Activists discuss Utah marriage ban

by CLAYTON NORLEN

The passage of Amendment 3 in November 2004 to the Utah Constitution, which outlawed same-sex marriage, was widely debated at the time as an amendment that would protect traditional nuclear families.

When the amendment passed by a two-thirds vote in 2004, gay activists said many voters forgot to consider how families in the queer community would be affected.

The Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, in conjunction with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center and the Queer Student Union, hosted a forum to debate the controversial amendment on Oct. 16, 2007.

The forum had prominent panel members from the local political scene, including the Stonewall Democrats and Utah Log Cabin Republicans. Also on the panel were human rights activist group representatives like Equality Utah and the Transgender Education Advocates of Utah.

“It is the youth who are going to make a change,” said Mel Nimer, a member of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, and one of five panelists. “In my generation, being gay was an unspeakable sin, but now in your generation, 70 to 80 percent of the youth are accepting and welcoming to members of the gay community.”

Amendment 3 served to redefine marriage in Utah to consist of the legal union between a man and a woman, adding that no other domestic union would be given the same legal standing.

“Amendment 3 is a big challenge for the LGBT community,” said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City. “Now it will be legal battles in the courts to ensure the rights of the LGBT community in Utah. If you think your silence is appropriate, think again — it is silence that is so damaging.”

Biskupski said involvement in groups such as Equality Utah and access to technology make it easy to express opinions on the issue to representatives, encouraging students to speak out to lawmakers by doing simple things such as sending text messages to their representatives’ Blackberries.

“For me, the reason I stay and I advocate is because if we don’t stay together and unite, then what are we doing?” asked Christopher Scuderi of TEA. “We need to stand together as the LGBTQ community, and all marginalized groups need to stay together because we are all fighting for the same basic human rights.”

Every panelist reiterated the importance of political activism from all individuals who are eligible to vote, saying that the catalyst for change in any state or city is public participation.

“You guys are young,” Becky Moss of the Stonewall Democrats told the audience. “You’ve got voices and new ideas, and it is you who needs to be out there advocating for action. I’m old, and our tactics can only carry us so far. Get registered and vote. We need the public to get out and vote, so there can be an accurate representation in Utah.”

Although the forum was dominated by panelists who agreed on issues affecting the queer population, the audience had different reactions to the panel’s ideas of achieving equality.

“It’s good that these issues are being talked about, but we’re being overly optimistic,” said Sydney Rhees, a senior majoring in psychology. “It’s hell out there, and change will only come slowly this way. This panel will talk about change but they won’t stand up and make it happen. I don’t think things are getting any better. They’re still difficult.”

Rhees married his partner in 2004 in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages are legal and recognized. But when Rhees moved to Salt Lake City in 2005 to pursue his education, both his health and car insurance that were provided through his partner’s insurance plan were revoked. 

The Defense of Marriage Act gives states the autonomy to recognize only marriages or civil unions they wish to, because of this act when Rhees moved to Utah his marriage to his partner was considered invalid and his benefits were stripped away. Biskupski said numerous legal battles would have to be fought and in conjunction with educational efforts by the queer community before Amendment 3 could be struck from the Utah Constitution.

“Changing the Constitution to get something out is harder than getting something in it,” Biskupski said. “There is so much educational and grassroots efforts that need to take place over the next few years to get the support needed, and even then it will be incredibly difficult to get something through Capitol Hill.”