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Emotions run high on a gay-marriage ban

Supporters view same-sex unions as a threat to families

In Salt Lake City, Amendment 3 supporters answer questions in a town hall format.
In Salt Lake City, Amendment 3 supporters answer questions in a town hall format.
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Joan Connolly says the "world is harder" now than it was when her oldest child, now 34, was in grade school.

As she raises her youngest child, who is 12 years old, Connolly is facing new challenges — pornography on the Internet and a general shortage of modest clothing, to name two.

Now, she sees yet another threat to her way of life — the possibility that marriage could be dramatically redefined in Utah. The possibility became very real to Connolly after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages and licenses were issued to homosexual couples in California and other states.

That same fear motivated the Utah Legislature this year to place on November's ballot a proposed amendment to the state's constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and snuff out any possibility of civil unions or any other type of legal sanction of a gay couple's relationship.

"I feel like the basic unit of society has got to be a family with a man and a woman, a mom and a dad," said Connolly, a mother of 13 children and grandmother of 15. Otherwise, "my kids and grandkids will grow up in a situation where there are other types of marriages that are not between a man and woman. They'll have to start teaching those things in school.

"People say it won't affect my marriage. In a way, it won't. The general society will be changed."

Opinion polls show the Connollys are in line with the majority of Utah voters, 64 percent of whom said they'd vote for Amendment 3 in the most recent Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.

Support was strongest among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — 82 percent of those who said they were very active in their church said they'd vote for the amendment.

Connolly, one of six children raised in Salt Lake City, says her faith in the LDS Church shapes her moral ideals, as does her volunteer work at a marriage retreat with her husband, Dean.

The Connollys have also joined in the campaign to counter a well-organized and financed effort to defeat the amendment. The couple hosted their first neighborhood meeting last week to help explain and secure support for Amendment 3.

It worked for Gary and Sharon Howe, who said they left the meeting with an understanding that gay and lesbian couples' civil rights won't be impacted by the amendment, as they've heard from amendment opponents.

"We want (society) to be where family is stable, the family unit is protected," said Howe. "We want marriage to be protected for their sake," she said referring to her five children and 14 grandchildren.

When it comes to traditional marriage, Utah is the nation's most traditional state, so to speak. Utah has the highest percentage of married-couple households in the nation, according to the 2000 Census. Some 442,931 married couples comprised 63.2 percent of the state's total households, the census said.

Amendment opponents have acknowledged Utah's strong support for traditional marriage and have avoided the issue of whether gays or lesbians should be allowed to tie the knot. Instead, they have focused on the proposed amendment's second part, which would prevent granting the "same or substantially equivalent" legal effect as a marriage to any other "domestic union."

They claim that would not only outlaw gay marriages but common-law and other unmarried couples.

"We need to get this rumor mill stopped and the facts going out to people so they can make a good decision," Susan Roylance, president of Yes! for Marriage, said of opponents' claims that the amendment's second part could have punitive impacts on unmarried couples.

Passing Amendment 3 would do nothing more than maintain the status quo in Utah by defining marriage and preventing counterfeit marriages such as civil unions or domestic partnerships, Roylance said.

Roylance, and other amendment supporters say their arguments are backed by science, as well as morals. Studies that validate same-sex parenting are inconclusive at best, lacking long-term data on a large sample size, they say.

Glenn Stanton of the Colorado-based advocacy group Focus on the Family and co-author of "Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-sex Marriage and Parenting," said it would be detrimental to society to "normalize" same-sex unions.

"Marriage is an inherently normative relation," he said. "How we expect . . . husbands and wives to commit themselves to one another. Society needs that to happen.

"It's not about providing benefits for these children," Stanton said. "The game the government is in is encouraging behaviors it would like to see more of, and discouraging behaviors it would like to see less of."

Connolly acknowledges that there are families in Utah with two moms or two dads, but she doesn't see Amendment 3 as discriminating against them.

While Connolly believes people should be able to live whatever lifestyle they choose, she doesn't want anything but the relationship between a husband and wife to be called a marriage.

The amendment, she said, "doesn't change anything Utah doesn't already have on the books. It's just shoring up what we already have. . . . We have to stand up for what we believe."