Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Taking a Stand: The Church's, the World's, and My Stance on Gay Marriage

I am faced with a daunting task. I am arguing on behalf of the traditional values of marriage and Church doctrine, though I realize that science and the world are coming to hold different values on the matter. Facing this challenge, I realize that I should begin by making a disclaimer: this is an LDS doctrinal essays blog, as it reads at the head of our page. It is largely on this basis that I will make my argument. The reason for this disclaimer is that many in favor of same-sex marriage state that “there isn’t a single credible secular argument” against it. Using that as a platform, they attempt to dismiss any arguments taken from a religious standpoint as invalid. Though I will certainly address secular issues as well, I must emphasize that my arguments will stem from the doctrines and beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which I am affiliated, hold loyalty, and which I believe to be the Church of Christ on the earth today. Regardless of the criticism of skeptics and non-believers, these reasons are more than valid to me, and I believe should be just as valid to any member of this church.

As an additional proviso, I should state that while I believe that homosexual behavior is wrong, it doesn’t mean that those who feel such feelings are sinners. Even those who engage in gay practices are not necessarily bad people. But they are engaging in sin. When I refer to homosexuality throughout this essay, unless I make a clear distinction, I am referring to the behavior and not simply the inclination.

The Point

Whatever you term it, homosexual, same-sex, or gay marriage is wrong. But why? What makes me so certain of this, despite growing feelings in the Church and world favoring the opposite view? Well, first, homosexual behavior itself is wrong. I will demonstrate this as clearly as I can, as it is a major staple of my argument. But so many disagree, and that presents a problem. Furthermore, assuming that it is morally wrong, does that justify actually legislating against gay marriage? Wouldn’t that be imposing religious beliefs or removing agency? Again, I say no. And I give my reasons:

Biblical Arguments

I quote from the 8th Article of Faith, a canonized declaration of the basic beliefs of the Church. “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” By extension, the other books in the LDS canon, The Doctrine & Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price also fall into this category. Furthermore, “whatsoever [the latter-day prophets] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord” (D&C 68:4). If it is true that all such words qualify as “the word of God,” as I believe them to be, then I feel that we are obliged to hold them as true. I am not ignorant to the fact that there are man-made errors in the scriptures as well as the words of our leaders, but it is all inspired of God, and the ultimate message is nothing less than completely true. If a believing member of the Church feels inclined to disagree with these authoritative sources, a very heavy argument must be presented in order to show the man-made errors of the Lord’s inspired servants, ancient or modern.

So what does the Bible have to say about marriage? After creating Adam, God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). The first commandment God then gave to the newly created Adam and Eve was this: “Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Eternally, a man and a woman are incomplete without their complementing sex. “[N]either is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). Such completion is not only desirable, but is requisite to attaining mankind’s fullest potential (D&C 131:1-4; 132:15-17, 19-20).

Such scriptures make it clear that a man and woman are only complete when they are together. But they do not specifically state that any alternative relationship is wrong. Of course, there are other verses are more explicit. These have been mentioned on countless other blogs, but I mention them again here for the benefit of the reader, and to paint a clear, well-rounded picture of the Bible’s words on the matter.

Genesis 18-19 is the well known story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two great cities destroyed personally by the Lord in consequence of their sin. This has often been interpreted as the sin of homosexuality, as within these chapters is the story of men wanting to rape the two guests of Lot, obviously not knowing that they were angels of the Lord. Many now try to discredit this interpretation. ‘Certainly,’ the interpreters say, ‘raping two men is absolutely wrong. But it was not for homosexual conduct that the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. It was for pride and inhospitality.’ A scripture is used to support their stance, namely Ezekiel 16:49. “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Well, I credit such an argument in that raping your guests is not exactly hospitable. But it certainly wasn’t for these reasons alone that such cities were destroyed.

A scripture that is generally not mentioned or that is simply glossed over by advocates of the above-mentioned theory is found in Jude. “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7, italics added). It is the because of the sins of fornication, including (but not limited to) homosexuality that these cities were judged so harshly in this world, as well as in the world to come.

