Alan Bahr, Lafayette, CA – Does God Will Intolerance?

In 1958 when my in-laws, Esther and Evan, decided to get married, they couldn’t—not where they lived in Utah. Though they had both served as missionaries for the church and were therefore deemed worthy to act as God’s ambassadors, they were prohibited from marrying each other in the temple they loved. Neither could they get married civilly by state authorities. Utah, at the time, enforced anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited Evan, a white man, from marrying Esther, an Asian-American woman. So contrary to the admonition of church leaders, they crossed into Colorado to exchange vows. Despite that inauspicious start, their marriage has been an example of tireless devotion to God and church. As husband and wife, they completed two more missions together and Evan, for his part, has been a branch president, district president, stake president, regional representative and mission president.

What was so wrong about them getting married anyway?

Once, I asked a general authority that question and he replied, “Nothing.” Then he spoke of the historical context behind Utah’s ban on race-mixing—a stance that was part of church policy even as the first pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and began to establish a secular government. They were a people, he said, who were influenced by the bitterness of the civil war and we shouldn’t judge them too harshly for what may seem like bigoted notions today. Though he didn’t say as much, the implication was clear: Church members, at the time, were incapable of rising above personal prejudices to live as Jesus would have them.

As a devout Christian, I have to believe with every fiber of my being, that it isn’t God’s will, but the intolerance of individuals that keeps the church from understanding and living a higher, more inclusive, truth about love and marriage. I have to believe this, because to accept the alternative would be intolerable for me.