On Mormons, Marriage, Tea Cups and Kettles

The lights of local TV cameras seeking gay-on-the-street sound-bites illuminated the darker part of Broadway on the Upper West Side where thousands of people marched the other night chanting, "Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right."

I was one of them, upset and disillusioned that a right could be so easily eliminated for an entire group of people that included me. Sure, New York has never allowed same-sex marriage. But it was a right granted in California until a simple majority of voters decided that gay relationships weren't equal to their own.

I joined up with the march in progress at West 66th Street, in front of Manhattan's Mormon Temple. The spot was significant because California's constitutional amendment was bankrolled largely by the Mormon Church, which urged its members nationwide to donate tens of millions of dollars to stop gay couples and their families from receiving the same legal recognition and protections everyone else enjoys.

"Two-four-six-eight, separate church and state," the crowd shouted.

I couldn't agree more. Working for the American Civil Liberties Union, I know this concept is what allows America to be America — we may not be each other's cup of tea in our beliefs and actions, but somehow we have to find a way for a variety of kettles to peacefully share the stove.

But some of the protest signs were especially ugly and demeaning to the Mormon faith. One sign made fun of the protective, spiritual undergarments worn by Mormon men: "Keep your holy undies out of our business!"

I chuckled. But it bothered me to consider doing to the Mormons what they did to me — and they did pay for some disgusting and deceitful TV ads in their campaign to eliminate my rights. As a civil liberties advocate, I should follow Voltaire's notion of defending the rights of those I disagree with.

News crews from the New York media market seemed to have a TV camera and correspondent at every block, interviewing marchers. I wondered what I would say if stopped. I realized that I would have to say that I'm not protesting the right of Mormons to believe or say that gay unions are wrong and sinful. The First Amendment guarantees them the right to decide who they deem worthy of membership and marriage in their church. It also lets them preach what they want, even at our front doors.

What I was protesting was the obliteration of that delicate tea-cup-and-kettle system I like to envision as the church-state balance. I thought about divorce. Mormons detest it. Yet the state allows it and some 50 percent of straight couples do it. And still, Mormon families seemingly flourish in spite of it. Why the need to ban gay unions if there isn't a need to eliminate the right of divorced people to marry? Why can't gay couples get a marriage license at city hall and just not be allowed to marry in a Mormon temple? There's precedent for it. Catholics, Muslims and Jews aren't allowed to marry in Mormon temples, but they still all sign the same state-issued marriage certificate before going off to have their own ceremonies in a place of worship that welcomes them. Can't gay couples be treated the same?

As I marched past the Mormon temple toward Columbus Circle, I could understand why so many of the protesters were directing their anger at the church. We are not a Mormon nation, as much as we are not a Baptist or Pentecostal nation. So it is painful when any religion forces all of us to live their way by altering the Constitution upon which all our laws are based. But when this initial sting of anger passes, I hope we can use the rights of speech and assembly still afforded to us in the Constitution to win back the fundamental right of marriage we lost in California, and have yet to gain in other states. And that means not trying to destroy the rights of Mormons or anyone else who wants to believe our relationships are less than theirs.

In the marketplace of ideas, the best idea will win. So far in our nation's history, despite long odds and terrible setbacks, equality has been a winning idea. We don't need to bash Mormons to prove that gay couples deserve equal treatment by the state. What Mormons believe is up to them and maybe they'll change  (they did finally allow African-Americans to become full members in 1978) and maybe they won't. There will always be disparate kettles trying to share space on the American stove.

What we can do is a better job of crying foul the next time a group tries to upset the church-state balance. We can also make our case with a more diverse audience. After all, there isn't a racial, cultural or religious tea party that doesn't have gay attendees. Mormons included.

NOTE: In my work for the ACLU, I produced a short video about three gay and lesbian couples who show us the human cost of denying people the fundamental right to marry. The video premiered in the days before the voters in California passed Proposition 8, taking the right to marry away from gay and lesbian couples. Now in the wake of this devastating vote, the video has gained even more relevance: thousands are watching to see firsthand what is at stake in all 48 states where equality is denied to gay and lesbian families. I'd like to post it here again as a reminder to the ACLU audience that this video has proven to be a powerful tool in putting a human face on the issue.

Please share it with others.

