The Church, the Senate, and Same-Sex Marriage

The Church, the Senate, and Same-Sex Marriage November 21, 2022

 

Capitol Building in DC
The United States Capitol at Washington DC   (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)

 

As many of you are no doubt aware, about a week ago the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement regarding current federal legislative efforts to frame a bill regarding same-sex marriage:  “Statement on the United States Congress Respect for Marriage Act”

 

Now, in response to overwhelming public demand — or, to put it another way, because a friend dropped me an email several days ago, suggesting that I comment on the subject in my blog — I am finally prepared to post a response to the Church’s statement.

 

Full disclosure:  I opposed the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.  To my mind, to cite just one among many reasons for my opposition (I don’t intend to re-legislate this matter here, having too little time and energy for the task and seeing no real use in it), marriage pre-dates the state and is more fundamental than government, which means that the state lacks the standing and the authority to impose a virtually total redefinition of it on us.  As I think I mentioned several times when same-sex marriage was still a live issue, Abraham Lincoln was once asked how many legs a dog would have if we redefined its tail as a leg.  “Four,” he replied.  “Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

 

That said, I was not unsympathetic to concerns among homosexuals and I favored the idea of creating a category of “civil unions” that would grant most if not all of the legal rights and privileges to homosexual couples that heterosexual marriages then enjoyed.

 

However, with its 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges the Supreme Court of the United States made such matters moot by a vote of 5-4.  Furthermore, although I’m inclined to sympathize with the position of Justice Clarence Thomas, expressed in his concurring opinion in the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that Obergefell was wrongly decided, I see no realistic prospect of delegitimizing same-sex marriage at this point.  Even more importantly, at this late date, I don’t regard such a move as even desirable.  The fight over same-sex marriage is water under the bridge.  I strongly agree with the view of David French on the matter:  “Why I Changed My Mind About Law and Marriage, Again: Walking through my flip, flop, flip on one of the toughest issues of our time.”  (You’ll probably need to register in order to read the entire article, which is — as David French’s essays usually are — quite good.  Happily, registration is free of charge.)

 

I expect that the leadership of the Church also views the debate over same-sex marriage as water under the bridge.  Which is vitally important, in my opinion, for understanding the Church’s recent statement on the topic.  Some on the cultural/political left have rejoiced in what they hopefully regard as the Church’s impending abandonment of its disapproval of same-sex marriage.  Some of them look eagerly forward to the day when, as they feel, same-sex couples will be sealed for time and eternity in the Church’s proliferating temples.  Others, elsewhere on the left, see it as yet one more redundant demonstration of the falsehood of the Church and the craven cowardice and/or mendacity and/or self-aggrandizing motivation of Church leaders, who, they say, will change (and have in fact changed) every foundational belief, claim, and practice of the Restoration in order to preserve their wealth and power.  Or some such thing.  Still others, located on the theological and cultural right, see the factual situation basically in the same way but lament it, declaring the prophets and apostles apostate cowards who are leading us straight into the arms of Babylon and the embrace of depraved immorality.

 

Both sides are quite plainly wrong.

 

It shouldn’t be overlooked that the official Church statement expressly and forthrightly declares that “The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged.”

 

What has changed is what I’ve outlined above:  Whatever church leaders and I might have preferred, legal recognition of same-sex marriage is now a fait accompli in the United States and in many other countries.  And it’s not a matter only of legality but one of a rapid and dramatic sea-change in popular opinion.  The public now overwhelmingly supports same-sex unions.  (See here and here for two almost randomly-chosen examples.)  There can be no real point anymore in fighting a divisive and obviously futile battle over an issue that has been decided.

 

The Brethren are focused, though, on the preservation of religious freedom, both for our own church and for other faith communities.  And, quite accurately, they see religious liberty as under siege.  (See, for example, here and here and here.). And a major factor in that siege is the ascendancy of an LGBTQ+ movement that has rolled from victory to victory and that is clearly ambitious for, as it were, further territory.  The leaders of the Church are trying to preserve the rights of groups that dissent from the rising orthodoxy on gender issues.  And they seek to do it not through strife and noise and a never-ending cultural war, but through honest, mutually respectful conversation, seeking common ground and compromise.  This, too, has been a major focus of speeches over the past several years by a number of the General Authorities, perhaps most notably by President Dallin H. Oaks.  See, for example,

“A Mormon Perspective on Religious Freedom”  (First Things, March 2016)

“President Oaks calls for a ‘peaceful resolution’ to the conflicts between religious freedom and nondiscrimination”  (LDS Church News, November 2021)

“Religious rights ‘cannot be absolute,’ LDS apostle Dallin Oaks says, in call for a global movement: Church leader speaks at Notre Dame forum near the Vatican.”  (Salt Lake Tribune, July 2022)

 

In my view, this National Review article by David Wilde, a Latter-day Saint student at the law school of the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, might be helpful for those who seek to understand the Church’s position:

“Understanding the Mormon ‘Approach’ to Gay Marriage: There are problems with the ‘Respect for Marriage Act.’ But the LDS method for confronting social issues has some merits”

And so will this, from Meridian Magazine:

“The Art of Skewing Church Statements”

 

Posted from Moab, Utah

 

 

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