Saturday, March 17, 2012

Part Four: In Which I Finally Get to Gay Marriage

This is the final installment in my four-part series on gay marriage and Prop 8. Comments are open today--feel free to respond to anything from the entire series, but please be respectful to those whose opinions differ from yours and/or mine.

Marriage evolved early to protect the “vertical” relationships between generations and only more recently to protect the “lateral” relationships between partners. So what will happen if we take the vertical and lateral legal framework of marriage and apply it to lateral same-sex relationships that haven’t attempted to serve a vertical function in any previous generation? Three different court rulings in California have sidestepped this question by asserting that since men and women no longer have legally defined gender roles, there is no difference between a same-sex and an opposite-sex relationship.

I wish sometimes we’d approach social engineering more like we approach actual engineering. Gay marriage proponents have pointed out that in the five-month window during which California did recognize same-sex marriages, nothing drastic happened to suggest that the fabric of society had been fundamentally changed and have used this to extrapolate a future free of negative consequences. But what would happen if we used the same reasoning to approve oil drilling technologies? No one would have a right to be upset at BP over the massive Gulf oil spill. Our nuclear safety laws could be held in court as having “no rational basis.”

But engineers don’t aim for five months of safety. My uncle, who’s a chemical engineer, has a job where the acceptable projected major incident rate is once every 30,000 years. So if engineers are going to incorporate a new building material or configuration into a plant design, they consider numerous possible consequences first. If we are going to stick same-sex couples into the old category of marriage, we ought to be considering what stresses the design change might put on marriage as a category and on same-sex couples as a group.

It seems to me that there are two possibilities. The first is that expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples could decrease the vertical emphasis in marriage, which may have broader social implications. The second is that marriage’s vertical dimension is strong enough not to be affected, in which case using the term “marriage” would likely increase the pressure on same-sex couples to focus more on vertical relationships.

Would including same-sex relationships under the legal umbrella of marriage affect vertical relationships in the long term? Is it reasonable to be concerned about the effects of gay marriage on procreation and parenting?

Judges have dismissed such fears when it comes to procreation, but the truth is that we don’t know. Some people will exclusively pursue lateral same-sex relationships no matter what the legal or cultural context is. Others will have children and invest significant energy into vertical relationships no matter what the legal or cultural context is. But we don’t know what will happen in the marginal cases in between: whether, for example, same-sex marriage rights will change the opposite-sex married fatherhood rates of men who are roughly equally attracted to members of both genders.

These sorts of unknowns may not matter to secular, highly-educated, white, middle-class voters. But then again, that’s a demographic with a fertility rate below replacement levels. Among many of the racial minority and religiously conservative communities that have fertility rates above replacement levels, fears about the possible consequences of gay marriage are much more prevalent. Is this just ignorance and prejudice, or a product of pro-natal values that are perfectly compatible with the Constitution?

The parenting question is more sensitive. For most of history in most cultures, parenting models have been based on ideas of the two genders as complementary (yin and yang, if you will), but parenting styles that rely on gender roles in America today are controversial. Do mothers and fathers matter, or are loving adults essentially interchangeable as parenting units?

On a practical level, I’m not opposed to some experimentation. After all, there are plenty of children without stable and loving parents at all—even in the absence of a historical precedent for gay parenting, I think it’s better for children to be raised by adults who want them than by adults who don’t. But judges aren’t ruling that we should open a door to experimentation on gay parenting right now—that’s already been done. They are ruling that differentiation between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples has no rational basis and violates the United States Constitution, ruling effectively that it’s prejudice to consider opposite-gender parents superior to same-gender parents.

If the mother-father model is based entirely in social constructs, that’s no problem. But if there turns out to be a meaningful biological component to the mother-father model, well...good luck getting biology to change in response to a court order.

It may be instructive to consider another parenting controversy in which progress and biology seem pitted against one another as a reference point. Yes: just in case gay marriage isn’t enough to start a fight in the comments, I’m going to touch briefly on infant formula vs. breastfeeding.

For most of human history, babies were breastfed—if not by their mothers then by a wet-nurse. But during the 20th century, when our collective respect for technology and industry overtook our respect for tradition, infant formulas became increasingly popular. In the 1920s, studies that suggested formula-fed babies fared as well as breast-fed babies led to the first significant formula boom. By 1950, roughly half of American babies were being raised on formula and by the early 1970s, the percentage was up to three-fourths. Whenever evidence suggested breastfeeding might have inherent advantages, scientists simply attempted to create more advanced formulas.

Eventually, though, the body of evidence for the advantages of breastfeeding (both nutritional and psychological) grew large enough to inspire a counter-movement. Four decades and billions of dollars in public awareness campaigns later, three-fourths of American mothers start their babies on breast milk—though only a third are still exclusively breastfeeding by even the three month mark. And pushing for more breastfeeding can be tricky, despite the body of evidence. Campaigns like the “Breast is Best” one are accused of being judgmental or devaluing mothers who choose formula.

Now, do I think we should ban formula? No. But would I be nervous if a court ruled that infant formula and breastfeeding are no different from one another? Yes.

Do I think we should keep same-sex couples from building lives together, or keep determined same-sex couples from parenting together? No. But do I think we can treat traditional marriage and same-sex marriage as identical without affecting the strength of our vertical relationships in some way? Well, let’s just say I think there’s sometimes a fine line between progress and hubris.

So far, though, my structural analysis has focused on how ruling Proposition 8 unconstitutional might affect the next generation. A good engineer would also carefully consider whether there will be unintended effects for the current generation of same-sex couples.

Let’s assume that marriage as an institution would not be affected by being expanded to include same-sex couples. Would same-sex relationships be benefited or harmed if they were expected to do the same work of connecting generations that marriages have traditionally done? Again, we don’t know. My general impression is that few same-sex couples before, say, 1990, felt like parenting or grandparenting were vital missing dimensions of their romantic relationship. Is it optimal for gay couples to have norms based in heterosexual relationships projected onto them without any adjustment? How would it affect gay men, in particular, to have adoption and parenting as common social expectations of their long-term relationships?

I don’t necessarily have a problem with social engineering, but hastily redefining a core building block of society seems like really shoddy engineering work. I agree that we need to do something in this country to protect gay Americans, but is trying to leverage social acceptance by redefining marriage really the best solution?

And will anyone really benefit in the long term if we decide it’s hate or prejudice to believe that same-sex and opposite-sex relationships aren’t quite the same?


  1. Wow! This has been the most thorough and unbiased analysis I have seen on the topic. Well done.

  2. Well, I will first say that I am impressed with how carefully and skillfully you presented a highly charged topic. I hope that I can do the same here. :)

    My primary comment is about the historical nature of marriage. I agree that inheritance (vertical) traditions have been the primary concern of historical marriages. However, those inheritance and property rights were also almost exclusively male. (At least in the European / Middle Eastern contexts.)

    Women were property of their fathers, married off (not by choice) to other men, becoming property of their husbands. The right of inheritance and control of property was a male domain and women were simply a means to perpetuating that patriarchal society - they had no actual place otherwise.

    If we allow that women are persons and are not, in fact, the property of any man, we have already fundamentally broken that whole paradigm of marriage. The ramifications of that little bit of social engineering are still being worked out, and I believe it has been of great benefit to society as a whole, although there is more to be done in terms of shattering male stereotypes that keep men locked in their "macho" box.

    Ultimately, this whole topic touches on the idea of Zion - being of one heart, one mind, and having no poor among us. It is equality in a highly practical sense. There is no male or female, bond or free, black or white in Christ. How, then, can we justify creating a second class of citizens instead of an open equality?

    I am in favor of not only freeing us all from stereotypes of gender identity, but also those of gender attraction. I agree that it is an experiment in social engineering, but I am more hopeful that it will lead to a better, wiser, and more compassionate society.

    See this young man's speech for evidence of that:

    Anyway, I have enjoyed reading your posts.

