Activist Ogden gay rights minister fed up with Utah, moves to California

Jan 25 2014 - 9:12am

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Rev. Theresa Novak, who will be leaving Utah in June, talks about her decision at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ogden, where she currently serves as minister Thursday, Jan 23, 2014.  She decided to move to a state more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Rev. Theresa Novak, who will be leaving Utah in June, talks about her decision at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ogden, where she currently serves as minister Thursday, Jan 23, 2014.  She decided to move to a state more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Rev. Theresa Novak, who will be leaving Utah in June, talks about her decision at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ogden, where she currently serves as minister Thursday, Jan 23, 2014.  She decided to move to a state more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Rev. Theresa Novak, who will be leaving Utah in June, talks about her decision at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Ogden, where she currently serves as minister Thursday, Jan 23, 2014.  She decided to move to a state more accepting of the LGBT lifestyle. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)

OGDEN -- The Rev. Theresa Novak, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, has announced she is leaving Utah after seven years because she is tired of the view Utahns have of gay people.

"It really is hard to leave in a lot of ways," she said. "It's time."

Novak, 63, is a lesbian woman who raised three children and fostered several other children with her wife, Anne Spatola, who has been her partner for 38 years.

The two were married in California, where they have lived for most of their lives, last July and were out of town for a delayed celebration of that marriage in January when same-sex marriages were legalized in Utah.

"I want to live somewhere that our marriage is recognized, especially now that this is a possibility," she said.

While the two were away, Novak expressed on social media her excitement to come home to a state that recognized their union -- but those feelings quickly went away.

"It felt really weird going back to Utah," she said. "While we were in California, it was the weirdest thing; marriage equality existed in Utah for 18 days."

Novak said to have her union recognized in California was elevating, which added to her disappointment in Utah.

"To be in a place where our relationship is validated, it just was really hard to come back to Utah to hear the governor's and new attorney general's statements."

Novak said the latest developments -- including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert stressing this week that he'll fight for the wishes of the Utah majority on the same-sex marriage issue -- have upset her and her partner and they no longer want to stay.

"Last week, I announced to my congregation that I am leaving our church and Ogden and Utah," she said.

Novak has fought for the rights of gay Utah residents since she came to Utah seven years ago. 

"I have really, really, really loved being a minister of this church," Novak said, noting that she hadn't planned on being a spokesperson for gay rights when she was selected by her congregation to serve here.

She said it was the members of the congregation who pushed her to be at the forefront of this issue.

"They reach out to all people," Novak said.

Her efforts have included serving the existing OUTReach Center, a drop-in center for gay youth, located in the church's building.

She was at the forefront of successful efforts to fight for equal rights for renters and employees in Ogden City and proposals for the same set of laws for the state.

The church hosted an Occupy camp on the front lawn for about four months.

Novak explained the importance of that effort.

"Economic justice -- without that, people don't have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

There also is a Standing of the Side of Love banner hanging on the side of the church. This national campaign fights for the rights and safety of several minority groups in the United States.

Novak also delivered a parting blast at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I really resent the hierarchy that tells them to de-value their own children," she said. "So many of our congregation are ex-LDS. ... You can't value anyone unless you respect who they are."

Novak talked about her own respect toward her wife.

"She is someone I can trust to criticize with love," Novak said. "She tells me when I am way off track." 

Novak listed some other reasons for her leaving.

She also cited her age, which will soon be 64, and her longing to go back to California for other reasons besides her marriage.

Contact reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228 or jfrancis@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @jfrancis. 

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