Another pair of verses used to argue against homosexuality is sin and is utterly wrong. These are Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. And the standard counterargument is that these rules are part of the Hebrew Holiness Code. The chapters contained are guidelines in how Israel was to live, but they include things that we surely would abhor today. Rules on how to conduct slavery properly, kosher dietary laws, and the execution of those who break certain laws. Those who use such an argument make a good case here; we can’t possibly accept all the laws that were binding on Israel to be equally binding upon us. But their case doesn’t rule out such law either.

So where do we stand on those verses? Surrounding them are other laws of sexual conduct, specifically the sins of incestuous relations. We still cling to these today. Why? They certainly were unaware of the genetic repercussions of such relationships at the time of Moses, but the Lord commanded that those relations were wrong. The Lord then, as always, knew best.

Romans 1:26-27 is also a frequently mentioned scripture in condemnation of homosexuality. “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” This is very clearly a denunciation of homosexual practice. Other New Testament writings condemn homosexuality in varying degrees. See for instance 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

The Bible is the Word of God. The heaviest arguments that people level at these verses are that they are inapplicable today, or that the writers were uninspired in those cases. Acknowledging that Church leaders, ancient and modern, are prone to error, statements so often repeated and firmly held throughout history do not much allow for our trivializing of them. And the applicability of such commands cannot simply be dismissed because “many commandments in the Bible (i.e. kosher diets and the like) are no longer in force.” Most commandments remain in force, and sufficient reasons have been given for most changes, most notably Christ fulfilling the Law of Moses. Simply put, one cannot pick and choose which biblical commands to follow and which to obey.

It would be unjust to avoid mentioning the biblical arguments that favor homosexuality. Many religious advocates point to verses that indicate that David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers (1 Samuel 18: 1-4; 1 Samuel 20: 30; 2 Samuel 1:26), and to New Testament verses that could be interpreted to justify or at least tolerate this behavior. Except for the case of David and Jonathan, every other argument raised is very weak, and requires too many assumptions and leapt-to conclusions to really be of any validity. In the case of David and Jonathan, the references are only slightly less vague, and could be (and generally are by conservative readers) interpreted as just a very strong friendship. The phrasing claimed to be sexual in nature, for instance, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1), is never duplicated elsewhere in the Bible. The Bible does at times make use of innuendo, especially in the case of a man “knowing” his wife. But no where is the case of “knitting souls” made as a sexual act. No biblical argument, not even that of David and Jonathan, carries sufficient weight to defend homosexuality.

Secular Arguments

It is difficult to make an argument of the rightness of anything from a moral standpoint. In fact, I may be unable to really prove that homosexual behavior or marriage is immoral at all. But the truth is, from a secular perspective, there is little that can be done to “prove” anything as morally right or wrong. Regardless of which side a person takes on homosexuality in general and gay marriage in specific, it all boils down to the ethics of the situation. The opponent sees it as a threat to an established system; the defendant sees the refusal of the right as an infringement on human rights. My point here is that morals are subjective, and as such, they are unable to be defined as absolutely right or wrong. Every moral we hold dear and true is challenged by others in this world. But we bind ourselves to moral codes based on the benefit to humanity in general. Therefore, my secular argument will be an attempt to convey the difficulty in proving homosexual behavior and marriage as moral (or anything, following the same logic). I will then try to interpret what our moral views actually are, and see if homosexuality fits that mold.

Many non-religious arguments are used to favor homosexuality. In fact, it is often claimed that these bear more weight than religious arguments. The point is made that a number of religions have favored homosexuality throughout history, some even believing it to be a form of higher love. Many cultures have accepted homosexuality as a natural alternative throughout history. Additionally, it is not considered by most in the psychology field to be a disorder of any sort. Furthermore, homosexuals do not choose to be gay or lesbian. And even some animals practice homosexuality. So questions are raised. Why do so many treat it as if it isn’t natural? Why can’t we simply accept it as a natural phenomenon, and treat it no differently? Well, I first will show that we cannot make moral assumptions on the matter based on these arguments.

First, using historical precedence is certainly not justification for accepting something as moral. Many religions (Judaism, for instance) accepted prostitution and slavery at certain points in their history. The Roman Empire executed people in some of the most violent means imaginable (crucifixion, incidentally, was considered to be the apex of cruelty). Surely most readers are aware of the practice of feeding prisoners to lions in very public displays. Numerous groups of people, such as the Foré tribe, have engaged in cannibalism for various ritualistic reasons. Many peoples have practiced incest throughout history, with even biblical examples to draw from. Obviously, some cases are more widespread than others, but it all boils down to one point: some things have been acceptable by even the largest of populations, but having a precedent still does not validate an act as morally tolerable.

