By Katie Swain
LOGAN—Cary Youmans and Reid Furniss met for the first time while still in high school in Idaho, helping a mutual friend make a movie spoof. Furniss was convinced the two would meet again.
But 33 years later, they found each other again via Facebook, and immediately felt a connection. They fell in love and moved in together not long after. The couple has been committed to each other for nearly three years now.
The Logan couple aren’t married, although they’d like to be. But as a gay couple in Utah, the issue of marriage is complicated for Youmans and Furniss.
“Just marry me already!” Furniss joked to Youmans.
But same-sex marriage is legal in only nine U.S. states (Rhode Island is poised to become the 10th state), so the couple would have to travel outside of Utah to have a legal marriage performed.
“It’s not that I don’t want to get married,” Youmans said. “I guess I’m selfish, but I want my kids and family to be at my wedding. And it just isn’t feasible to get everyone to Washington” state, which adopted a marriage equality law last year.
USU associate professor of interior design Darrin Brooks agrees, He and his partner, Steven Camicia, an assistant professor of social studies education, traveled to New York in December to get married. Their families couldn’t attend because of the distance.
“We were married alone since the cost of bringing family and friends was prohibitive,” Brooks said. “It would have been amazing to be surrounded by all our friends and family.”
Brooks said he and Camicia have received “an unbelievable amount of support” from colleagues and students across campus. USU offers partner benefits, and Brooks said this is an amazing step, though there is still plenty of room for change and growth.
“We enjoy so many privileges as Americans, and it is a different experience when you are not able to enjoy or participate in certain things—like getting married—with those people who are important to you,” he said. “We take certain privileges for granted, and as a married same-sex couple, we do not have the same benefits as heterosexual couples.”
According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and allied (LGBTQA) community makes up approximately 3.8 percent of the U.S. population. As of 2010, however, 93 percent of same-sex couple households were in states that don’t recognized their married status.
Even though some states have legalized same-sex marriage, these households are not recognized on a federal level. The federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines a legal union as between one man and one woman. So even if married legally in their state, same-sex couples are still not eligible for the more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status. (DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 law that banned same-sex marriage, are now before the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge to the laws’ constitutionality.)
DOMA also allows states that do not permit same-sex marriage to refuse recognition of marriages performed in other states. There has been a recent outcry from the LGBTQA community for the repeal of DOMA. The provision that prevents federal recognition of same-sex marriage has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts. Currently the Supreme Court is reviewing five of these cases.
“The repeal of DOMA would signify for me another step toward full realization of the phrase, ‘all men—all people—are created equal,’” Youmans said.
But marriage options for same-sex couples do exist in Utah, even though the marriages would not be recognized within the state.
• See Emily Landeen’s “Same Sex Couples’ Choices for Marriage” on A-TV News
Logan’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church offers one such option for the LGBTQA community in Cache Valley. The Rev. Scott Thalacker said Prince of Peace has observed a policy of welcoming and reconciliation toward the LGBTQA community for more than 10 years.
“We don’t want someone’s sexuality to be a barrier to them coming to our table and being part of our fellowship,” Thalacker said. “That just doesn’t seem right. It would be like the same as discriminating against someone’s race.”
Thalacker said many people believe the American “one dad/one mom family” is God’s ideal, but this isn’t true.
“Our goal is to share the love of God and Jesus Christ with people. And that is all people,” Thalacker said. “John 3:16 says ‘God so loved the world,’ and we feel like we’re called to that same love. Whatever people’s gender identity is, they’re welcome here.”
Logan’s First Presbyterian Church is another religious safe haven for the local LGBTQA community. Pastor Paul Heins said that, while the church is not yet allowed to perform same-sex marriages, it does bless same-sex unions. His congregation has decided to be inclusive and welcoming to the LGBTQA community, and has recently made a public stand on the matter.
“We’ve decided to make a stand to welcome all people, particularly those on the margins of society who may not be welcomed elsewhere,” Heins said.
• See Jessica Sonderegger’s ‘Justice and equality’—supporters of same-sex marriage rally in Logan
“We are absolutely fully in support of the LGBT community being accepted as full equals with marriage rights and every other kind of right that any human being has,” Heins said.
The minister acknowledged that there are still differences of opinions on the matter, but he believes “through conversation and sharing and prayer and healthy living together, we can overcome those differences.”
“We are motivated by a vision of a society where people are treasured as human beings regardless of their skin color, their language, their economic or social status, their culture or their sexuality,” Heins said. “We think the kind of society where people are allowed to grow and prosper leads to the blessings of a full life. And that’s what we want. That’s what we’re working for.”
Youmans is also very connected to the spiritual side of acceptance for the LGBTQA community. Youmans worked as a pastor at Evangelical Friends Alliance prior to coming out as gay, and after he came out he worked as a pastor for the Metropolitan Community Church, a congregation of predominantly LGBTQA members.
“It should be everyone’s goal to integrate their own sexuality with their spirituality,” Youmans said. “And I think people, regardless of their sexuality, who want to enter into the covenant of marriage, should not be prevented by law.”
Youmans said working as a pastor helped him to accept himself for who he was and forgive himself for the guilt of his divorce.
“Suddenly it dawned on me that God always knew I was gay,” Youmans said. “The only one I was lying to was myself. And I looked at all the times when God had blessed me, and when God had used me to bless others, and I decided if God knew I was gay and didn’t care, why should anybody else?”
While Youmans’ journey to realizing his sexual orientation took years and a lot of thought and heartache, Furniss had a very different experience.
“I never really came out,” Furniss said, “because I was never in.”
Furniss says he never really understood all of the drama. He was comfortable with himself and didn’t think there should be a problem with that, so it barely registered with him that there people who had problems with sexual orientation.
“I’m one of God’s children, too,” Furniss said. “So what is the problem here?”
According to a Gallup Poll in 1996, 68 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. But in 2013, the majority of Americans—53 percent—support marriage equality.
For Youmans and Furniss this is good news.
“The resistance movement doesn’t want us to be seen as ‘normal,’” Youmans said. “But we won’t be kept in the closet. We can see who we are. We can see we aren’t weird. And other people are starting to as well.”
“People just need to see that there is diversity out there,” Furniss said, “and that it’s OK.”