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Editorial: Utah should not have two tiers of families

Published February 7, 2014 4:54 pm

Don't create two tiers of families
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

"Redefining marriage as a genderless, adult-centric institution would fundamentally change Utah's child-centered meaning and purpose of marriage." — from Utah's brief in support of Amendment 3

If the meaning and purpose of marriage is really about children, why should the state only ban same-sex marriages?

There are hundreds of Utah marriages performed each year of people who will never have children. Some involve older couples. Some involve infertile couples. And some involve couples who just don't want to have kids. Isn't that an obvious and blatant rejection of the "child-centered meaning and purpose of marriage"?

Central to the state's case is the idea that allowing same-sex marriage creates a climate where procreation is less valued. To make that case, the state pointed out that the six states with the lowest birthrates all have allowed same-sex marriage, while the nine states (including Utah) with the highest birthrates have not allowed it.

In fact, the correlation doesn't hold up. Looking at the same statistics from 14 years ago before any of those states had same-sex marriage, the website ThinkProgress found the high- and low-birthrate states are roughly the same as they are now. But here's the kicker: In the years since, Utah's birthrate has declined faster than the states that allowed same-sex marriage. In other words, the numbers argue that Utah should allow same-sex marriage if it wants to improve its birthrate.

The truth is that marriage is about more than children. It's also about next-of-kin rights. It's about spousal benefits. It's about the right of two people to make a legal commitment to each other.

And if that commitment includes creating or maintaining a family, that is something same-sex couples accomplish as well as anyone else. Those who support same-sex marriage can trot out their own studies that counter all the research the state claims shows the superiority of opposite-sex parents. And regardless of which side you're on, social science does not trump individual liberty in this country.

Once again, it's hard to come up with a justification for banning same-sex marriage that doesn't rely on a historical right to discriminate. Indeed, this is a big change in how society has treated same-sex relationships for centuries, and that by itself explains why many people struggle with it. But it hasn't happened overnight. Judge Robert Shelby's decision was one of many small steps in a long struggle for equality.

If Utah wants to maintain its child-friendly reputation, it's time to be friendly to all children, and that includes telling children of gay parents that their families are just as valued as any other.