Second, I can agree with the psychologists who state that homosexuality is not a psychological disorder. But that doesn’t immediately qualify it as moral. For instance, incest is not necessarily the result of a psychological disorder (I am not referring to the effects of incest, especially when forced upon children, which certainly can cause psychological problems). Pedophilia/ephobophilia, which I consider to be one of the vilest of crimes to God and mankind, is being pushed by many psychologists like Richard Green to be declassified as a mental disorder. Some progress, though relatively little, has been made in this cause. But imagine that such a reclassification took place. Would the public then be compelled to accept acts between consenting adults and children/adolescents? Simply put, we cannot accept something as moral merely because it is not considered a psychological disorder.

Third, the lack of ability to choose one’s orientation still does not validate such orientation as acceptable. Again, using pedophilia as an example, the “boylove” advocacy group known as Free Spirits even states, “boylovers have not chosen of their free will to become so.” They claim that it is simply an “orientation,” and that it is unchangeable, just like homosexuality.

Now, I imagine here that many will take issue with what I have said. A major point among homosexual marriage advocates is that it all acts are performed between consenting adults. But remember, I am pointing out the difficulty of determining what is really moral. The belief that consenting adults can do whatever they want with each other is simply another assumed moral. Many do not hold that to be ample reason for any act.

But many further question the morals of changing one’s orientation. Why quell the feelings with which a person was born? Why suppress what nature gave them? I will not go deep into this issue, as it is not the purpose of this essay. However, I can say that this, as it does further my argument: there is more research than many psychologists will admit that shows that perhaps homosexuality is not an inborn trait, but that it is learned. If this is true, and if homosexual behavior can be identified as immoral, then why would we be compelled to give homosexual relationships the same status as those of a heterosexual nature? Now, I am in no way condoning any mistreatment of or prejudice towards gays and lesbians, even if it true that the orientations they hold are learned. I am merely pointing out that a learned trait does not automatically receive the same status as a natural one.

I could go on, showing how it is impossible to actually “prove” that homosexuality should be accepted as completely moral, but none of this actually proves that it is immoral. Truthfully, this is probably the most difficult point to make without bringing religion into the matter. Hopefully I can make a case.

It would seem to some that allowing homosexual marriage would increase fidelity and devotion and strengthen families. As Andrew Sullivan, a homosexual and well-known spokesman of gay marriage rights has said, “It seeks merely to promote monogamy, fidelity, and the disciplines of family life among people who have long been cast to the margins of society” (“Let Gays Marry”). This is greatly lacking in truth. The same Andrew Sullivan kindly provided us with some evidence against this claim. “The openness of the contract makes it more likely to survive than many heterosexual bonds,” says he. There is “more likely to be a greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman.” And statistics apparently support this assertion. One survey shows that only 7 out of 156 gay couples were actually completely faithful in a 5 year period (Bolt “Gay Edge of Wedge”). Though infidelity occurs in straight relationships, it is frowned upon. This statements and statistics show that it is not only common but even expected and acceptable.

Gay marriage also makes it difficult to actually draw moral lines. Mr. Sullivan has again undercut his own arguments, this time by trying to draw distinctions between polygamy and homosexual marriage. “Some…fear that there is no logical difference between allowing same-sex marriage and sanctioning polygamy and other horrors.” He equates polygamy with horrors on other occasions as well. Being Mormon, it becomes a particularly sensitive issue, as I do not believe that early Church members were engaging in horrific acts. I certainly would not like to participate in the practice, but I don’t believe there was anything morally wrong with it. Islam to this day continues to advocate and practice polygamy. Most find absolutely nothing wrong with the practice. But Andrew Sullivan identifies it as a “horror,” and inadvertently strengthens my case. It is far too easy to define your own morals, and then elevate them to “well-known” facts. What you deem acceptable is not necessarily inherently so. We cannot constantly redefine our definition of morals to accommodate every minority group that exists.

The very valid point has been made many times before, and I do not believe it succumbs to any slippery-slope fallacy, as we can already see the steep decline of morals in everyday life due to this very problem: when we continue to redraw the line on what is moral and ethical, we find that we have no place to stop. We must continually expand our acceptance until everyone is within in our circle and no one is left out. Honestly, where do we stop? When do we finally decide that we’ve accepted everything worth accepting and forbidden all that is truly wrong? The reality is that there is no true valid secular reason to about-face and accept it as a mirror image of heterosexuality, with all the rights that pertain to the latter.

I guess that is what addresses the most used, and likewise most poorly defended point in the argument against gay marriage. Redefining marriage does undermine the real definition of family. As members of the Church know, but even as groups like conservative atheists admit, the structure of the family is becoming corrupted. Numerous decadent acts charged as “rights” seek to push the envelope on what a stable family really is. Abusive parents, broken marriages, unwed parents, adulterous spouses, and abandoned children are all symptoms of the gradual loss of morals that causes further decay in the bulwark of strength the family was intended to be. We can say, “Well, Bob is cheating on his wife, and Lilly abandoned her child. But these things have no affect on me and my stable marriage.” Perhaps not directly. Perhaps never upon you. But allowing gay marriage is simply another battle lost to the side of immorality, and in the not-too distant future, the nature of marriage will truly be so misshapen as to be unrecognizable.

Political Legislation Against Homosexual Marriage

Throughout most of this essay, I have sought to prove that homosexuality is morally wrong. But the whole purpose of my argument is really to give reason to legislate against it. It is difficult to determine what to legislate against and what to let slide. It certainly is wrong in most people’s eyes to commit adultery. Yet, there is nothing illegal about it. And illegalizing it would be met with serious opposition for multiple, justifiable reasons. Another fine example would be the prohibition. Making alcohol consumption illegal seemed to cause more problems than it solved. Yet, the Church teaches that consumption is immoral, and most would agree that drunkenness is wrong. But do we outlaw drinking? No. So how can one justify the political decision to outlaw marriage?

One of the most popular arguments against the marriage amendment and other heated political points is this: “You can’t legislate ethics.” A weaker argument is hard to find. I can’t think of a single law that does not legislate morality, from laws on J-walking, to gun control, to hate crime laws, to the Geneva Convention. All laws are backed by a moral of one sort or another. A law explicitly protecting gay marriage would itself be a legislation of morality. It would be a protection of individual rights, and we as a people are highly concerned with the moral obligation to preserve a person’s rights. Simply put, you not only can legislate morality; you are bound to.

To Church members, the outlawing of polygamy is often seen as an equivalent miscarriage of justice as the attempt to outlaw gay marriage. They argue that the government shouldn’t have dictated the nature of marriage then, and they do not have that right now. I believe this to be merely word play for emotional appeal. I hardly can believe that those who are such advocates of equal rights as to support gay marriage are also in favor of the supposed “dehumanizing of women” inherent in polygamy (though I personally hope to never be required to engage in the practice). However, if we as a nation support the government in its legal action against polygamy (and most of us are), we are then compelled to be equally supportive in the government’s right to illegalize gay marriage. We support the government in protecting institutions, and as was mentioned earlier, gay marriage is a threat to an existing institution.

Legislating against immoral behavior is still difficult. There are no laws that make adultery, fornication, group sex, and many other immoral sexual acts illegal. I can’t say where we draw the line on what behavior is legislated against. But we must draw lines, most especially when it destroys the already damaged established moral code.

The Bottom Line: Modern-day Leaders and Doctrine

Modern Church doctrine also teaches that homosexuality is not in God’s plan. Though never mentioned explicitly in the discourses and revelations of Joseph Smith, his revelations and doctrines clearly teach that marriage is intended between man and woman (see D&C 131, 132, and the Community of Christ D&C 111).

Furthermore, we understand that the pattern of godhood is paralleled here on Earth. God has a Wife and has children. Without a spouse, bearing children in this world is impossible, and so is the case in Heaven. The establishment of marriage can only be made on Earth, and therefore gay marriage bars God’s children from reaching exaltation, and frustrates God’s work and glory (Moses 1:39).

