On a sensitive topic like this, I have to start with the disclaimer that I am not gay, and because of that, I probably cannot truly understand the challenges that gays and lesbians face, especially those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other words, I do not know everything and make no foolish claims otherwise. I only have my own experiences to go from. Despite that limitation, I hope to add some perspective to the controversy rippling through the web, especially in Mormon circles. The most recent controversy has been triggered by the leaders of the LDS church, who have come down on the side against gay marriage. Attempts at banning it through constitutional amendments and legal measures are officially supported by the church (as a starting point for learning more, see the church’s news release on the topic http://www.lds.org/newsroom/showrelease/0,15503,3881-1-23503,00.html). Many have been upset at the church for taking such a position. However, there are many who support such a ban. It is in that social and political environment that I write this essay.
The church is polarizing, but I do not believe the question is whether one group is right or wrong. It seems to me that each side could view the other viewpoint and learn something.
Brief statement of intent
Although I will refer to some doctrine, my intent for this essay is not to show off my doctrinal understanding. Nor do I hope to persuade anyone to accept or reject the homosexual lifestyle. And finally, I do I intend to convince anyone to accept or reject homosexual marriages. That choice (to accept or reject or something in between) is highly personal. A person would do well to educate themselves first.
I intend to talk about the issues, but also will include personal anecdotes and realizations. At the end, I will state my thoughts and recommendations, but with no call to action. In this way, I hope to reason together, to remove some of the polarizing influences, to bring both sides together. I also hope to put a face on the people who are being ostracized, dehumanized and politicized by this debate. If I persuade the reader of anything, it would be to look at this emotional issue with new eyes. My hope would be that the reader can rise above disagreement, look past perceived sin, and view the humanity of those who might be on the other side of the argument with Christlike charity and love. Despite all my efforts, it is entirely possible that some will call me either a hatemonger or a morally bankrupt deceiver (depending on which camp one aligns with). That is fine, because we all are entitled to opinions. However, I try to have no malice for anyone, no matter what their beliefs or practices.
Introduction and background
So the reader might know some of where I am coming from, I shall tell of some early experiences. Rather than have a parade of “Gays I have known,” this is intended to show some real learning experiences that helped me come to the conclusions I have developed. All of these are real experiences, and some very personal. Only names have been changed.
When I was in eighth grade, my body began to change. Much like the experience of others, puberty was difficult and awkward. My straight hair became curly and unmanageable, I grew taller and less comfortable with my body. I became self-conscious and even shy. And let us not even mention acne.
During this time, I found many former friends and acquaintances no longer seemed to like me. For whatever reason, I was not cool enough, or something. Even now, I cannot pretend that I was ever really with the in crowd, but before this time, I at least managed to stay on the good side of most people, a useful survival technique. But by eighth grade, I became the butt of many jokes. At the beginning of the school year, my favorite class was an elective crafts class. Sadly, it quickly became a nightmare, as the people who seemed to despise me the most were all in that room. At first, the taunting was subtle, but it finally became more open, more bold. They started calling me gay . . .
What? Me, gay? The thought had never occurred to me before. Up to that point, conversations about gay people and being gay were very remote, distant. I thought, “Nobody actually chooses to be gay! I mean, what a gross thing to be!” But with the taunting, I began to wonder, what if I was gay, and didn’t know it? Did I give off gay signs? What was I doing to get this feedback?
I truly did not understand. With the perspective of time, I have since realized their calling me gay probably had nothing to do with me “acting gay” (whatever that means). Rather, the chances are good that, because I was different from the standard eighth grader, they chose to mock me with the worst insult they could think of. Bear in mind, this was 1987, and the country was a lot less accepting of homosexuals.
So, sensitive lad that I was, I searched my soul, tried to determine if this was even a possibility. I had to conclude that I was not. But this did not remove the external problem of people calling me gay. In order to prove to others I was not, I became more aggressive in chasing girls. Of course, that was an awkward experience and I had little success in that area for several years, but that is a different story for a different time.
I do not know how many or who may have actually believed I was gay. I was (and still am) an artistic soul, and that probably did not help my case with those who believed. However, I have since come to grips with my sexuality and have no anxiety over who I am. An accusation such as that would be meaningless to me today. I am a heterosexual and happy with that designation.
As a follow up to that story, only one person of that group ever apologized to me, more than two years later. It was kind of him to do, albeit late. By that point, I had no expectations of any kind toward members of that group. But I forgave him.
I can now chalk it up as a learning experience for me, the result of a bunch of dumb kids trying to impress each other. But it was hard at the time, causing a lot of soul searching.
What does this experience mean to me? Although I can never understand the struggle of a person who is homosexual in a society that does not fully accept them, I can say that I was, for a short while, accused and suspected of being one. I have had a very small taste of the frustration of not being accepted. People can be very ugly, sometimes. Despite this experience, I say again that I have no delusions about totally knowing what it’s like to be gay.
