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Why it's not okay for Mormons to support gay marriage legalization

09 April 2015


I just read a blog post about "Why it’s Okay for Mormons to Support Gay Marriage Legalization." I highly recommend every member of the Church read it through a few times. Why? 
  1. Because it's a post about a hot-button issue, written in a tone of respect and decency (a rare find on either side-- kudos to the author, Tanner Gilliand)
  2. Because it's important to listen to "the other side" once in a while to double-check yourself in your own position
  3. Because it captures all the big defense arguments in use by gay marriage proponents (especially those within the Church) in a clear, ordered format.
  4. In that sense, it's sort of the quintessential post for the pro-gay marriage side (kudos again)
  5. Finally, because it's important to recognize when we are trying to hold on to a viewpoint that goes against the Lord, and can drive us from the Church.

I know that last bit sounds pretty harsh, but hear me out.

Here are some of the highlights of what Tanner said to persuade us why it's "okay" for Mormons to support redefining marriage. Note: I don't want to take anything out of context, so everyone else, seriously, go check out his post and read it yourself:
  1. The Golden Rule
    "I support marriage equality because I believe in the golden rule... What if the government told you that your version of marriage was not recognized by the state? How would that make you feel?"
  2. Gay marriage doesn't affect us, so we shouldn't get up in arms about it
    "There are concerns about the slippery slope of governmental approval of gay marriage... I doubt that people are going to be marrying their dogs... even if they did, that would not affect my life in the slightest. If the time comes that they try passing legislation that will infringe on religious rights (for example, requiring gay unions to be performed in the temple), we can take a stand against it."
  3. Gay marriage is just a different type of marriage
    "If consenting adults of a certain orientation can receive tax benefits simply for being together, why not other adults of another orientation? ...Imagine a role-reversal where your marriage situation was abnormal... why are we so eager to turn the tables on a different type of union?"
  4. We can't take away someone's rights
    "Ensuring another’s freedom is the best way to protect ours... Remember that the same power you grant to the government to limit the rights of others can be used to limit your rights."
  5. Laws based on religious principles take away agency
    "Why don’t we just get rid of everyone’s right to choose morality so that this country will be forced to be a Christian nation worthy of God’s approval? (Wait a second, this is starting to sound like [Satan]’s plan)... Use persuasion, not compulsion, to further your views."
  6. Laws based on religious principles lead to theocracy
    "If consenting adults of a certain orientation can receive tax benefits simply for being together, why not other adults of another orientation?

    Because God does not like it,” is typically the response.

    Honestly folks, God doesn't like a lot of things. If God’s favor should affect this issue, why shouldn't it affect another? What’s stopping us from forcing all business to close on Sunday? What’s stopping us from illegalizing fornication? What’s stopping us from reinstating prohibition? While we are at it, why don't we ban short skirts, tattoos, swearing and multiple pairs of earrings? ...Do we want a theocracy? Do we want to force everyone to be obedient to our idea of righteousness? ...Such a course has always resulted in tyranny."
Again, let me reiterate, I love that his post is so clear, direct, and concise: no dancing around with sob stories or touchy-feely mush. Just a clear list of reasons and a conclusion. Kudos again.

However, his points gravely misrepresent the truth about our responsibility as citizens, and especially as Latter-Day Saints, to defend marriage and the family. Here's why:
  1. The Golden Rule
    Tanner's interpretation of the Golden Rule seems to be, "Give people whatever they want." To be clear, in many cases, applying the Golden Rule really does mean exactly that. Want me to go a mile? OK, and here's one more for good measure. Want my coat? Sure, and take my cloak while you're at it. That's fine.

    But when my two-year-old wants to play with the steak knife on the counter, or when my teenage son wants to start drugs, they will be seriously disappointed that I won't allow them to have what they desire. Likewise, if I ever find myself desiring one day to kill myself, I pray that some bystander will intervene before I step off the roof. As always, God is the perfect example. He gives us exactly what we need-- not always what we want. He is the gardner, and he will always do what is best for us, for which I am grateful.

