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.