Following Joseph Smith, many leaders and teachings have clarified the issue for those in doubt. Numerous discourses and documents could be cited, but the most modern and most prominent is probably The Family: A Proclamation to the World. “We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife…The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.” Here, it is spelled out rather clearly. God intended marriage to fit one specific formula. It was not meant to fit any other description.

Various secular and religious reasons could be offered to oppose gay marriage, but on one point do I feel so strongly about this issue: I believe in following the prophet. We don’t have to understand the reasons for God’s commandments. We don’t even have to agree with our leaders. They are prone to error, after all. But in our accepted canonical work of modern revelation, we are promised that “The Lord will never permit…any…man who stands as President of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God” (D&C: Official Declaration 1). They have repeatedly given us the will of the Lord, and we would be wise to accept that. There are thousands of historical cases (scriptural and otherwise) where the Lord’s people were commanded to do what they did not understand, but they were still expected to obey. Why would the Lord not expect the same of us today? His feelings do not sway with what the public feels is PC.

The Church is entitled to make political statements when the fate of humanity lies upon obedience to God’s commands. We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. In fact, the Church is obliged to. “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). Just as the ancient prophets preached against the practices of men, our modern prophets are just as entitled to. No, we do not live in a theocracy, but then, the Church has not compelled us to actually accept the truths they teach. Like Alma the Younger, our prophets call us to make the world a more righteous place, or the world may suffer consequences.

No one in the Church is entitled to say that he or she knows better than our leaders. We cannot hold the knowledge of Man to be above that of God. Humans can study and research all they like, but we have been told time and time again that spiritual understanding and faith forever outweigh the frail philosophies of humankind. I stand with the Bretheren on this one. I oppose homosexual marriage.

Tolerance and Understanding

As I wrap up my essay, I wonder how many have muttered the term “bigot” under their breath as they read. I assure you that this is not the case. I have taken a very practical approach to this issue, removing simple emotional appeal as much as possible, and trying to clearly define right and wrong.

But here, in the end, I will let my readers know that I am incredibly sympathetic towards those who have homosexual tendencies. Some of the best people I’ve known were gay. I even have a fairly close friend who has homosexual tendencies, and is a member of the Church. This friend helped shed a lot of light on the moral dissonance that is felt in his/her life. But I am convinced that this person is just as righteous a child of God as any. We are all faced with challenges in life. Some are incredibly difficult to resist. But God has promised deliverance from sin and temptation to those who rely on him in faith. I also know that God is merciful, and understands that so many face incredibly difficult circumstances in life. Our merciful and just God will certainly weigh all things in balance when it comes time for judgment. I am content to allow him to do the judging. All I can do is accept each of his children as precious souls in his eyes.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The “Gay Question”: Private Preference or Public Policy

I must admit shock and trepidation several Sundays ago when I heard the First Presidency’s letter read to me regarding their position on the same-sex marriage debate. Of course I knew of their advocacy for anti-gay marriage initiatives but had never heard explicit encouragement that members join their cause. I need not remind that this political contest has bathed the country in passionate sentiments—fear and anxiety from the right, accusations of bad faith from the left, and a general misunderstanding by all. Social healing, not further civil estrangement, is in order.

My purpose in writing this essay is to pen, once and for all, my position on the matter. I would implore those on the right to consider the opposition’s arguments (though I present but a few of them) rather than couching them in the vague and mystifying language of the “philosophies of men"—that you seriously consider them as pointing toward crucial, substantive components of justice.

