Op-ed: Take a deep breath, gay marriage opponents

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I have practiced law in Salt Lake City for almost 33 years. I think I can write with some authority about the Dec. 20 decision by Federal District Judge Robert J. Shelby, enjoining the State of Utah from enforcing its constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage ("Robert J. Shelby: The man who made same-sex marriage legal in Utah," Tribune, Dec. 23).

The ruling was but a short and inevitable extension of the United State Supreme Court's decisions in Loving (striking Virginia's ban on miscegenation), Lawrence (Texas arrested two same-sex citizens for having private, consensual sex), and last summer's Windsor case (which invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act),

Constitutional rights are not voted on, no matter how large and determined is the majority who wish to deny their fellow citizens the enjoyment of some protected right.

I could also point out that courts, unlike elected officials, must decide the case and controversy that comes before them. A governor and a legislature can postpone, delay or ignore an issue, can appoint a committee or outside panel of experts to study it and report later — sometimes very later.

A court, however, has to make a decision in the moment. The parties are there, and they are entitled to a ruling. A judge cannot say "No thanks, folks, come back later when the public will be better disposed to me giving you what you are entitled to,"

And whereas the executive and legislative branches can indulge the luxury of looking at issues in a detached, generalized and philosophical way, judges must look the litigants in the eye, as individuals with a dispute that demands resolution.

It is beyond dispute that the three sets of same-sex couples who looked Judge Shelby in the eye have relationships that are loving, faithful, and bound by ties of caring and mutual support, representing the best qualities traditional marriage has to offer. These people have built those relationships themselves, sometimes over decades and with scant support from the larger community. They want only the same legal protections afforded to heterosexual couples.

But I did not first encounter same-sex relationships in the law office or the courtroom, but in church. In my church it is said that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but to make us holy. Through my church I have seen same sex affection build relationships that can only be called holy, and that stand in stark contrast to the many sinful ways that human sexuality can be expressed.

This is why my church has, for many years, blessed the covenanted unions of same-sex partners and why we perform marriages for same-sex couples where it is legal to do so. In so doing, we promise to support them in their lives together.

For Utahns who are lamenting the legality of same-sex marriage, please take a deep breath. Neither the Constitution nor the scriptures have changed.

What has changed is our understanding of human sexuality and how that has enabled the formation of types of same-sex relationships that are unprecedented in human history, and that because of their inherent sanctity deserve legal legitimacy and the support of the larger community.

If you have not seen same-sex relationships in your own community, you will. You will find out for yourselves that these new forms of marriage do not diminish traditional marriage, but honor it by mirroring its faithfulness, commitment and love.

Times change. What was right in centuries past is wrong today, and what was wrong then is right now. We all see through a glass, darkly, and truth is elusive.

What is important — and very American — is that we nurture the freedom to keep searching.

Rick L. Knuth is a Salt Lake City attorney.