A rare Sunday post for me. This post has nothing to do with licensing, OER, or the other topics I usually write about here. If this topic doesn’t interest you, then as Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. You can go about your business. Move along.”
Many people ask me, “Why are Mormons against same-sex marriage?” While I can’t speak on behalf of the whole church, as a reasonably educated person and a devout Mormon I can give an answer. I’ll document my answer along the way to show that I’m not making things up. I offer these answers in an attempt to contribute to a polite, civil dialogue on this topic – something that seems sorely lacking these days. I’m not going to try to convince you that the Mormon stance is the right one – I just hope to help you understand the Mormon stance more clearly.
First, a very brief doctrinal answer.
It is a core tenet of Mormon doctrine that only a man and a woman, married in a way that makes the marriage binding both in this life as well as the next, can receive all the blessings that God wants His children to receive on earth and in heaven. Neither a man nor a woman can receive these blessings as an individual; for over 150 years and for several generations we have believed that we can only receive these blessings jointly as husband and wife. So, when you hear a Mormon say they believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, it’s not because Mormons “hate gay people” as some have suggested. It’s because – doctrinally – our fundamental understanding of the best that both heaven and earth have to offer revolves around a man and a woman being married forever, and the eternal continuation of the family. (If you’d like to read a slightly longer statement on this doctrine, try this statement about the importance of the family to Mormons).
Now for a much lengthier legislative answer.
“That’s all well and good for Mormons to believe,” you may say, “but why try to legislatively force your beliefs on us?” This is exactly the right question to ask, and it is exactly why Mormons get involved in legislation. Let me explain.
The LDS Church (the official name of the church to which Mormons belong) formally and officially supports laws that protect the civil rights of individuals who are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender. For example, the church recently lent public support to an ordinance in Salt Lake City that prohibits bias in employment or housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity (see, e.g., this article in the Huffington Post). Without the church’s public support the proposed ordinance would almost surely have failed.
However, to the church and its members, marriage is not a purely civil affair. Marriage is a ceremony Mormons perform inside holy temples. If governments define marriage as being between any two people who want to get married, they may effectively legislate changes in core Mormon doctrine. A 2008 LDS Church news release provides some concrete examples of how this could happen:
Legalizing same-sex marriage will affect a wide spectrum of government activities and policies. Once a state government declares that same-sex unions are a civil right, those governments almost certainly will enforce a wide variety of other policies intended to ensure that there is no discrimination against same-sex couples. This may well place “church and state on a collision course.”
The prospect of same-sex marriage has already spawned legal collisions with the rights of free speech and of action based on religious beliefs. For example, advocates and government officials in certain states already are challenging the long-held right of religious adoption agencies to follow their religious beliefs and only place children in homes with both a mother and a father. As a result, Catholic Charities in Boston has stopped offering adoption services.
Other advocates of same-sex marriage are suggesting that tax exemptions and benefits be withdrawn from any religious organization that does not embrace same-sex unions. Public accommodation laws are already being used as leverage in an attempt to force religious organizations to allow marriage celebrations or receptions in religious facilities that are otherwise open to the public. Accrediting organizations in some instances are asserting pressure on religious schools and universities to provide married housing for same-sex couples. Student religious organizations are being told by some universities that they may lose their campus recognition and benefits if they exclude same-sex couples from club membership.
Many of these examples have already become the legal reality in several nations of the European Union, and the European Parliament has recommended that laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples be made uniform across the EU. Thus, if same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, there will be substantial conflicts with religious freedom. And in some important areas, religious freedom may be diminished.
In other words, while the effect may be indirect, legislatively defining marriage as being between any two people could quickly translate into limits on the freedom of Mormons to practice their beliefs, both in their churches and in their affiliated organizations (like Brigham Young University).
So the question may be asked in return, “Supporting gay marriage is fine for you to do, but why try to legislatively force your beliefs on us?” I believe this is the reason Mormons get involved in legislative efforts. If legislators take a thoughtless path to legalizing same-sex marriage, their foolhardiness will almost certainly result in broad contractions of our First Amendment rights, which up until now have forbidden Congress from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. Given Congress’ recent willingness to strip away citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights (which should protect us from things like warrantless wiretapping), the possibility of substantive restrictions on freedom of religion feels very legitimate and very frightening.
The recent Salt Lake City ordinance was a good example of thoughtful, carefully constructed language. Quoting again from the HuffPo article:
Church support for the ordinances is due in part to the way the legislation was drafted to protect those rights. Exceptions in the legislation allow churches to maintain, without penalty, religious principles and religion-based codes of conduct or rules.
“In drafting these ordinances, the city has granted commonsense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations,” Otterson said Tuesday.
Previous Utah legislation that sought statewide protections for the gay community did not contain those exceptions.
And although this was the church’s first public endorsement of specific legislation, it is not the first time the church has voiced support for some gay rights. In August 2008 the church issued a statement saying it supports gay rights related to hospitalization, medical care, employment, housing or probate as long as they “do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage are very keen to protect what they see as their constitutional rights. Mormons and other people of faith are very keen to protect what we see as our constitutional rights. These two desires appear to be in conflict. However, when people listen to each other and work together, both groups can simultaneously enjoy their constitutional rights without infringing on the rights of the others, as the Salt Lake City example shows.
I hope this very brief explanation clarifies the two primary reasons Mormons currently resist attempts to redefine marriage. Mormons as individuals and the Church as an organization are open to supporting legislation that protects their rights – we just need more of this carefully crafted legislation to support. Consequently, I firmly believe that there is a path through this discourse that respects the views and beliefs of all parties. I just hope our nation is patient, kind, civil, understanding, thoughtful, and careful enough to find it.
Your comments are welcome as long as they stay polite and civil.