AN OPPOSITION TO THE LDS-BACKED AMICUS BRIEF ON UTAH AMENDMENT 3

By Melissa Mayhew. (This is being republished with permission from the website bythesamesign.com. If you agree with this statement please go to the bottom of that page to add your name.)

By the Same Sign?

If you’ve spent any amount of time in LDS meetings, you’re probably familiar with the sustaining vote. From the worldwide General Conference to our small local meetings, we are called on to show our support for those in church callings, asked that, “Those in favor manifest it by the uplifted hand,” always followed by the dim rustling of sleeves and shifting bodies as the congregation does so. The next part is also familiar by rote, “Any opposed, by the same sign,” and then usually silence. Many members can participate their entire lives without ever seeing that pattern broken, and in General Conference it is then predictably declared that the vote has been unanimous. That half a second or so of silence is generally all the time we have to express publicly and to each other that we might not be so content and consenting as the organization expects.

Early this February, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints filed an amicus curiae brief in Utah in support of Utah Constitutional Amendment 3, which seeks to legally define marriage within the state as being solely between one man and one woman, in an effort to bar same-sex couples from being married, recognized as married, or given similar or equivalent rights within the state.

In the opening paragraphs, it states, “The voices of millions of Americans are represented in the broad cross-section of faith communities that join in this brief,” and throughout uses “we” to represent the voice of the LDS church itself. And it is true that there are a great many whose voices the brief does fairly represent.

But it doesn’t represent all of us.

I am among many faithful people, both LDS and otherwise, whose voices are not represented by the statements of this amicus curiae brief, regardless of its official filing by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am a part of the church which is claiming to speak for me, which is implicitly invoking my support in and for the brief, but I say, “Nay.”

There was no sustaining vote called for this brief before it was filed, not even a token opportunity to express dissent, but we can respond to it now. Any who do not wish to be counted as spoken for can still speak for themselves. This is a matter made public, outside of the inner organization of the church, and so my response is public.

I explicitly revoke any support for this amicus curiae brief that the LDS church, which claims to represent me, may have expected. My objections include, but are not limited to, the matters I explain below. I will speak for myself.

I do not support the use of the term “traditional marriage.”

I know, they’re not the only ones to use it so vaguely, but it’s rather remarkable how very careful this brief is to attribute the definition “one man, one woman,” only to other involved faiths. Traditional marriage can mean a great many different things depending on what, exactly, the tradition you’re referencing is, and the LDS church is obviously aware that they’re speaking from a different tradition than even other backers of the brief.

Simply calling the way marriage is currently framed in Utah “traditional” is more than a hair disingenuous. Marriage still means different things in many different traditions, and has changed more significantly than this in the past, and I’m rather glad it has. My own heterosexual marriage to my husband has a lot more in common with the loving and equal homosexual child-rearing marriages of some of my friends than it does with, say, child-bride chattel arrangements, bride kidnappings, politically brokered unions, and biblical concubinage.

Oh, and polygamy.

I do not support the assertion that the needs of the involved adults must be a secondary purpose of marriage.

We know what it looks like, for women especially, when producing and rearing children within a marriage is more important than the health and well-being of the adult. It’s not pretty.

This assertion is also very insulting in its implication that childless couples’ marriages are not fulfilling the measure of their purpose, that they’re just an acceptable-but-incomplete by-product of marriage’s “real” purpose.

Marriage is about forming families, and the adults are of course a part of that family. A childless couple is still a family. The health, happiness, and stability of every family member is important, adult or child. Love and human connection are vitally important for adults, as well as for children. Parents often should, need to, and do make sacrifices for their children’s sake, and have a key responsibility towards the children in their care. Seeking a happy union for oneself is not necessarily antithetical to that, and supporting even small spouse-to-spouse families as a valid outcome of marriage still adds to the stability of a society.

I do not support the assumption that religious motivation cannot also be bigotry.

I realize that the intent of that section of the brief is to defend against a particular accusation of legal animus, but this is referenced, and comes up often enough besides, to be addressed on its own.

One thing I can say from my own moral standpoint is, how someone feels about how they feel about other groups of people really doesn’t matter so much as how their opinions shape the actions which then affect the lives of others. You can say, “I don’t hate the gays, I love them!” until the blue-faced cows come home, and that may very well be true pertaining to your own feelings. However, how you then affect other people in practice, and how you justify it, matter a whole lot more to me than the warm fuzzies you get when you think of them.

