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Rolly: Mormons should be thanking Judge Shelby

Published January 17, 2014 5:17 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby has been vilified as a radical and "activist judge" for his historic ruling last month that struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

But while many of his detractors claim to spew their vitriol in the name of their religious views and LDS heritage, Shelby actually did them a great favor.

He saved them from themselves.

While Shelby's ruling is on hold because the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the order pending appeals and Utah is back to enforcing its constitutional ban on gay and lesbian nuptials, the legal tide is definitely moving in the direction of same-sex marriage acceptance.

A federal judge just made the same ruling against Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, more and more states are recognizing that right statutorily and the Supreme Court said Congress can't impose its own definition of marriage to be only between a man and a woman.

So, if my assumption is correct and Shelby's decision is ultimately upheld by the highest court in the land, Utah will be ahead of dozens of states in recognizing and allowing the legal marriages of same sex couples.

Without Judge Shelby's ruling, and given the rhetoric from Utah's conservative Legislature, it's a safe bet that as state after state concedes the right of gays and lesbians to wed, Utah would be the last to cave.

And who would be blamed for that?

Who would be vilified by civil rights groups as bigots?

The Mormon church would get the brunt of the criticism, whether deserved or not.

There are plenty of precedents for the worldwide, Utah-based church bearing the blame for policies imposed in the secular world by lawmakers who largely are LDS members.

The two most famous issues placing the LDS Church in the cross-hairs of critics have been Utah's confusing maze of liquor laws and the formal recognition of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

The LDS Church, of course, has had an authoritative hand in the frenzied patchwork of state laws governing alcoholic beverage sales ever since Utah was the deciding state approving the constitutional amendment ending prohibition in the United States 80 years ago.

But the church, over the past several decades, has also been a force in trying to find a legislative balance between dampening the harmful affects of alcohol abuse and economic engine triggered by the legal commerce of alcoholic beverages.

That has been lost on those looking from the outside upon such anomalies as the "Zion Curtain" or the artificially low number of liquor licenses allowed in the state.

If someone has difficulty getting a drink in Utah, it's the Mormons' fault, they say.

Utah, as you recall, was the second to the last state to officially recognize Martin Luther King Day as a legal holiday. Arizona was the last, but Utah received plenty of brickbats for its delay, largely because of the LDS Church's policy of denying its priesthood to those of African descent until 1978.

The state's legislature tried all sorts of ways around naming a state holiday after the civil rights icon. Bills were introduced to create just a Civil Rights Day, or Human Rights Day.

My favorite was a bill introduced in the Utah House of Representative that would have created a "Utah People's Day," as if we are "Utah Peoples," and you're not.

All that, of course, brought great scorn to the state and humiliation to the church, which was blamed for the behavior of some of its more eccentric members who happened to be elected to the Legislature.

Judge Shelby, for all of his activism, helped assure that the Mormon Church will escape the same kind of bitterness on same-sex marriage because Utah will not be the last state, or even the second to last, to adopt it. —