A Park City couple and a local minister make the case for marriage equality
This week, with much of the country focused on the Supreme Court arguments about same-sex marriage, one Park City couple, in particular, listened with a deep personal interest.
Bruce Palenske and Mike Tompkins have been in a committed relationship for 25 years. According to Palenske, the two are hopeful that, someday, they will be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges that traditional married partners receive.
"Mike always says that he would like to be married because he wants to see his parents dance at his wedding. I would like that too, but my concerns are also more practical," Palenske said in an interview this week.
According to Palenske, because their relationship is not legally recognized, they are denied many of the financial protections offered to married couples.
"I have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure our estate plan covers both of us. If we were married our assets would automatically go to the surviving spouse. Instead it is a nightmare," he said, adding they each have their own successful businesses.
Palenske took a vocal stand in support of gay marriage in 2008 when, with financial and political assistance from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, California voters approved Proposition 8. The ballot limited the legal definition of marriage to a man and a woman but was later ruled to be unconstitutional by a state court. That is one of the issues now being tested at Supreme Court level.
"I was very involved during that time, questioning not only the support of the LDS Church but all the monies that flowed from here to there," he said.
The second issue, also being argued in Washington this week, is the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 that excludes same-sex marriage partners from federal recognition which affects their eligibility for tax, social security and military benefits.
"At stake is the ruling that we remain second-class citizens with no equal rights. Even though nine states and the District of Columbia recognize those rights, the federal government does not. What good is that if you move from state to state? What good is filing a joint tax return if the IRS can’t recognize the union," said Palenske.
But while his tone is strident when it comes to the state and federal debates, Palenske says he and Tompkins have rarely experienced any personal discrimination.
"The people of Utah have been good to me. They are, for the most part, honest and hard working, but they tend to be 10 years behind in social and economic issues."
As the court adjourned to deliberate this week, Palenske said he is cautiously optimistic. "I am hopeful they will approve gay marriage across the board."
Park City’s Episcopalian leader says time has come for marriage equality
In 2006, when Father Charles Robinson of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Snyderville Basin blessed a baby boy’s adoption by two fathers, he braced himself for some negative feedback, but it never came.
"There was none, zilch, zero, not even a hostile email," he said in an interview this week.
Like Palenske and Tompkins, Robinson has been following the Supreme Court debate over same-sex marriage and he hopes the matter is settled soon.
"I would love to see the court put an end to discrimination and grant full marriage equality," he said.
Unlike the Catholic and LDS churches (among others) that have taken stands on religious grounds against same-sex marriage, Robinson said the Episcopalian Church is more tolerant allowing him to bless same-sex relationships and to bless a baby with two dads, or two moms.
While the Episcopalian hierarchy does not currently recognize same-sex marriages, Robinson said he expects that to change when the General Convention convenes again in 2014.
"The Episcopalian Church is in a very different place than the Catholic Church," he explained.
Robinson admits, though, that his tolerance came about later in life. Raised a Baptist in Texas, Robinson attended seminary school in California, but says he was eventually asked to leave because of his involvement with a gay and lesbian support group. During that time he said he found that "none of the stereotypes were true. They seemed as committed to their faith as I was.
"Something had clicked with that group. As I got to know them I vowed to myself ‘I will never be a part of any effort to perpetuate this discrimination.’"
As part of that commitment, Robinson says he emphasizes there is nothing to fear about accepting same-sex marriage. "The LGBT people just want to live the way we do."
When asked whether he would be willing to perform a same-sex marriage when and if it becomes legal in Utah his response was immediate. "This afternoon," he said.
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