Meridian Magazine (ldsmag.com) recently started a column inviting scholarly discussion of significant cultural and moral topics. More explicitly:
Meridian EXPAND will be anxiously engaged in the good cause of defending core teachings of the Church concerning morality and the family, even though, indeed precisely because, these teachings are incompatible, not with critical thinking, but with an ideology that is increasingly ascendant among intellectuals, media elites and academics.
I hope that any such defense of the family will acknowledge and wrestle with various facts I encountered as I sought to give reasons for denying same sex couples the privilege of legal recognition of their marriages. If it does so, this is likely to be a valuable discussion.
The first took me the longest to accept, but has been acknowledged publicly by the LDS church:
- Sexual orientation is not a choice (mormonsandgays.org). While the genetic and environmental factors that determine sexual orientation are only partially understood, there is overwhelming evidence that it is nearly completely determined before a child is even born.
- Children raised by same-sex couples are no more or less likely to be gay than those raised by different-sex couples.
Does my defense of family account for this fact, that God made these people this way?
The second set of facts has to do with the benefits and costs to society of same sex parents. I share the commonly held LDS view that the primary purpose for a society to recognize and support marriages is to provide stable environments for raising children as contributing members of society. My defense of family thus needs to account for the following measured facts:
- Lesbian couples raise children to be just as psychologically and socially well adjusted as different-sex couples, and small data sets suggest children raised by gay couples aren’t significantly different (or maybe better). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00678.x/abstract
- Same-sex couples adopt many more minority children who, by inference from the fact of minority children being adopted less often, are more likely to grow up without two stable parents. http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/family-formation-and-raising-children-among-same-sex-couples/
Does my defense of family account for the observation that the world is as good or better for these children than it would be if (or was when) their parents were not legally recognized as a family?
A third observation is that most people seeking civilly recognized same-sex marriage do not see themselves as undermining family, or as moral relativists:
- Many of those seeking same-sex marriage are seeking the social commitment of marriage, not simply a set of legal benefits. They perceive themselves as advocates of the family, and for responsible, committed parenting.
Does my defense of family account for these proponents of same-sex marriage who view themselves as champions of families, desiring to raise children in the most loving and stable way they can? Or does it only focus on the extremists and the slippery slope?
Or even better than discussing same sex marriage, discuss the economic and social factors that make it so hard for hundreds of millions of people to be the kind of parents they would like to be. Talk about how we can defend the family by relieving poverty. Or discuss how educating and empowering women gives them more choices to care for their children and avoid relationships with abusive or absent men, thus creating an environment where men must commit to their families or risk never having one. Discuss how we can improve our sexual outlook so that it is more equal and less male-centered, creating an environment for better marital intimacy and less attraction for exploitative and addictive sexual practices.
Since it seems the focus is on the same-sex marriage debate, I hope that these facts are given serious weight, and that discussion is not based principally upon arguments from authority and prophetic pronouncement, or straw man arguments based on the fear of the different and unknown. The ideologies of moral relativism and radical freedom have never had very great interest for me, as a biochemist. Opinion and authority play roles in shaping chemical theory, since even chemistry is a human enterprise, but on the whole opinion and authority are severely constrained by measurable fact. I have listed here a few of the readily discoverable, measured facts regarding same-sex marriage and family. I believe that these facts, and not frequently circular or unanswerable debates regarding the merits of various ideologies, will be at the very heart of any fruitful defense of marriage. Any defense that does not take these facts very seriously will fail to reach the hearts of many of the young, intellectually engaged Latter-day Saints to whom Brother Hancock and Meridian Magazine are hoping to reach out.
So far, they’re preaching to the choir, and I’m not sure it’s one I’d like to sing with.
The Mormon Church could not simply “recognize” legal and lawful same-sex marriages without addressing a slew of other, interrelated concerns. The Church would have to say something about accepting a marriage arrangement that has been a non-starter for 6,000 years. The Church would also have to say something about the Temple. Here are some possibilities:
(1) “We recognize legal same-sex marriages, and the sexual relations within them, as acceptable to God – but only in mortality. Such unions are dissolved by death and will not be reconstituted thereafter. Therefore, these unions will not be sealed in the temple.
Will same-sex attraction be felt after death?
Can for-time-only same-sex marriages be performed in the temple?
Will spouses in same-sex marriages be available to be called as bishops, Stake presidents, Youth leaders, Primary and Relief Society presidents? If not, why not?
(2) “We recognize legal same-sex marriages as valid in mortality, but we don’t know all the conditions operative in the next world or in the resurrection and therefore cannot comment on them. So we will accept legal same-sex marriages but will not seal such unions in the temple, and wait to see what comes. Spouses in same-sex marriages will have to hang on and hope for the best.”
Related issues: See above
(3) “We recognize the validity of same-sex marriages in this life and because we don’t know what will obtain in the next life, we will go ahead and seal these unions in the temple anyway and let it all get sorted out in the next world.”