    1. Thanks for the comment. You are correct that we have already changed marriage and that we wouldn't want to go back--though my Punjabi great-grandma would have been a bit shocked to hear that women had no place in the society she grew up in just because they couldn't hold property unless they were widows with young sons.

      I am a bit concerned when we assume that because it was worthwhile to change gender roles, it's also worth it to jettison the idea of gender. I think gender is real and does matter in building families.

      I also think it's unwise to say that we are creating second-class citizens when we object to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not a matter, in my mind, of allowing a new class of individuals into an old institution--it involves changing what marriage means.

      I don't think an unmarried woman, for example, is a second-class citizen whether she's unmarried because she hasn't found a man she wants to marry or because she doesn't want to marry a man.

      Surely it's a problem if you have to be married to be considered a fully equal U.S. Citizen, right?

  3. Thanks for posting this series, James. I’ve often wanted to articulate many of these same issues. I do believe that biological aspects of parenting are important, but I don’t know exactly how. Good parents come in many shapes and styles. How much of this is biology, and how much of this is a person’s sense of love and devotion to his or her kids?

    I’m hesitant to feed my child formula. In fact, we never bought formula because this was so important to me. And when I had difficulty learning how to nurse, I stuck it out because I wanted what was best. Now that he's older, I’m hesitant to feed my child highly-modified food. I have spent hours of my life reading and re-reading food labels to avoid dangerous man-made components because, as I said, I want what's best.

    My position on gay marriage feels part of the same argument. I’m hesitant to accept what others might imply: that non-biological parenting is equal to biological parenting.

    I know that children turn out best when they have two loving, involved parents. That’s in the books. What I don’t know is how children would be affected by swapping out one dad for another mom, or one mom for another dads. I just don’t know.

    And I also can’t, in good conscience, say that adoptive parents don’t do a good job. I know better. The literature says adoptive children often have fewer issues with mental health, in part because adoptive parents tend to be more financially stable, and so get their children help when help is needed. Another reason is this: adoptive parents often over-compensate where mental wellness is concerned. They expect their children to have mental challenges, and so they take these challenges head-on.

    So what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t we want adoption to become more widespread?

    Here’s where things get sticky: the rest is conjecture. The nature of adoption would change if it were more widespread, and we don’t know, we can’t know, what the consequences would be. What if more and more children weren’t raised by their biological parents? I'm sounding like a broken record now: we simply don’t know.

    I also don’t believe that hesitancy in this matter is akin to prejudice. I have searched myself time and time again, trying to figure out if I’m acting on hate, if I’m really, truly, just rationalizing a few irrational fears. I hope that’s not the case. I believe it’s not the case.

    I’m sure that I’ll keep returning to this issue as I get older. I’d like to adopt someday--I've always had a place in my heart for adoption. Maybe once (if) that happens, my opinions will change even more. I'd welcome your thoughts.

    1. Adoption is awesome. In a perfect world, it wouldn't be necessary, because all biological parents would be able to raise the children who have spent the nine months of growth prior to birth bonding with them--but we don't live in a perfect, millennial world...we live in this one.

      My older daughter is adopted (through a step-parent adoption), and I love her absolutely. But I also realize that my love doesn't negate the feelings she'll eventually have to work through about a biological father who hasn't bothered to see her since before she can remember. And I feel like I'm a better parent knowing that I've missed things (like getting her used to my voice while she's still in the womb) than I would be if I assumed adoption was absolutely ideal with no added complications.

      After her first marriage fell apart and before we met, dated, and got married, my wife was raising her daughter on her own. That was hard work and they would have made it even without me--but that situation also wasn't ideal. And I think my wife was a better single mother for knowing that her situation was less than ideal than she would have been if she'd assumed it was totally unproblematic.

      Contrast that with the case of some celebrity who adopts as a single mother and assumes everything will be fine and that it's judgmental of anyone to worry about what happens when you try to balance a demanding work schedule and child-rearing without a stable partner. That makes me nervous.

      So: I don't think there should be a stigma against adoption or single parenthood or anything, but I do think we start to make mistakes when we try to fight the stigma by insisting they are ideals.

