USU Panel Discusses Gay Marriage, Faith

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Representatives from seven faiths discussed same-sex marriage on Nov. 2 as part of the Center for Women and Gender lecture series at Utah State University. Titled, ““Gays and Marriage: Religious Perspectives,” the panel discussion was open to students, faculty and members of the general community.

Panel members included the Rev. Susan Springer of St. John’s Episcopal Church; Michael Sowder, associate professor of English and a practicing Buddhist; Dr. Vikram Garg, gastroenterologist and internist who practices the Hindu tradition; Harrison Kleiner, adjunct assistant professor of philosophy and Roman Catholic; William Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation and member of the Church pf Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Eldon Peterson, pastor of the Cache Valley Bible fellowship; and Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman of the congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City.

“We realize we don’t have all possible religions represented and many will argue that we should have had an atheist on the panel,” said director for the Center for Women and Gender Ann Austin. “But this panel is an important step in understanding the diverse points of view around this very sensitive topic.”

The panel was organized by Philip Barlow, USU’s Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, and Camille O’Dell, director of the School Counseling program in USU’s Department of Psychology.

Rev. Springer said all voices are important to such a discussion and, as a society, it is necessary that they are made public.

“Currently, the Episcopal Diocese of Utah permits the blessing of same gender unions, but not every Episcopal diocese in this country permits them,” Springer said. “Unlike, for example, the Roman Catholic and LDS churches, Episcopalians have no central figure or group that is our doctrinal authority.”

“We endeavor to be a safe place and to be welcoming,” Springer said. “We’re not perfect, we don’t always succeed, but that’s our goal.”

Duncan said the controversy over the Proposition 8 measure in California – which was overturned by a San Francisco judge – demonstrates that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberties.

Duncan’s group was formed a year after a Massachusetts Court decision which declared banning gay marriage as unconstitutional with a mission of “reaffirming the legal definition of marriage as the union of a husband and wife.”

“Increasingly, groups are seeking to harness religion along with other social institutions, such as family and church, to accomplish their aims of cultural reconstruction,” Duncan said.

Duncan said that many saw opponents to interracial marriage in the ’60s as bigots.

“Just because the LDS Church does not believe in same-sex marriage does not mean Latter-day Saints are prejudiced,” he said.

Peterson said Christians do not condone same-sex marriage and likened the debate to “what color the grass is … there’s only one definition of same-sex marriage.” He said he wishes gays would “take responsibility” for their orientation and not “claim to be a victim.”

Sowder said that Buddhism has no central religious authority but largely welcomes gays as it would welcome anybody. He quoted the Dalai Lama, who said that homosexuality is considered “sexual misconduct,” but that the Tibetan stance of gay marriage is “subject to change.”

“Compassion is the ultimate ideal in Buddhism,” Sowder said. “Why is sexuality such a highly charged issue in religion? I think that’s why we have this focus on it, it freaks us out.”

Kleiner said Catholics believe “marriage was founded for man.”

“We are most complete as organisms when we join with opposite flesh.”

He said he does not believe gay marriage is a choice: “You can’t choose how you feel but you can choose how you act.”

Garg said that Hinduism, currently,  has no one leader who would stand up for gay marriage, though there is no reference to it in scripture.

“Love, in Hinduism, means a devotion between two people, whether it is romantic or platonic,” Garg said. “There’s really no information in religious scriptures about marriage and same sex.”

He said for some it is a challenge to accept gay marriage since males play a dominant role in a heterosexual marriage.

Schwartzman said the Torah “is divinely inspired, not divinely written,” so more Jewish people are becoming accepting of same-sex marriage and that even the more conservative members are “teetering” on whether or not to fully embrace the concept of same-sex marriage.

Springer ended the panel saying she felt discussions such as this panel are necessary to moving forward.

Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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