Defending Marriage

Five years ago I voted ‘Yes’ on Prop 8 in California.  I am an active Mormon who campaigned and went door to door spreading the message and distributing campaign materials.  It isn’t accurate to say that I followed the Brethren blindly because I really did put a lot of thought and prayer into trying to wrap my head around the issue.  I was a believer.  I am still a believer.  Back in 2008, however, I was at best ignorant of far too much; and unfortunately at worst, I was intolerant and hateful.  What changed?  For one, I knew zero gay people.  Not gay people I just knew about.  I am talking about gay people I actually interacted with and knew personally.  Zero.  It’s like a bunch of us in the pre-existence looking at the world and judging the sins of others without ever setting foot on earth.  Even Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to figure out theological issues without the benefit of our own life experience.  That is why we are here, living and learning and applying truths as He reveals them to us.

So now I know a few gay people.  Just like straight people, they are by and large good people, many are extraordinary.  They are people I have grown to love and respect.  They are children of God as sure as any of us is.  Yet they face circumstances in life heterosexuals can only conceive of in broad strokes and stereotypes.  We find gay people deviant from everything we know.  Yet from our moral high ground we find it easy to consign them to celibacy or choosing an evil lifestyle.

So how can we stand up for marriage and at the same time support, love and respect our gay brothers and sisters?  In a world of polarizing opinions and views, it is hard to imagine a world of Mormon ideology and the LGBT Community finding harmony.  We owe our gay brothers and sisters more than just cool tolerance.  As my gay cousin pointed out to me recently, she wants more than just tolerance or begrudged acceptance, she wants respect.

What Defending Marriage Is

Temple marriage is qualified by God’s standards.  I was raised in the Church, studied the gospel, went on my mission and otherwise prepared my whole life to be a good father and husband.  It was the culmination of my whole life to marry in the temple.  In preparation, we train to become more Christ-like; to become good husbands, wives, fathers and mothers.  We learn the measure of a commitment for not just a lifetime, but forever.  Family is reinforced as the center of our lives as we focus on temple work for our ancestors connecting us with living, vivid stories of our family.

By contrast, civil marriages sanctioned by the state have virtually no encoded moral qualification.  You could have lived with your girlfriend or fiance for any period of time, or no time at all.  You could have met the day before.  You may have had dozens of one night stands and never been faithful or committed to anything or anybody in your life.  No background checks or waiting period are required.  It is probably harder to get a firearm than obtain a marriage license.  And regardless of the way you conduct your marriage, you could be absolved through a no fault divorce of any responsibility for cheating, immorality or commitment agreed to when you said your vows.

I don’t mean to denigrate those who have a civil marriage and have done wonderful things in their marriages and families.  I am simply stating that the quality of your marriage has nothing to do with the state’s endorsement of it.  So, in defending traditional marriage, the majority of the morality and faith that Mormon’s ascribe to marriage can be completely absent in the current form of civil marriage.

And it should be noted that the institution of marriage is crumbling not because gay people desire marriage, but because heterosexual people have chipped away at the moral standards required both before and during marriage. 

What Defending Marriage is Not

We are counseled by modern revelation that our conduct is to be exercised “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness and pure knowledge . . . Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:42-43).

In the wake of Prop 8, have we as individual members or the Church itself shown an increase of love toward gay people?  Have we advocated for any other sort of civil relationship similar to marriage?  Have we treated them in any regard that might be seen as Christ-like?  We talk of acceptance and tolerance as the most we can give when what is actually needed is love and respect.  Have you made an attempt to understand their circumstances or get to know them personally?

Lost in all of this is “How do I defend marriage and not come off as a total bigot?”  You could easily not be on the same page as I am regarding civil, traditional and temple marriage, and that is Okay.  But we can communicate in a language of love regarding defending marriage:

  • Do – Tell everyone what a temple marriage means to you and how you would encourage anyone and everyone to seek out and be worthy of a temple marriage.
  • Do – Love your children in all their diversity.  Love them for their strengths and weaknesses, sins and choices.  No sin is more grievous than turning our own children away.
  • Do – Honor chastity and monogamy regardless of orientation or relationship status.
  • Do – Recognize that our gay brothers and sisters are as capable of high moral character and integrity as heterosexuals.
  • Do – Reach out to those who are in need without qualification.
  • Do – Make sure you follow the council of the Brethren on www.mormonsandgays.org.  If you have not spent 1-2 hours on that website, you should not assume you know anything regarding the Church’s position regarding homosexuality.
  • Do – Find someone who is gay and be their friend!

 

  • Do Not – Think your righteousness makes you better in any way than any of God’s other children
  • Do Not – Use something as beautiful as the scriptures to marginalize or berate others.
  • Do Not – Think that making a superior moral argument (from your point of view) to another is more persuasive than your friendship, example or love.
  • Do Not – Reach back decades to the statements of apostles or prophets that may or may not be relevant today.  (This is equivalent to reaching back to pre-1978 for doctrine on blacks and the priesthood.)
  • Do Not – Let fears of being ‘too tolerant’ dominate your fears of being ‘too Christ-like.’
  • Do Not – Think that defending marriage is a license to put gay people in their place.  Temple marriage stands on its own merits.
  • Do Not – Think that ‘defending marriage’ means that we do not want gay people in the Church.