    Now, I will happily concede that I am not God. I am also not society's parent. I have no authority to put my foot down and forcefully stop society from redefining marriage. But as a member of society, I also have no responsibility to turn a blind eye as wickedness to advances. Rather, I have an obligation and duty as a citizen and as a Latter-Day Saint to help persuade society to avoid "bring[ing] upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets" (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

    So, per the Golden Rule, what do I really want others to do unto me? To help me achieve my potential, and to tell me when I'm headed down a bad road. In short, to help me be the best I can be. I strive to preserve the definition of marriage because I try to live the Golden Rule.
  2. Gay marriage doesn't affect us, so we shouldn't get up in arms about it
    I will go ahead and say that this is perhaps the argument with the most meat and power behind it. I can definitely resonate with the concept that what I do should not be the concern of society if society isn't affected by it. To that end, many proponents of the author's view chant the catchphrase, "Keep the government out of my bedroom!" as their defense. To which I shout back, in enthusiastic agreement, "Yes, I agree wholeheartedly to that statement! But what does that have to do with anything?"

    I think the problem is not so much keeping government out of our bedrooms, but keeping our bedroom out of the government. We're not trying to ban homo-, bi-, or any other-sexuality. We're simply saying that what you do behind closed doors should not impact society's definition of marriage. You do not have a right to affect us like that.

    When someone starts talking about changing all of society, modifying the tax system, and making accommodations all over the place, it becomes an issue that affects me. For social issues, every member of society is affected.
  3. Gay marriage is just a different type of marriage
    This point has been beaten to death by both sides, so I won't give it the full treatment today, but suffice it to say that the word marriage is by definition heterosexual and has been so for millenia. "Gay marriage" is not some "alternative" type of marriage that we're suddenly discovering in this sexually "enlightened" age. It's a redefinition of the concepts of marriage and family altogether-- a shoehorning in what society thinks marriage ought to be.

    Society may take a boy and call him a girl. It may take pregnancy and call it a disease. But the Spirit speaks (and hopefully we speak) "of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13). As Latter-Day Saints, we know that the definition of marriage is given by God and that eternal realities cannot change.  "Gay marriage" is not a new "type" of marriage. And "regardless of divergent opinions or trends [or laws] in society," it never will be.
  4. We can't take away someone's rights
    "Rights" is the buzzword of social change nowadays. The actual definition of the word "right" is an inalienable, intrinsic privilege that is built-in and bundled into the very fact that you are human. Rights are something that only God can give. It is literally impossible for anyone to deprive you of them any more than they can deprive you of the very fact that you are you. However, in mortal life, your ability to legally exercise certain aspects of your rights can be restricted (justly or unjustly) through legislation or compulsion. But the rights themselves can never be taken away.

    Today, the definition of a right society has adopted seems to be "something that I want badly enough that I'm willing to pass laws to force others to provide it for me." I have a right to free healthcare. I have a right to welfare. I have a right to never be offended. I have a right to force society to call my partner my husband. 
    I have a right to force Christian bakeries to make me a cake for my gay union celebration, etc.

    Maybe this is a point of technicality. Maybe I'm straining at vocabulary gnats. But I think it's important to distinguish what we're going for here. You can make the point that we ought to provide those things for others (and you are certainly welcome to do so). But please understand at least that we are not looking to deprive anyone of their rights. That is literally impossible.
  5. Laws based on religious principles take away agency
    Like the issue with the word "rights" above, this may not be so much an exaggeration as a misuse of terms (and one which is pretty common in the Church). This awesome article goes into great detail about the misuse of the phrase "agency," how we as Latter-Day Saints often cross our streams and get confused about the difference between agency and freedom, so I won't go into detail here. Suffice it to say that, like rights, it is physically impossible to take away anyone's agency as Satan intended to do (and as Tanner suggests religiously-based laws would). 

    We're not trying to take away agency and  turns gays into drones. We're not even on a crusade against homosexuality itself. What we would be doing is restricting the ability or even the (dare I say?) freedom of gays to expect society and government to call their arrangement marriage. Yes, there, I said it. It limits their ability to officially claim the M-word. And I have no qualms with the fact that freedom would be closed to them. It was never there to begin with. 

    Whether their ability should be limited or not is an issue that we can debate all day long. But to be clear, limiting someone's freedom or ability to group himself under the term "marriage" does not change who he is, control his mind, or take away his agency.
  6. Laws based on religious principles lead to theocracy
    It irks me a little that Tanner says that maintaining the traditional definition of marriage is a few steps shy of all-out theocracy. Especially when he later dismisses our concern that gay marriage will lead to other legal ramifications as a slippery slope fallacy (a concern which, by the way, is echoed by the Church itself).

