Saturday, May 17, 2008

The LDS Church and Marriage Equality

What will the LDS Church do in response to California's recent legalization of gay marriage?

There are some interesting signs of retreat from its earlier position.

You may recall that a member of the church's orchestra at Temple Square named Peter Danzig wrote a letter to the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune in support of gay marriage. Danzig ended up being removed from the orchestra against his will and eventually resigned from the church. There was some press coverage. In response, the church took the extremely unusual step of commenting publicly about an individual.

One of the things the church included in its press release about Danzig was a flat denial that it had ever asked its members to support anti-gay amendments and ballot measures. Speaking of its request from the pulpit that its members engage in unified political action in support of the anti-gay amendment to the U.S. Constitution proposed by the Bush administration in 2006, the church said:

In reality Church leaders had asked members to write to their senators with their personal views regarding the federal amendment opposing same gender marriage, and did not request support or opposition to the amendment.

Cynics might see this as dissembling. I see it as major, major backpedaling.

Fast forward a few months to today. The California Supreme Court has invalidated on constitutional grounds an anti-gay ballot measure passed in November 2000.

In response, the LDS church issued a statement that began in this way:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that same-sex marriage can be an emotional and divisive issue.

In my memory, this is the first time that the church has recognized the possibility that right-thinking, ethical people might have legitimate differences of opinion on the topic of marriage equality.

There has been some discussion on the Mormon blogosphere about this. For example this post asks forthrightly members of the church "How should we feel about this?". I found it interesting that in the many comments, there was very little support for the idea that the church should get involved again politically, as it had in the promotion of the original California ballot initiative. In fact, many of the (faithful LDS) commenters said that they would refuse to put signs in their lawns for the proposed anti-gay amendment to the California constitution if the church asked them to this time around. Several expressed regret that they had gone along with the church in 2000, with the original, unconstitutional ballot measure.

What has changed between 2000 and 2008? I can think of three things.

The first is a general change in public awareness about the injustice of denying marriage to gay people. The experience of Massachusetts (as well as Canada and almost all of Western Europe) has made people realize that allowing its gay citizens to enjoy the security and responsibility of family life promotes social stability, not instability.

The second thing that has changed since 2000 is a general sense of fatigue in the electorate for social wedge issues. The Bush/Rove campaigns of 2000 and 2004 have pretty much used that technique to its limit, and in the current climate, this kind of scapegoating is seen as distasteful. Senator Obama has pointed this out a number of times, and people are responding to the inherent sense of decency that his rebuke of Bush/Rove tactics entails.

And finally, the LDS Church has a new president who may be much more sympathetic to gay issues than his predecessor. And in any case President Monson is much, much less political than President Hinckley, so regardless of his views on the issue of marriage equality, the church with Monson at its helm may be much more circumspect about any kind of overt political action.

Thus, I'm predicting reduced involvement by the church in the effort in California to encode discrimination against homosexuals by means of a referendum that amends the state's constitution. I'm hoping the church will just sit this one out. We'll see what happens.


Stephen said...

Now, now, I know a number of people who followed that advice and opposed laws legislating who could marry.

So, in your retcon, does that mean that some of my wife's best friends were being prophetic, disobedient or discordant?

After all, isn't there an article of faith that states "Let them marry how, who or what they may?"


MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Stephen!

Thanks for commenting.

Two points:

- I'm not trying to revise history. I'm just predicting that the church's future behavior will, for various reasons, be different than its past behavior. Time will tell whether my conjecture holds.

- I strongly support individual political action whether people are on my side of any particular issue or not! If your wife's best friends were acting out of personal conviction, hurray. If they were following a program of advocacy laid out for them by a tax-exempt, supposedly charitable organization that is by law not permitted to engage in political lobbying, then that's another matter.

Best regards!

J G-W said...

You forgot to mention the suicide of Stuart Matis, which was a direct outcome of the mean-spiritedness of the 2000 campaign. The work of the Matis family and others behind the scenes as a result of the suicide I think has persuaded many within the LDS hierarchy that heavy-handed support for the 2000 California ballot initiative had terrible consequences for many individuals, and fanned attitudes of bigotry among Church members.

MoHoHawaii said...


It makes sense that news of Matis' death would make it up the chain of leadership.

I have also heard, but I don't know if this is reliable, that the rate of convert baptisms in California dropped by about 50% after the 2000 election. If this is true, it would certainly get the attention of church leaders.

One more point that I didn't mention... I am certain that some of the General Authorities have gay children and that these children are more confident in coming out to their families than in the past. This has to have an effect.

Anonymous said...

I am Mormon and lived in the Bay Area when Prop. 22 was on the ballot. I supported the proposition because I want to preserve traditional marriage. Trust me that I am not bigoted and I do not dislike anyone based on their personal beliefs. I have several gay or lesbian friends, (some Mormon, some not). I do not have a problem with domestic partnerships, but I do have an issue with redefining marriage.

I think that the LDS church will continue to support the concept of marriage between man and a woman. Generally politics are not mentioned at church meetings. However, as LDS church members, marriage is very sacred to us and as individuals we stand up for what we believe in. So this isn't as much of a political issue as it is a spiritual issue for us (well, speaking for myself). Church leaders do not ever tell us how to vote or who to vote for. It is a private decision. But they probably will remind us to protect marriage. And I have never heard anyone promote bigotry or hate. In fact we strive to love one another.

I think there is probably some happy ending, but not sure what it is. Best of luck and thanks for letting me post on your blog.


MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Pam,

Thanks for commenting.

You write that "marriage is very sacred to us and as individuals we stand up for what we believe in."

I would suggest that the Word of Wisdom is very sacred to Mormons, yet so far the church hasn't donated millions of dollars to enact laws that would deny non-Mormons the right to go to Starbucks. There's a difference between what you hold sacred in your own life and the steps you are willing to take to force the lives of others into your mold.

I take it as a given that the LDS church will disapprove of my boyfriend and me getting married. The question is whether the church will donate money and mobilize its members in order to deny us this right by law.

For the reasons mentioned in the original post, I think the church is going break with its earlier position and disengage from this political battle. Do you disagree with the points I made in support of this prediction?

Anonymous said...

Looks like you were wrong on whether the Church was going to get involved or not.


MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the link.

Win some, lose some. I'm really sorry the church has decided to go this way.