Church Fears Another Marriage Showdown

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In a comment on my recent summary of Sunstone, Chris Bigelow asked me to respond to this document from the COJCOLDS, justifying its attack on gay marriage. So I’ve done just that.

The document begins

Marriage is sacred, ordained of God from before the foundation of the world. After Creating Adam and Eve, the Lord God pronounced them husband and wife, of which Adam said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Jesus Christ cited Adam’s declaration when he affirmed the divine origins of the marriage covenant: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.”

First of all, I must point out that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, that it begins with existent human institutions and argues backwards to explain their creation.

Given the fact that the church cites as a historical fact a made-up story used to explain the origins of the world, it's hard to take any of their arguments seriously.

It's also hard to respect any of their arguments, given the way they cherry-pick their scriptures: after all, Jesus also said that in the next life, people are neither married nor given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). And he also questioned the primacy of biological family relationships (Mark 3:33).

The document goes on to state, “In 1995, ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ declared the following unchanging truths regarding marriage,” before listing a bunch of entirely subjective opinions regarding marriage, as a way to threaten and bully people who advocate for greater equality and justice for all human beings. The Proclamation makes many assumptions and assertions about how this or that must be the case because it supports this or that in the Mormon "Plan of Salvation." However, the plan of salvation is bullshit and has neither basis in fact nor any logic except that of a narcissistic fear of change. It allows human beings the comforting but false belief that the next life will be an extension of this one, and that personalities and relationships will make the transition to the next life intact.

The document further states,

Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults.

Historically, marriage had little to do with affection and everything to do with rearing children. Women were often little more than beasts of burden or brood mares. This is still the case in far too many parts of the world. (See Afghanistan.)

While governments did not invent marriage, throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social stability and perpetuating life itself. Hence, regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, married couples in almost every culture have been granted special privileges aimed primarily at sustaining their relationship and promoting the environment in which children are reared. A husband and a wife do not receive these privileges to elevate them above any other two people who may share a residence or social tie, but rather in order to preserve, protect, and defend the all-important institutions of marriage and family.

An important fact here is that "the couple" might have received privileges, but the conveying of them upon "the couple" almost always resulted in a loss of privilege for the woman. Don't forget the English law of coverture, which states that "a husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband." Women lost the right to control their own property or persons, ownership of which passed to the husband upon marriage. Husbands had the right to beat, be unfaithful to, and in some cases, even sell their wives. Marriage was primarily about patriarchy, about men's rights and privileges, about the way property and status were conveyed from one generation of men to the next.

The ignorance demonstrated by this document is profound, but not surprising, given its source.

It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility, but the special status of marriage is nonetheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation, and to the inherent differences between the genders. Co-habitation under any guise or title is not a sufficient reason for defining new forms of marriage.

This is not historically true. "Common-law marriage" is recognized by many societies.

High rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births have resulted in an exceptionally large number of single parents in American society. Many of these single parents have raised exemplary children; nevertheless, extensive studies have shown that in general a husband and wife united in a loving, committed marriage provide the optimal environment for children to be protected, nurtured, and raised. This is not only because of the substantial personal resources that two parents can bring to bear on raising a child, but because of the differing strengths that a father and a mother, by virtue of their gender, bring to the task.

The church's hypocrisy here is profound. Can it forget or ignore how families were constituted under polygamy? Most households who followed that "divine law" resulted in homes in which women were, for all intents and purposes, single mothers for most of the year. And certainly that one male role model, divided among six or ten or 22 wives, did not provide much in the way of "personal resources" or the "differing strengths" that two parents in one home bring to the task of raising children.

In contrast, those who would impose same-sex marriage on American society have chosen a different course. Advocates have taken their case to the state courts, asking judges to remake the institution of marriage that society has accepted and depended upon for millennia.

As I said, Mormons are afraid of change and narcissistically rewrite all of history to support their view of themselves. The institution of marriage has changed significantly throughout its existence in western society.

In sum, there is very strong agreement across America on what marriage is. As the people of California themselves recognized when they voted on this issue just eight years ago, traditional marriage is essential to society as a whole, and especially to its children. Because this question strikes at the very heart of the family, because it is one of the great moral issues of our time, and because it has the potential for great impact upon the family, the Church is speaking out on this issue, and asking members to get involved.

The people of America once felt that getting rid of slavery, allowing women to vote, giving black Americans access to decent education, and permitting inter-racial marriage, would undermine the family and all of society. They realized eventually that these were actually positive changes.