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Confused

I'm very confused - I don't think California is 52% Mormon. Why is the gay community concentrating so heavily on the Mormon church? Just because they gave more money to the campaign? People still had the right to choose the law of the state they live in. There are many more churches out there that do not condone gay marriage. The majority of California (not just the Mormons) voted for Proposition 8. I don't think it is fair to single out one proponent of the proposition.

Austin

As a Mormon, let me say thank you! Protesting is fine (it's absolutely an American right) but the hatred and vandalism and bigotry that some protestors commit is awful and doesn't bring about any positive change. I support the ACLU precisely because you fight for everyone's rights to free speech, not just your own.

carla

the vote was yes on 8 majority won , not everyone who voted was mormon why blame the mormons , everyone can spend their money like they want to , stop being spoiled brats with tantrums when thing didnt go your way marriage is between a man and a woman , two man or two woman can create a child , there was adam and eve not adam and adan or eve and eva . thats how nature planned it .

Babe

I am grateful for any show of love and respect. But I can understand why people of certain religous beliefs disagree with gay marriage and the promaion of gay lifstyles in public schools or the public arena. The parents and famliy members are being forced to go along with, and subject their own children to something that the bible says is very wrong.It's not that they can just look the other way. They are being forced to allow their children to be trained by teacher in school,media,and social designers that the bible is mistaken in this area. They fear this will undermine much of the foundation of their family unity.As far as keeping the holy undies out of others busines.Maybe some people should keep their business to themselves where it belongs and not envolve a whole nation in their business.

Stacey

I agree totally that gays should be allowed to marry. No one should be discriminated against based on their sexual preference. I will never understand though why gays are protesting a chuch. The people of California and Florida voted to ban gay marriage. I did not vote for Obama because I believe that most of the Democratic party is doing their best to keep minorities in poverty so they receive their vote but I am not protesting the individuals or organizations that donated hundreds of millions of dollars to his campaign. Why are you not protesting the President elect and his Vice President who have stated publically that they do not agree with gay marriage? Why single out just the Mormon church? Why are you giving some people a pass?

John Runde

Mr. Endargio,
I thought your approach to gay marriage was modest and refresing. I never considered the issue in terms of the sepearation of Church and State. And though I feel sick thinking about the Mormom inititaive to hinder the progress of same sex marriage, it's not really about them, and I wonder why they have to do this. As a gay man leaving in New York City, I wish I had been on the Upper West Side protesting. After reading your small but earnest article, I would have a better idea of what I'm protesting against, instead of who.

John Runde

I spelled your name wrong! I meant "Mr. Engardio"

NotIntimidated

A "simple majority"? Thank GOD that the majority of citizens in this country still regard Biblical TRUTH as exactly that, and place that Divine Value as the greater priority. God did NOT create man or woman with homosexual orientation, contrary to what propoganda-driven media and the "gay-rights" myth agenda has so been trying to convince the American majority since the 1960s. God himself says homosexuality and immoral sex between heterosexual men and women are BOTH sins of which we are called to repentance. HE also commands us to LOVE the sinner and hate the sin, NOT the PERSON. People who don't support the gay "rights" movement are NOT HATERS and to call Christian conservatives fighting for the CHRISTIAN values our great country were established upon is merely another propoganda, agenda-pushing terminology used to play on ignorant people's perception of your plight. I am PRAYING for this great nation for forgiveness and GODs mercy, as His wrath will be so GREAT, for whom much is given, much is expected!

June Roberts

A beautiful moving film, and excellent blog. Please show more examples of the differences between civil "marriage" and civil union laws. Also, please continue to emphasize to the groups that are demonstrating for the rights of gays to marry, with which I strongly agree, that they mustn't trample on the rights of religious individuals to their free speech rights and their rights to donate inidividually to their political causes. Though we might not agree, we mustn't "crucify" their rights in the process.

On the other hand, if we have evidence that a church is doing more than saying, "vote your conscience", and is endorsing or supporting particular candidates and parties from the organization, their tax status should be questioned, both liberal religions and conservative ones, whatever that really means! Thanks for your excellent blog.

Questionable

A logical argument would be against government being involved in any aspect of marriage. Marriage is a religious institution.
The Mormons have been persectued for bigamy, why shouldn't a three consenting adults be allowed to 'marry'?
How about adult cousins?

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