On the eve of another election in the United States of America, many historic events are looming, both encouraging and daunting; whatever happens, we will either elect our first person of color as President, or our first female as Vice President. We may see a 60-vote majority in the Senate for the Democratic Party. But offsetting these historic events is great uncertainty and fear about an ongoing economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression, alarm due to serious conflicts with various nations overseas, even apprehension about possible irreversible changes in our environment. Yet, here we are again looking at a fundamental divide on issues of morality, equality, and civil rights.
Residents of California (Prop 8), Arizona (Prop 102), and Florida (Prop 2) will be voting on propositions which would amend their state constitutions to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, that is not news. You have probably been overwhelmed with rhetoric from all angles. My goal here is to summarize what I have observed as the large-scale effects of this issue.
The Last Battleground
It wasn’t that far back when the official LDS Church position on homosexuality was that it is a moral and behavioral issue, chosen by individuals who succumb to deviant temptations. As such, the majority of faithful Mormons and Evangelical Christians were opposed to even civil unions for gay couples. The “umbrella issue” was that if any form of acceptance or recognition is granted to homosexuals it would be interpreted by society, and most importantly – our children – as condoning that behavior.
Today, it seems that footholds have slipped on the muddy moral/civil rights battlefield and Religion is making one last stand. Fortunately, the LDS Church has conceded that homosexuality, in many cases, is not a choice and goes beyond mere social influence and personal will. Furthermore, Mormons and Christians, in the current campaigns, seem to have conceded civil unions almost completely, even using them as a counter-argument to suggestions that the propositions violate equal rights. These are positive changes. And yet, in spite of these concessions, the ‘umbrella issue’ remains the same – homosexuality, while understandable, even pitiable, is not acceptable, nor equal. Equality is the last battleground in the war for gay rights.
The umbrella issue is often presented as being about giving special rights and special treatment to gay couples. This is troublesome, because really what gays are trying to achieve is only an equal level of treatment. Sometimes it might appear that gay rights get an inordinate amount of public attention, but there are two reasons for that. One reason is that gay rights are currently not recognized in consensus, so they have to “talk louder” than normal volume just to be heard.
The other reason is that traditional marriage is so common and taken for granted that we just don’t notice how much attention and treatment it gets. There is far more time given to the subject of traditional marriage in media, entertainment, education, and public life than all other kinds of relationships combined. It is so common that it has blended seamlessly into the canvas and anything of a different color jumps right out.
The Real Cause
Arguments like these are only deflections from the more uncomfortable reality. It is a remnant of the belief that homosexuality is a behavior that can be disciplined out of society. The goal of these propositions is not to protect society from special treatment for non-traditional lifestyles; it is to protect society from equal treatment of them. The reasoning is that a lifestyle afforded equal treatment is essentially considered morally equal by society. In a world where homosexuals are considered moral human beings with equal potential to contribute to the moral health of the society as anyone else, there is a fear that children will more commonly consider “choosing” the gay lifestyle, thus producing more and more gay people.
The reality is that such a world would produce no more or less gay people than in a discriminating society. It would only produce more happy and healthy people among them. It would save some lives, too. That same blanket of shame and disapproval that exists in our current society about homosexuality, that which the current movements are trying to preserve for the good of the children, is the weight which suffocates thousands of human beings – children of God – and drives them to suicide. If being gay was a choice that could be intimidated out of a person by restricting privileges, how did we get to this point now with so many gay people fighting for their right to be gay? Being gay has been anything but comfortable or convenient up until now and yet it is not keeping people from being gay. Of course, that is because they can’t choose it. If they could, the beatings – physical and emotional – they have received for so long would have accomplished their goal.
Sanctifying Our Own Paths
Aside from sympathizing with the plight of homosexuals, there is another problem with the social engineering approach. It is the idea that what is sacred to me is defined by what someone else is allowed to make sacred to them. Most Mormons have known people who drink alcohol, smoke, have tattoos, use profanity, do not observe the Sabbath, do not pray, think the temple is weird, think garments are weird, etc. etc. Yet, somehow we are able to continue to sanctify the human body, the temple, our garments, the Sabbath, and other aspects of our lives without taking away the right for those other people to live the way they do.
Sacred is the life we live, not the life we keep others from living. The sanctity of your family is nothing more than the sanctity of *your family*. If society celebrates the straight couple across the street it does not make your marriage more sanctified. If society denigrates the gay couple next door it does not make your marriage more sanctified. You can only sanctify your family by the way you live and love within your own home.
A Failed Experiment
Social engineering doesn’t work in either direction. It has not worked to keep people from being gay. Whether they are in-and-miserable or out-and-happy, they are still gay. It has not worked to elevate traditional marriage. More than half of one-man/one-woman marriages end in divorce. Less people are getting married in general. Even in the Gold Standard of LDS temple marriages, LDS Church leaders receive a constant flow of letters about the epidemic of pornography, spousal and child abuse, and unrighteous dominion.