Having decided or realized that I was not gay, I adopted the mindset that homosexuality was bad. Not just bad because the church said it was bad, but because it is weird and different to my limited experience. I rejected it so that it would not be a part of me. While I never purposefully targeted people I suspected of being gay as objects of ridicule, the truth is, I did not understand why they would want to be attracted to the same sex. At the time, it was beyond my ability to see. And sadly, despite my best intentions, I was far from sensitive to them. I did my best, and have continued my personal development. Hopefully, I am a more enlightened person today.
Schemas and bias
The problem is, humans have a natural tendency to categorize. It is a psychological phenomenon of building schemas. Without going to much into the theory, it is believed by some that we begin to differentiate at a very early age, first by separating ourselves from our mothers. Then, distinguishing other people in our minds. As time goes on, we learn words to describe these different objects that we encounter. Ball, cat, dog, blanket, etc. With words comes the ability to create more sophisticated schemas, allowing us to describe and distinguish ideas like love, anger, justice and more. This takes time and is a useful skill. However, the importance of schemas in social interaction is limited, because categorical thinking is too concrete, too all or nothing. In social interaction, shades of gray and subtle meanings become more important, but schemas still have their place.
Some people never seem to learn to think beyond schemas, though. A simple dichotomy of us versus them can result. You are different from me, so you must not be worthwhile. Race can be the victim of schematic thinking. Sexual orientation, disability, religion, socio-economic status and more can also be used as distinguishing, schema-based classifications. Racism and bigotry usually result.
Unfortunately, we cannot get rid of these schemas. They are like mental shortcuts and as I said, they serve a purpose. The next time you see a car, think about how you process it. Do you have to stop and think about its components? Of course not, because you have classified it already, a long time ago. A car has four wheels, a windshield, usually has at least two doors, a steering wheel, takes gasoline, etc. These rules are all embedded in your schemas. The problem occurs when you do this with people. You may classify someone when you first meet them, but if you do not bother to get to know them, you are shortchanging both them and yourself.
Simply put, when I was younger, my schema for homosexuals was limited. I knew they were different from me, and that was enough. They were strange and made odd choices that made little sense to me. I had no familiarity to inform me otherwise. It took several experiences to expand my schemas and help me more beyond that form of interaction.
For example, even though I did not choose a gay lifestyle (or have it thrust upon me by genetics, depending on what theory you follow), I had several acquaintances and friends who are gay. It was through them that I expanded my understanding.
The first gay person I knew was a high-school boy named Robbie (all names have been changed). Robbie was in the newspaper class with me. Although I would not say we were close, it would be fair to say we were friends. He was a talented poet and had an intelligent mind. He also had a creative flair, and just enough femininity to make me question which side of the fence he was on. Robbie was not openly gay, and socially, it would have been unacceptable in that time and that place. However, I was never convinced when he would talk about his “girlfriend.” We worked together on the literary magazine that we put out that year. I got to know him pretty well, but the subject of his orientation was never discussed. Despite my prejudices, I believed (and still believe) in being kind to others, and so I befriended him.
Having said that, I cannot claim to be so wonderful for befriending a gay person. Also, I am not looking for pats on the back for being nice to the member of a minority. Rather than pointing out how wonderful I am, I am showing how I learned about him. The sad truth is, I would sometimes make fun of Robbie behind his back, a fact I am not proud of, but willing to confess. I did learn from him that being gay was not a disease to be caught, and I was a better person for having known him.
Of course, this experience did not tell me everything I needed to know, but it was a start. Now, rather than consider them social lepers, I was able to see them as people. However, it was still hard to see homosexuals as being like me in any way.
When I first went to college, I attended a small, two-year school in
It was a new experience for me, hanging in a social crowd like that. Even though I (sadly) sometimes made fun of him behind his back, I also poked fun of him in front of his back. The thing was, we were part of a group of friends that just mocked one another. They even mocked me, and I was able to take it well. Nothing was ever meant maliciously. It was just a part of the social circle I was in at the time. I recall the absolute normality, even banality, as we talked about Brian seeing his boyfriend and spending quality time together. His roommate would not enter their apartment during their private, and we all understood. And it would have been the same situation, even if Brian was straight. From him, I recognized that the differences in relationships between those that are straight and those who are gay are not that significant, really.
The ugly intolerance in some members of the church
I had another gay friend, when first attending college. This one, I will call William. William was a quiet young man, but a brilliant musician. I don’t quite recall how I met him, but it was one day after classes. We just kind of bumped into each other and ended up talking for some time. I found him interesting because of his intelligence and great interest in classical music. He let me listen to some of his music, and there was a true friendship bond, there. After a while, he sort of disappeared. While I did not know for sure if he was gay at that time, I decided it didn’t matter. Every time I saw him, we would chat for a few minutes. He always had a smile and a cheerful “hello” for me. I did not understand what happened when he stopped showing up at school.
I later found out he went into seclusion by choice. The short version of his story is, he came out of the closet to some supposed friends of his. Member friends. Friends in his ward whom he trusted and thought they cared. Instead of sympathizing, listening, understanding or any normal response a friend might make, they were repulsed. These fine, upstanding, popular and spiritual kids utterly rejected his friendship and threatened him, demanded him to resign from his calling as ward pianist. As someone who never acted on any homosexual impulse, had never done anything inappropriate and broken no commandments, he did not feel he should quit. These friends finally talked to the bishop and insisted he get released from his calling, even though he hadn’t done a thing. His former friends ruined his reputation by telling even more people. Finally, they were successful in persuading the bishop to release him. William sank into a deep depression and eventually killed himself, a victim of betrayal. While looking for help, understanding and support, he got complete and utter rejection. A true tragedy. I am still angry, just thinking about this.
