The recent surge of political energy demonstrated by California Mormons over Proposition 8 demonstrates what the Church can do: be a powerful force for political and social coalition building and activism. But, for some strange reason we have drawn a crooked line in the sand. The rights of homosexual men and women to define their relationships as they see fit has been deemed a “moral” issue which somehow threatens the sanctity of heterosexual marriages, but health care for all, two deadly and expensive wars, and the growing environmental crisis are “political,” and apparently unworthy of collective action or endorsement. I suppose that a church sworn to political neutrality on the surface can easily escape moral responsibility if moral issues are redefined as political[i]. What is moral about imposing a contemporary Christian interpretation of marriage on the rest of the nation? I say contemporary because as you may recall, in the late 1800s, Mormons defined marriage as between a man and multiple women. One would think that Mormons, who have experienced similar persecution related to the right to define marriage, would be a little more understanding of the present demands of homosexuals.
I am increasingly convinced that anyone who believes that homosexuality is a “social disease,” or wholly a lifestyle or personal choice has never met a Mormon homosexual. Over the past several months I have had the privilege of meeting and conversing with several homosexuals who have grown up in the Mormon Church. They have faced the pain of expulsion from school, disownment by parents, and cultural exile. I cannot imagine a torture more exquisite than to know that my own theology does not have a place for my inner most identity. Suicide is common among homosexual Mormons, who feel that there is no solution to the crisis of being true to their religion and to themselves. It is for this reason that I wish to state unambiguously and without reservation that I disagree whole-heartedly with the church’s decision to support a constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage at the state and federal level. I believe it is unconstitutional and immoral to legislate against the desires of our fellow citizens who may not share a similar theology. My argument rests on the assumption and personal conviction that homosexuals are a kind of person, not people engaging in a type of sexual behavior. If we believe this then we believe that they have rights under the constitution.
The argument I hear most in favor for Proposition 8 is that we live in a Christian nation. This is simply not true. We live in a secular republic with a majority Christian population. We do not have an official religion, which the founding fathers adamantly opposed despite most of them representing a variety of Christian and Deist traditions. If the goal of the Mormon Church and its allies is to impose a Theocracy in the United States, then we can begin to talk about constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, requiring prayer in schools, making the Bible the official text of the nation, etc. But, until that happens, (God forbid), we live in a pluralistic and multi-cultural society with a variety of values and perspectives; I don’t see that changing in the next few years. It is ironic that most conservative Mormons voice criticism of radical Islamists attempting to take over their respective governments in order to impose Sharia Law on the citizenry. It would seem that Proposition 8 is a similar if less militant and violent type of program: Seek to impose the ethics of the dominant religious tradition on religious and non-religious minorities. One of the myriad reasons given to justify the invasion of Iraq was to spread liberal secular democracy, yet we seek to overthrow it in our own country. If we agree that we live in a pluralistic and multi-cultural society, and not a Christian theocracy, what right do we have to demand of others an ethic that is not even their own?
The other argument I hear is that if the majority of Americans want to pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage then homosexuals should just accept that, because, hey that’s democracy. The Civil Rights movement and the Gay Rights movement are analogous because the 14th amendment calls for “equal protection under the law” of its citizens. Thus, if it true that homosexuals are a kind of person, as they claim, and not simply persons engaging in a type of sexual behavior, then it is constitutional to support their right to define marriage how they see fit. We don’t have to agree with it, but we do need to respect it. Democracy is not simply about majority rules; it is also about protecting minorities, whether they be atheists, Homosexuals, Buddhists, Muslims, or African-Americans. The rights of homosexuals to marry is part of the expanding notion of natural rights that in the past several hundred years has incorporated white men who do not own property, to women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and to some extent animals and the natural world.
If the Mormon Church is serious about working toward a truly family friendly social policy, I would suggest we advocate for such reforms as paid maternity leave, universal health care, free child care, mandatory paid vacation, gender parity in wages, and a living wage so that working parents can support a family. I find it to be supremely ironic that in this sense, European countries are more family friendly that we are!
Despite my vehement opposition to Proposition 8, I would never support any action by states or the federal government which would force any religion to accept or sanction homosexual marriage within their own tradition; this appeals of course to the first amendment. This is ironically, the same side of the coin that claims that we live in a pluralistic and multi-cultural society. Yes it is important to fight for the civil rights of all types of people, but we must also respect the rights of Christians to believe that homosexuality is a sin. The freedom of religion allows for a free exercise of conscious and practice, thus, I would hope that within every religious tradition (free of state mandate) there might be an ongoing dialogue about our theologies and the reality of homosexuality. We must engage with homosexuals in our own tradition, lending a compassionate and Christ-like ear. In Mormonism, we should also be sincere about the real possibility of a church founded on revelation changing its position when the time is right. While I support the right of gays to define their relationships as they see fit, there is nothing in the constitution that says that Mormons must accept gay marriage as part of their theology until the theology is ready.
[i] thank you Ashley Sanders for this insight
Here is an Amazing article by an active gay Mormon: