Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The Whole Gay Marriage Thing

Jason’s post has brought up a number of issues which I believe deserve more attention. But since I can only take on one topic at time, I thought I’d start with what I like to call “the whole gay marriage thing.”
Growing up in the church, I have had the principles of tolerance and love for my fellow man drilled into me by countless Sunday school teachers and youth leaders. To abandon this when faced with the issue of gay marriage is, needless to say, difficult. Now I know you’re probably itching to use that old Mormon anthem, “hate the sin, but love the sinner”—an anthem that, though cliché, I agree with. But here’s the problem. We also believe that people are only held accountable when they sin with knowledge—i.e., when they know something is wrong, but they do it anyway. Assuming that the knowledge that being gay (and by that, I mean acting on homosexual tendencies, not just having them) is wrong is not innate, then most gay people are not sinning. With this in mind, it’s hard for me to support making life harder on people who are just living the best they know how, and who desire to enter into committed, socially accountable relationships.
I know the answer is, of course, that if we let this happen we are opening the doors to the disintegration of the family. That if we allow this to happen, the alternative lifestyle will be presented in tomorrow’s textbooks as just that—an acceptable alternative. I also know that this will make adoption by gay couples easier, bringing children into single gender homes and affecting them in a way we can’t predict (or maybe we can predict it by looking at single parent homes).
But, I also know that the gay lifestyle is already fairly acceptable. That gay people already adopt kids. And that the gay family is quickly becoming the alternative to the traditional American family. So my concern is that if we, as churches and religious people, fight against them and try to deny them the rights that they feel they deserve, we will alienate them. We will squash the faith out of the many that have it, and they in turn will squash the faith of the children they adopt, leading again, to the disintegration of the family.
I work for a gay man. He’s a fantastic person. He works hard, is faithful to his boyfriend, and is kind to those around him. His boyfriend is a full-time volunteer. He participates in Big Brother and a number of other wonderful organizations. He does more service than I do by far. How do I look this man in the eyes and tell him that I don’t want him to have the same security, the same rights and privileges, the same public recognition of his relationship that Chris and I enjoy?
Despite all these thoughts, I still feel like the Lord, who knows a lot more than me, does not approve of gay marriage. I support that. I guess I just wrote this to encourage us all to be more thoughtful on this issue, to treat those involved more tenderly and respectfully. And to acknowledge that, dang it, this is hard stuff.


At 7/06/2004 11:29:00 PM,

This is a tough issue, and it promises to become more prominent and no less complicated. I know it is so important to love our neighbors. All of them. No matter what we do, if we do it out of love, we will have the best chance of making the right choices.

I have a hard time supporting legislation against gay marriage. This is a fairly unique area; the issue is whether the union of a same-gender couple affects me in a meaningful way. If it does, I should take a stand. If not, I should allow others to practice what they will. Many people feel that each person's choice is their own, and cannot be regulated by others. But I don't see how this issue is different from other the other moral issues that do warrant regulatory legislation. Should I apply my moral compass to others' lives (besides that being my democratic right - or can I disregard that?)?

As usual, more questions than answers.

At 7/08/2004 02:32:00 AM,

Over the past year, I have spent considerable time discussing, thinking and writing about current debates concerning homosexuality and society. I will include a few of these thoughts in a post in the next few days. For now, though, I wanted to point out a surprising press release I just found on the Church News Website, dated July 7th, 2004:

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement today. This is a statement of principle in anticipation of the expected debate over same-gender marriage. It is not an endorsement of any specific amendment.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors a constitutional amendment preserving marriage as the lawful union of a man and a woman."

Wow. More to come.

At 7/08/2004 01:05:00 PM,

I have to say, I'm not too surprised the Church would step up in the government forums to express their views. They did so in California over the same issue, and now they have taken it to the national level. I think this reflects the importance of this issue. The Church certain has been and will continue to be scrutinized for their involvement.

At 7/08/2004 05:09:00 PM,

Thanks for finding that press release, JD. I haven't been faithful in checking my lds.com news releases and that one came like a thief in the night.

I really appreciated your post, Janelle. I think you hit the tender spot with your last paragraph or so when you said you feel like the Lord doesn't approve of same sex marriages despite your respect for and friendship with people who have homosexual relationships. That is, for me, a decisive point, but it doesn't stop the concern that bigotry or hate will be seen as the motive behind my religiously informed politics.

At 7/13/2004 12:09:00 AM,

JD had given me a heads-up about the Church's offical proclamation on gay marriage before I heard it this Sunday over the pulpit; however, I was surprised at the overtly political nature of the statement.

First, I thought it out of keeping with the Church's traditional stance of abstinence from politics (which, I suppose, has never happened de facto, but is the official position of Church leadership).