Please remember, we are talking about people who are children of God, the same as you.  Like me, you may find that you learn something more about love and respect from someone who is gay.

8 comments for “Defending Marriage

  1. Mark Steele
    May 6, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Thomas, I appreciated your thoughtful column. Your point on the limits of mere toleration are well expressed. Two points I feel a little differently about: Turning our children away is indeed a grievous sin, but I can think of several worse.

    It occurred to me not long after one of my children came out as gay, that we could avoid some of the difficulties if we just expected the same behavior regardless of orientation: no sex outside marriage. That of course would require recognizing gay marriage. But it would leave things problematic within the church environment, since there is the broader question of the role and place of being gay in an eternal world. Civil marriage ok, temple marriage still not, would continue the irritation and differences…and leave important questions unsettled.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      May 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Mark, Our fight here is not for same-sex temple marriage. We don’t even have civil marriage nor are we welcome in our congregations. I appreciate that Thomas is showing a framework to look at things that should make sense to all believing Mormons based on current interpretations of Doctrine and Church policies. True, we still won’t have full equality even with Civil Marriage, but it will be a million times better, and our lives will improve in so many ways. There are some who hope that one day God will reveal to his prophet that he should allow same-sex marriage..but that is in the realm of hope/conjecture, and therefore (meanwhile) it is very useful to discuss how to frame how mainstream Mormons can and should support civil equality.

    • Thomas Montgomery
      May 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

      Mark, great follow up. I agree that there are probably worse sins, however, this class of sin ranks pretty high up there. That Christ would use language that it would be better to hang a millstone around your neck and drown yourself in the sea is pretty descriptive and visual. And by the same token, Christ says nothing regarding homosexuality. Probably a good lead to follow.

      There is a great deal of dialogue and exploration that needs to occur regarding how gay mormons fit into the Church. It is one of the themes of http://www.mormonsandgays.org. I don’t claim to have those answers, but I would also contend that we have been very resistant to even having the discussion.

  2. Yvette
    May 6, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Applause, applause, applause. Thank you Tom. This is very applicable to me right now! Having had several talks over the pulpit in stake conference and in church this month with mention of proposition 8, I very much appreciate your words.

  3. Jen Killpack
    May 6, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Hey Tom,

    Great article! ☺

    A couple thoughts as I read:
    First, thank you for “coming out.” It takes courage to have this authentic and frank conversation. Especially when you didn’t really know a gay person four years ago and now, well, we’re everywhere! ;)

    Second, love the pre-existence imagery.

    Third, I just keep thinking of the Articles of Faith and their application to this situation:

    Specifically, #11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty 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.”

    And #13: We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

    To me, these Articles elaborate on the “Golden Rule” which is found, in some form in nearly all faiths.

    One caution about the recommendation to, “find someone who is gay and be their friend!” Don’t get me wrong! I am all about building relationships, friendships, and understanding.

    • Don’t take up friendship with an LGBT person as a hobby, an experiment, or a project.
    • Do be genuine in your interest in becoming/friends with LGBT people just like with anyone else.

    I hope this didn’t come off as a lecture. ☺

  4. Anita
    May 10, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Thank you Tom, for the thought and effort to share this message. This is a difficult thing for so many of us on this journey of how do we reconcile our faith with this situation. So many “voices” in the world to tell you how wrong you and your children are. They quote scriptures and apostles to point out our “sins” or “treading on the slippery slope” Ultimately, we just don’t have all the answers right now, and we just need to follow the saviors example to Love. Worry about the weeds in your own garden and not anyone elses.

  5. Kari
    May 10, 2013 at 8:15 am

    While I appreciate many of your comments about how we must do more than “cool tolerance”, and include real love and respect for ALL God’s children….I have an issue with not supporting gay marriage in turn. I’m not sure how you can truly love and respect on the deepest level without supporting it. Its like saying, “I really love and respect you but your relationship isn’t the same as mine and your not good enough or qualified to have the kind of bond my wife and I share.” How can you say that and STILL really love and respect gays? I for one don’t get it, and I have lived in the Church all my life and have come to this conclusion over the past several years. I just don’t see how you can get around it without willfully trying to obfuscate the issue.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      May 10, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Kari, I think most people have to overcome their homophobia in steps, and I see it needing to happen in this order:
      1) Stop the hate speech; stop the ostracizing, marginalization and exclusion. Start showing compassion, empathy and acceptance.
      2) Accept our relationships. Don’t exclude us if we make choices you don’t agree with.
      3) Allow us legal equality by granting us civil marriages.
      4) Help frame a discussion about what full equality will mean within the LDS church.
      The important thing to remember is that if we throw step 4 at people right away they aren’t going to be able to hear it. We need to start with steps 1, then 2 then 3.
      Tom’s arguments are very helpful because how show us how we can get there without having to substantially re-think mormon doctrine. A lot of people are going to move beyond that in their journey of discovery once they start really feeling some empathy for LGBT people, and once they enter into the discussion. But they have to enter the discussion, and furthermore, there is a lot of good that will come if we get more people to embrace point 1, even if they never go farther than that. Right now the biggest damage to our gay youth is the overt hostility in our wards. That can stop right now if members really start to accept the CURRENT teachings of the church. Tom helps point this out.

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