By my own understanding, that’s what the court is going to care about, too. However emotionally-loaded the word is, no one’s “hostility” is going to be measured by putting their heart on a scale and seeing if it’s buoyed up enough by good loving feelings to balance a feather. It’s going to be measured by what it is they’re doing or trying to do, and what the reasoned justifications for that action are. What Utah Amendment 3 is trying to do is lock down the definition of marriage in Utah in such a way that explicitly excludes same-sex marriages. (Or substantially equivalent legal effect, however denominated.) In order for that not to be bigotry, there’s going to have to be some pretty darn good, legally sound reasons for the court’s sake, and some pretty darn good, morally sound ones for mine.

This is something that every faith needs to be conscientious about in self-examination, because many faiths, the LDS tradition included, have proven quite prone to masking the bigotry of the past with religious claims. Rather than “choosing to be offended” at the supposed intolerance of others who see our church’s actions as bigotry, we really ought to be looking for the beam in our own eye.

I do not support the straw-man representation of the other side’s argument.

The brief characterizes the accusations of animus leveled partially as a “myth that hostility lies at the root of religious support for husband-wife marriage,” and this deliberately ambiguous and shallow statement is then addressed solely on its own level. Let’s be scrupulously clear here. What the LDS church and Utah Amendment 3 are supporting is not merely “husband-wife marriage.” It is husband-wife only marriage, recognized exclusively, and free from having to co-exist with other types of marriage.

An individual may very well believe that the only way to truly support “husband-wife marriage” is to protect it from co-existing with “husband-husband marriage” and “wife-wife marriage”–that in the great Venn diagram of marriages, letting the “Same Sex Marriage” bubble occupy space within the “Legally Recognized Marriage” bubble will somehow damage or edge out the “Man-Woman Marriage” bubble–but failing to address that point specifically in argument is simply begging the question. It assumes that something the LDS church believes is self-evident and already proved. It does not fairly address the full accusation, which does not have to automatically accept that point as either self-evident or already proved.

While the brief presents supporting arguments for the claim that many large religious organizations view husband-wife marriage as an ideal thing, it fails to address the question begged: how allowing other forms of marriage to co-exist besides heterosexual-only would prevent or hinder husband-wife marriages from pursuing or fulfilling their ideal purpose to at least the level that they currently do. In fact, the brief goes out of its way to declare that these specifically religious beliefs on “man-woman” marriage do not speak directly to the nature of homosexuality at all.

The question the brief begs is the one that is actually being asked of the LDS church, and others who argue from similar perspectives. It’s not, “why do religious people think husband-wife marriage is good,” it is, “why do you think homosexual marriage is harmful to heterosexual marriage?” The protective stance that desires to keep heterosexual marriage exclusive presupposes that it would be significantly harmed by coexisting with homosexual marriage, (or any other kind,) thus that other kinds of marriage are not just harmful, but significantly more harmful than good.

That is where the accusation of animus and bigotry are coming from. Not from, “Why do you want to protect heterosexual marriage?” but from, “Why is co-existing with homosexuality something you feel you need to protect it from?” One may have to answer the first question in order to answer the second, but that doesn’t mean solely answering the first satisfies the second.

But, we all know that already. Proving unable to answer that second question was a notable result of the Prop 8 involvement in California.

I do not support the mis-use of the Child Trends study.

Child Trends spoke for themselves on this one.

What the brief has done is use a study conducted solely on heterosexual households to draw conclusions about the inferiority and deleterious effect of homosexual households on children. It claims that there are benefits to being raised in a 100% biological, specifically male-female household that cannot be replaced, but the study cited doesn’t even look at the outcomes of the so-called “replacement” being argued against, and cannot reasonably conclude that they’re not good enough.

The Child Trends study looked at what happens when heterosexual families fall apart or experience loss as contrasted to when they don’t. Extrapolating from this either that heterosexual families would somehow fail at a higher rate than they currently do if homosexual families were allowed to form legally, or that legally-formed homosexual families are an overall detriment to children and society, are leaps of logic that are untested and unsupported by the Child Trends study cited, or by any other from a credible organization in the field of family and child well-being.