I also found it interesting because the LDS church, more than any other organization I can think of, has benefited throughout its history from liberality and freedom in marriage practice. The boldness of the declaration struck me as odd because it is something that would have been problematic for the Church itself 150 years ago: marriage between a man and a woman (just one man and one woman)... That would have conficted with the Church's sanctioned practice of polygamy and seriously checked the freedom of religious practice its members held sacred. The Church is now endorsing an amendment that it would have opposed (or violated) during its early years. A restrictive marriage clause in the constitution would have been held by Church members as an infringement to freely practicing their religion and a violation of what they believed to be right.

It seems odd now that the Church would not extend this priviledge to others. I understand the importance to the Church of protecting the family, advocating the relationship it holds to be correct, and frowning upon homosexual behavior, but I am confused why the Church does not see the irony in its efforts to eliminate the political freedom that has allowed it and its members to thrive.

(PS~ Thanks for letting me join your blog. I look forward to hearing from you!)

At 7/14/2004 03:00:00 PM,

By bringing up the Church's history of unusual marital practices, I think Lauren Liz raises an interesting issue. One of the arguments against gay marriage that I've heard a number of times is this: if we open up the law to allow this, where will it stop? If we allow two men or women to be married, what's to prevent three men from getting married, or one man and two women? Is the Church's firm stance on this issue indicative of the long term future of marriage relationships?

At 7/15/2004 05:00:00 PM,

Hi Liz nice to "meet" you (if a blog encounter is an actual meeting. Maybe. My name is Jason, and I know JD and some others here from Rome.

I liked your post and have a few comments. I might sound like an overzealous apologist, but this is what struck me:

You talked about the church's position to remain out of politics. I am not sure how accurate that is, as a general rule. Your wards or branches have probably been like mine, that have read (in America) every Fall that the church encourages members to be active in local and national politics and to vote, and includes the explicit disclaimer that the church does not endorse any particular candidates. It might also disclaim (I can't recall perfectly) the pernicious falsehood that the church supports a single particular political party (If only that sunk in...). I know (from NPR, not from law school) that the absence of candidate endorsements is a requisite for tax classification as a non-profit organization.

There is one other occasion that I can remember during my life when the church took a stand on a political issue (not candidate), that being doctor-assisted suicide that was legalized by a ballot measure here in Oregon 7 or 8 or so years ago. As the church's press release stated, the church has taken a stance on the moral "principle" intertwined with a constitutional amendment in protection of marriage as between one man and one woman. The church has also taken stances on "principles" of doctor-assisted suicide, abortion, and Equal Rights Amendment just off the top of my head. So it seems consistent with the Church's position at least since the last half of the twentieth century.

During the first years of Utah Statehood, however, things were very different and candidates were supported vocally by church leaders, including Joseph F. Smith as President of the Church; Then-current Apostles and Seventy BH Roberts ran for Senate and Congress; the Church's main magazine, the Improvement Era, published political editorials, including the political opinions of General Authorities with the implicit weight that would carry; General Conference even became the forum for a "debate" of sorts between Democrats (like BH Roberts) and Republicans (like Reed Smoot and Joseph F. Smith). Especially compared to these times 100 years ago, today's church might be as apolitical as a morals-guided organization can be.

The other thing that I wanted to comment on was what you noted as the apparent inconsistency in the Church's conservative attitude toward marriage given the early practice of polygamy. I can see how you can come to this conclusion, but I think your description misses the essential point about what a church, at least this church is. The church is not an organization that exists for the purpose of securing and protecting the privilege of liberal marriage practices for any and all who would desire this privilege under various models (such as polygynous or homosexual or any other variant). If this were the case, then the syllogostic reasoning [A. the church once engaged in liberal marriage practices which B. it fought to protect and uphold therefore C. the church should consistently fight to protect and uphold the privilege of liberal marriage] would hold up. But I don't see the church in this way. I see the church as an institution that supports its own proper conceptions of morality. Those might do the Venn diagram thing with other moral systems, and theoretical/doctrinal belief liberal marriage practices, e.g., might be the overlapping part, but the praxis of the church today, and definitely the doctrinal commitment to heterosexuality stand up boldly against the proposition that the only consistent course for the Church is to support all or any current practice of liberal/untraditional marriage. The Church, I believe, has consistently supported the Church's positions, which might be a little circular, but as the Church adopts policies, it sustains them in practice, and as the church amends its policies, it sustains the amendments with consistency, I think.

Last thing: Janelle hinted at the big implication here in her comment: what does the future hold? Bloom (The Harold Bloom, as you Yaley Boys and Girls would know) gleefully prophesies (his word choice) that Mormons will have the political power in the US to reinstate the dormant polygamy by the year 2080 or so. I would be 99 and ready to kick into old testament patriarch mode were that to happen! I think Bloom is starting to look like a fallen prophet. This speaks volumes about where we have come from and the direction that our Apostolic leaders will be inspired to guide us, but I think this shows the firm commitment on the part of the Church--here and now, and by no means locked into place, immoveable--to monogamous (and obviously heterosexual) marriage. For Now.

