December 23, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Gay Mormons relish the opportunity to marry in Utah
Gay Mormons relish the opportunity to marry following the Utah court ruling (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi).

Gay Mormons relish the opportunity to marry following the Utah court ruling. (photo from wikimedia by Joe Ravi)

For lesbian couple Terri Henry and Perry Kirby, the court ruling instituting marriage equality in Utah and granting them the ability to wed allowed them to affirm the Mormon values with which they were raised.

Although Henry, 51, and Kirby, 47, no longer identify as members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, they say their upbringing compelled them to marry at Salt Lake County on Monday.

Henry, who left the church after it filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court in favor of Proposition 8, said LDS teaching showed her the importance of marriage — even if it’s to someone of the same gender.

“Being raised in a very strong community that values family, that values commitment and sacrifice to one another, that was something I wanted to continue with my life,” Henry said.

For Kirby, who went on a mission for the church to the Netherlands in the mid-1980s, she wanted to marry her partner of four years because she came to learn through the Mormon Church that “family is so important.”

“I was ingrained with family being one of the most important things in life,” Kirby said. “The ability to serve another, and to sacrifice for each other is important, and having that connection makes that expectation more cemented.”

The couple initially tried to obtain a marriage license in Utah County on Friday, but they were turned away. According to media reports, that county was still denying marriage licenses as of Monday.

Although the Mormon Church is known for being a stalwart advocate for family and marriage, that ideology isn’t supposed to apply to same-sex couples. The church has been a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, donating millions to oppose its legalization.

Upon the news last week that U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby had issued a decision instituting marriage equality throughout the state, the Church of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its position against same-sex marriage.

“The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect,” the statement says. “This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.”

In 2008, during the battle over California’s Proposition 8, the Mormon Church took a lead role in organizing support for an amendment that stripped marriage rights for gay couples. Although the church largely sat on the sidelines over the 2012 ballot initiatives on marriage, Mormons leaders took an active role in attempting to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

Kirby said she’s sad for the church because it doesn’t extend its support of strong families to gay and lesbian couples seeking to wed.

“There’s is a church that was founded coming out of oppression and they have now turned into the bullies themselves,” Kirby said. “They, of all people, should be supportive and understanding and be able to step away from their dogma.”

That’s the same sentiment that Perry expressed with regard to the Mormon Church’s opposition to gay nuptials.

“I feel like everything that the Mormon Church has gone through, from their early ages of persecution, now I think because of the fear that they have, they really, really don’t know how to handle gay couples,” Perry said.

As Kirby noted, the decision brings the issue to the doorstep of the church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

“This shift that has happened on their home turf hopefully will speak to them that this is miraculous in a good, positive way and that we can all be OK, we can all be fine, no one’s threatened,” Kirby said. “All families have space to be together.”

Spencer Clark, executive director of Mormons for Equality, affirmed that the ruling from the district enabled gay Mormons to gain access to the institution they hold dear as part of their values.

“While Mormons have organized to advocate for the equal treatment of families across the country, it is particularly sweet to have this decision come down in the heartland of our faith,” Clark said. “We pray with confidence that it will be upheld as the inevitable appeals ensue, but take this time to express gratitude for the progress that this ruling represents – particularly for the many families who will ultimately be stronger and more secure as a result.”

What is the couple’s next plan? Kirby said it’s simple, “We’re going to take a nap.” The couple had camped out  before the clerk’s office in Salt Lake City early in the morning to ensure they’d be able to receive a license Monday morning. There will be time to celebrate at a candlelight vigil later in the evening and during Christmas at home.

“We have a really great new ornament that says, ‘Our first Christmas together in 2013,” Kirby said. “While we’ve shared Christmas together, this is our first married Christmas, and that is an amazing thing.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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