Those who favor homosexual marriage contend that “tolerance” demands that they be given the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. But this appeal for “tolerance” advocates a very different meaning and outcome than that word has meant throughout most of American history and a different meaning than is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior taught a much higher concept, that of love. “Love thy neighbor,” He admonished. Jesus loved the sinner even while decrying the sin, as evidenced in the case of the woman taken in adultery: treating her kindly, but exhorting her to “sin no more.” Tolerance as a gospel principle means love and forgiveness of one another, not “tolerating” transgression.

Jesus also preferred hanging out with sexual sinners and prostitutes to hanging out with the pious and judgmental. He did not “tolerate” but condemned those who focused too much on rigid adherence to formulaic approaches to morality.

Legalizing same-sex marriage will affect a wide spectrum of government activities and policies. Once a state government declares that same-sex unions are a civil right, those governments almost certainly will enforce a wide variety of other policies intended to ensure that there is no discrimination against same-sex couples. This may well place “church and state on a collision course.”

Oh my god! This is hysterical coming from an institution that had to abandon its concept of marriage in order to preserve its existence!

Given that God had to back down in a confrontation between him and the government of the United States, it's easy to see why the church is so fucking afraid of the game of chicken that looms ahead over the prospect of gay marriage. God is going to lose on this one too, and the church is going to lose face.

Many of these examples have already become the legal reality in several nations of the European Union, and the European Parliament has recommended that laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples be made uniform across the EU. Thus, if same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, there will be substantial conflicts with religious freedom. And in some important areas, religious freedom may be diminished.

Plenty of so-called “religious freedoms” are diminished when in conflict from the state–like the right of a 58-year-old man to marry and knock up a pair of 14-year-old girls. I don't feel this is a bad thing.

Possible restrictions on religious freedom are not the only societal implications of legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps the most common argument that proponents of same-sex marriage make is that it is essentially harmless and will not affect the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage in any way. “It won’t affect you, so why should you care?’ is the common refrain. While it may be true that allowing single-sex unions will not immediately and directly affect all existing marriages,

thank god they at least acknowledged this.

the real question is how it will affect society as a whole over time, including the rising generation and future generations. The experience of the few European countries that already have legalized same-sex marriage suggests that any dilution of the traditional definition of marriage will further erode the already weakened stability of marriages and family generally.

What? Provide some evidence for this. This document claims earlier that the US has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, and there are all these initiatives to “protect” traditional marriage. How is it then the case that European countries are experiencing this terrible weakening of the family?

Aside from the very serious consequence of undermining and diluting the sacred nature of marriage between a man and a woman, there are many practical implications in the sphere of public policy that will be of deep concern to parents and society as a whole. These are critical to understanding the seriousness of the overall issue of same-sex marriage.
When a man and a woman marry with the intention of forming a new family, their success in that endeavor depends on their willingness to renounce the single-minded pursuit of self-fulfillment and to sacrifice their time and means to the nurturing and rearing of their children. Marriage is fundamentally an unselfish act: legally protected because only a male and female together can create new life, and because the rearing of children requires a life-long commitment, which marriage is intended to provide.

OK, this is really dicey, so let’s dissect it: Marriage is an unselfish act because A) a man and a woman do it, and B) when a man and a woman get married, then they have sex, and C) when a man and a woman have sex, they often conceive children, and D) having children requires someone (almost always a woman) to set aside her previously “single-minded pursuit of self-fulfillment and to sacrifice [her] time and means to the nurturing and rearing of [her] children.”

I don’t know very many women who have EVER had a “single-minded pursuit of self-fulfillment,” and those I know have not had children when they married.

Nor does it take a lifetime to rear a child. Plenty of Mormon women have no children at home by the time they turn 50 at the latest.

Societal recognition of same-sex marriage cannot be justified simply on the grounds that it provides self-fulfillment to its partners, for it is not the purpose of government to provide legal protection to every possible way in which individuals may pursue fulfillment. By definition, all same-sex unions are infertile, and two individuals of the same gender, whatever their affections, can never form a marriage devoted to raising their own mutual offspring.

Recognition is not sought for same-sex marriage because it provides self-fulfillment of its partners, but because same-sex marriage involves commitment and sacrifice. What gay people want the rest of the world to recognize is NOT their selfishness but their commitment to their partners, the mutual enrichment and support, and the ways in which this primary relationship augments their other relationships.

It is true that some same-sex couples will obtain guardianship over children--through prior heterosexual relationships, through adoption in the states where this is permitted, or by artificial insemination. Despite that, the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation? Traditional marriage provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation. By contrast, the legalization of same-sex marriage likely will erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children. Is it really wise for society to pursue such a radical experiment without taking into account its long-term consequences for children?

