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Reed Abplanalp-Cowan Headshot

Utah's Gay Marriage Ban. Worth it?

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Just before Utah Legislators cast their final vote sending the Beehive state's anti-gay marriage initiative to Utah voters nearly a decade ago, I found myself rushing to Utah Senate Chambers to pen a note to Utah legislator Beverly Evans asking her to vote no.

I thought Beverly, the legislator representing the small Utah towns where I grew up would surely see the signature on the red paper delivered to her by a senate page and have a change of heart...voting no.

After all, Evans was the legislator who, without fail, celebrated every success during my childhood and teen years by sending newspaper clippings of me to my family for safekeeping.

Beverly remembered my birthday and sent cards every year. She attended every play I acted in from high school to college. She penned letters of recommendation for scholarships. She was my friend and she was my advocate.

On the night when legislation threatened to sweep away my dignity as a young gay man, I thought surely Beverly Evans would read my letter and quickly stand up inside the Senate Chambers to advocate for the hometown boy whose accomplishments she not only facilitated, but also cheered.

That night, on a piece of paper passed through the doors of the Utah Senate, I came out to her and asked for her help.

Sadly, I never heard from her again.

My revelation made me invisible to Beverly Evans; just as invisible as the hundreds of other gay men and women standing in the halls that night.

When Utah voters passed Amendment 3 by a nearly 70% popular vote, discrimination made its way in to the state constitution and I lost a friend in Beverly Evans.

Years later, I returned to the same marble steps where I wrote the letter to Beverly to interview her Senate colleague, D. Chris Buttars for the film I made with Dustin Lance Black.

8: The Mormon Propo$ition was about a California ballot initiative, but sought to reveal Utah ties to the legislation that robbed California citizens of marriage equality.

I knew Utah religious influence had breached the wall between church and state and as a journalist, I was determined to interview the key players.

Smugly, while comparing gay people to "radical Muslims" who engage in "pig-sex," Senator Buttars told me that day on camera that gay marriage would never come to Utah because of his power and influence.

With the Book of Mormon sitting atop his desk, Buttars bragged about his consulting with other states seeking to use Utah as a model for blocking so-called "protection for the gays."

Next, we interviewed Utah's Eagle Forum leader, Gayle Ruzicka who was credited for keeping Buttars in office, with a steady flow of cash from anti-gay supporters she organized and activated.

Ruzicka was equally prideful and confident that Utah was the model for the nation in the fight to keep gays in their place and assured us gay marriage would never come to "Utah's Zion."

Paul Mero of Utah's conservative (and Mormon dominated) Sutherland Institute followed up with a public verbal flogging for LGBT people in Utah saying,

"Sexual orientation is an illusion. Your idea of rights is an illusion. Your equality is illusory."

Our film uncovered Mormon Church communications between high-level leaders bragging of their work to halt LGBT efforts.

One letter read: "The battle has begun!"

...That letter used an exclamation point proudly declaring battle from people who advocate for a church that keeps the name Jesus Christ in all caps font.

It hurt. All of it hurt.

I heard from families all over the State of Utah how this issue had divided them.

I heard from parents in Utah whose children were destroyed.

Story after story added up to proclaim the majority in my home state valued their beliefs over their own children.

Today, learning that a federal judge has declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, I wonder where my one-time friend Beverly Evans is and if she regrets the vote that denied me equal rights.

I wonder if Senator Buttars, Gayle Ruzicka, Paul Mero & others in Utah regret the years and the money spent in this futile attempt at discrimination.

In these years since the night Utah Legislators set in motion Amendment 3's discrimination, countless LGBT youth from Utah have committed suicide.

In the years since discrimination passed in Utah, family after family has felt the divide caused by this discrimination.

Damage. Real, human damage.

And for what?

Sometimes I like to close my eyes and visualize myself floating above all of the struggles of life...just watching it all from a distance and trying to learn from what I see.

Tonight as I close my eyes to see the battlefield below me, I see the victory.

But I also see the body count of bigotry that bloomed for a time in Utah's desert.

So many young faces in the Deseret News obituary section...so many family battles....so many empty chairs at holiday dinner tables...so many friendships lost.

As I look at the sum total of the years this fight has raged in my home state, I see no benefit.

And I pray those who waged this futile war will come to see that as well when similar political initiatives threaten to stifle human dignity.

Growing up in the Mormon Church, we were taught to "liken the scriptures unto us," meaning, take all the words of the scripture and make them pertinent in our own lives.

On this day when with eyes closed I hover above Utah's battlefield, thinking of Beverly Evans and so many others, I liken these Mormon Scriptures to the battle:

"Ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again..."

"Yea...he sent a decree among them that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them..."

I'm not a praying man. But I do plea with Utah leaders readying for an appeal of today's ruling.

Lay down your weapons. Stop delighting in the shedding of blood. Don't take up the battle again.

Generations to come deserve to see and know the best of Utah's good people.

May Utah write a new story. May the nation see Utahans lay aside these divisions by abandoning an appeal.

It is time for peace. It's time to listen to history which teaches us that in the great United States of America, bigotry fails every time.