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Utah’s 1,300 gay weddings spark change in attitudes

Marriage equality in conservative state impacts public opinion, LDS Church

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Utah, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
Utah, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Utahns rally in support of marriage equality. (Photo courtesy J Seth Anderson)

Although the 18-day period during which Utah allowed same-sex marriages has ended, observers say the visibility of gay couples marrying there made an indelible impression on one of the nation’s most conservative states.

Utah’s flirtation with marriage equality began on Dec. 20 when a district court ruled in favor of marriage, allowing more than 1,300 same-sex couples to marry in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the weddings pending appeal of the litigation.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said the state won’t recognize the same-sex marriages, but the federal government had pledged to view them as legitimate, and the events have shaken the state government, the view of state residents and even the Mormon Church.

Michael Ferguson, who wed his partner in Salt Lake City on Dec. 20 and became one-half of the first same-sex couple to marry in Utah, saw a sharp transition in support for marriage equality on social media in just two days of having marriage equality in Utah.

“I saw people who were posting some pretty horrible things about bestiality and pedophilia, and the slippery slope of world corruption, that’s going to ensue with same-sex marriages being solemnized in Utah,” Ferguson said. “Within two days of social dialogue, those same people were apologizing, and saying, ‘I can see that I was wrong and speaking from a place of ignorance, and I’m going to keep a more open-minded position in this conversation.'”

Mark Lawrence, director of the Utah-based Restore Our Humanity and the individual behind the marriage equality lawsuit, also noticed a distinct change in public opinion as the weddings took place.

“So many more people are, ‘OK, this is going to happen,” Lawrence said. “They’re coming around. They still may not agree with it, they still may not be happy with it, but I don’t think they see it anymore as the sky is falling and this is going to be the destruction of society.”

Evidence that attitudes have shifted on marriage equality in Utah is more than just anecdotal. Two new polls reveal significant growth in support for same-sex marriage in the state.

A new consumer poll made public on Sunday reveals that for the first time ever, a bare majority of Utah residents — 51.3 percent — support marriage rights for gay couples. In comparison, 43.7 percent oppose legal relationship recognition.

David Baker, a Mormon and gay D.C. activist, ran the poll over the course of last week using Google’s digital platform system, which is deemed an accurate method of polling by statisticians.

Baker said he “absolutely” believes the events in Utah in the past few weeks — especially Herbert’s decision not to recognize the marriages performed in the state — has had an impact on the perception of marriage equality in the state.

“I feel that Gov. Herbert’s decision to continue to put the rights of LGBT couples, who are legally married in the state of Utah, in a legal limbo has caused Utahns to face this issue that they may not have thought of before in the same context of legal rights for LGBT couples,” Baker said.

The results of Baker’s latest poll are along the lines of a poll published Tuesday by the Salt Lake Tribune that found Utah residents are now evenly split on whether same-sex couples in Utah should be allowed to marry — 48 percent were for it and 48 percent against it — and nearly three-fourths said same-sex couples should be allowed to have civil unions.

It’s hard to say that new support for marriage equality in Utah is the result of people seeing firsthand same-sex marriages happening in the state because no other data exists immediately before the weddings took place. However, the findings assert strong support for gay nuptials never before seen in the state.

Perhaps the most visible demonstration of this support for same-sex marriage came on Friday — coincidentally the day U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama administration would recognize the same-sex marriages — when an estimated 1,500 people rallied in Salt Lake City to urge Herbert to drop his appeal before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among the speakers was a 12-year-old boy, Riley Hackford-Peer, who said seeing his lesbian moms being able to marry in Utah was the second-happiest day of his life — right after the birth of his younger brother — and “felt like fireworks bursting in my heart.”

“Some people do not believe that I’m from a loving family because my moms are gay; they are wrong,” Riley said to applause. “I love my moms, and my moms love me and my brother, unconditionally.”

Troy Williams, a Salt Lake City gay activist and one of the organizers of the rally, said the event was intended to build off online petitions at Moveon.org calling on Herbert to let the court ruling stand in favor of marriage equality in Utah. At the time of the rally, the petitions had a total of 58,000 signatures.

“There’s so much excitement and energy right now,” Williams said. “Utah’s LGBT community is on fire and we are united like I have never seen before. There is such a sense of momentum and it was just happy coincidence that Friday morning Eric Holder announced the federal government would be acknowledging our marriages.”

Another institution showing signs of change — albeit subtle — is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Utah and nearly six years ago led the fight against same-sex marriage when California’s Proposition 8 came on the ballot.

In a statement the church issued on Friday, it reaffirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage, warning church officers not to employ “their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex” and forbidding the use of church property for same-sex marriages.

Still, a portion of the statement advises members of the church to treat everyone with respect.

“While these matters will continue to evolve, we affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same-sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully,” the statement says. “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility — even when we disagree.”

The words came the day after news broke that the Mormon Church wouldn’t file a friend-of-the-court brief in the Utah case seeking marriage equality now before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals — a change in trajectory for the church after it joined the religious right in making filings before the U.S. Supreme Court when it considered Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Spencer Clark, executive director of Mormons for Equality, said the statement is notable because it could have come out when same-sex marriages started advancing throughout the country, but instead is happening now.

“But given the rapid spread of civil marriage equality over the past couple years it’s evident that the church has recognized that this is something that is not going away and with which they will have to co-exist,” Clark said. “The fact that this letter came out now, and not in 2001 or even 2004, is a tacit admission that the climate has incontrovertibly changed and that we as Mormons must confront reality.”

And there’s optimism going forward about the lawsuit. It’s pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has pledged to consider the case on an expedited basis and is expected to render a decision this spring.

J. Seth Anderson, the other-half of the first gay couple married in Utah, said the short-lived nature of marriage equality in Utah demonstrates that the issue needs to be at the federal level and not left to the states.

“The states cannot be trusted to treat fairly, equally and lawfully their gay and lesbian citizens,” Anderson said. “There’s no statute in Utah law that allows the governor to select a group of marriage licenses and just declare them not recognized. It places Utah at the center of a very important national debate, and shows, I think, Utah digging its heels into keeping its position as a far right-wing rogue theocracy.”

The lawsuit may be the first to reach the U.S. Supreme Court among others seeking the court to find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

But Lawrence said he’s hoping the case ends with the Tenth Circuit ruling — with no appeal by the state of Utah to the Supreme Court — so that gay couples in Utah can continue marrying yet again as soon as possible.

“There are many people who want to this to go to SCOTUS, and if it does, we feel very strongly if we go to the Supreme Court this is going to be the end-all for the whole country,” Lawrence said. “That would be great, but I don’t want to keep our people in limbo for that long.”

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter sentenced to life in prison for federal hate crimes

Five people killed in 2022 mass shooting in Colo.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Justice Department YouTube screenshot)

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colo., was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon, and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance — stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department — from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI — for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and, Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

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