Concerns about The Marriage Amendment
I have a number of concerns about the Marriage Amendment. I’ve studied the issue and pondered at length,
but still I feel uneasy about the prospect.
Make no mistake about it. I accept the Gospel doctrine revealed by the Prophets. I am willing to accept the fact that homosexual relations are sinful, and will not dispute it.
My issue with the Marriage Amendment is based upon three premises:
- The Marriage Amendment is inconsistent with the character of the divinely-inspired Constitution, and would fundamentally alter that character.
- Using legislation of any sort to ban homosexual marriages is an exercise in futility–indeed, such legislation would in many ways likely be self-defeating, subverting the very purpose of the legislation.
- legal coercion, particularly on religious matters, is inconsistent with the principles of the Gospel.
I hope that everyone will read these arguments with an open mind, weighing them out in their minds, and not just dismiss them out-of-hand.
We hold the Constitution in special esteem in the Church. The Lord has revealed that he inspired the Constitution, raised up the founders to establish it and the principles it represents as the law of the land. This being the case, I have a hard time understanding why we would want to change the essential character of the Constitution with an amendment such as the Marriage Amendment.
It would be very valuable for any contemplating such a change to review the document. It is not long, nor for the most part very complex. As citizens, it is wise for us to be familiar with the Constitution. Not merely with the individual rules and concepts of the document, but the Constitution as an organic whole. As we do, some interesting patterns emerge.
The original Constitution (that is, the Constitution as originally ratified, prior to any amendment) is a document rigorously limited in scope. The founders ultimately crafted a charter concerned solely with the structure and process of governing. The bedrock principles upon which the Constitution was created were representation of the governed, accountability of the governing to those governed (more limited at the time than what we expect today from democratic institutions, but rather more broad than virtually any other nation at the time), and limitation of governing power. Aside from concessions demanded by the slavocrats in the South to protect their interests, virtually the entire Constitution was aimed at promoting those principles.
Even those limits and safeguards established in the original Constitution were not enough for many around the nation, including some of those attending the Constitutional Convention (most prominently George Mason of Virginia). They demanded a Bill of Rights (consisting of the first eleven amendments) which would protect the rights of individuals from the federal government (and ultimately, after the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment, from the state governments). One of their foremost concerns in doing so was to protect the minority from the majority. These were mostly classically educated men, people who had studied the history of Greece and Rome. They had seen how the Greeks used the democratic practice of ostracism to deal with unpopular minorities and individuals. They saw how religious minorities had been persecuted throughout Europe with the consent of the majority from the advent of Christianity onwards. They saw that the tyranny of the many was no better than the tyranny of the few. They were suspicious of the possibility of the majority to use the government to persecute and eliminate opposition. For them, it was essential to protect not just popular speech, actions, and religions, but unpopular ones as speech and religions.
The rest of the amendments deal with one of three issues. They either refine the processes of government (the Twelfth, Twentieth, Twenty-Second, Twenty-Third, Twenty-Fifth, and Twenty-Seventh Amendments); expand civil and political rights (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth amendments), or enhance the national character of the country (the Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments).
Thus, the core principles of the entire Constitution are freedom (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to quote the Declaration of Independence; to use the term most often used in the Church, “agency”) and democracy (public participation in the political process, which participation increasingly expanded over the years, as well as an accountability upon the part of governing officials to that public which has consented to be governed by those officials).
I will digress momentarily to forestall those who would claim we are not a democracy, but a republic. This is true. But because we select our representatives through election–the public chooses who will speak for them—that republic is based on democratic principles.
Those are the only principles represented within the Constitution as we have it today. Ultimately, the founders and virtually all following generations understood that to include anything more than these principles–the basic essence of their and our belief in government–would be to subvert those principles. Statements of religious belief or moral strictures would undermine the freedom the founders so fervently advocated. Thus there is no mention of God, aside from a reference to the date, in the entire composition. The Constitution was not a testimony, but rather strictly a document on governing and establishing the principles upon which governments should run. They knew that the promotion of moral principles and standards was not stewardship of government, but rather the realm of churches and individuals. If we believe the Constitution to be divinely inspired, is it not likely that this refrain from religious statement, this tacit approval of the separation of Church and State, was also divinely inspired?
