Some Mormons to show support for gay community
It's been a year since a group of 300 Mormons marched alongside thousands from Utah's gay community during the Utah Pride Festival and they plan to do it again Sunday, when both drag queens in 4-inch heels and white-shirt-and-tie men in wingtips will walk the route.
Erika Munson, a Mormon mother of five, created Mormons Building Bridges, inviting her straight, church-going friends to show a more welcoming stance toward gay men and lesbian women by participating in the Pride Parade. The festival has special significance, gay leaders said, because it's a weekend when gay Utahns can forget the smirks, stares and meanness they sometimes encounter.
This Sunday, hundreds, possibly thousands, of church-going Mormons including Mormons for Equality and Scouts for Equality will join the march through Salt Lake City. Although that support may not include gay marriage, on which Mormons Building Bridges has not taken a position, it does mean greater social acceptance, perhaps even friendship, Munson believes.
Keri Jones of Salt Lake City joined the parade last year with her wife they were legally wed in California before Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriages there and their daughter.
"We have the greatest Mormons in our life, warm and accepting," Jones said. "The hierarchy of the church speaks so differently than the arms and fingers of it, and I think it's beautiful."
Jones and others in Utah's gay community feel the year since the last Pride parade has been paradoxical, as the tone of the neighbors and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has softened toward them but some laws in the Beehive State and in the nation remain barriers.
The church created a new website, Mormonsandgays.org, which showed a warmer consideration of those with "same-sex attraction," but its doctrine did not change regarding noncelibate gay people: It's a sin.
"There is no change in the church's position of what is morally right," the website's main page reads. "But what is changing and what needs to change is to help church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other church members, or elsewhere."
Shortly after being criticized for its role in supporting California's gay marriage ban, the LDS Church supported a 2009 ordinance in Salt Lake City that protected people from housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
But in the past year, the LDS Church did not support a similar statewide proposal at the Legislature.
Also since the last Pride parade, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments and is expected to rule in June on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8. Both define marriage as between a man and a woman.
This year has special meaning for Jones, as it marks a decade since she began a legal fight in Utah courtrooms for her right to be a part of her first daughter's life.
She and her partner, who was the girl's biological mother, had drafted co-guardianship documents and wills agreeing to raise the girl together, Jones said.
The couple broke up shortly after the girl turned 2. Jones went to court in 2003 and argued the more caring adults looking after a child, the better. She convinced judges she should play a role in the child's life and won visitation rights.
But her former partner, Cheryl Barlow, appealed. The Utah Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Barlow in 2007 that relationships between children and adults who have acted as their parents but have no legal or biological ties to them have no protection under Utah law.
"If a heterosexual couple gets divorced it's just as wrenching," Jones said. "But there are no legal protections for children of gay couples. It's tragic for the child."
Years later, Jones worked it out with her former partner and now is able to see her daughter.
"They lived in Texas and I visited her every other weekend, but after [the Utah Supreme Court ruling] visitation was cut off completely," Jones said.
"Then [my daughter] showed up. I hadn't seen her for three years.
"I don't parent her, it's not a parenting relationship, but both Cheryl and I agree that the court was not the way to solve this problem."
Today, Jones has started a new family with her partner Cristy Gleave, and they've adopted their daughter, Glory, who is 3. Jones won't say where they adopted her because "cohabitating" couples still have no adoption rights in Utah.
But the Salt Lake City area recently topped a list of large U.S. cities with the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children. According to an analysis of census data, 26 percent of same-sex couples in the Utah capital city and its suburbs are sharing parenthood, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
The irony is not lost on Jones.
"We'll celebrate Pride, but we're going to just watch this year. We usually march," Jones said. "We'll be in the kids' area."