William’s experience taught me a lot about how little, misguided actions can have big effects. Probably, those kids thought they were doing the right thing. They thought they were protecting the ward from a big sinner. But these misguided fools forgot the golden rule: love thy neighbor, no matter what. Even if thy neighbor is different from you.
It wasn’t until I lived with Kevin (for the last time, I’ve changed the name, now no more reminders), a good friend and former roommate, that I really got close to a homosexual man. At the time, he had not come out of the closet, but I had known Kevin for a long time, at two different schools. He and I met before our missions. He was a recent convert and had a powerful testimony and a quick understanding of the gospel. I am not exaggerating when I say he was brilliant and talented. We loved to talk about philosophy, society, movies, music and more. We went on our missions within a month of each other. I drove two hours to go to his farewell.
After our missions, we lost track of each other for a while, but he eventually moved to the same city as me. I introduced him to some friends, and we all began to hang out. After a semester of bad experiences (judgmental people in the university institute), we decided to become roommates. The honest truth is, I’ve rarely had a roommate I spent more time with than Kevin. Probably the biggest drawback to being a close friend of his was his negativity. He is a cynic, and by nature, so am I. It got too easy to see the world with a jaded view. But I do not regret being his friend or roommate.
Despite our friendship, I could tell there was more to him, underneath the surface, that he wouldn’t talk about. After he moved out, our third roommate started making fun of him, telling everyone he was gay. I had suspected, but figured it wasn’t my place to say anything. It wasn’t the other roommate’s place, either. I actually defended Kevin, to no avail. Gossip is a strong weapon and was turned on me, too (for reasons that had nothing to do with Kevin). Kevin and I lost track of each other for a while. I got married and moved, and he moved, got a job, and our lives grew apart.
Now, I do not know the entire story, but from what I heard, he eventually came out of the closet and went “anti” for a while. Knowing his testimony and great gospel knowledge, it was sad to hear that happen. However, I met one of his good friends, several years later, who told me he still has a testimony of the church. I doubt he will ever come back in this lifetime, though. But I don’t know. I do know that many people judged him before he had ever done anything wrong.
Sadly, even though Kevin and I bump into each other online once in a while, he still has not said a thing to me. Time and distance have moved our friendship to a different place. I don’t know if he ever will.
These experiences are not alone in shaping my worldview. Despite what it may sound like, I have known many other homosexuals, both men and women, who have impacted my life in many ways. I have worked with them, gone to school with them. There is at least one professor in my department. Really, they are all around, in various stages of coming out. Judging them is fooling, as foolish as judging anyone. I do not know what is in anyone’s hearts and not qualified to pass judgment.
Shifting gears a little, lest this sound too much like a greatest-hits retrospective on Mathoni’s gay friends, I will now talk about an obvious point to these stories. Most of them seem to end poorly. In some cases, they end pretty in tragedy. Despite the greater level of acceptance in the world today, it is still hard to be gay in this society, and especially in the church.
Psychological point of view
So far, I have only spoken from my perspective as a lay person. However, as someone in graduate school to become a mental health counselor, I have been forced to confront my biases and beliefs about everything, including how I see gays. Such a self-examination is not easy, but I have learned a great deal about myself in the process.
My training in psychology tells me that homosexuals are normal. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM (that’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a diagnosable disorder in 1973. Why? Well, there was lobbying and protesting from gay activists, to be sure. Do not underestimate the power of lobbying. But the reasoning behind the change actually makes sense. A disorder in that book is (in simplified terms) defined as a behavior that is causing harm to one’s self or to another. Homosexuality between consensual adults harms no one.
Well, it can harm their spiritual relationship with God, according to LDS theology. The harm is caused because committing homosexual acts is considered a sin, and sin is how we experience spiritual death. However, there is no practical way for psychologists and other scientists to measure spiritual health and closeness to God. All they can measure are outward behaviors. They can measure outward expressions of guilt and shame, happiness and joy, but there is no known way to measure closeness to God. And sadly, a great many scientists do not even acknowledge the possibility of a god, and therefore do not try to measure the relationship one might have with such a being. So, spiritual harm is not registered in the consciousness of psychologists and psychiatrists. By their definition, there is no harm in homosexual acts.
And I support that. Just as I believe religion and government should be separated, psychology and counseling should be separated from religion. It is too easy, when in a position of power in a relationship (as the position of counselor most assuredly is), for personal values to be imposed unfairly on the client. Although I value certain things, I cannot force my values on those I am trying to help. That is not how it works (and is considered unethical).
As a practitioner (future counselor, when I finish school and get licensed), I have already had the chance to meet with gays and lesbians. When I first started in this field, I cannot say I was as sensitive as I could be, but I tried. Why? Because remaining as neutral as possible on the morality of my clients’ actions allows me to better help them. My purpose as a counselor is not to judge the actions of others, but to help them improve their own lives in ways that makes sense for them.
Imagine going to a counselor or other mental health professional and telling him or her your deepest secrets. Imagine then finding out that your counselor is busy judging everything you do by his or her standards. Trust is lost. How can this person be objective if they are busy criticizing everything you do?
No. A therapist, no matter what the specific field, has a job to do: aid the client through their troubles. That involves putting aside personal biases, agendas and concerns, and truly listening to the person sitting across the room. The act of listening and showing a true understanding have a powerful impact on others, and have great potential for bringing about change.
This has meant truly listening to gay and lesbian clients, understanding something of their world. Aiding them in finding a place where they belong. I don’t have to agree with anything they say. That is not my purpose. Instead, I am to help them understand what they truly want and help them accomplish it. No matter what my personal principles.
Two examples of how I had to do this. I am sure that in years to come, I will have many, many more. Before going to school for counseling, I worked as a case manager for the mentally ill for two years. During that time, I had a lesbian client, Lisa, who challenged me in many ways. She had borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder and occasional suicidal tendencies. She was in a codependent relationship and had occasional fights with her partner that ended with domestic violence going both directions. If I had remained concerned about her sexual orientation, I would have been unable to help her many other needs. I learned pretty quickly that to be in my field, one has to put personal feelings aside, or get over them. Really, Lisa had enough going on that I could not even think much about her sexual orientation.
Years later, as a practicum student in the Masters counseling program, I met with a young man, Douglas, who had just come out of the closet. He was 18 and also a Latter-day Saint.
During that semester of counseling, I was supervised by a man who is a member of the LDS church. He was excited when he first found out I had a gay client, because he knew it would be a wonderful learning experience for me. He told me his own understanding, which has stayed with me as I progress in this field. He said that some homosexuals just choose to be gay. Peer influences, bad heterosexual relationships, experimentation and other reasons could play into this. However, his own, honest opinion is that there are some homosexuals who really are born that way, have always felt an attraction to the same sex. For a Latter-day Saint counselor, I have to remember that it doesn’t matter why they are gay, only that I am there to help them.
A brief word about this experiment in changing orientation. There have been many attempts to explain homosexuality as a disease or disorder, theoretically curable by therapy. The LDS church and other religions have promoted and explored these therapies, called reparative (or conversion therapy, or reorientation therapy) as the solution to the struggling homosexual who desires to remain in full fellowship at their church. After years of trials, it appears that reparative therapy does not work, but little peer-reviewed research has been done. Anecdotes that have positive outcomes are plentiful, but what little follow-up has been done finds that the individuals orientation has not changed, only the outward behavior. Perhaps for those with whom it truly works, the orientation was social or out of choice, or curiosity. However, my own personal belief is that those individuals who are somehow born that way will not be aided by this therapy.
Sadly, it can cause more harm than good. Added guilt, a sense of failure and hopelessness and serious depression have been caused by this harmful treatment. Anxiety and drug abuse are also common. At best, this treatment convinces homosexuals to remain celibate or bisexuals to confine their relationships to the other gender, but it does not appear to change their hearts. I am not sure of the current status within the church, but I hope they do not continue promoting the shameful practice.
Gays marrying straight
Another important topic that should briefly be discussed is the traditional approach of encouraging an admitted homosexual to get married to a nice member of the opposite sex and raise a family. The carrot dangled in their faces is that proper marriage will somehow help cure the gay individual. The truth is, most of these marriages seem to end in divorce, with an ex-spouse and children wondering what happened to their happy family.
Promoting marriage can be a wonderful thing, but not in this case. In my opinion, it is far better to promote celibacy, however hard that may be, over promoting a gay person to marry the opposite sex. Worse than so-called “gay marriage,” this farcical marriage does far more damage to more people. It also mocks the meaning of traditional marriage.
For members of the church, there are many reasons provided to disagree with homosexuality. The scriptures condemn it (for a nice list, see the Topical Guide’s entry on “Homosexuality” http://scriptures.lds.org/en/tg/h/111?sr=1). Tradition contraindicates it. The modern prophets condemn it. That type of behavior goes against God and nature. Celestial marriage is not possible in that type of relationship. It does not promote healthy happy families. It degrades society and it warps children.
Going even further, homosexuality is considered a sin, and therefore separates us from God. One cannot be truly happy while in a sinful state. Therefore, a society that accepts gay marriage is legitimizing, even promoting acts that are counter to God’s will. a society that accepts homosexual marriage is promoting unhappiness. It risks the wrath of God, as did
If this were the end of the story, I would say that homosexual behavior should be outlawed. But, there is more to consider.
Gay marriage is, at heart, a request (or demand) by a small, ostracized portion of society to be accepted and legitimized by society as a whole. It is about people with same-sex attraction wanting society to recognize their committed relationships, even approve of them. They want state sanction. They want the same benefits as mainstream society. And their request appears, on the surface, to be similar to that of women and African-Americans. Those two groups wanted voting rights, freedom and equal treatment. Now, many figure it is the time of the homosexuals.
