The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s opposition to same-sex marriage has been the subject of a lot of news recently, especially in California. While I sympathize with the LDS leadership’s desire to “draw a line in the sand” on the slow loss of ground in America’s relentless culture wars, I think the writing is on the wall, and it’s time to face reality.
The LDS Church is going to lose this fight.
Oh, we might get some short term gains. Maybe even a victory in California. Who knows? But in the overall war over marriage, the final result is pretty clear to me. America wants gay couples to have the same rights as other couples. The foundational notions of fairness inherent in the controversy are too compelling, and too… American to ignore forever. It’s going to happen. The only two questions are when, and what form.
Think I’m full of it? Remove any value judgments about the morality of homosexuality and just look at it from a basic fairness angle. Is it really fair that the law grants special rights to a female spouse visiting her male spouse in the hospital, but not to a female spouse visiting a female spouse in that same hospital? Is it fair that a man and a woman can get tax breaks for having a lifelong commitment, but not a man and a man?
“But wait” you say. “Why not just give them generic ‘civil unions’ with tax breaks, visitation, and all that stuff – just not marriage?”
True, that placates the fair-minded for a little while. But it too ultimately fails. The label of “marriage” currently has cachet. It bestows a certain sense of respectability and legitimacy to a union that is not gained by simply signing an agreement to start a new limited liability corporation or partnership. And currently, the government is handing out these “honors” only to those who meet a traditional Protestant version of union. Is that ultimately fair?
It really isn’t. Once people wise-up to this fact, we’ll be having this fight all over again. And since we Americans are generally a fair-minded people, and happen to have a Constitution that prohibits government from playing religious favorites, the end result will be that the federal and state governments will be forced to bestow upon gay unions all the same benefits currently given to heterosexual unions – including the purely symbolic ones. Given how well “Separate-But-Equal” worked out for the African American question, I doubt it’s going to work much better for the homosexual question.
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Denying this reality is going to have some really ugly consequences. At the risk of “steadying the ark,” a warning to the LDS leadership, and to all of us:
The political course of action we are currently pursuing is going to harm the sacred principle of Mormon marriage more than it helps it. We are chasing after Babylon for an endorsement of something that belongs to God alone. This reliance on the “arm of the flesh” is simply going to hasten the day of government-endorsed homosexual marriages.
Why? Because our current campaign buys into the notion that “marriage” is something that government can bestow in the first place. It isn’t. Government does not now, and never did, have any business handing out marriage licenses.
When I married my wife, it was in the temple. It happened when I faced her across the altar, and made sacred covenants. At that point, she and I were married. Sure, we went through the motions of getting a marriage license from the local County Courthouse. But I’ll be honest with you, on that blessed day, I didn’t give two straws whether some judge in downtown Provo thought we were married or not. If the judge had refused to give the license, I still would have considered her my wife. “What God hath joined, let not man part asunder.” The marriage license was a worthless scrap of paper. As I look back on it now, I find it offensive that I even needed the government’s permission to have a “marriage” in the first place. Really, who made them god?
A modest proposal:
If we really want to save marriage… If we are serious about helping the sacred institution of marriage, and not just interested in showy moral posturing…. Get the US government OUT of marriage. Immediately and completely.
Marriage is a personal religious term, and should be the sole province of people’s religious beliefs. Government has no business here. If government wants to promote childbirth, or stable families, it can do so without the blessed office of marriage-dispenser. Give “civil unions” to everyone – homosexual, heterosexual, polygamist, whoever. Create a working and comprehensive civil union law and make that the default option for everyone. A conservative Jewish couple, a young Mormon man and woman in the temple, a gay couple in Seattle, a pair of drunk college kids in Vegas, a pair of hippies in the woods… all of them get the same treatment and the same law. The government has no right, and no business determining which of them is “married” and which of them isn’t.
If I want to call my temple sealing a “marriage,” that is between me and the LDS Church. If a gay couple wants to seek out a “progressive” Unitarian pastor to join them and call it “marriage,” that is their business as well.
“Render unto Caesar, those things that are Caesar’s, and to God, those things which are God’s.”
If we make our “marriages” dependent on government approval, we will be blown about by every false wind of political doctrine that government is subject to. If we do not act quickly to free marriage from government, it too will “go down with the ship.” The core impulses behind LDS support of Proposition 8 are admirable, but the practical result will only enslave our sacred temple covenants to the whims and prejudices of government bureaucrats. It is time for Zion to stop looking to Egypt for its deliverance.