Wednesday, October 13, 2010

LDS Church redefines marriage language

Here’s what I noticed in the statement issued yesterday by the LDS Church in response to a letter it received from the Human Rights Campaign. The statement was read by Michael Otterson.

1) LDS Newsroom has begun to use words gay and lesbian without prefixing them with "so-called" or placing the words in quotation marks. You can see this in several places in Otterson’s statement.

Further, Otterson uses these words as nouns as well as adjectives, which is something you still won’t hear in General Conference. LDS PR is taking the next step in saying that people known as gays and lesbians exist.

(Prior usage would have been the clumsy and demeaning phrase "people suffering from same-gender attraction."

It’s also interesting to note that the use of the word gay is so new to the Church that its copyeditors didn’t catch the nonstandard phrase "gay young men" and replace it with the more idiomatic "young gay men." )

2) LDS Newsroom used the term sexual orientation without prefixing it with "so-called" or putting it in quotation marks to delegitimize it. The idea that sexual orientation exists is very new to LDS official discourse. This may be the first use of the term in any kind of official LDS statement.

3) The statement explicitly calls out the fact that the Church recognizes that same-sex attraction is not lust. Otterson offers that there are "emotional, social, and physical feelings" involved. The implication is that sexual orientation is important to the formation of pair bonds. This an important change in thinking and strongly contradicts Elder Packer’s remarks. (Elder Packer admits only sexual desire, and not the social and emotional bonding that exists for a same-sex couple.)

4) LDS PR speaks the name "Human Rights Campaign" and says that the Church shares some goals with HRC. This may be the first time any offical statement by the Church has dignified a gay-rights group by speaking its name. (Prior usage would have been "Some say that..." or "While proponents of so-called 'gay rights' claim that...").

You can look back on previous statements from the Church to see how novel the current language is. For example, even as late as the Oaks/Wickman interview, the Church used quotation marks to indicate that the word relationship when applied to same-sex couples could only denote a risible counterfeit of authentic human experience. That’s now gone.

Kremlinologists (and copyeditors) take note. Change is afoot. :- )


A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Thanks for bringing this language to everyone's attention. My ears perked up with the HRC reaction at the alterations in language. As somebody who studies languages and literatures, I firmly believe that these "small and simple things" hold a lot of sway.

Quiet Song said...

Thank you for this analysis.

Joned Rahadian said...

Well, it's a good small step. ^_^

Anonymous said...

now if they can just get rid of "so-called intellectuals" we'll be set.

Ned said...

I don't think it is such a small step, but then again I've watched the so-callded "Mormon" church deal with it's restorationist tendencies for several decades now. ;)

Steven B said...

I wonder if, perhaps, the language changes depending on who the audience is.

When church leaders speak to general church membership in General Conference or through the Ensign Magazine, they practically do backflips and grotesque contortions to avoid saying the word 'sex.' Even the Proclamation on the Family is deliberately vague considering why it was written. And Elder Packer's address was likewise considered to be simply general admonition in many people's opinion, because it doesn't specifically mention gay people outwardly. Wink, wink, a lot of people understood without Packer ever having to say the word homosexual.

When General Authorities are speaking to a strictly adult group, they will sometimes utter the word sex. Even then it is rare, in my opinion.

But here the statement is directed to a national gay-rights group.

Imagine Otterson telling the HRC that they "suffer from Same-Gender Attraction." Or that they are "so-called" gay. Can it be that the PR department actually knows what language to use in discourse with gays and lesbians?

I love the title of your post, BTW.

alan said...

I agree with Steven B, that it's a question of audience. The PR dept couldn't get its point across effectively without using some of the language of the HRC.

It’s also interesting to note that the use of the word gay is so new to the Church that its copyeditors didn’t catch the nonstandard phrase "gay young men" and replace it with the more idiomatic "young gay men."

Or, this was intentional. Gay young men = they are young men before they are "gay" (or their gayness might be temporary), whereas "young gay men" assumes they are gay first and also young. You can see why the Church would be interested in the former.

Sean said...

I agree with Steve and Alan. This is just the latest attempt for further damage control. BKP is just job security for the PR department. The church is way too good at this and I think everyone is a little naive to think that this is the first little shift to bring about change in the church.

They are going to kiss right wing butt where ever they have to to get Romney in the white house. They will only play nice with the gays to keep them off their back. I'm tellin ya...

Ivan said...

I love your blog. Very informative. I'm writing an article regarding gay relationships next for my blog:

I would appreciate it if you would let me use some of the context of your blog posts. Thanks in advance! :)

J Seth Anderson said...

That's for the analysis. I hadn't thought through some of the things you pointed out. Thanks!