Silent or supportive, U.S. conservatives give gay marriage momentum
On a frosty December night last year, about two dozen guests slipped into the Alta Club, a century-old private retreat a block away from the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that dominates Salt Lake City.
Two men, who didn’t know each other, were the reason for the dinner: church lobbyist Bill Evans and gay rights leader Rick Jacobs. Evans was a point man for the church’s successful effort to pass California’s gay marriage ban, known as Prop 8, in 2008. Jacobs, leader of Courage Campaign, produced a 2008 commercial against the ban showing Mormon missionaries ransacking the home of a lesbian couple.
Politics was not on the agenda – just getting to know each other. “The two hit it off,” said host Greg Prince, a medical researcher and church member who had come to know both men. He noted that less than a month before the dinner, the church had launched a website with a major change in its view of gays: the site said homosexuality was not a choice.
“There has been a shift of some tectonic plate somewhere,” Prince said.
Shifting attitudes among some conservatives and many businesses is altering the landscape around gay marriage, long considered a uniquely liberal and political issue, at one of its most crucial junctures – its review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the court’s nine justices will hear arguments on the constitutionality of Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes gay couples from federal benefits.
Some jurists look to societal changes when interpreting the law, and scholars speculate that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the possible swing vote in the divided court, will be pondering increased public support for gay marriage.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found 63 percent of Americans supported gay marriage or civil unions.