Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Salt Lake City, in three acts

Utah is a beautiful place, but with pluses and minuses. As the seat of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it’s a very politically conservative place, and very insular in many ways. But the people can also be very friendly and caring. The skiing can’t be beat. And, well, it sure is beautiful country.

And, as it happens, the New York Times had three stories about Utah on Monday. Forthwith, Salt Lake City, in three acts.

Act I: Why you should keep your religious icons in your church

PLEASANT GROVE CITY, Utah — Across the street from City Hall here sits a small park with about a dozen donated buildings and objects — a wishing well, a millstone from the city’s first flour mill and an imposing red granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Thirty miles to the north, in Salt Lake City, adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood and metal pyramid hard by Interstate 15 to meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.

In 2003, the president of the Summum church wrote to the mayor here with a proposal: the church wanted to erect a monument inscribed with the Seven Aphorisms in the city park, “similar in size and nature” to the one devoted to the Ten Commandments.

The city, not surprisingly, said no. The Summums, equally unsurprisingly, sued, and won in federal court on first-amendment grounds. Says a Summum counselor, “They’ve put a basically Judeo-Christian religious text in the park, which we think is great, because people should be exposed to it. But our principles should be exposed as well.”

And now it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. I expect that this will go against the Summums, the conservative Court being as it is, and I have mixed feelings about that. I absolutely think that if you get to parade your basic principles around, then I get to trot mine out too.

Which brings us to the more important point that we should all keep our preaching where it belongs... and that’s not in the city parks. Neither monument belongs there. And this is the sort of conflict we invite when we ignore that.

Act II: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more

SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of Utah’s largest group supporting equal rights for gay people announced a proposal on Monday to increase the rights of same-sex couples in the state, saying they saw a silver lining in the passage last week of a same-sex marriage ban in California.

The measure in California stripped away the legality of thousands of same-sex marriages and incited protest rallies and marches against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the ban’s major supporters.

But leaders of the rights group here, Equality Utah, said statements made by Mormon leaders in defense of their actions in California — that the church was not antigay and had no problem with legal protections for gay men and lesbians already on the books in California — were going to be taken as an endorsement to expand legal rights that gay and lesbian couples have never remotely had in Utah, where the church is based.

Equality Utah’s chairwoman says, “We are taking the L.D.S. Church at its word.” The L.D.S. Church “declined to comment.”

One message here is, “Don’t piss people off.”

But the real message behind it is that everyone has the same rights, and attempts to hold them back and to stop people from exercising them will ultimately fail... maybe not today, maybe not next year, but ultimately.

Haven’t we spent enough time learning that throughout history?

Act III: People who need people...

SANDY, Utah — For months now, the emotions have welled up whenever Andy Williams has left the field after games. Some of it has come from his desire to lift Real Salt Lake to a new place, the Major League Soccer playoffs. Some from knowing that at 31, he is in the twilight of his career.

Mostly, though, it comes from thinking about his wife, Marcia.

She received a diagnosis this summer of a rare form of leukemia and has struggled to find a donor match for a bone-marrow transplant. Without one, she is likely to leave behind her husband to raise their daughter and hers from a previous relationship, alone.

But not entirely alone, no: the community is backing the Williamses up.

It’s not what they’d expected when they moved to Mormon country.

The community is giving their money and time. The community is looking for bone-marrow donors. The community is giving its full support to Andy and Marcia Williams, and it’s coming from the team, from the businesses, even from the high schools — two high school girls’ teams played a charity match to raise money.

This is the best that people can be.

Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.

— The Third Aphorism of Summum


lidija said...

How come you're blogging about SLC?

Barry Leiba said...

Because the items interested me, and it was also interesting that all three showed up at the same time.

thom said...

It galls me that in a case that isn't about sexual orientation, Scalia even used the Summum case to make an anti-gay (and ant-abortion) statement:

"Justice Scalia agreed. 'It seems to me the government could disfavor homosexuality,' he said, 'just as it could disfavor abortion."

Five years after Lawrence v. Texas struck down laws criminalizing homosexual sodomy, Scalia would still find a right for individual states or the federal government to criminalize consensual sexual activity between members of the same sex.

Barry Leiba said...

Well, Justice Scalia galls me in general; search these pages for "scalia" to see my various comments about him. Keeping more like him off the court was one of the most important reasons, among many, to elect Barack Obama.

For reference, here's the NY Times article that Thom quotes from.