Proponents of gay marriage feel that homosexuals deserve the same rights as do heterosexuals. They are a part of this country, and are not breaking any laws by having a gay or lesbian yearnings. In recent years, many laws have been taken off the books that made gay relationships illegal, too, so where is the crime? They state they yearn for the privilege of seeing loved ones in the hospitals, and adopting, and raising families, and more.
On the surface, that seems fair. We live in a country that promises equality for all. Why shouldn’t they have the same rights? Let us look closer, now.
My split views
As a professional fence-sitter, I have two views of the gay marriage dilemma. I hope I have shown that I see them as people. I love the sinner, not the sin. I recognize the honest, genuine desire of many of them to have a loving, committed relationship, free of fear or shame. I recognize the rampant discrimination that happens on a daily basis. But as a faithful member of the LDS church, I cannot ignore the warning statements made by our leaders. How do I reconcile them?
Difficult. But I am a practical person. First, though, I must explain some of the considerations I take into account.
Prohibition, abortion and changing societal attitudes
The current political situation is comparable to other periods in U.S. history. Like homosexual behavior, alcohol consumption and abortion have the dubious honor of being illegal in this country at one time or another. All three have also been actively prohibited and against the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at one time or another.
Most people know about prohibition, the constitutional amendment that made millionaires out of criminals. People still drank, some people profited, and a lot of effort was expended toward stopping the unstoppable. That amendment was repealed. Society changed.
In the church, there was a time when drinking alcohol was legal. Even after the Word of Wisdom was given to the prophet Joseph, it was not binding on the general church membership or a requirement until 1951. In fact, it was not until the 1930’s that keeping the Word of Wisdom was made a requirement for a temple recommend. And it is sad how few know that Joseph Smith and other early leaders drank and smoke. Of course, nowadays, an easily recognizable marker of activity in the church is whether one keeps the Word of Wisdom. It is simple to tell. One merely has to look for smoking or drinking and it is nearly a guarantee that this individual is not welcomed to church.
Abortions, while illegal from the 1880’s until 1973 (Roe versus Wade), were still widely sought after and practiced. Unfortunately, the demand was high but few were performed under safe circumstances. Women self-administered tonics and herbs or visited back-alley clinics to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies. Often, the reproductive organs were severely damaged by these procedures. As someone who does not favor abortion, I still must admit that having a safe place to get one done is far more preferable to endangering the mother’s life, too. While some may say she deserves it, remember that not all pregnancies were with a willing participant. Also, for those who do make mistakes of passion, it is not our place to judge. I do not condone irresponsible behavior or killing unborn babies, but punishing the mother further is not going to help facilitate the repentance process. Society has since decided that it is a woman’s right to choose.
And from a gospel perspective, why else are we here, anyway? To have families, raise children, prepare for eternal Parenthood. And yet, even the church does tolerate some abortions, strange as it may sound. The Catholics sometimes criticize us because we do not go far enough. We allow that in certain instances (rape, incest or the health of the mother threatened), not only is an abortion legitimate, it is also preferable.
The history of homosexuality is similar. While sodomy is not something that puts anyone’s life at risk (with the exception of if it is illegal with a penalty of death), it has faced some stiff opposition over the years. Sodomy laws have only been declared illegal by the Supreme Court since 2003. Before 1962, it was a felony in every state. We have come a long way. Obviously, with the current debate about gay marriage in the United States, society is again trying to reevaluate its stand on gays and sodomy. Now, some states have banned gay marriage (but not sodomy), while others have given complete sanction. Of course, in other countries, like Canada, it has already been legalized.
The church attitudes in history is a little tricky. Up until the abolition of polygamy, the church was fairly tolerant of different orientations. In a way, this makes sense. Being radical outsiders because of their divergent sexuality (plural marriage in a time of heterosexual monogamy), Latter-day Saint leaders were more forgiving of other outsiders. Once the Manifesto was issued, all forms of deviancy were condemned, plural marriage, sodomy and anything else not in line with mainstream America. That is not to say that Mormons necessarily promoted gay unions. However, comparing the rhetoric of the day to what we hear today, relatively little was said denouncing the act. Only a few, outspoken leaders like George Q. Cannon (who had a bisexual son) spent significant amount of energy on decrying the practice at that time.
Culture and religion
We have seen both society and the LDS religion alter their points of view. So, why the changes? A general survey of history reveals that religion and culture both change their values over time; it is inevitable. I pair religion and culture in this discussion because of their overlap. However, I fully recognize they are not the same thing. Each informs and influences the other on how to act and make policy. No matter how separate they try to remain, most religions cannot help being influenced by the society within which they sit. A quick example would be the
This is good, though. For a religion to remain relevant, it must keep up with the society within which it resides. For a society to function properly, it must have values and ethics, many of which originate in religion (although some argue that, I won’t get into it here). What happens when the two disagree? Long, protracted battles occur, with no clear, immediate winner. Think of the Ten Commandments, prayer in school, creationism versus Darwinism and many other conflicts still being fought.
