Mullen | The Big Mormon Call Out: If it works in Eagle Mountain, it should work anywhere. 

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Allen and Jade Sarver-Eskelsen have found a bit of peace in a place you wouldn’t figure for a gay-friendly city in Utah: Eagle Mountain, Utah County. n

Census figures from 2007 reveal that 89.9 percent of Eagle Mountain residents define themselves as “religious.” Of those, 88.1 percent identify as LDS—members of the same church that urged congregations to actively work against same-sex marriage in California by donating to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign. That support amounted to $22 million in contributions from Mormons—the largest faith-based chunk of money to funnel into the anti-gay marriage fight.

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I bumped into Allen and Jade (literally—I stepped on the back of Allen’s shoe and flattened it) during the Nov. 7 anti-Proposition 8 protest outside LDS Church headquarters. Estimates on the crowd size varied wildly. A safe guess would be 3,000.

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Whatever. It amounted to a whole mess o’ marchers. Allen and Jade were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest, demonstrating against the LDS Church’s tax-exempt involvement in fighting same-sex marriage. With another round of nationwide gay-rights demonstrations planned for the coming weekend, it’s growing clearer by the day that the battle over same-sex marriage will be the early 21st century’s predominant civil-rights issue.

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Shuffling along, I had plenty of time to talk with the marchers. No one I met could be characterized as uncivil, though everyone I talked to was damned angry. And why shouldn’t they be? Scores of my own gay and lesbian friends, co-workers and relatives have grown tired of being marginalized in this society. The mass of bodies at the downtown protest was simply a bigger and more public version of that rage.

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Back to Allen and Jade for a minute. Not long ago, Allen—at the tender age of 31— suffered a heart attack. He was hospitalized and underwent a balloon angioplasty to open his clogged arteries. But Jade, his partner of 13 years, was not allowed to visit him in intensive care. That privilege is reserved for legal spouses.

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Life isn’t nearly so uptight and rigid, though, in their Eagle Mountain neighborhood, the two men told me. “We bought a nice house for not much money,” said Jade, who works for a major Wall Street investment firm. I asked them how welcoming their largely white, Mormon and family-centered subdivision had been. “Great,” Jade said. Said Allen, who works as a plumber at a Lehi-based business: “The neighbors are always bringing us dinners, little homemade gifts at Christmas, things like that.”

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Isn’t that just the way? While the official LDS Church has endorsed an outdated and active agenda to fight gay rights, church members who actually reach out to a gay person, or couple, are finding middle ground. The only way that bigotry ever truly melts from people’s hearts is when they deny stereotypes and reach out to a real, live member of a minority group. That may be the principle at work on at least one street in Eagle Mountain.

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Earlier this week, Equality Utah called out the LDS hierarchy on its sudden mixed messages regarding gay rights. The gay-, lesbian- and transgender-interest group wants church leaders to act on recent official statements that while the church opposes gay marriage, it does not oppose civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Spokesmen in the past couple of weeks have also stepped up statements that the church does not oppose equal rights for same-sex couples in hospitalization, medical care, housing, employment and probate matters.

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State Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City—two members of the Utah Legislature’s openly gay troika (Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City is the third) were at Equality Utah’s press conference announcing the push to gain official LDS support on five gay-rights bills slated for the 2008 Legislature. Executive director Mike Thompson threw down the gauntlet: “Will the [LDS Church] First Presidency draft a letter to Utah Latter-day Saints in support of rights and protections for gay couples?” Thompson said he hopes church leaders would ask such a letter be read statewide to congregations, same as the pro-Prop 8 letter was circulated last summer.

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It’s crafty, all right, for Utah’s gay community to keep steady pressure on the largest and most politically powerful force in the state. LDS leaders have a long and storied reputation for stirring the political pot in Utah and across the country—the concerted efforts to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’70s and liquor by the drink a decade earlier are two earlier examples. I’ve lived in this state for 36 of my 51 years. This is the first open challenge to Mormon leaders on a social justice issue I can recall since the debate over the MX missile in 1981.

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A steady and spirited fight for equality is a bit like a gay couple living on a predominantly Mormon street in Eagle Mountain, I guess. The act requires living out loud, being honest and keeping the pressure on for equality. Change will come. Believe it.

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