      I once knew a woman who was single, struggling with depression issues, who had very little support network...and was planning on artificial insemination so she could have a baby before she ran out of time on her biological clock.

      What a bad idea! But it's hard in our culture to say it's a terrible idea, because then you're being judgmental.


      My wife has close friends who couldn't have children and wanted to adopt. It took them several years of trying before a baby was placed with them--even with years of marriage, stability, and experience working with the foster parent program.

      Do we push couples like that further back in line to show equality to everyone who decides to adopt? I don't think that's necessarily wise.

    2. I just think that being a biological parent is simply no guarantee of good parenting. I would say that it is far better to have competent adoptive parents than incompetent biological ones.

    3. This is something we can absolutely agree on. It's great when biological parents are competent, but adoption is definitely a good way to grow up when they're not.

  4. I agree that the only argument against gay marriage must stem from how it could negatively affect society (more significantly, how the cons might outweigh the pros) long-term. I have some questions, however, about some of your premises.

    - What do you say in response to studies showing that kids do better and are happier and more successful when they are raised by two lesbians, as compared with kids raised by a mother and father? We should take into consideration the possible negative consequences of gay marriage and gay adoption--but we should also look at the data.

    - Speaking of data, the few months of gay marriage in California isn't the only evidence we have to go on. Other states--and especially other countries--have had gay marriage in place for years. Obviously, some of the more significant effects of gay marriage may not be noticed until we're allowed decades of hindsight--so we should hypothesize. Still, are any of the fears of gay marriage opponents evidenced in those other states and countries? I don't know the full answer to that question, but if you're going to make this argument I think it's one you need to address, rather than suggesting that a few months in California is all we have to go on--because it's not.

    - As far as backing up the homosexuality-is-a-sin doctrine scripturally goes--why is it Mormons take the couple of scriptures that mention homosexuality very, very seriously, but we also eat pork and shellfish (or take concubines)? There are undoubtedly reasons to believe in a God that takes sexual bonding seriously and wishes to see it practiced only between men and women within the bonds of heterosexual marriage--I'm just sometimes a little unsure about what those reasons are. Do you base your belief in such a God on those couple of biblical verses? Do you base it on contemporary prophetic revelation? Do you have other reasons, spiritually or intellectually (or both), for that belief? I'm not trying to denigrate your belief--I'm just honestly trying to understand it. The sinfulness of homosexuality is so often brought in as a given in religious conversation, but rarely (in my experience) is it ever really backed up theologically.

    - Some good friends of mine are married and childless by choice. They've expressed hurt feelings on a number of occasions because they feel that his parents treat them as a second-class married couple. I have another friend who is married and doesn't want to have kids, and she feels (and is frequently treated in a lot of Facebook interactions I've witnessed) practically like a pariah by other members of her Mormon community. Do we really want to perpetuate that kind of thinking? I can't see how it's doing anyone any good.

    1. These are all good questions, and I will try to get back to them later. For now, though, I'll focus on the one about scriptures.

      I don't think Mormons do focus on the one passage in Leviticus or wherever on homosexuality. Contemporary LDS resistance to gay marriage is not, I think, based in Mosaic law.

      The issue with gay marriage has a lot more to do with the recurring images of the Abrahamic covenant and with our conception of parenthood as divine, and the divine as parental. I borrowed the term "pro-natal" in my post to describe those attitudes: in LDS thought, for example, the "fall" of Adam and Eve was actually a positive development, because it's the origin of human parenthood. In our theology, all the pain and difficulty of the world is worth it specifically because it made parenthood possible.

      So...yeah, Mormons are totally puzzled when other Mormons choose not to have kids on purpose. Because the choice is actually in tension with core components of our theology (not just a few verses).

      Does it do anyone good? Would it be better to switch Mormonism's intense pro-natal focus for one more tolerant of other lifestyles? Well...recent Pew Research found that 80% of Mormons (married or not) said that being a good parent was a top life goal--as opposed to about 50% of Americans.

      If we de-emphasized children, we'd probably be more tolerant of people who find meaning through work or love or intellect instead of through family. But that would probably come at a major cost--many Mormons would stop caring so much about family themselves.