Related issues: See above, minus the temple restrictions
(4) “We have expanded our understanding of doctrine: We now hold that marriages in heaven are of three types – man and woman, man and man, and woman and woman. Eternal same-sex unions are an exact analog to eternal heterosexual marriages in their rights, privileges and destinies. Being eternal, same-sex marriages have always existed, though we knew it not until now. It is on this understanding that we will seal these unions in the temple.”
Related issues: Presumably, all issues above are resolved.
In recognizing same-sex marriages as valid in the Church, some form of the above would have to be considered. Policies and rationales would need to be articulated. Same-sex marriage doesn’t exist in a theological vacuum. Nothing does. And which policy would same-sex couples settle for?
How would such decisions be made? The LDS Church being what it is, and to be true to its claims, there can be only one answer: Revelation.
And here is the sticking point, the deciding line: For Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not run by a group of men in Salt Lake City. The head of the Church is Jesus Christ.
What if Jesus Christ says no?
For Mormons who want the Church to recognize same-sex marriages, what is their contingency plan for this?
I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Tim. As you noticed, I didn’t present anything like an exhaustive list of issues, and I avoided stating what I think solutions should be. As one who trusts revelation (or at least in the possibility of it), I expect God can give a better solution to any problem than I or any other human can. That said, my experience with and understanding of revelation is that we only get answers after studying it out, and they come according to our language and understanding. Until observable facts like those I listed (and many others, I think) are studied and understood, I’m not sure we can count on our ability to get the best answers God could give us.
But aside from what the church should do, I was commenting on the stated mission of the EXPAND series on Meridian Magazine. That is not a forum for deciding church policy or doctrine, but for providing an intellectual defense of what they perceive as LDS positions. Supposedly they want to defend core LDS doctrines (as they see them) in an academic fashion, without simply appealing to the authority of revelation. So far, they haven’t really tackled any of the measurable positives of same-sex parented families, or the righteous desires for family of some same-sex marriage advocates.
I understand and appreciate your thoughtfulness and articulation. Your post deserves a wide readership. I encourage you to post it elsewhere.
As I follow the same-sex marriage discussion, a sizeable group hoping for Church recognition more-or-less follows this hope/strategy: Greater understanding of the nature of same-sex attraction, together with the greater willingness of 21st Century peoples to accept those with same-sex attraction, has led to greater civil recognitions and protections for them, including the ability to be married. In this new climate of understanding, reflection and tolerance, the leaders of the Church can/should now approach the Lord and seek approval for Church recognition of same-sex marriage. After 6,000 years as a no-go for whatever reasons, history has progressed to the point where same-sex marriage is socially viable and now can/should be theologically viable as well.
The Church’s position is that God has already said no – and there’s the tension; same-sex marriage proponents seem (to me) to be saying that either (1) God hasn’t really, “officially” said no and should be contacted anew for clarification, or (2) even if it has been “no” until now, God should be approached again for a reversal due to new circumstances.
My points in the original post are that such recognition would involve more than a simple thumbs-up, and that God may say no. (Or still say no, or has said no – take your pick. In any event, no. That the Church can or would accept same-sex marriage as a “policy” without reference to God seems to me improbable.)
The contingency plan for an (unexpected) “yes” to same-sex marriage from God could only be this: accept God’s will and encourage everyone within earshot to do the same. My question for LDS same-sex marriage proponents is whether a “no” would/should already/will meet with the same response.
Stirling Talmadge (a geologist and son of James E. Talmadge) wrote that when dogma is contradicted by measurable evidence, it is the dogma that is responsible for destroying faith, not the measurements. I guess that means that until revelation explains to me how to understand the measurable benefits for children growing up in stable, two parent, same-sex homes, and fits that into God’s plan for us, I will assume that the revelation is incomplete and that new answers will come–in my lifetime or not. Would I accept a “no”? I might or might not, but it would have to make loving and rational sense (at least as closely as we can come), and it would have to explain what I see. Otherwise, I would doubt it came from God no matter who said it. So far, my own study and prayer has given more complex answers than I’m reading at EXPAND or hearing over the pulpit. So I’m waiting and hoping for new light and knowledge. I’m not positive what it will be, but the signs I see are that we need it. We have changed the world with technology, and 6000 year old revelation demonstrably fails, sometimes. Other times it’s very good.
That baby in the picture has a rapidly receding hairline.
Great points, Jonathan. We hear a lot of rhetoric from the Church about how awful one particular thing–gay marriage–will be for families, when there’s not really any evidence that it will, and pretty much nothing about much more important issues that you raise, like economic inequality.
I am not aware of where God has said no. I hear Elder Oaks say no, but I see that as the conservative politics in him.
The problem for the church is that, from past experience it is very unlikely a prophet will receive revelation that does not agree with his culture.
So how long before we have a Prophet who is willing to ask for approval with an open heart?
I think the most important issue for the church is the succession for the President/Prophet. Unless we can bring it to the attention of the 12 that we want a retirement age for Apostles of 80 and the next President chosen on merit from apostles under 80, we have a very limited future.
I see 2 possibilities, either a change in the succession so Uchtdorf as President within the next few years, in which case the church might grow end expand, or we have a succession of ultra conservative octogenarians or older, and the church become more like a branch of the republican party and less like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and less relevant.