    But I'll ignore that for a minute and get to the big root of his argument, that laws should not be based on religious principles because they lead to theocracy and such legislation "has always resulted in tyranny." Tanner lists many behaviors that we ought not to enforce on others (swearing, multiple earrings, tattoos, etc), and reasonably so. However, he ignores the other end of the spectrum. If there is legislation up for debate that affects a big moral issue, it's not only completely acceptable to seek legislation, but it's our duty to do so. Issues like abortion, religious liberty, and the family are 100% worthy of legislative protection-- even if our reasons for getting involved are based on our principles of morality and religion.

    To be clear, I don't think Tanner is an extremist. I'm sure that he agrees with me on that point-- that there are some protections that must be defended, even if society has given up on them. I would speculate that the difference between my position and his has more to do with where the line should be drawn between which behaviors are worthy of legislation, and which are not. That question of where to draw the line is a fantastic question. Actually, I have been drafting a post on that very issue. I won't go into all the details now (spoilers), but I will tell you that the gay marriage issue is clearly on the "take action" side of the line. How do I know?

    There are several reasons I'll go into later in my other post, but the biggest indicator is that The Lord has specifically said that we should get involved in this issue. He has spoken through His Prophet and invoked the arm of His Church, His tithe dollars, and His leaders to fight this battle. And He has rallied us to join the ranks:

    "We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society" (The Family).

    During the Proposition 8 battle on the West Coast, the Church repeated this commandment and sent out a clear, direct clarion call that was read from the pulpit:

    "We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time [in other words, "support"] to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage" (Letter from the First Presidency).

    I don't know of any clearer way for a Prophet to issue a direct commandment to the members of the Church without threatening fire from heaven. By telling us our support is required, we are under obligation to vote, to speak, to persuade,and to pursue all legal avenues to further, the preservation of marriage defined by God. We have been commanded to take it into the public square and rally for the cause. Even if for no other reason than because we are obedient. It is impossible to heed that Prophetic counsel while also rooting for the very cause that opposes it. "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24).

    As for Tanner's idea that such obedience will lead to all-out theocracy, that is impossible. God will not allow it because "It is not in the programme" (Fourteen Fundamentals in Following a Prophet). The Church is confident that legalizing gay marriage will lead to other issues, and 100% sure that we are safest when we heed Prophetic counsel.

    However, even if there was a chance that following the Prophet could potentially nudge us down a chain-reaction path towards theocracy (to quote Tanner), "we cannot allow the fear of a give-a-mouse-a-cookie hypothetical to prevent us from applying a correct principle."
Tanner, thank you for your post. Seriously. It's one of the best-organized and clear posts from your side that I've read. Especially for those in the Church who hold your position. I will add here that those on the side defending marriage probably need to learn to love more, to be more open-minded, to apply the Golden Rule more perfectly, and to always be diligent in double-checking our opinions to make sure we are wise and loving in furthering what we know to be true. Yes, there's probably much good we can learn from those on your side. 

Further, I'm not questioning your worthiness or your standing in the Church. I don't know you, and I have nothing against you. You probably won't face a disciplinary council, hear a reprimand from the pulpit, or be shunned by the membership (the Savior said that's a no-no, too). 

However, there is no way to get around the fact that supporting the redefinition of marriage is a position in direct violation of God and His Church. And as the chasm between the Lord and society continues to widen, it will become a harder and harder stretch for anyone to maintain one foot on both sides. Eventually, everyone will have to choose a side. And the side of the Lord will require us to sacrifice some of our opinions and ways of thinking. But ultimately, His side will be the only to survive:
“The only safety we have as members of this church is to … learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. … There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes. … It may contradict your political views … your social views … interfere with … your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, … ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you … and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you …" (Neil L. Andersen).
Otherwise, we will lose our desire to participate in the Kingdom of God, we will start to apostatize, and we will ultimately suffer for it.

"It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right" (Mosiah 29:26), but today is one of those times. This is a social battle we frankly will not win. But regardless, believe and know that God has instructed all of us in His Church to  stand up and support His cause of marriage through persuasion and long-suffering, but also through legislation). But we simply cannot do that while still saying it is "okay" to fight for the other side, too.
 
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