      I choose the children. And I choose a faith that's built around the promise of children.

      I don't ask you to make that same choice, but I hope you can understand it.

    2. I can understand that. I can also agree with your decision--I love children, I believe in the beauty and sanctity of parenting, and that is something I wish for my own life. But do we have to perpetuate an either/or binary? Does it weaken our own choices to allow others to make choices for themselves free of moral judgment? Just because people don't organize around the way purposely childless couples are treated, it doesn't make the way they are treated right. I think attitudes that lead to exclusion are always unfortunate when there's the possibility for healthy inclusion. Such attitudes affect not only those who choose not to have children--they affect everyone. My parents couldn't have kids for years--they were hurt by many comments from church members assuming they had chosen that, and assuming that such a choice is always wrong. Their temple president told them (and I am not making this up and it was not said in jest) that they couldn't have kids because they hadn't taken their parenting classes in the ore-existence. Most Mormon married couples want to have children--are we really making it easier on anyone by perpetuating the mentality that a childless marriage is always a tragedy? It seems to me we're just making many people feel sadder and more broken.

    3. Well, we should definitely stop saying thoughtless, insensitive, and unhelpful things. But that's an epic struggle no social engineering is going to fix: Jesus' brother James went as far as to say that a person who can rule his/her tongue can beat any temptation.

      But I think it's possible to see something as a tragedy and still be sensitive about it. Some of the great stories in the scriptures are about women (Sarah, Hannah, Elisabeth) who couldn't have children, felt it as a great tragedy, and drew close to God in their struggle. Some of Isaiah's most beautiful images are about a miraculous, millennial day when the barren will rejoice with their children...the prophets at their best combine a deep sense of tragedy with respect and hope.

    4. As an addendum to what James said about LDS belief; It's necessary to remember that Mormons are distinct from other religious groups (most especially other Christians) in that we believe in and adhere to the council and commands of a modern day prophet.

      I feel that a bible based argument against homosexuality is rather weak. There are only a handful of references to homosexuality at all, and only 1 or 2 outright denunciations of it (that I can remember off the top of my head).

      Mormonism claims that, from Joseph Smith til today we have had a series of divinely called leaders who relay the will of God concerning the affairs of his church. This includes the issue of broad social acceptance of openly practiced homosexuality. From the religious argument perspective, a prophet's word on the matter carries much more logical weight with me than trying to cobble together biblical passages to prove the point that gay relations are icky.

    5. Yeah. The prophetic counsel element is huge.

      And I think Bryan makes a good distinction between the LDS position that is against affirmation of sexual activity outside of opposite-sex marriage and the "gay people are icky" attitudes held by many individuals and other groups.

      It's one thing, I think, to worry about same-sex marriage because you come from a deeply pro-natal values system. It's quite another to oppose all openly gay people because you think they are gross.

      My mom worked at the electricians' union training center in Columbus for a while and I remember her being frustrated with the gutter-level anti-gay slurs that were often part of the conversation there. For many of the young electricians she was overhearing, prejudice against homosexuality had nothing to do with morality, only with difference.

      One thing we Latter-day Saints should remember when we see anger by gay activists at Mormons is that they can't always distinguish between our church's position and the attitudes that inspire casual use of anti-gay slurs.

      One thing we Latter-day Saints need to be careful of is that we don't make people who are attracted to members of the same sex feel like they're "icky." We need to communicate that we respect and love them, and have concerns about moral choices, not about being "normal" as if that were an inherent virtue.

  5. (Continued...)

    - With overpopulation one of the biggest crises facing the world today, it seems like there would be just as many good reasons to legally encourage those who choose not to have children as there would be to encourage those who choose to have children. That is, if we're using the same standard of measurement you've set up--basing our social engineering on the same principles as plain-old engineering. I understand that connection to ancestry and tradition coupled with the continuance of the familial line is not only resonant, but is obviously fundamental to the perpetuation of the race--but does the data back up the idea that bringing more and more people into the world is a good thing? Committed, stable partners who work together benefit the world and the community in more ways other than raising children. It's true, kids should be born into ideal homes, and we should encourage that--but how many human lives can this world sustain, especially given our current standard of living? (I'm not saying that we should bring fewer people into the world to accommodate our ridiculous standard of living--I AM saying that, realistically, something needs to change, and until we do make significant adjustments to first world energy consumption, we simply can't accommodate too many more people without causing enormous problems for them and us.)

