence seems less surprising. After all, seemingly-conservative and mainly-rural Iowa legalized same-sex marriage a couple of years ago.  I know of Iowa only from acquaintances who hail from there; from their accounts, Iowans are "tolerant" and are taught to "mind their own business".  If that;s the case, then they are not so different--at least in that respect--from Vermonters, who surprised almost no one when they legalized same-sex marriage in their state.

But another fact makes recent events in Utah less surprising than they initially seemed.  According to at least one report, Salt Lake City has a higher percentage of its gay couples raising children than any other large city in the United States. Other cities near the top of that list include Virgina Beach, Detroit and Memphis.  

One reason why cities (with the possible exception of Detroit) that have such high proportions of gay couples raising children are located in socially conservative states may well be the social conservativism in such places.  It results in people coming out later in life and, often, entering into heterosexual marriages and having kids along the way.  Also, I think social conservatives lose, interestingly, some of their objection to gay marriage if not "the gay lifestyle" when they see gay couples raising kids. Seeing gay couples with kids is, perhaps, more palatable to some people than seeing images of  young, single gays leading seemingly-hedonistic lives in Chelsea or Castro.

Also, people in socially conservative places value order.  I think now of a Dutch minister who explained that his country's history of Calvinism is the very reason why marijuana and other drugs are legal in Amsterdam.  Legalizing something means regulating it.  It also means that people won't have to follow their proclivities "in the shadows" and resort to illegal means.  If you legalize pot, people don't have to support criminals in order to buy it; if you legalize gay marriage (and, indeed, almost anything else that goes along with homosexuality or queerness), there is less business for seedy bars and unscrupulous purveyors of pornography and sexual paraphernalia.   

Of course, if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling of a conservative Republican judge in what has been regarded as one of the most socially conservative states to strike down his state's ban on gay marriage, other states and jurisdictions will have less reason  to hold to bar such unions.  

That said, I still think that same-sex marriage is not the ne plus ultra of equal rights legislation for LGBT people.  I still believe that government should not have any say in marriage at all, save for setting a minimum age limit.  Everyone who wants to wed should, in the eyes of government, have the equivalent of a civil union, and couples could enshrine their marriages in their churches or other places of worship if they so wish.  And, finally, I think there should not be any tax benefits for any married couple, whether they are hetero- or same-sex.  But, given the legal and social systems we have, legalizing same-sex marriage is the best way to ensure that two men or two women have the same rights as a man and a woman.

(Now that Utah, in essence, allows same-sex marriage, at least one wag is wondering whether same-sex polygamy or polyandry will also be legal. In my own unbiased opinion, I think that there's a lot less reason to worry about gay marriage than about polygamy!)

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