For some interesting and enlightening reading regarding this “for the children” approach, you can read from the federal judge’s decision on the Virginia same-sex marriage ban here, starting at the bottom of page 29.

I do not support the characterization of step-families and adoptive-families as being inferior to biological families.

Step families and adoptive families pick up when things go wrong for biological families, or when biological families experience loss. Many of the unique problems that step- and adoptive-families face come from baggage brought in and left over from drama, trauma, abuse, or loss that occurred within the biological family.

(On the subject of different kinds of families, there are also real and currently-used methods of in-vitro and other fertility treatments and surrogacy that are already used by infertile or health-challenged heterosexual couples and homosexual couples alike to bring children into their families, and neither are these families inferior.)

While it is still necessary for a male contribution and a female contribution to conceive a child, the health, success, and happiness of a child’s upbringing is not solely or even primarily predicated on whether that child is raised by the people responsible for 100% of their genetic material. There are so many other variables.

Step- and adoptive-families will always vary in their success, the same way biological families do, but they are not a naturally inferior second-best for children just because they pick up after traumatic events’ have occurred within the child’s biological family. These families often take on an extra burden of difficulty left to them by prior circumstance, and that is a blessed thing. Homosexual couples have been determined to be capable adoptive parents, able to support healthy and successful children, by numerous independent professional sources.

I will always support trying to better meet the unique needs and challenges of all manner of families, and there will always be all manner of families. The unique challenges and difficulties faced by step- and adoptive- families have nothing to do with making man-woman marriage exclusive, and bringing their difficulties into an argument that is about protecting heterosexual marriage against having to share society with somehow-harmful homosexual marriage, is implying that not-fully-biological families are part of that harm. It is saying that they are somehow naturally harmful, rather than something that works beneficially to pick up slack and heal harms caused elsewhere, and that we have interest in preventing more from forming than are already allowed to. This is incredibly insulting to millions of families, with both heterosexual and homosexual parents, casting them automatically into a less desirable second-class status, saying they’re automatically not as good or desirable as a biological family.

Death and human conflict and hardship are just as inevitable as birth is, and adoptive families are a valuable and vital part of how society deals with that, at least as much as marriage is to deal with the fruits of heterosexual intercourse. Considering the number of children in the US alone who have no permanent family, it is a lack of stable adoptive families that is the problem, not an overabundance. That is a problem that aiding the stability, rights, and resources of homosexual couples who would like to adopt can be part of the solution to. Being an adoptive family is a valuable social contribution that there will always be need for, and that homosexual couples can help provide.

I do not support using single parents’ struggles to show that both a mother and a father are necessary in a marriage as opposed to two same-sex parents.

Single parents of either sex don’t have it easy. They are doing with the resources and energy of one adult what society is built around being done by two. That is not a choice that many people make because it’s convenient, and often it’s not a choice at all. Abuse and loss may precede their situation, which are, again, their own variables that compound difficulty.

Forbidding marriages that are not heterosexual does not create stable heterosexual marriages, and the lives and unique challenges of single parents do not directly compare to homosexual parent couples just because only one sex of parent is represented within them. It is a false analogy, not to mention irrelevant to the question at hand. Forbidding homosexual marriage does not support single parents or their children. It does not help or validate women who decided that their husband’s male-ness did not at all compensate for his neglect and abuse.

What exactly is the value measure of male-ness or female-ness and what they provide to a family? How much male-ness or female-ness does it take to equal how much general human goodness, hard-workingness, dedication, loyalty, and love? How much male-ness or female-ness compensates for how much narcissism, selfishness, abuse, neglect, cruelty, and hate?

This characterization of single parents attributes the root of their difficulties to simply not having the opposite gender represented in their household, rather than fairly looking at all of the attendant circumstances and choices that they navigate every single day of their lives. It is a gross oversimplification of a complicated reality, and glosses over the many real and unique circumstance that may lead a single parent to that point in their life.

The challenges that single parents face are real and deserving of attention and relief, but co-opting and oversimplifying them in order to argue against homosexual marriage helps no one.

I do not support the poor characterization of fathers as a class, or the cited claim that they have no natural process to bind them to their own children and therefore need a legal one.

