Sunday, July 19, 2015

Loving Family

I feel like I’ve been caught in the middle of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges extending marriage to gay couples.

The day after the Supreme Court’s decision, best friends in the neighborhood (and the mothers of G’s best friend, Iori) asked if they might take Gideon off our hands while we packed.  

"Of course!  We’d love it!” was our reply.

“What if he’s with all of the gays?” she queried.  They were not going swimming as previously planned, but down to Soho.

I thought she might be referring to herself and her partner and the mothers of another of Gideon’s friends from the neighborhood, with whom he often played.

“No problem.” 

It wasn’t till after the fact that I realized she meant *all* the gays--in London. :-) She was asking to take Gideon to gay family pride day in Soho, where he got all of the stickers, pictured above.  I’m pretty sure my friend pointed out that the little Mormon boy was with her. I chuckled at this once I understood her meaning and the little Mormon boy amidst all the gays.

On the other hand, my church has issued this statement upholding heterosexual marriage. 

So where do I stand?  Can I be close friends with “all the gays” in my neighborhood and support my faith’s position on marriage? 


But how is this possible?  Although now a moot point, my faith supports all legal rights for gay couples, short of marriage.  I fully support this position. 

I also believe it is not my place to judge, but to love.  My friends who together mother Iori are some of the most Christ-like people I know, as is my friend from Oxford at whose civil marriage I spoke. I have much to learn from them.

I also believe (this is *not* LDS doctrine, but a personal belief) that the Apostle Paul was gay: he had a thorn in his side that would not be removed, he remained single where other apostles married, and had weird ideas about women (not having regular, close interaction with them).  He sets a standard I hope my faith can follow - of having righteous gay men and women in positions of trust and power - so long as they follow the standards of God.  A particularly ugly cross to bear to believe in something that doesn’t allow you sexual satisfaction or marital happiness —even children—but one of many ugly crosses this world invariably gives to those who accept the fellowship of Christ. In saying this, I don't belittle the grief and hardship of those who follow my faith (or who want to follow it) and have gay or non-traditional feelings.  I can't imagine what that must be like.  I do know what other, life-crushing and altering challenges are like, and because I do, I don't judge others for choices they make regarding challenges I don't have. 

While I don't judge, I *do* believe that, no matter how hard those challenges might be, marriage is a religious sacrament designed by God between a man and a woman.  Because it is something He designed, He should thus make the rules by which it is governed.  Marriage is difficult, in part because of the differences between men and women.  But through those difficulties it can also be sanctifying.  

As a legal matter, maintaining marriage as a religious sacrament that optimizes gender mixity does not work unless a majority of the people (or, in most countries, a majority of the judges on a court) believe this to be true.  And I don’t think there is anything particularly special about using shared religion as a basis for the morality that underpins law.  It is a practice found in Antiquity through modernity.  We have now come to a point where the majority of our judges either don’t share this religious outlook or don’t believe the religious outlook should create a basis for law.  It will be interesting to see whether the people agree and let this pass.

The biggest legal hangup I have with the current state of the law is that it seems from jurisdictions that have legalized gay marriage is that Fourteenth Amendment rights have begun to trump First Amendment rights in instances where private parties are operating a 501(c)(3) or receive public monies (Medicade, for instance) to perform bodily procedures, manage adoptions, or rent accommodation.  I wonder if the tax status of my church will maintain, for instance, in the face of this decision. I don't think this right.  While I am defensive of others' rights to choose, I believe religious freedoms are fundamental to a free society and should be our first freedoms, not last.  I know others will differ with me, even those very close to me, and I respect that - even seek out their friendship. 


  1. Why is it acceptable to the LDS for atheist (or Jewish, or Hindu, or non-LDS Christian) couples to have their promises to each other called marriage as long as the couples are made up of one man and one woman, even though God (as understood by the LDS) has nothing to do with their vows and the official witnessing them has no Godly authority?

    It puzzles me that there has never been any organized effort from the LDS to protect the sacred title of "priest" from being used by those who have no authority to hold it. Surely priesthood, no less than marriage, was instituted by God for God's purposes and should not be diluted by being applied in other circumstances? Why doesn't the institution of the priesthood require the protection the LDS seek for the institution of marriage?

