Sunday, September 9, 2012

One brief beef I have with a common anti-gay marriage argument

Tonight was another good CES fireside in which Elder Holland urged the young singles of the church to plant their feet boldly where they stood and dare to keep their standards high. It was an uplifting, entertaining, emotional fireside and he had some amazing stories and lessons to share. I really admire Elder Holland's emphatic, almost frightening conviction with which he invites and encourages listeners to live on a higher plain.

However, I have just one or two little issues I took with aspects of his message.  These may or may not be motivated by the fact that I've had a really bad attitude and some really caustic feelings towards the Church and that my pride has been puffed up recently by who-knows-what, but here they are.

First, he encouraged us to be more loving. There's nothing I hate more than being loving.

Just kidding.

No, he encouraged us to be loving and free of judgment towards those who live different lifestyles, have different standards, dress differently, etc. He illustrated his point by sharing a story of love shared towards a spiky-haired, pierced and tattooed woman who attended a stake fireside he gave a number of years ago.  Awesome. I am pro-love, so no qualms yet.

However, in the next sentence, he encouraged us to remember to continue to judge righteously. He likened our righteous judgments to those of parents who prevent their children from eating too much junk or running into a busy street, where no level-headed person would ever censure a parent for "taking away their children's agency" in this way.

He encouraged us to do the same, to prevent harm or accident from befalling us by keeping good company, taking care of our bodies and avoiding sin and temptation. So far so good, on paper at least.

However, in practice, I've noticed that Mormons as a culture are mostly incapable of giving righteous judgment without, in his words, "checking their religion at the door." We tend to censure, scorn and ostracize those with whom we disagree and our actions cross from "righteous indignation" into hate. Elder Holland himself said these words with what I felt was a hint of venom, the slightest tinge of sardonic scoffing towards those to whom he was referring, those outside our church and its standards.

He continued by encouraging us to be active in political discourse and stand up for our rights. Again, I totally agreed, until he said that we were justified in taking away others' agency if it was a matter of celestial, eternal importance. Again, he used a metaphor involving running red lights. Paraphrasing, "I as a good driver know that running red lights is wrong, but why should we penalize those who choose to run red lights? Isn't that taking away their agency?"

His point was that it is necessary to take away agency in matters like these, but the fundamental difference between his metaphor and the issues to which we all know he was referring (gay rights, abortion, etc.) is that running a red light can cause irreparable harm to someone who had no control over your actions. In exercising your agency to run a red light, you can take away another person's agency to live without their permission.

However, with gay marriage, one man is not taking away another man's agency to marry; rather, two people are willingly entering into that contract with one another. No one's agency is being taken away. You might disagree with their choice, but it has no affect on anyone but themselves. This argument breaks down somewhat in the argument about abortion, as it could be argued that you are removing a fetus' right to live, but still, there is palpable difference between reality and metaphor.

Other than that, I really enjoyed his fireside. I don't know what I'm going to do about it because I'm still so miserable at church that it takes all of my energy to attend, but here's hoping that I'll have some urge to be a better disciple due to Elder Holland's convicting words.


  1. I can definitely relate with having a bad attitude given the message. I was in a similar place at the time of the barrage of talks related to Proposition eight in my singles ward in UT and at general conference as well as institute lessons. Eventually, I just tuned them out and made going to church my time for personal writing and meditation as I listened to what was still healthy for me.

    What you've illustrated in regards to agency was the core of the matter for me. As I listened to these talks, I told myself this isn't what I/we believe; we really believe the following:

    "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." (A of F 11)

    Having seen my gay episcopal friends get married as well as my straight LDS friends and family members, I see them all worshiping how, where, and what they may... not to mention with whom they may.

  2. I think I get what you are saying about the agency part. I struggled with that for a long time. I eventually came to a couple of insights that have helped me make sense of the distinction you mentioned. However, in sharing them, I do not believe they constitute a persuasive argument against gay marriage.

    First is that the act of two adults of the same sex entering a marriage may have eternal consequences for a non-consenting third party. Maybe that is a child who subsequently grows up without a parent of each gender, or on a broader scale, children who grow up in a society lacking an understanding of divine gender roles. That's not to say that children raised by same-sex couples are worse off, or that I believe gay marriage would necessarily lead to complete moral depravity. But I'm not ruling out the possibility that a Seer has foreseen negative consequences that I cannot see.

    Another idea that has occurred to me is probably more controversial. Again, I'm not proposing this as a truth, but as a viewpoint that offers me the potential for a bigger story. At one point in my journey, I found myself very attracted to another Mormon with SSA. I had doubts about my commitment to the gospel at that point and knew that he felt even less certain. I knew that if I were to "make the move," he would go along with it.

    I'd like to think that it was my stalwart character that kept me from acting on my feelings. But I have to admit that I was also bothered by the sense that doing so would be taking advantage of him at a vulnerable time. Especially if it turns out that there is any credence to the theory that some degree of emotional wound at least contributes to same-sex desires, I would have been setting him up to sin while knowing that what he really wanted wasn't sex, but love.