Well, I suppose there the church is speaking from experience, given how crappy its own experiment with radical restructuring of marriage turned out: as I said, God lost the fight in the US on polygamy, and the state won. But its hypocritical failure to mention any of that is reprehensible.

And why is marriage really the only place where this argument about what’s best for children gets invoked by the church? To paraphrase Parker’s argument, what is best for children in terms of warfare? What is best for children in terms of environmental policy? What is best for children in terms of how we structure our educational system? What is best for children in terms of how we train and pay our teachers?

But even in this one arena, I don’t feel that the church’s argument is truly sound. The children of gay parents I’ve met who are most confused and angry are those whose family was destroyed because one parent tried but failed to make a straight marriage work, because s/he wasn’t straight. I have met adults who were raised by same-sex couples, and they’re OK.

As just one example of how children will be adversely affected, the establishment of same-sex marriage as a civil right will inevitably require mandatory changes in school curricula. When the state says that same-sex unions are equivalent to heterosexual marriages, the curriculum of public schools will have to support this claim. Beginning with elementary school, children will be taught that marriage can be defined as a relation between any two adults and that consensual sexual relations are morally neutral. Classroom instruction on sex education in secondary schools can be expected to equate homosexual intimacy with heterosexual relations. These developments will create serious clashes between the agenda of the secular school system and the right of parents to teach their children traditional standards of morality.

Oh good grief. Is there really much attention to divorce in school curricula? It’s a reality of human relationships, but we don’t take time in school to define it.

Parents manage to teach their kids that evolution didn’t happen and that god created the world in six days, despite what kids are told in school.

This is bullshit.

Finally, throughout history the family has served as an essential bulwark of individual liberty.

What? They argue that marriage is NOT selfish, that it’s NOT about the individual, and here they argue that it IS.

The walls of a home provide a defense against detrimental social influences and the sometimes overreaching powers of government. In the absence of abuse or neglect, government does not have the right to intervene in the rearing and moral education of children in the home. Strong families are thus vital for political freedom. But when governments presume to redefine the nature of marriage, issuing regulations to ensure public acceptance of non-traditional unions, they have moved a step closer to intervening in the sacred sphere of domestic life. The consequences of crossing this line are many and unpredictable, but likely would include an increase in the power and reach of the state toward whatever ends it seeks to pursue.

Again, these statements are laughable in light of the church’s refusal to admit that is already once redefined marriage to fit the state’s definition--and fighting tooth and nail to defend the definition that was imposed on them.

What a bunch of lousy scare-mongers. “Oh! This is the first step towards a totalitarian government!” Yeah, right. Whereas allowing an administration to dishonestly pursue a war of aggression--that’s no real threat to our civil liberties.

To hell with those nasty old men in Utah obsessed with defining everyone else’s sex life. Let them put their own houses in order and do something about the abuse and unhappiness so rife in Mormondom.

5 Comments

That this is even being discussed is insulting; the so-called "pro family" side has not one single reason or argument that holds up. Each one boils down to the idea that God says so, and basing legislation on THAT is unconstitutional. I've seen plenty of studies and statistics that disprove the church's claims, but I haven't seen any studies cited by the church to support their vague claims of doom.

Also, they're so up-in-arms about how gay marriage being legal is a governmental overreach, but it seems to me that it's the opposite: making gay marriage ILLEGAL is overreaching. Giving more freedom to live the way we choose isn't the government being MORE meddlesome, it's the government meddling LESS. That has nothing to do with which side is right, it's just an observation.

And I think it's worth mentioning that my father, who is a Mormon and also a clinical psychologist, says that the unbiased studies he's read show that children are best served when raised in a two-parent family with one parent at home. He says that he hasn't seen any unbiased studies that show a significant difference between stable, committed heterosexual couples and stable, committed homosexual couples.

Hi Rebecca--

thanks for the thoughtful and insightful comment you offer here. I agree with you on every point, and I especially appreciate the perspective of your father, that there's no indication that gay couples are any worse at parenting than straight couples.

Yay, way to cut through the B.S.!!!

There is a hilarious post over at Times & Seasons that asks why the LDS Church chose only two issues, the Equal Rights Amendment and marriage equality, to fight politically. The author of the post wonders what possible common thread might unite these two issues.

The answer, of course, is trivially simple: gender roles. If society allows women all rights (including the right to marry a woman), then why exactly is it that only men can hold the priesthood? It's about male prerogative, all the way.

Anyway, in the approximately 50 or 100 comments that followed nobody brought up patriarchy or gender. LOL!

Hi CL--glad you see what I'm trying to do. MHH--thanks for the link. It's disheartening and jarring to read that discussion, but it helps me understand how people can see this issue without any clarity at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on August 19, 2008 2:49 PM.

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