  2. Interesting question. I guess we believe that God presupposes the man and the woman. He has said marriage is between a man and a woman, so regardless of whether they recognize Him or not, marriages that follow that pattern are valid in His eyes, and those that don't are not. It's a difference in religious perspective. On the priesthood front, we believe all have the same privilege to worship how, where, or what they may (Article of Faith 11). Priesthood is certainly holy and integrally connected to the nature of Godhood and man's progression - it is His power, and we believe that all forms of priesthood outside of the faith are well-intentioned (and do many good things), but are invalid. We also don't believe it impacts society in quite the same way as marriage, so it doesn't need legal protection. There are also not the same regime of laws related to priesthood as there are to marriage. Homosexual marriage and freedom of religion come into direct legal conflict by their very nature - there is no way around it. So our defense of marriage is also at the same time a defense of our ability to worship according to the dictates of our own conscience. Marriage changes, and so does our ability to worship. Additionally, marriage is probably more important than priesthood for us in the doctrinal hierarchy, as it outlives this life and is actually a form of priesthood. Perhaps that is another reason why the focus? Anyway, thoughts to ponder. Any further thoughts/questions?

  3. (I'm sorry if you receive this repeatedly; I'm not sure if the posts are going into a filter for approval or vanishing into some internet dead-end!)

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, and generous offer to entertain more questions.

    "He has said marriage is between a man and a woman, so regardless of whether they recognize Him or not, marriages that follow that pattern are valid in His eyes, and those that don't are not."
    If all male-female marriages are valid in the eyes of God, then why is a temple ceremony necessary for LDS couples married elsewhere in order for the couples to gain the benefits of marriage as they have been revealed to the LDS?

    "Marriage changes, and so does our ability to worship."
    Very interesting! And by living in UK when same-sex marriage became legal there, you've already experienced this firsthand. Could you discuss (or share a link to a blog post where you already have discussed) how LDS worship changed when that came into effect in the UK?

    In the context of your belief about the Apostle Paul, how do you understand 1 Corinthians 7-9, where he expresses a wish that other Christians would be "like him" (single and celibate, I presume) but recommends marriage for those who "cannot contain?" That seems, on the one hand, to suggest that marriage is not the best state for a Christian, but on the other to not differentiate between single people who struggle with lust for members of the same sex and single who struggle with lust for members of the opposite sex.

    If the LDS goals for the legal position of same-sex couples in the USA could be enacted nationally today, what would that look like? Would the couples be able to have a civil union or domestic partnership that would establish the members as each others' next of kin and give them the legal claim on each others' property and health insurance than husbands and wives have (in short, a civil marriage by another name)? Would they be protected from discrimination in housing and hiring? Both? Neither?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this divisive topic and for your willingness to spend some of your very limited free time discussing it!

  4. (No worries - it only came through once!)

    I welcome discussion with persons such as yourself! You also seem fairly knowledgeable regarding our belief (and presumably your own belief) system.

    Let me start with your last, easiest question first - yes. Full civil rights for gay couples. I believe that is what my church supports, and what I support wholeheartedly. One of my best friends from Oxford was in a gay relationship, and we would often swap discrimination stories - her for being gay, and myself for being Mormon. We both got really riled up by the others' stories. People she understood to be Christians should not behave that way! People should generally be able to choose and contract to live however they wish, so long as it doesn't imperil the rights of others.