I hardly know where to begin with this one. The claim that men have no natural process to bind them to their children while mothers do is tricky, because it’s ambiguous.

It certainly is easier to establish a woman’s maternity than a father’s paternity, at least at one stage. Pregnancy and childbirth are a lot easier for witnesses to observe and corroborate, and doing so typically doesn’t need any degree of technical or specialist expertise. The woman by nature has a sort of first possession of the child, and can be left holding it by default. Also, for a good while historically, yes, marriage has been a way for a man to legally establish that the children his wife bore belonged to him. Just like she did.

Things change. Women and children in the US are not the chattel property of a husband, and paternity tests can establish a man’s biological fatherhood if it is in dispute. If Utah cares about this, it can start by revising its own adoption policies and practices, which currently give a man’s biological connection so little consideration on its own that his children can be placed and claimed for adoption without an unmarried biological father’s knowledge or consent. It’s a fate that married fathers have an easier time avoiding, to be sure, but in this case it is a social construct marriage is protecting against, not a natural one. The legal connection is prioritized over the natural one that does exist.

Biological fathers who want their children are fighting back, demonstrating both their feeling of connection to their children, and that it’s not marriage that is dictating that bond. It doesn’t take birthing a child to want it and feel connected to it, and simply birthing a child doesn’t guarantee that a woman will bond with it or want it either; post-partum depression and other dysphorias are all also natural processes that a female body can go through attendant to pregnancy and birth. Men can and do want children, and men are capable of bonding with children in a very natural manner. The bonding process involving the release of oxytocin in the body is something that both men and women can experience to varying degrees. It may or may not be released in high doses in a mother going through childbirth and nursing, but it’s also released as people of either gender spend time anticipating a child’s arrival, or acting as a companion and caregiver for children, regardless of whether those children are their literal offspring or not.

There are good fathers and bad fathers, just as there are good mothers and bad ones. Marriage as a social expectation may indeed encourage (or pressure) some men (and women) into roles of marriage and child-making when they’re not already inclined to do so anyway. Is that always a good thing? If the goal is to legally bind reluctant fathers to the support of their children, we can strengthen the processes for fulfilling child-support claims and deliberately target the bad fathers, rather than casting fathers in general as a class that is naturally callow and careless in regards to children, and needs to be reined in by marriage.

Regardless, no one is challenging a man’s right to establish a consenting marriage relationship with a woman and together conceive and raise children within it, and I do agree that it is wise for individuals to take measures to prevent children from being conceived in undesirable circumstances or with unstable partners, and that marriage is an important commitment to stability. Marriage does provide benefits to both couples and children. That’s why homosexual couples want it for themselves and their families.

I do not support the co-opting of the words to Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. in order to establish the validity of this particular religious motivation.

The LDS church hasn’t exactly been ahead of the curve on women’s issues over the past handful of generations, and pretty much never on matters regarding black Americans. Citing those within-easy-reach names–names which are well known and powerful thanks to the level of dedication and personal self-sacrifice the individuals put into a fight against a repressive and exclusive societal status-quo for the benefit of an excluded demographic that they were part of–in order to further a quest to maintain the societal exclusion of a group of “others,” is a cheap move of convenience, and pretty much terrible. Seriously. Just awful. The organization of the church does not deserve the ethos of that direct comparison. It has not earned it.

If the church wants to acknowledge the accomplishments of those individuals, it can do so elsewhere, unmotivated by an ulterior agenda. It can do so for its own sake, and by demonstrating actual respect and understanding for what it is Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. respectively fought for, and against. Citing a shallow account of their words in order to leverage the respect other people hold for them is disrespectful at best, and deeply cynical at worst. There is room to acknowledge the goodness and power of these historical figures, but not as a means to an end.

For more irony, Susan B. Anthony eventually distanced herself from organized religion based on her perception of its hypocrisy. Women “bringing moral and religious issues into the political arena,” doesn’t necessarily mean supporting what the very male religious establishment already takes for granted.

I do not support the arguments the brief presents that also harm and limit women as a class.