There are two exceptions in the entire Constitution to its moral neutrality, and both are rather instructive. These are the Eighteenth and the Twenty-First Amendments. The former instituted Prohibition. The latter repealed the former.
Prohibition was promoted by a groundswelling within the religious community, with a very worthy goal in mind. I can certainly appreciate their desire. I would be thrilled were there no drunkenness and alcoholism. And we know that the Prophet Joseph F. Smith was an enthusiastic advocate of the Eighteenth Amendment.
But Prohibition ended up an unmitigated disaster. Drinking was undiminished, while crime grew rampant. By the time it was repealed, a great many of the former supporters were leading the movement to repeal (the Prophet was not among their number, and he lamented after the Twenty-First was ratified).
With the passing of the Twenty-First, we again have a governing contract in the same essential mode as it was when inspired by our Lord. Its very restricted, narrow, even pure focus is upon the proper principles of government: freedom of choice, accountability, and democratic participation.
The Marriage Amendment would fundamentally alter that focus and therefore the very character of the Constitution. No longer a document solely about governance and the relationship between the government and those governed, the Constitution would have stepped into morass of moral edict.
I am very concerned about such a change in the character of the Constitution. Do we really want to do something so drastic to this divinely inspired code? Is there perhaps anything we can learn from the last time an amendment was ratified which pushed the Constitution over its very narrow boundaries? When one step is taken into those waters, what is to prevent another one? How far will it go? Do we want government meddling in role properly belonging to religion and individuals?
It would be one thing to establish the marriage relationship by regular law passed through congress. But to play with the fundamental document by which our nation defines itself alarms me.
Even were this an ordinary law as opposed to a Constitutional Amendment, I would hesitate to support it. By any practical measure, it will work no better than Prohibition. I tend to do a lot of study of political and social issues. The whole process fascinates me. One thing that I’ve found is that even well-intentioned efforts to instill moral values in others are self-defeating. I can’t help but wonder if the conservative movement to ban homosexual marriage will be equally as self-destructive.
At the very least, the amendment will prove futile. After all, what is the core sin in homosexual marriage? It isn’t having two people of the same gender living together or sharing finances. Were that the case, the entire missionary force of the Church would be in sin, as would the vast majority of the college student population.
No, the root of the problem is sex between members of the same gender.
Does anybody really think that homosexual couples will stop having sex because a Constitutional Amendment prevents their marriage? Will they break up and seek heterosexual companionship?
Hardly. Virtually all will go right on with what they are doing. So at the very least, the amendment will accomplish nothing of value.
But the greater risk is that the amendment will actually hurt the cause which its leaders claim to promote. Homosexuals, usually with justification, feel judged, condemned, and even persecuted. This amendment will only make them feel more so. What will be their reaction? They same way that they react when others go out of their way to condemn them. Just the same we react when others go out of their way to condemn us (think the protesters at General Conference). Whether it is the boycott and anti-gay demonstrations at their parades, or the vocal indignation at Brokeback Mountain, it is all the same. They, like us, will circle their wagons. They will become defensive. When people are defensive, they are not open to listening or discussion.
So the Amendment will, like so many conservative actions, defeat its own purpose.
Why do efforts to use legislation to promote morality seem to fail?
I think a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that such methods are not consistent with the proven Gospel principles.
One of the most important concepts in the Church is that of agency; freedom, the right to choose for ourselves what we will do or believe. This principle is an essential part of the Gospel. Without agency, we cannot grow or progress. Understanding this, we stood up for agency in the War in Heaven. The principle was crucial enough that our Father was willing to lose one-third of his children over it.
Agency is so vital that the Book of Mormon repeatedly shows the great respect that servants of the Lord have for freedom.
Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah choose for a time to undermine the Church and to lead people away into wickedness. Yet their fathers, Prophet and King, did not seek to restrain them by force or law. Instead (presumably after much pleading with their sons), they turned to the Lord in prayer (Mosiah 27).