And simplistically speaking, that’s where we stand with gay marriage; in a long, protracted battle with no clear winners, yet. While some religions have relented and allowed, even sanctioned, same-sex marriage, most have not, including ours. The general trend in the
People often compare the struggle for gay rights to the struggle blacks and women had in this country. Like all analogies, critics will say that this one is flawed. Unlike the act of being a woman or being black, homosexual acts have been illegal by more than one government. Of course, in the not too distant past, being a woman was poorly regarded. A woman had no rights, no ability to own land and was little more than property in the eyes of the law (she was evil as a daughter of Eve, and all that). Being black was also looked down upon. Blacks were slaves, property, could not vote, and were called insane for trying to run away (they were evil, lesser beings because they were sons of Cain). You notice that the reasons behind the laws were originally religious. It seems religion ran amok in oppressing people. However, do not forget that simple bias and prejudice are also at play, so do not just blame religion. Examining it closely, the analogy actually does seem to fit with gay right, after all.
And thankfully, things have somewhat changed in recent years. While there are acts of violence against gays, they are normally punished by law. In the past, there would have been no retribution.
Science and culture
Of course, science has done its part in oppressing others. Scientists have “proven” that women and blacks were inferior to white males, and some scientists today try to “prove” that gays are not happy, not good parents, not good people, whatever. Not only that, being homosexual is counter to the common wisdom first spoken of by Charles Darwin, survival of the species. Same-sex pairings do not produce offspring, and do not perpetuate the species. Therefore, the argument goes, these pairings are unnatural. Thus, the longtime foes, science and religion, appear to form an uneasy alliance against homosexuals.
But science and religion are both reflections of culture, and cultures change over time. Different cultures have different values, even. For example, ancient
Even though science is meant to be impartial and unbiased, the actual practice is full of politics, egos, agendas and profits. Science is suppressed or blown out of proportion to make a point, or to support the current societal ideals. And science can discover new things. Take, for instance, the discovery that homosexual behavior extends to the animal kingdom. In fact, not just an isolated one or two species, but dozens and dozens. So, maybe same-sex partnerships are “natural.”
Considerations specific to Mormons
Mormons can counter the science argument quickly with the statement that the natural man is an enemy to God (see http://scriptures.lds.org/en/mosiah/3/19#19). They forget that all of us are sinners. All of us are natural men and women, needing the Savior. Casting stones is not normally a wise idea, when we all are imperfect. There are other things that Mormons would be wise not to forget.
Mormons also trust in something called agency. I am a firm believer in the necessity of allowing God’s children to exercise said agency. The war in heaven was fought because two competing plans were being contested. One plan, Lucifer’s, would involve the salvation of every man, woman and child. Sounds like a good plan, until one realizes it required the absolute and total loss of agency in each person who comes to this world. Hardly an ideal plan. The plan proposed by the Father and sustained by the Son involved choice. It is called the great plan of happiness, because forced obedience never leads to happiness. It is not a mistake that I call this blog Correct Principles. Joseph Smith taught that he believed in teaching correct principles and letting the members of the church govern themselves. Agency.
Yes, that means some people will drink. Yes, that means some people will get abortions. For that matter, that means some people will have premarital sex (protected or otherwise). Yet, they still must be allowed to choose. What they cannot choose is the consequences. Some choices damage society (like murder), and are punished with jail time. They may also have spiritual consequences, like distancing one’s self from God. But if a behavior does not damage society in some way, society should not legislate it. Leave those consequences to God.
Unless laws are broken, we cannot, should not, must not infringe on agency. Laws, of course, are theoretically created to facilitate the smooth functioning of a society. If there are unjust laws, let us fight against those unjust laws, but still allow individual agency. After all, if we are all gods in embryo, we need to all learn to exercise our agency properly.
Agency is one of the bigger arguments for gay marriage I have seen. By making stricter and stricter rules, we are restricting the agency for everyone. BYU is an example of a church institution that uses a mild form of Satan’s plan (i.e. the Honor Code) to enforce certain behaviors. Of course, people do what they want, anyway. The sneakier ones don’t get caught, but actions that break the Honor Code occur frequently, according to friends and family who have attended that institution (I have dodged that bullet, but considering my personality, it’s a good thing). Similarly, restricting gay acts throughout history never stopped them.
Therefore, if a man or woman wants to masturbate, leave that to God. If individuals want to overeat, they are harming their body (and bodies are temples unto God), but breaking no law. These things do not damage society. The question is, does society get damaged if two men or two women engage in intercourse? That seems to be the key question, here.
Another consideration for Mormons: we have had way more doctrinal change than most will admit. Some of that has more to do with changing emphasis than with actual doctrinal changes. One thing I’ve noticed is that with each new president in the Church, the Lord appears to have new focuses. For example, with David O. McKay, it was home teaching. With Ezra Taft Benson, the Book of Mormon and pride were emphasized. With Howard W. Hunter, the focus was on attending the temple. Gordon B. Hinckley has emphasized building temples. While I am simplifying, it remains true that each prophet had their own areas of interest. I believe the personalities and agency of those men were as much a part of the process as was the desires of the Lord. Does it make these policies and directions any less inspired? No, because God has always used humans to do His work.