A brief look at the Church’s history quickly reveals disturbing similarities between the anti-polygamy crusades of the 1870s-1890s and today’s campaign to prohibit gay marriage. Just as U.S. society became inflamed about a marginal group practicing plural marriage in what was still an obscure part of the country, today’s civil society is up in arms regarding attempts to legalize gay marriage. Stereotypes of marginals as well as violence abound in both epochs and the state is used to “correct” those outside the mainstream. I would ask what the difference is between Congress’ 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act and the Defense of Marriage Amendment? The former act revoked several civil rights of polygamist Church members including the right to vote, serve on juries, and hold public office. Similarly, gays today face the denial of many freedoms such as health benefits, and partner hospital visitation, inheritance, and adoption rights. Both bills define marriage as between one man and one woman. Both were drafted in defense of the “public good” and “in defense of the family.” Both involved “the moral question.” And both were intended to redefine the public sphere to the benefit of many and the exclusion of some (Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 220-225, 246). The tragic difference between the anti-polygamy bill and today’s Defense of Marriage Amendment is where the Church stands on the issue. In the former period, the Church was the victim; it perceived a great injustice (see Brother Faust’s comments below) and sought to be left alone under the pretense of state’s rights and constitutionally guaranteed civil freedoms. Today the Church has sided with those who would limit civil rights and abrogate locally defined marriage standards (state’s rights such as that of Massachusetts). Now that the Church is well-accepted the tide of oppression is turned on others. And I expect our LDS ancestors are tossing in their graves at the congruence between yesterday’s persecuted and today’s persecutors.

It is tragic that when any culture or creed has endured outcast and emerges as a meaningful figure in public life, it mimics its oppressors. It judges, it condemns, it proscribes, perhaps in an effort to secure its newly-won power from the undermining effect of being shared. Perhaps it arises from a sense of vengeance; unable to afflict its oppressors it makes marginals suffer even as it suffered. Mormons have learned well from its detractors. In our modern society, to jeer often merits more legitimacy and respect than to include. An absence of our systemic and wide-spread persecution has made us forget sympathy for minority victims. Indeed we have become a proud minority if we cannot grant to other small groups the same respect we demanded in the nineteenth-century: to be accepted as fellow citizens subject to the same laws, entitled to the same rights as our fellows. Most of all, we asked to be permitted to live "according to the dictates of our own conscience" freely and unmolested (as in Kirtland and Nauvoo), or to be left alone (in early Utah epoch) by the American state. LDS sensibilities toward others have changed drastically with their unofficial incorporation into the Republican Party. Being “in” has made us forget what it was like to be “out.”

When and if the Church finds itself newly disenfranchised from the political process (or at least in disfavor with the state) I hope the lesson will not be lost on the Church leadership, especially if the government begins restricting LDS ways of life. Our leaders will have reinforced the model for dealing with those outside the mainstream: wield the state against their rights, justified as favoring the public good.

But plain hypocrisy is not sufficient to prohibit a certain action. There must be more. One might argue that faith in our leaders should compel our support for this amendment, regardless of convincing reasons. Yet appeals to simply “obey our leaders” or even “follow the prophet” fall alarmingly short of any legitimate account of just action. We must return to Socrates’ timeless question found in the Euthyphro: Is an act commanded by the gods because it is just, or is it just because the gods command it? To extrapolate, belief that what is just is only so because Church leaders mandate it belies an arbitrariness bereft of morality. But if leaders command something because it is just, then a moral standard exists independent of those leaders. And if such a standard indeed exists, it surely can be explained. Let me be clear. When a religious institution attempts to influence public policy the matter is political as much or more as it is religious. Faith in our leaders may be necessary on religious matters but it is inappropriate on political concerns. Democracy ought to operate on reasoned debate followed by a vote. I need not remind that simple obedience to church leaders compromises a citizen’s independence. If members blindly obey it can be charged that the First Presidency holds more than three votes (the same as three ordinary citizens); they command a voting bloc. Democracy wanes as oligarchy (or theocracy) emerges.

Democracy is founded on at least some commitment to pluralism. The limits on what citizens can of right do are always in question. The hallmark of genuine democracy is the majority’s restraint in enforcing personal preferences onto minority citizens. Bluntly stated, this so-called Defense of Marriage Amendment is an egregious instance of majority tyranny. The complication here is many members of the Church make no distinction between private and public moral codes. Many claim their personal preferences (beliefs) should be universalized. Regarding the “gay question,” the greatest problem hampering LDS notions of justice is the discursive element: it is difficult for many Mormons to conceive of morality as something beyond the bedroom, to put it crudely, above the waistline. I would argue that average members, including Church leaders, lack a commitment to pluralism, and consequently, to genuine democracy.