Nehor was allowed his freedom, which he chose to squander in teaching false doctrine and satisfying his greed. When he was eventually taken into custody, it was not for his sinful lifestyle, but because he had crossed over from living sinfully to the crime of murder (Alma 1).
We should respect and promote agency. Except in areas where sin deprives others of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” (ie, murder, rape, and other forms of physical violence, theft, etc) we should preserve their freedom to make their own choices.
Alma’s later life leads to some valuable lessons. He was simultaneously the Chief Judge and the Prophet. But when he grew concerned with the iniquity rising throughout the land, he very carefully kept his roles separate. He did not seek to establish laws banning the sin he saw. He instead gave up his government role so he could concentrate on curing the sin in the proper way (Alma 4:15-20).
What is the proper way to deal with sin? We have a wonderful guide in the D&C 121:41.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.
While this verse specifically addresses the priesthood, I would submit that this is the proper mode of moral instruction and improvement for all.
This is why the efforts of the Religious Right tend to fail in their goals. I fear that all too often, as in the Marriage Amendment, they succumb to the sin of unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39). They in their pride would force their conception of morality on others. But whether that morality is right nor wrong, the very act of coercion is wrong, and will inevitably fail. Legal coercion is not a legitimate method of moral inculcation. Christ does not want us to follow him because we are forced to. Such “righteousness” is meaningless. He wants our hearts, or willingness to follow his example.
Therefore, the best way to deal with the problem of homosexuality is to use “persuasion, long-suffering, and love unfeigned.” We must respect them as human beings. We must respect their choices. Respect their right to have their parades, and their Brokeback Mountain‘s. We don’t have to participate or support them, but we can and should allow them to pursue their activities (their “pursuit of happiness”) in peace. Get to know them and to love them. Only once they trust us and know that we don’t hate them will they be willing to listen as we share with them the Gospel. Only then will their hearts possibly be receptive to the Spirit. Only then is there a chance they might accept the Savior, and if it is possible (a dubious prospect), change their orientation—or at the very least, seek to suppress their desires.
This seems to me to be much more in harmony with the teachings of the Gospel. This is more reminiscent of the Savior, who did not exclude or marginalize the sinners, but instead walked, dined, and spent time with them. He was not interested in telling them how bad they were, but rather in sharing with them the joy they could find in righteousness. I prefer to follow his example than to take a treacherous path which I fear will lead nowhere.
I am not suggesting that homosexuals should marry. I can accept the counsel of the Prophet that they should not. Nor could the government force the Church to perform homosexual marriages. The 1st Amendment guarantees the Church the religious freedom to refuse to perform homosexual marriages or to recognize them as acceptable within the Church.
What I am saying is that if homosexuals want to be married civilly, or if other religious bodies wish to perform homosexual marriages, we should not prevent them. We believe in freedom, and that must by necessity include the freedom to think, believe, or do what is wrong.
There is a great deal of scriptural support for religious freedom. As we have already discussed, Alma did not use his role as Chief Judge to promote the Gospel. Indeed, he insisted upon freedom of religion in the land and tolerance for other beliefs by the members of the Church (Alma 1:21). King Mosiah refused to judge the sinners taken in sin, as this was the prerogative of the Prophet, not the secular ruler (Mosiah 26). Once King Lamoni was converted to the Gospel, he did not establish the Gospel as the law of the land. He instead declared freedom to worship as the people saw fit (Alma 21:22). The Book of Mormon leaders routinely asserted the right of the people to reject Gospel morality for other beliefs.
Joseph Smith himself enshrined religious freedom in the Articles of Faith:
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almight God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Understand as well that the freedom of religion includes the freedom to reject religion. Just as in choosing dinner, I can choose not to have dinner, so must a person in choosing his religious beliefs have the right to choose no religious belief. To eliminate that option is to make the entire choice a lie.