    Again, I'm not saying that anyone in a same-sex relationship is a predator. I just believe it is possible that there are parts of this experience I don't understand. I also believe that it is possible that God has revealed to his prophet something I don't understand.

  3. Because marriage equality is a legal issue and not a Sunday school issue, we should steer the conversation toward legal issues. If this is a Sunday school issue for readers of this blog, the discussion should be about how Mormons shouldn't enter into same-sex marriages and not about why Mormons should get involved in legal issues and fight for legislation that would provide legal benefits for those who believe like them and take away the rights of those who don't believe like them. So my comment relates to the legal and societal aspects and not the "eternal" aspects of marriage equality.

    K. L. >> "First is that the act of two adults of the same sex entering a marriage may have eternal consequences for a non-consenting third party."

    This assumes that (1) gender roles are necessary for children/people to be upstanding citizens and (2) the only way to learn gender roles is in a male-female home. If gender roles are good for society -- and I'm not arguing they are -- you haven't established any meaningful connection between gender roles and same-sex parenting. Boys of single mothers learn gender roles. Girls of single mothers learn gender roles. Boys of single fathers learn gender roles. Girls of single fathers learn gender roles. And then there's the question of whether gender roles are good for society… I think we can all think of examples in which gender roles have been harmful when misapplied.

    >> "I just believe it is possible that there are parts of this experience I don't understand. I also believe that it is possible that God has revealed to his prophet something I don't understand."

    The assumption here is that (1) when *your* prophet speaks he speaks the will of God, (2) what your God wants is better for society than the gods of other people want, and (3) your God will never change his mind. It gets really complicated. So many social issues have come up in Mormondom. Their prophet speaks, people obey, Mormons fight legislation, and then all of the sudden God changes his mind. And then there's the issue of the Mormon God knowing what's best; he's better than all the other Gods.

    I'd argue that in a pluralistic society you should be more concerned with legalization that creates an environment in which you can continue to practice your religion along side others who are afforded other opportunities. I disagree with the Mormon way of life -- for myself -- but I will vote for legislation that allows them to have legal benefits for their marriages so that I can be afforded the same legal benefits for my marriage.

    In sum, I think it would be great if Mormons tried to pass legislation like that in Maryland re Question 6, which legislation would let them worship how, where, or what they may without any consequence re gay couples:

    "Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs."

  4. It's interesting this discussion, consider for a minute that people are not born gay and modern science says we are not, even if this is the rhetoric in American although not so much the rhetoric elsewhere in the western world (And I don't think much of the "innate fact, because that is based on belief rather than a clear understanding of science, gene-environment interaction and modern science- in context)). So consider that society and biology is a mutually informing process wherein social constructions impact biology and vice versus (and they probably do), consider that experience and culture drives the genome (and they do) then you would have to assume that the prevalence of a social construction will give rise to the biological construction and in many cases, this will be through indirect choices and cultural impressions viewed through a child's eyes and very impressionable and plastic brain (who knew the examples we set have an actual biological imprint? Guess the church wasn't lying). Consider the fact, that these impressions coupled with a very strong belief in the concept of 'born that way' does actually have the ability to direct gene expression, then one would have to assume that the very construction of gay marriage will impact the agency of plastic minds, young kids and the epigenome. It's a popular concept but can a five year old actually choose to be gay? Probably not. Probably any gay 5 year old is gay due to numerous cultural impressions validating that belief and then impacting biology- that clearly was not their choice. So yeah, I guess as a Mormon we would want to be against same-sex marriage. Notwithstanding that witnessed marriages were actually the invention of religion to signify the witnessing of the beginning of a family though the joining of a man and woman. Prior to that marriage and the joining of families was an oath or word not disimiliar to the handshake. Despite the popular notion that marriages were civil in origin first this is, actually quite incorrect. As stated, marriage was just an agreement made between two families for various reason (who were religious though not always christian because religion is as old as time) and then much later marriage became a witnessed union (representing before god), this right was ONLY handed to the state after the French revolution in france and much later in England and other parts of Europe. So it is not only Mormons against gay marriage, certainly not only Americans- given marriage was not even their invention. Lets just say people would like to redefine the meaning of it....and then be done with it, instead of being uncomfortable with a religion who would like to keep the original meaning as is. De facto relationships provide legal basis (in fact de facto rights were probably the original UNWITNESSED form of marriage) A "Witnessed" Marriage had a very specific purpose and was invented by religion...people want to change its purpose, people want to keep it the same. But don't be uncomfortable that a religion would like to keep the original meaning and don't call people bigots and don't feel ashamed either way, that shame is very inward looking and doesn't put marriage in its correct historical and religious context whatsoever...its isolated towards an inward looking, very pro-american view, that equally undervalues people wishing to keep the meaning intact and those wishing to change that meaning.... Respect for all is paramount. Shame and anger and feelings of unfairness is emotion based. Just say you want to change the definition. End of story,


Be nice, mmmmkay? I allow anonymous comments, but not anonymous (or even attributed) douchebaggery. The Gay Mormon Pioneer's tolerance for hate and venom are incredibly low, but his love of communication and debate are high, so have an opinion, but be kind and gentle when you share it.

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