ST. GEORGE – Supporters of marriage equality gathered at the Fifth District Courthouse in St. George Tuesday in a show of solidarity with similar groups asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
“Its all-American solidarity showing,” said Aidan Avery, the organizer of the gathering that drew between 30 and 40 people.
He said a part of why he and others were at the courthouse was to help send a message to people “about the needs of the citizens,” namely the right any consenting adult, regardless of sexual orientation, should have to marry.
“This is a small but powerful gathering,” Avery said, “I will not be bullied into silence.”
Avery told a story of being a gay youth at Dixie High School in the late 1980s and being beaten and driven out of school because he wouldn’t remain silent about his orientation. He said he ultimately had to sue the school district to allow him to return so he could exercise the right to receive an education.
“I will not be pushed by bullies,” he said.
From 1963-1994, Ross Taylor was on the faculty or administration of Dixie High, serving as principal from 1984-1994. He said he never heard of Avery and when he checked yearbooks for those years, he did not find Avery in them. Taylor said he did not recall any incident at Dixie High or hearing of any incident in the district where a student was removed for an issue related to sexual orientation.
“There’s no doubt if it had gone to the point of having him removed that I would remember,” Taylor said. “I can’t think of any time we’ve ever challenged a student’s right to be in school over sexual orientation.”
Taylor said that Washington County School District holds principals’ meetings monthly and that an issue like this would be discussed and that all the principals would discuss a case of the district being sued. There were students who had been open about their sexual identity that Taylor remembered but he did not recall any occasions of them being bullied and no case of any removal from school.
See Ed. Note at the close of this report added March 27, 2013.
Avery’s fiancé was present at the gathering. While Utah law currently does not allow for same-sex marriage, a number of states in recent years have passed legislation allowing marriage equality or some measure of civil union.
“If we do not repeal DOMA and Prop 8,” Avery said, “it is very important that we remember that we have another day in court, there’s always another day in court.”
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Videocast by Sarafina Amodt, St. George News
California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA strictly define marriage as between a man and a woman, something that has not set well with supporters of gay marriage since DOMA was passed in 1996 and Proposition 8 passed in 2008.
Claudia Bradshaw, a local leader of PFLAG, Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, was also at the rally. She has been with the organization for 13 years and said its purpose is to advocate for equal treatment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community under the law.
“My marriage hasn’t been damaged” by people seeking gay marriage, she said. If anything, Bradshaw said it is unenlightened straight people who are causing the trouble.
“It’s the straight people who don’t understand who cause all the chaos,” she said.
John Dixon was one of the individuals to address the gathering and said his great grandfather had been born a slave, but died a business man. People in his great grandfather’s time also sought civil rights and equality, he said, which were eventually achieved in later generations.
“I can marry whoever I want,” Dixon said and asked why the LGBT community does not have the choice to marry as they please?
“These are my brothers,” Dixon said, referring to Avery and his fiancé, “and they should be treated equally.”
Another voice to address the crowd was that of Carolyn Osmanski, who introduced herself as a “proud mother of a gay young man.”
She related the story of how her son feared telling her he was gay, and before doing so, asked her if she would love him no matter what.
“No child should ever have to ask that question,” Osmanski said. Her son told her he had studied what happened to some children after they told their parent they were gay – they tended to be kicked out of their homes and disowned. Her son was afraid the same thing would happen to him, she said.
“No child should ever have to feel that way,” she said. She added that her son had been depressed for many years until he told her about his sexual orientation. Afterward he became vibrant and happy again, she said.
As for the issue of marriage equality, Osmanski said her son is in a relationship with a member of the military. If a man can serve in the military and die for his country, she said, then why can’t he love and marry whom he will too?
As far as concerns from the religious sector that overturning Proposition 8 and DOMA may eventually lead to government infringing on religious freedoms, Avery said that wasn’t what he is trying to do.
To those who may be concerned that if DOMA is found to be unconstitutional religious organizations may be told that they need to honor same-sex marriage, Avery said:
“I think that’s a legitimate concern for people who don’t understand what it is that we are fighting for. We’re not fighting to change people’s religious viewpoints and we are not fighting to change religious organizations that are protected under the Constitution as independent from state and federal government. We are fighting for the federal government to take a serious look at its citizens and to say it’s not OK to take our money for taxes and it’s not OK to say that we are born on American soil and we are good enough to die for our country in times of war or just you know it’s not OK to be unrepresented. …
“We’re not asking for churches to change their policy. We’re asking for the federal government to do its job and protect the rights of its citizens … It’s either a United States or a divided states.”
Doug Gubler, a student at Dixie State University and openly gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said people have the right to believe what they want to believe.
“My right is to be treated equally,” Gubler said. “I think that all of us, especially here in Utah, have fought and wanted to be treated – and seeing as how we used to practice polygamy – that we would like to have the right to love and not have to be ashamed of what we do in the privacy of our own homes. So that’s how I define it as the right to love and be loved.”
The U.S. Supreme Court heard the arguments concerning Proposition 8 Tuesday, and will hear arguments surrounding DOMA Wednesday.
Ed. Note March 27, 2013 – Avery has contacted St. George News. He said he has changed his name since high school, he was born Joel Cribbs. He stands by the story related in this article, with clarification that his lawsuit was threatened but not brought. Avery has been invited by St. George News to produce corroboration of his high school experience which may be considered for further report.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this story.
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