Quite surprising too is willingness for Mormons to use the law to impose social engineering, considering our heritage of being on the victim end of that stick. Haun’s Mill. Far West. Nauvoo. The Reed Smoot Hearings. Have we fully considered the implications of creating a precedent for the constitution being used to impose an unequal morality on its citizens? Are we so sure that there is nothing about our lifestyle that might be at odds with a large enough segment of society that could seek to impose laws against us next?
The Sun Will Rise Again On November 5th
Regardless of the results of the ballots, the sun will rise again the next day. The congregations which employed the rhetoric of war and valiance will take attendance again the next Sunday. The home teachers of the gay members will have to stare at the phone number on the assignment sheet with a phone in hand. Family members will have to sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table across from their relatives who stood on the other side. Gay people will still be gay and traditional families will be no more sanctified than the day before.
We will need to forgive. We will need to love. Each day more than the last. I hope we can. I hope I can.
Very well written. I really don’t see past Tuesday right now, so it’s good to get my head in a different place for a minute. This issue is consuming myself and many of my friends and family. I just hope someday the church will accept everyone equally.
[T]here is another problem with the social engineering approach. It is the idea that what is sacred to me is defined by what someone else is allowed to make sacred to them.
This is a nice insight. It all seems so stingy. It’s as if you straight folks are stuffing yourselves and a banquet, and there are starving people standing by but you won’t throw them a crumb. It’s truly astonishing that there is so little generosity here.
How can a church that shares the name of Christ be so blind not to see the sheer hypocrisy of the exclusionary actions of denying a minority, which has suffered as outcasts throughout all of history, an important thing like equal rights “already” granted by the law of the land? I am embarrassed to be called a Latter-day Saint today!
Sorry for the rant! I have been working hard for three months trying to help others understand that this whole Prop 8 deal in California is so removed from the purposes our church, let alone any church.
Today, I wonder if God CAN be pleased.
Very well written, Clay.
Wow. I grew up in San Fran, so I know lots of wonderful gay people, and have known other, tortured souls who “thought they could be gay” tried it, and have never been happy in either camp ever since. It is this population which I think will be on the rise in the future if Prop 8 fails–simply because homosexuality will be taught in schools in a whole new way. Then again, at my high school, teachers CURRENTLY teach all freshman HOW to have homosexual sex with instructions on preparation, and graphic, detailed pictures. If we all think there are going to be no repercussions to this, when these growing kids then experiment in alcohol and drugs, and they have all these conflicting images in their minds, we’ve got to be kidding ourselves.
Since we’ve never taught a generation from Kindergarten on up like this, we can’t possibly know what the eventual outcomes will be–intended and unintended. To me, it seems like a social experiment that we can’t go back and “undo” in 20 years. Why don’t we wait to see how it works out in the European countries who are trying it? Don’t we owe that to our grandchildren?
During the ramp-up to the campaign for Prop. 8 I was called by my priesthood leader asking me to volunteer to call people in CA asking them to vote yes on prop. 8. I live in another state. I declined the request and later found out that many people in my state were asked to do the same. Even later, I was informed that the telephone campaign had been called off. I am wondering if anyone has any idea as to why the project was called off. The official reason given was that the prop. was going to pass and the need for the telephone campaign was dimished. I wonder if the church officials were warned about getting involved in a political movement and about the wisdom of marshaling thousands of people outside of CA to do the calling. Any thoughts out there?
Well written. Thank you for pointing out the significance of forgiving those who persecute us, even if it comes from our own families. I am ashamed to be a member of the church today. I’m sure God is not pleased with the outcome and the discriminatory behavior of the saints.
Do you really think that the education of our children has that much connection to whether or not the government calls it a civil union or a marriage? The fact will remain that there will be gay couples. There will be children who have gay parents. Our children will be mingling with them. There will be liberal teachers who want to prepare children to avoid cruel behavior towards the children of gay families. There will be liberal teachers who want to prepare children for reality, not just what a subset of our people want reality to be.
Calling it marriage would just not have the corollary effect you imply.
The struggle to keep homosexuals a shamed lower class is like placing hands over the cracks in the dam. There is just too much water behind it and the dam is made of materials far too old and flawed to hold much longer. What will the traditional faithful do when it breaks? They will learn how to swim, just like the rest of us.
Sacred is the life we live, not the life we keep others from living.
I was unsure how I completely felt about the issue of gay marriage until last night. And this this poured out of me: http://www.becomingsomething.com/2008/11/gay-marriage-and-gay-mormons.html
Hearts need to change. Minds need to expand. I hope to have played a small role in ushering this in for my friends, if no one else.
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