Really, I don’t want to be thrown under the anti-gay-marriage bus here. I don’t particularly want it crashed in the first place, and I sure don’t want to be broken under it in the process. Arguments regarding strict binary gender roles and universal differences, such as those presented in this brief, have been used for centuries to justify the abuse and neglect of women’s bodies, minds, souls, and personal rights. There’s more to say on this than I have room for here, as the examination of these issues is something that takes a lot of unpacking. Suffice it to say, I don’t appreciate being caught in the line of fire regarding the thoughtless reification of harmful philosophies on a strict and universal sex-based gender binary.

I don’t support the violation of our own 11th Article of Faith, and the moral agency of others.

The brief argues in support of one type of religious motivation. Other people have their own religious motivations for seeing homosexual marriage as a good thing. Utah’s attempt at amendment in this case is directly interfering with certain people’s ability to practice what they see as a moral good. There is no “allowing all men the same privilege” if we do not actually allow it. I see this as attempting to legislate other people’s morality, forcing them to behave as the LDS church, among others, would have them behave. Forcing other people to do the ideal thing is not the Plan of Happiness.

If the LDS church wants to position itself between certain behaviors and their harmful effects on others, there are a lot that are far more solidly established than the supposed and unproven harms of homosexual marriage. There is no shortage of excellent moral crusades to fight, especially in the name of protecting children and bolstering future society. I might suggest seeing to it that no child within the church ever suffers from preventable malnutrition, as a place to start.

I don’t support documents written by third parties and committees as a means to an end presented publicly to the world as representative of our doctrines and our faith.

Is this the Good News that we’re showing to the world?

This careless co-opting of social movements that our own leaders have on occasion actively fought against, and that we’ve had to be dragged, heels-dug in the whole time, towards accepting by slow and inevitable social acclimation, decades behind the curve if we ever really get there at all?

These shallow appeals to some kind of “The Way We Never Were” worldview, and ad-hoc psuedo-moral philosophies trotted out for all to see as what we believe and where we stand, never mind the broader and deeper implications and applications of these now publicly-claimed arguments?

This shameless blend of not just religious and secular involvement, but also presenting thinly specious faux-scientific claims with the same hubris of faith that relies so much on “we believe” that it can’t even see past to the necessity of “we can demonstrate” against dissenting experience, proof, and argument, all held together with great dripping buckets of disingenuity and pride? Why are we so very sure that this time, this time we’re on the right side of history? That this time, it’s actually doctrine and not just policy and the opinion of men of their time?

We haven’t even begun to actually learn the lessons of acknowledging our honest history.

And why on the great green Earth are we hiring out our moral and philosophical arguments to be constructed and published by calculating third parties and committees as a means to an already-decided-upon end? It’s completely backwards.

Do we realize what is being sacrificed on this altar of agenda? Are we really okay with this lack of philosophical integrity and moral rigor being established as both our face to the world, and as instruction to ourselves? The Gospel may be deep, but the church’s self-proclaimed doctrine is becoming increasingly and pitifully shallow as the result of these reactionary crusades.

And I do not support that.

Signed,

Melissa Mayhew

This is being republished with permission from the website bythesamesign.com. If you agree with this statement please go to the bottom of that page to add your name.

4 comments for “AN OPPOSITION TO THE LDS-BACKED AMICUS BRIEF ON UTAH AMENDMENT 3

  1. Dennis Kelsch
    February 27, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Amen

    • M.d Ortiz
      April 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, I teach critical thinking in Southern Utah, I’m currently reading student’s papers, I am glad I took a break to read your piece. Best argument I have read lately on this issue. Thank you again. I hope the brethren are reading…

  2. Lorian
    February 27, 2014 at 9:21 am

    This is so beautiful and so well put, Melissa. I especially love the part where you discuss how unfair it is to single parents to co-opt their struggles in the attempt to indict same-sex parents. So wrong on both ends.

  3. Nephi Joshua
    February 27, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    What a fantastic read! You are so well spoken. Every point resonated with me. As a 28 year old homosexual man who came out at 14 in The Church, I have had my share of struggles with my faith. I am now working in the field of Child Care where I care for dozens of amazing children with single mothers and/or children in foster/ protective care. The innocence of these children shines light into my life! Now more than ever I believe Jesus himself would LOVE (for that is what he does) same sex unions. I live in Canada, so not much is stopping me from marrying and adopting children. Just have to meet the right man who shares my desire for a strong and loving family.

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