At 7/15/2004 06:33:00 PM,

Ben Call invited me to this Blog earlier today, and I thought this issue would be a good one for me to introduce myself with.

I've involved myself quite a bit with this issue. I first ran into the Church's political/moral stand on this issue back in `98 in Hawaii. I was on tour there with my high school madrigal group. In Sunday school, a good chunk of time was devoted to organizing members of the ward to oppose the "Gay Marriage Bill" being considered by the state legislature. I don't remember every way in which they proposed involvement, but it included petition signing and grass roots outreach attempts. They had been asked to do so by a letter from the first presidency, if I recall correctly.

Political activism is not unprecedented for the Church. Where "major" moral issues are involved, and member involvement could influence the outcome, letters seem to be sent out. One might expect, with the timing of "The Family," that the Church was prepared to take a very visible stand on this issue. I have to admit that it is the most public and controversial stand I remember.

I, like many, have strong feelings on this issue. I've written to my representative and senators to express both my views and expectations. (Senator Hatch has taken an interesting political stance on the issue if you care to look into it.)

All of this aside, I think that the issue can easily be confused. People who choose homosexual or lesbian relationships cannot be labeled "bad" any more than people addicted to pornography can be labeled "bad." There is so much more to a person than any singular decision or trait can define. I think that we tend to forget than within the Church sometimes. I know I do. We all know people who possess what some would consider major flaws, and I think that most of us have realized that the flaw does not chacterise the soul. In fact, it seems to me sometimes, that as if in balance they, discounting that “flaw,” are some of the most “perfect” people I know. Moral of the story for me? Don’t judge, `cause you just might be worse off than they are and you just don’t know it!

It is not that same sex relationships are evil and should therefore be punished. The gospel has always been about love and change. Excommunication, for example, though a “disciplinary action” is not meant to punish an individual for his/her sins. It is meant to give the individual an opportunity to repent while not living under the same level of condemnation as a member would be. Sometimes it is also necessary for us to feel the consequential absence of privilege in order to begin to understand the temporal and eternal meaning of our decisions. Though this is difficult, our Heavenly Father knows that the alternative is much worse. I believe that God is always looking out for the best interest of each of us individually.

What does this mean practically? A close family friend chose to practice homosexuality in his early twenties. He was an awesome guy! Was he acting in willful rebellion against God? I don’t know. And neither did anyone else besides God, and perhaps him. What was the Church’s (God’s) policy? He was excommunicated-- not because he was an evil person, but because he was better off that way. His decision would have such a large effect on his eternal progression, that the chance of his repentance and return far outweighed the benefits of his membership. (Setting aside the issues dealing with the covenants he had made.) We all loved him. We made it a point to go to the plays he performed in. He remained a part of our lives, and we were blessed by his friendship.

I got a letter on my mission one day that made me dance and throw my arms up in the air. (don’t laugh, Ben!) I then fell to my knees. This friend had recently been rebaptised and found a wife. I’m sure he still had many of the same inclinations he had before, but he had decided that there was something else more important. I wrote him and asked him to write an investigator I had worked with who didn’t want to limit her chances of finding a soul mate. I don’t know what he wrote, but she finally chose to get baptized shortly thereafter.

Was he any better of a person for having chosen to live a “straight” lifestyle? I’m sure he was just as generous, kind, and loving as he ever was. Such sacrifice changes a person though, in ways that can’t be described. I think that each of us will have to sacrifice things just as difficult if we want to be sitting in the same room as Abraham, Abinadi, or Christ. Do I respect him for his sacrifice? Yes, more than I can express! I hope that I can face my challenges with the same courage.

What does this all have to do with gay marriage? I guess my point is that there is always a choice. Whether you believe that homosexual tendencies are inborn or not, there is always a choice-- just like the alcoholic, drug addict, or pornography addict has a choice.

I believe the issue largely has to do with the confusion that Satan has enshrouded homosexuality with. The gospel truth that living a homosexual lifestyle will hurt us in ways that are just not worth it, has been clouded by issues of nature vs. nurture, discrimination, and “free” agency. Every side is so morally outraged that love has been forgotten.