There are some faiths out there that wish to permit homosexual marriages within their organizations. That should be their right. There are also many homosexual couples who have chosen to reject religion, and who feel it morally valid to enter into a relationship which provides all the civic benefits of marriage and which they want to call marriage. Such should be their right should they so choose–just as it is our choice to believe the Gospel precept that homosexual relationships are sinful, and to try to convince them of this.
The true test of our commitment to liberty comes when people choose to choose contrary to our beliefs. Will we pass the test, or will we be proven hypocrites?
I had an uncle who was gay. He died of Aids a few years back. But prior to his death, he lived in a committed relationship with another man for several years. This partner was devoted to my uncle. He stuck with my uncle through all sorts of terrible illnesses, painful and physically humiliating treatments, and the knowledge that their time together was going to be brief. I can’t help but believe that such dedicated partners deserve the same sort of hospital visitation, health care, and end-of-life decision rights as any committed heterosexual couple, even if the relationship itself is not ideal in the eyes of the Lord. I cannot believe such love, sacrifice, and devotion is not in itself pleasing to the Lord.
Does homosexual marriage threaten or harm marriage? The idea is questionable at best. The Right would say that Homosexual would distort our concept of marriage. That threat is a quite exaggerated. Nobody can change the concept of a true, binding, eternal marriage for us. If others have a different concept, that is their right.
If marriage could be threatened by human action, heterosexuals would have annihilated it long ago. Infidelity has always been widespread. While I do believe that divorce is sometimes valid, there is no question that far too many undertake divorce lightly. How could committed homosexual couples harm marriage any more than serial monogamists such as Rush Limbaugh? The scriptures have a number of harsh words for divorce. Why is not Focus on the Family denouncing him and serial monogamists like him? Why not promote an anti-divorce amendment?
And who are we in the LDS Church to cast stones about non-traditional marriages, anyway? Considering our history in that regard, I would think we would be a little more accepting of the right of others to pursue marriage according to their own conscience in peace.
Frankly, I’m a bit perplexed as to why so many want to make such a big deal about homosexuality. Yes it is a sin. But it is far from the most insidious sins. The Scriptures address homosexuality a handful of times. The Book of Mormon, according to the Topical Guide, refers to homosexuality only once–and that only in passing (2 Nephi 13:9). In contrast, the scriptures contain hundreds of references to the plight of the poor, to honesty, to pride, and to greed. Homosexual sin is a temptation to a small fraction of the total population. Pride, on the other hand, is a challenge for the vast majority of us. Why the focus on homosexual sin?
I would suggest that there are two primary reasons for the concern with homosexualty. Neither have to do with the morality of homosexuality.
I see two primary reasons for this. The first reason is that homosexuality is for most of us, frankly, “Icky.” Call it homophobia or not, we find the idea repulsive. This seems to be a natural enough feeling considering the cultural atmosphere in which we are raised. But the fact that the sin is particularly “icky” to us does not make it a more egregious sin than those we ourselves engage in. We are all sinners. We are not justified in singling out homosexual sin just because it is “icky.”
The second is the human tendency to scapegoat. How easy it is to complain about the mote in someone else’s eye! Much easier than dealing with the beam in our own. If they can be blamed for our problems, we obviate our responsibility to work for change.
Neither attitude is worthy of followers of the Savior. We are called upon very specifically to love everyone. We are commanded to take care of our beams before worrying about the motes of others.
If we truly want to protect and preserve the family; if we want to defend Christian values, we will strive to raise up a society in which we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and care for and heal the sick. We would work to share what we have with others, fight against greed, selfishness, pride, and hate. We will seek to unify and gather in the Lord’s children rather than to divide, marginalize, and alienate. We will seek to share the Gospel word through gentle persuasion and love unfeigned. And we will not obsess over wedge issues and futile legislation simply to send some message about our moral standing.
All of my studies and prayers have led me to seriously question the wisdom of the Marriage Amendment. I certainly don’t expect or ask anyone to be convinced based upon my words. But I hope you will think about them, and pray on the issue. If you truly find that your support of the Marriage Amendment is confirmed by the Spirit, then by all means go ahead. But please make certain that your support isn’t based on prejudice and pride.