For those saints willing to believe in continuing revelation, one cannot ignore the current direction of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They may be men, and human, mortal, frail and prone to accident (like every other human), but they are the tools we believe God chose to lead His church. Perhaps the emphasis has changed for a reason unfathomable to us mortals. Also, it is entirely conceivable that the emphasis will move away from the current trend, some time in the future. We just don’t know.
How does gay marriage impact society?
One of the biggest criticisms I have heard is that legalized gay marriage will lead to the breakdown of traditional marriage in our society. The thinking goes that traditional marriage is sacred and the fundamental building block of our civilization/society/culture/religion, etc. This complaint can actually be debunked pretty easily. One need only take a look at Hollywood and the multitude of hasty marriages, cheating spouses and rampant divorces to see that traditional marriage is already in trouble. Few can honestly believe society values marriage the way it may have in the past. Of course, if one truly wants to preserve the sanctity of marriage, perhaps such a person should focus more on the movie industry, who often portrays adultery and other acts in a positive light. Of maybe they can go after the tabloid industry, whose nonstop reporting of all the shenanigans of Hollywood celebrities only seems to promote even more casual sex and meaningless marriages.
Despite that argument’s failure, I can see some potential problems that cannot be ignored. Any legislation or court mandate that legalizes marriage between same-sex couples can be seen as a gateway to worse things forms of marriage (just like a gateway drug can lead to harder drug use, I suppose). If gay marriage becomes legal, what is next? Plural marriage (either polygynous or polyandrous)? Polyamorous marriages? Marriage with animals? Marriage with children? Which is worse?
Of course, marriage with animals is less likely, because animals cannot enter into a binding contract. Same with children (although some are urging that the legal age be lowered, so we shall see what defines “child” in the future). Plural marriage, going either direction, can be a problem. Rather than having a co-equal relationship, there is usually one dominant and two or more subservient in a plural marriage arrangement. In small communities that practice this (usually with multiple wives), children get married an early age (12 year or 14 years old, for example). Those not getting married (usually young men) are competition for the older members of the community, and are kicked out for petty reasons. This pattern, rampant in polygamous communities in southern Utah and northern Arizona are clearly not in the best interest of society. People are truly harmed.
Polyamorous relationships are open relationships where everyone involved is consensual. Not my style, to be sure, but whatever works for them, I guess. The concern comes when I remember the potential confusion for any children brought into the mix. However, I have to wonder if we really want a society that allows for that kind of legalized relationship. Insurance, wills, visitation rights, divorces and more would be pretty messy (even worse than what we have to deal with, now). I will admit, however, that I do not know enough about this type of relationship. To my limited point of view, I do not think wise to have this legally recognized, but individuals should be free to form such unions on their own, should they choose.
Who is harmed by gay marriage?
As for gay marriages, who is harmed? The consensual partners? Their families? Society as a whole? Good question. I suspect that, barring sin from the discussion, it is difficult to argue that either partner is harmed in the relationship, any more (or less) than in any heterosexual relationship. Of course there are inequalities in hetero relationships. Sadly, domestic violence also happens on both sides of the fence. Cheap, meaningless encounters also occur in both camps. The arguments can be applied equally, it seems.
The families of gay people could be hurt by gay marriages, I suppose. But does that come from the acts themselves? Or from a lack of understanding? A lack of openness at first? Disappointment? How much of the familial harm is just self-inflicted?
As for society, where is the harm? For that matter, where is the benefit? Really, it comes back to the statement I before. I do not see direct harm caused by gay marriages, especially when there are bigger issues being ignored, like child abuse and domestic violence. In fact, the only harm I can see caused by allowing gay marriages would be a loosening of morals. All other “harm” is potential or fictional.
Loosening morals, to some, would be ideal for taking us out of a neo-Victorian era. However, I do see there could be harm of having a lower moral standard. Just like when President Clinton lied about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, few saw direct harm to the country. Yet when we look at how society has changed since that time, few things are off limits any more. Pornography is everywhere, even in popular culture. Teen sex is occurring earlier and earlier, in more bizarre ways. Our public awareness of sexuality is becoming more perverse, less respectful. In theory, I can see an argument being made about gay marriages having a similar type of effect on our nation.
From a gospel point of view, there are three things needing to be kept in mind when deciding how to handle gay marriage: agency, responsibility and rights. I will try to sum these up quickly:
- I believe we cannot limit the agency of others when it does not cause harm, even if it is considered a sin. Limiting others in such a manner would be akin to endorsing Satan’s original plan
- Sadly, banning behavior does not stop people from doing things. Abortion and prohibition proved that. Gays will still choose to have relationships and get married in other countries that do permit it. Such behavior, if banned, will be hid from their families. When it does come out, I would argue that it hurts the families more.
- Responsibility applies to both gay and straight individuals is tantamount
- Homosexuals need to take their own relationships seriously if they want the rest of the world to. Of course, I am not speaking for myself, but commenting on what I have observed in the attitudes of other straight people. In no way am I gay bashing when I say that, statistically speaking, gay men have shorter and more casual relationships than their straight counterparts. On the flip side, gay women do not seem to have this problem.