I offer that to establish a legitimate public moral code—one that avoids majority tyranny and/or does not arbitrarily impose one’s beliefs on others—a distinction must be made between consensual and nonconsensual acts. Nonconsensual acts must be restricted because they interfere with others’ free action. Included in these prohibitive acts would be child abuse (in all its forms), theft, rape, murder, etc. Consensual acts are those that do not compromise the rights of others. In this respect gay rights (marriage, adoption, safety from harassment, etc.) ought to be respected by all because they do not conflict with others’ rights. These rights are legitimate in spite of the “perceived injustices” (again see Brother Faust’s comments below) some heterosexuals claim. These individuals argue that their marriage rights are in some way threatened by gay marriage. What they assert, and what the Brethren call for, is the vindication of a privilege since not all couples would enjoy legal recognition. Privilege chips away at pluralism. Privilege is antithetical to democracy.

Here we should also question the merits of statist projects. It has long been curious to me why it is presumed as just for the state to regulate the most intimate of relations. After all, the state is nothing more than a rotational interest group. During election season politicians promise to use the state for their constituency’s benefit, often as a weapon against the opposition. The state is the final bane to genuine democracy. What’s more, state policy is a fickle standard as gains made by one group may be overturned by another in just two to four years. I am also curious what utility the Brethren think banning gay marriage will serve. If Church leaders expect banning said institution will yield fewer gay people they are credulous. If they believe it will appease God, they have yet to declare as much. Again I warn that to demonstrate bad faith civilly in using the state to proscribe consensual practice is akin to drilling a hole in our collective hull; gays will sink, along with everyone else. The method of exclusion is not lost on the Church’s enemies. In fact, I know of no better practice to generate animosity. If the Brethren want our support on this issue they must explain why statist projects are legitimate and why the same prescription used against gays will not be turned on us. Now here I might be accused of contradiction. If I am wary of others using the state as society’s final arbiter, then why care about legalizing gay marriage? Simply put, I have a hierarchy of preferences. A stateless society would truly warm my heart, but while states exist I prefer tolerable to intolerable ones.

But I digress. Elder Nelson’s comments a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. grossly misrepresent Church realities. Mormons are in fact not “firmly united” that “the sanctity of marriage and family constitutes the spiritual undergirding of lasting and successful societies.” Moreover, I am curious as to how Brother Nelson could have assumed members’ political opinions without first polling us. Even within this Church there exists a religious left. Instead of a particular conception of marriage, some of us believe that respecting of difference and publicly enabling the pursuit of happiness for all, is critical to “lasting and successful societies.” We further reject the double-speak utilized by Nelson and other Church leaders that supporting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage does not “reduce our regard for individuals who choose to live by other standards” (http://www.lds.org/newsroom/showrelease/0,15503,4028-1-23503,00.html). I defer to Rousseau who put it best: “Those who distinguish between civil and theological intolerance are mistaken in my opinion. The two intolerances are inseparable. It is impossible to live in peace with people one believes to be damned; to love them would be to hate God who punishes them; one must absolutely bring them back or torment them. Wherever theological intolerance is allowed, it is impossible for it not to have some civil effect; and as soon as it does, the Sovereign [meaning the citizenry] is no longer Sovereign, even in the temporal sphere: from then on Priests are the true masters; Kings are but their officers” (Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, ed. and trans. Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 151).

But Church doctrine does not in fact define marriage exclusively as between one man and one woman. Religious (though not legal) marriages continue to be solemnized in temples today that consist of multiple partners (due to death or divorce). Plural marriage remains alive and well in God’s houses. In this respect “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” has aspects of a partisan tract meant to align Church leaders with fellow anti-gay marriage crusaders. The proclamation coyly sidesteps the issue of plural marriage by simply stating that marriage between a member of each sex is ordained of God. It in no way precludes unions between one man and several women. What’s more, the Church leadership has at no point used the prophetic “thus saith the Lord” in regard to this proposed amendment, establishing that God commands every Church member’s support. Until such time I claim my duty to consult my own conscience on the matter. If at some future date this Presidency invokes God’s name as part of this crusade, the issue, of course, remains between God and I. In either case, the Church leadership should remain neutral on all political issues, including “moral issues,” else differentiate between opinion and godly mandate.