    Regarding civil v. celestial marriages - you are correct that God recognizes all female-male relationships. He and my faith that seeks to follow Him try to support and encourage these relationships wherever they exist. Marriage should be nurtured and protected. One reason we believe it should be protected is because it models heaven - we believe God is married, and we are the spiritual offspring of that union. Families have the potential to last throughout time and eternity, and contain within them the seeds of godhood. That special "eternity" designation can be had in the temple through sealings, where a man and woman are sealed by proper priesthood authority not till death do us part, but for ever and ever. (A daunting prospect if ever there was one when looking for a mate!) So it's not that non-temple heterosexual marriages are not valid, it's just that they don't last as long. There are other special blessings that come from sealings, too - you are essentially nailed on the cross together with Christ, and the offspring that result from the union get automatically sealed to the parents, inheriting all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob promised in the Old Testament. We believe it to be the same ordinance that joined the patriarchs together. I don't understand all of its blessings or implications, but I do know that as I keep my marital covenants and rely on the Savior to help me do so, because He is also sealed to us as a couple through the covenant, it brings all of His power and might to my ability to give my all to the marriage and, sometimes, just survive within it. Of course, He can and wants to bless and help normal heterosexual marriage as requested by the couple, but is not bound in quite the same way.

    (As an aside, I suppose that one of the greatest fears of my faith is that the law will at some point compel us to offer sealings to homosexual couples, which would violate the order of heaven. I've heard temples would shut down at that point.)

    (more in another post - character limit)

  5. So on your questions about the impact of the law in the UK. There is a distinction between US and UK law that makes a big difference that I'll point out to later. But the shared aspect of law that will impact my ability to worship according to the dictates of my own conscience if we move back and enroll our children in the educational system there in the UK is through education. This is subtle at first, but extremely important. It has happened in Massachusetts already. If same sex marriage is recognized the same way as heterosexual, it means that literature about marriage - even children's books - will need (and do in Massachusetts) to reflect them as equal. "Heather has Two Mommies" comes to mind. If I am attempting to teach my children the order of heaven as reflected in the family, I would not want them reading those children's books. My options are limited, and extreme. Now, this may all seem tongue and cheek for me, because some of my best friends in London (and my son's best friend!) are in a gay relationship - how serious can I be about not wanting to expose him to children's literature if his best friend's family personifies the relationship I don't want understood as normative? I actually want my son to be exposed to this, and to learn to love and come to really know people as I do despite important differences. I guess there is a principle of loving people - really loving them - and learning that certain behaviors are normative from a book, where no people are involved. I'd have to think about this more - why I struggle with one but not the other (at all).

    (more in another comment)

  6. In the US, we have the Fourteenth Amendment, which gives heightened protection to special classes against discrimination. In many ways before the marriage decision, homosexuals were beginning to receive this heightened protection as a special class. The marriage decision only strengthened the class as a whole. I believe this right in many respects, except when it comes to religious belief. In jurisdictions - Canada, California, Massachusetts - where homosexual marriage was recognized, there are instances where Catholic adoption agencies, based on their belief system, chose not to adopt children to homosexual couples. They lost their government funding because of this, and had to be shut down. Doctors who believed homosexuality wrong receiving Medicaid/Medicare dollars were compelled to perform sex-changing surgeries, or have the funding stripped. People renting out small units where their family lived who believed (from a religious perspective) homosexuality to be wrong were compelled to rent their units out to homosexual couples (I personally wouldn't have a problem with this, but I respect those who would so act based on religious conviction). And on and on. As I told my friend in Oxford, I am a strong proponent of non-discrimination against homosexual couples - very strong - but I believe that faith should trump in these legal battles and that those who object for religious reasons should be respected. One thing I see coming down the line is tax-exempt status being stripped of religious organizations that choose not to marry homosexual couples. It's a logical next step.

    Doctrinally, with regards to Paul, he does say he is speaking these things "by permission, and not of commandment" - I interpret that as Paul saying that this is my personal opinion, and not doctrine. This is one area of Paul's wonderful epistles that is not doctrinal. I guess I believe (again, personal belief speaking here) that Paul was gay and developed ideas about marriage that were unconventional for his time and within the faith to help him justify and normalize it--and definitely not doctrinal. (Your understanding of what constitutes scripture has to be a bit more nuanced as my faith maintains to accept this.) But one thing that is doctrinal is that, for heterosexual and homosexual individuals (and everyone inbetween if you believe it is a spectrum and not black and white - likely the case), the standard is the same - "continue as I" Paul says, in celibacy, if you are not (heterosexually) married. As one who was celibate for 29 years, I know this is not an easy standard to comport with, but the Lord's standard notwithstanding.

    Does that answer anything, or only raise more questions?