- Straight individuals, if you are worried about marriage and families, work harder on your own. Spend time with your spouse and children. Be an example. Stop blaming others for your problems. Be involved. Love one another, even those who are different. Stop being so self-centered and help others to feel the love of Christ. Stop allowing the World (with a capital “W”) to negatively influence your family while all you do is complain. Be involved.
- The rights of everyone, including minorities, are important in building an equitable society.
- Gay people should have the right to be with those they love, the right to designate inheritance to partner, the right to visit sick loved one in a hospital, the right to form a business relationship with loving partner, the way heterosexuals do.
- Straight people have the right to all of these things already, and also have tax incentives built in, to boot.
- This country was built on a theoretical foundation of equality for all.
So, it looks like I come down on the side of permitting gay marriage. While I find the actions of self-serving politicians trying to get a constitutional amendment banning the practice laughable, I still have to say I do not favor gay marriage, per se. Allow me to explain.
If there is any harm to society, as I granted the possibility earlier on, then we have to find a way to minimize the potential harm while being fair to all. If homosexuals want to have the legal rights that heteros have (and they do want them, as far as I can tell), that is fine, even laudable. But, I take issue with their use of the word “marriage.” In the eyes of the law, marriage is a business arrangement and has financial and tax benefits. Give that to same-sex couples, but call it a civil union.
No, I'm not advocating some kind of "separate but equal" type of law. Instead, I'm advocating for the right of heterosexuals to claim a word as their own. Minorities have known for years the power of language, and have reclaimed slurs as words of pride. "Ni**er" and "qu**r" are two such words (and pardon my use of those words. It is not meant offensively, and only used to illustrate a point). As a member of a majority (white, straight male), I can never fully understand what minorities go through when called these names. Yet I am a Mormon, a minority that has been oppressed in the past. The word “Mormon” is an example of a nickname meant derisively, yet adopted to diffuse the insult. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not Mormons. However, we accept that name gracefully, because we must, and because the prophet Mormon was a wonderful and faithful man. But the name wasn’t originally meant as a compliment.
Marriage has been known for years as between a man and a woman. Therefore, I lay claim to that word for all heterosexuals, everywhere, or at least the ones who care about marriage in the first place. And for those who do not, it probably does not matter, anyway.
I realize that some could take offense, and despite my best efforts, would find every reason in the world to call me a bigot and a Neanderthal (no offense meant toward all Neanderthals). So, I further desire to remove the word “marriage” from the legal nomenclature of the United States. Instead, every time someone wants to get “married,” call it a civil union, whether it is two men, two women or a man and a woman. That way, everyone is treated equally by the law. Make sure that all the current benefits given by the current legal status of married be extended to all who enter into a civil union. No discrimination.
Of course, many religious people will take offense. They may want to be married and distinguish themselves from civil unions. Therefore, for those who want to be married, let them do it in a religious ceremony. Allow marriage to be the domain of religion, because they are the ones that originated the idea before governments appropriated it. The result? If you get married in a church, it can be called a “marriage,” but the legal paperwork that is filed will be called a “civil union.” That way, everyone has the same rights and those who want to preserve marriage can do that. Those who don’t want to preserve marriage won’t even bother with it.
Despite all my best intentions, there will be some who call me a sellout for this point of view, and others who will call me a prejudice. I strive to be neither. However, I am a pragmatist. As such, I have thought long and hard about what it would take to be equitable to all, yet help preserve marriage for those who care for it. This is what I came up with. But nobody has to agree with me. That is their own choice.
The church has to walk a fine line. If they come down on one side, they are perceived as too permissive, and people accuse them of selling out. If the brethren come on the other side, they are seen as patriarchal, controlling and bigoted. It does not surprise me that they chose to reject and fight gay marriage. But why now? Perhaps because this is their way of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “no more!” They will not allow society to pull itself farther down the road to hell. They choose to stand for something. Right or wrong, you have to admire their willingness to fight for what they believe in. Perhaps some day soon, the Lord will let us see why this emphasis now.
Is there a “Gay Agenda?” I have heard of such statements whispered by those who are scared of gay marriage. Well, I will grant the possibility that some out there, both homosexuals and politicians who would profit from aiding them toward greater rights, have some kind of agenda to push for gay marriage. I don’t know for sure if there is one, and can only speculate. But I do know there are many sincere people who just want to be treated as normal, who seek for a connection to another person and want to be left alone. Conspiracies may exist, but most people can only fight evil by being the best person they can be and spreading their positive influence as far as possible.
Even if we don’t agree with one another, it is still imperative to live the life the Savior would want us to live. Love one another. Be kind. Share of your substance. Be the good Samaritan. Show mercy, kindness, charity and love to your fellow beings. In the end, the Lord is not going to care so much about whether you stood in favor or against a stupid politically-motivated ban of gay marriage. He’s likely to care more about whether you let your light so shine and treated your brothers and sisters of the world kindly.
There are many resources I used to research this essay, but the conclusions are all mine. Resources available on the web include the following addresses, which you are free to peruse:
This topic has been interesting to me for a long time. I've collected a small sampling of links pertaining to Mormons and homosexuality, which you may find here.