Church leaders often present their opinions regarding social matters without distinguishing between their human thoughts and utterances received directly from God. June’s First Presidency Message of the Ensign is a case-and-point. Brother Faust’s cynical jab at “intellectual voices that profess sophistication and superiority” is most telling; Church leaders often become queasy when hard questions are asked them. But unlike some, many of us use intellectualism to act justly, not for self-aggrandizement. In “Voice of the Spirit,” Brother Faust denigrates “murmuring voices that conjure up perceived injustices.” One can only speculate as to what those mistaken perceptions could be. Members wanting to keep in step with the Brethren might be tempted to make the most conservative of interpretations of such a vague remark; many might consider gay rights, women’s liberation, human rights, and workers’ grievance (to name a few) as instances of “perceived injustices.” Skip to page five and one learns that Brother Faust sides with David Ben-Gurion’s unsubstantiated assertion that Leon Trotsky “was no leader because he had no purpose.” Here Brother Faust presumes his priestly authority will substantiate what is otherwise barren of reasoned argument, and bereft of evidence. Connecting both statements can only lead to one conclusion: the working-class’ feeling of entitlement to the means of production (Trotsky’s position) is also a “perceived injustice” (dare I say a “false consciousness?”), one that credits the Russian Communist with a lack of “purpose” (James E. Faust, “Voice of the Spirit,” Ensign, June, 2006, 3-6). Hazy statements are perhaps the worst of leader oversights as they enable the pious to imagine the most stringent of godly demands, good-heartedly supposing they come from the very mouth of the Lord. Again, if members of the Church are choosing to “follow the prophet” and vote against gay marriage (regardless of misgivings or a tickled conscience), this constitutes a political bloc at the First Presidency’s disposal—a grievous affront to democratic principles.

Worse still, a common failing in Church policy has been to shun broader visions of justice. This is evident in past official positions on issues ranging from the Equal Rights Amendment to unjust wars to Prohibition. The failure to support ERA is particularly tragic. Because Church leaders could not accept the positions of some segments of the day’s social movements (lesbian separatists for instance), it withdrew all support. Many in the Church feared to be lumped with bad company; they deigned not sup with “sinners.” Broader conceptions of justice are crucial when the Church as an institution steps outside the religious sphere to engage in political activity. Without some universal standard for justice the Church is doomed to act (as it sometimes has) arbitrarily and provincially. As I have attempted to argue above, democracy is one crucial area the Church has been most ambiguous about and it is intimately related to concerns about justice generally and the gay marriage issue specifically. Here I refer to genuine democracy, not its perverted republican substitute. My purpose here is to provoke the Church membership to define their position, once and for all, on democracy. Sadly, any endorsement of democracy would seem to require significant changes within the Church’s structure ranging from directly democratic congregations to women administering the priesthood outside temples. On the contrary, arguing the superiority of theocracy may well provoke pandemonium within the Church, deteriorating its image without. Either way I urge all members to escape luke-warm positions. But I would emphasize that nowhere is the need for a distinction between personal preference and public policy more evident than in the Church’s position on the “gay question.”

This essay in no way invalidates my testimony or convictions regarding this Church and Gospel. My aim is to build, not to destroy. I continue to support and believe in the Brethren’s apostolic stewardship even as I at times disagree with their execution of the same.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gay Marriage: A Three-Part Spectrum

Gay Marriage:

A Three-Part Spectrum

This theme has become so common among the LDS bloggernacle, it is wondered whether our little blog with actually have any sort of impact. However, all three of the authors here have strong feelings on the matter, and all three of us share a different point of view. We have therefore decided to undertake a project addressing this topic, namely gay marriage.

We gave ourselves some rules to follow.

1) We all write different view on gay marriage. This was simple, as we all felt somewhat differently on this issue. Larscapo will be posting first, supporting gay marriage. I, darth_ender will post second, taking the exact opposite point of view. Mathoni will then give a sort of middle-ground piece, showing that the issue is not as black and white as many may think.

2) We will post our essays three days apart to give each writer time to receive sufficient feedback and limelight.

3) All our essays are completed before posting. This ensures that no one will simply rebut the others’ arguments directly, giving the later posters an upper hand in the weight of their arguments. The strength of our arguments comes from our own minds, without stepping on the words of the other posters at Correct Principles.

I think that sums it up. I believe you will not have to wait long before Larscapo makes his very first post on this blog as a kickoff to our project. Enjoy, and please comment away.