Today, December 23, Republican Governor Gary Herbert has declared the State of Utah will go before a judge to “defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.” I don’t know how he can say that as a Utahan and as a Mormon. Traditional marriage in Utah is non-traditional. How delightfully ironic that today, December 23, Mormons will remember the birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, a man who had 34 wives, 1/3 of whom married Joseph while simultaneously married to other men and 1/3 of whom were under the age of 20. The founder of Salt Lake City and colonizer of Utah, Brigham Young, had 55 wives and 34 children. 21 of his wives had never been married, 16 were widows, 6 were divorced, and 6 had living husbands.
Governor Herbert knows all this, he’s just trying to save face and appease the rabidly homophobic Mormon constituency in Utah. Plus he’s trying to make up for how ill prepared and incompetently the state acted on Friday.
That’s why the state filed an emergency motion with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to request a stay. (While writing this, I received a message that the 10th Circuit Court denied the stay. It was denied without prejudice which means the state can and will ask again.) What I did not expect the state to do was request that my marriage be declared void. The Salt Lake Tribune reported the state said in its motion that “A ruling from the 10th Circuit is ‘crucial to maintaining that status quo,’” and “‘in the event that the district court’s decision is reversed, the licenses issued and the marriages performed in the absence of a stay may be void.’” (emphasis mine).
Yes, the state would void my marriage, or in other words, forcibly divorce me and my husband plus the hundreds of other couples who married on Friday and the hundreds more who will marry today, Monday, December 23…the birthday of Joseph Smith.
You might think this is insanity, but Utah has done it before. In 1987 the Utah Legislature passed a law that divorced couples if one of the partners contracted HIV.
Representative Stephen J. Rees introduced SB 156 known as “Recognition of Common Law Marriages” into the 1987 general session, which passed and became law. The bill prohibited and “declared void” the marriage of a “person afflicted with acquired immune deficiency syndrome…” This law specifically targeted Utahans with a terminal illness and declared their marriages illegal, making Utah the only state to pass such overreaching legislation. As reported by the Deseret News, the law carried serious ramifications for adults forcibly divorced by the state. What happened to children, property, inheritance, or life insurance? What interest did the state have in nullifying marriages? Members of the LDS Church (i.e. the majority population in Utah) place a premium on marriage because it grants social status and upward mobility. Using the state to forcibly dissolve a marriage is a subtle but vicious way to create a class of “others” and reveals a potent hostility. If the bill aimed to stop the spread of AIDS in Utah, it failed: rates of AIDS infections in Utah continued to rise.
Two (straight) women sued and the Utah Supreme Court overturned the law in 1993 and required the state to pay $11,000 in attorney’s fees.
Yet once again, the state is threatening to break up families and marriages in the name of defending marriage.
We will not let them. LGBT Utahans are equal in Utah now and forever!