Why does the Church support the amendment? I don’t know, but I believe that though there may be “nature” reasons for homosexuality, there are many more “nurture” reasons for homosexuality. All sexual deviation is addictive and mind changing. The deviance is partially what is addictive. It is no coincidence that most molesters, rapists, and other sexual deviants have experienced sexual abuse and/or have become involved in pornography. How many people would choose a homosexual lifestyle if experimentation was as unheard of as it was eighty years ago? How many people would be daily aware that homosexuality existed if television, movies, and popular culture didn’t set it on the stage as either a comedy or tragedy? What happens if homosexuality is legally accepted as an appropriate basis for a family? I don’t think it is very far fetched to assert that all man-woman only state marriage laws will be stricken by 2010 if an amendment is not passed. I believe that the effect of the increasing acceptance of homosexuality will be far more detrimental than the social and economic effect that the acceptance of gay marriage will have.

Finally, I have a close and good friend from high school who told me that he had decided he was bisexual less than a year after we graduated. He told me he was afraid of being judged. We’ve kept in contact, but I haven’t seen him in Utah since. His girlfriend had convinced him after his first heterosexual experience that he must be gay. Because he was a little eccentric in high school, people had begun to place that stigma on him. Because of homosexual experiences he had had, that became a possible explanation to him. As well as I knew him, I can’t know all the reasons why he chose as he did. I do blame our society for pushing him in that direction, though.

If same sex partnerships already exist, and adoptions into these relationships already take place, than what is the Church really opposing?

At 7/19/2004 11:15:00 AM,

Thanks for writing, Spence. I had heard the Church put millions of dollars into the gay marriage debate in Hawaii and Alaska, but I didn't know how the influence was used on the community level.
I think the Church may just be taking the stand to show the members how important it is and how little gray area exists. Hopefully by fixing some leaks in a failing dam, the flood can be delayed long enough to get more people on higher ground.

At 7/27/2004 04:40:00 PM,

Jason, thanks for you comments. It is nice to meet you as well! You shed much more light on the church's background and role in politics than I had ever considered. You are right in that my view of the Church's claimed apoliticalness was based on the declarations read every October in sacrament meeting. I must admit, I somewhat like the idea of an apolitical church. It seems to encourage parishers to think about such issues for themselves rather than thoughtlessly defer to the position taken by their religious leaders. Or maybe I just resent that my Utah side of the family thinks all democrats are evil and the ACLU is an organization designed to ruin morality in America (ahh, Grandma, she calls it the 'UCLA'. "That dang UCLA is ruining our great nation...")

At any rate, I think you are right that the Church's anceient defense of its practices of polygamy does not imply that it will support all liberal marriage practices. It is not quite so fair-handed as that, and you are right: churches exist to promote their own morality. That is good, that is what churches are for (among other things). However, I do still believe that the Church lacks acceptance and understanding towards what others view as morally acceptable. Many would look on the Mormon practice of polygamy and simply see dirty old men wanting to have as many women as possible. That is not moral in many people's books. The Church defended its actions, but mostly just sought the peace and freedom to do what it believed to be correct. It sought isolation and tolerance from a society that did not agree with its moral position.

Now along comes another group in a similar position: a minority group, wishing to practice something atypical, a type to union it deems morally correct. They don't really care if others agree, they just want freedom, to be left in peace and have their views and choices respected. Whether the Church chooses to disapprove of the morality behind their decision is not the issue that I focus on. I think it makes sense that the Church discourages what it thinks wrong. However, I also long for a show of compassion and the extension of freedom that our church once so ardently sought. People then thought the Church's actions were morally wrong and persecuted them greatly for it. It seems like something we ought not repeat.

At 7/30/2004 01:48:00 AM,

And there's the rub, Lauren. That's the part that is contemporaneously contradictory and consistent. Contradictory to the society-wide principle of marital liberty that the church, or some of its members may have used in limited and ultimately unsuccessful ways to defend its right to polygamy. Consistent, however, in that the curch has a moral system that called (or presumably would have called had the gay marriage issue arose) in the 1890s polygamy divine and homosexual marriage an eternally grievous wrong.

I don't have a very tidy answer for why the Church doesn't promote the general societal principle of marital liberty. I see the Church today as rejecting all marital or cohabitative sexual relationship except legal and lawful, according to the state, marriage. Perhaps, as JD has mentioned, the doctrines of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" preclude the Church from supporting a principle, however superficially appealing (which most forms of liberty are) that could have the direct consequences of weakening the traditional legal husband and wife procreative family in its current reign as disputed, but not conquered, status quo.

One more thought: I am in no position to know the revelations given to the presiding councils of the Church, nor have I heard any of the presiding brethren testify of the inspiration or process involved in this decision. I have not sought or received personally anything along the lines of inspired understanding of this decision by the leaders of the Church. But I allow the prophet and his associates the benefit of revelation in their decisions, whether they cite it explicitly or not. The simple answer, and this is, again, only a suggestion, is that 15 men that I honestly believe are inspired of God felt sure that it was the right choice. That may be simple, or simplistic, or reductionist, or intellectually subservient of me, but catch-22, it feels like the right choice for me. (This position doesn't keep me from thinking or taking about it.)




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