    - Civil unions aren't exactly the same as marriages--and not just linguistically (though the separate-but-equal linguistic argument is a notable aspect of the gay marriage conversation). lists three primary differences (the last of which is linguistic):
    1. The right to federal benefits. States that allow some type of same-sex union are able to grant only state rights. The Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 prohibits same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage rights and benefits.
    2. Portability. Because civil unions are not recognized by all states, such agreements are not always valid when couples cross state lines.
    3. Terminology. "Marriage" is a term that conveys societal and cultural meaning, important to both gay rights activists and those who don't believe gays should marry.
    If we're going to argue for civil unions (as opposed to marriage) based on individual states, we need to address these issues. Why should heterosexual married couples be afforded these benefits and not same-sex couples? There may be reasons--but if you're going to make the case that gay marriage may not be a good idea, you'd better be prepared to say why, specifically, one group deserves benefits and another group doesn't. Otherwise the argument amounts to fear of the unknown. So, as you suggest, let's acknowledge that there may be possible long-term effects--but if we can't, specifically, figure out what those might be, I think we're on pretty shaky ground. Maybe I missed it, but I don't remember reading anywhere in your four entries any specific negative effects that may result from gay marriage--just a vague sense of unease about the destabilization of vertical emphasis in marriage. And when people feel they are being treated unequally, vague unease is probably not enough.

    - Matthew already raised the question, but do we really want to base our current model of marriage on historical models? Do we really like the model where Alexander had a closer and more meaningful relationship with his buddy than he did with his wife? You may have seen this chart floating around the internet:
    This may be the way things have worked in the past--but is there reason to believe it's the way things should be in the present?

    I think you've done a fine job of contextualizing the conversation and of expressing your point of view. I'm sure you have some responses to these questions and concerns and I would love to hear them.

    1. Yeah...I actually had those in an earlier draft, but it's surprisingly difficult to trim a "blog post" on gay marriage down to just over 4,000 words--which is a ridiculous number to ask people to read on the internet.

      In the bits that got left out in my cutting of 2,000 words, I compared gay marriage to the Qwerty keyboard: the Qwerty is not ideal, but it is standard. And there are huge advantages of standardization.

      Short, short answer: we do need to find ways to protect and transfer gay couples' rights to care for each other. But I think court-ordered marriage "equality" is a bad way to do it, because it cut out any meaningful discussion of how same-sex and opposite-sex relationships may actually be different.

  6. This is a brilliant piece of rhetoric. I enjoyed reading it very much. It never trounced on my compassion once, and I appreciate that. I think self-sacrifice (and that is essentially what we ask when we describe an institution that is established possibly more crucially for society's benefit than to our own personal benefit) is going to be a hard sell in a modern era. We simply live in a more individualistic era in which the apparent consequences of individual decisions are being drawn closer and closer to the individual making them. Because the tenets of our faith describe this boundaried existence as a portion of the line of our larger existence, it will be hard to explain in temporal terms the crucial nature of our gender. The fact is that gender and gender associations have big picture ramifications, and altering an aspect of the larger order here complicates things for those who have altered it when they are outside of these temporal boundaries. As our faith also teaches, this sacrifice, this difficulty, is a matter of faith. God will not prevent our choosing. So what does that mean for our laws? The same thing it means when we see our teens in a dangerous situation. We talk about it. We plead that they look longer term. We state that we will be there for them. We do everything in our power to make the best long term choice a possible self-sacrifice. Many of them listen. Some don't. I think we need to examine how much freedom we can give individuals who are struggling and suffering without damaging long-term consequences for them and for the whole fabric. I think we need to offer every freedom and opportunity we can and remove the labels and stigma while holding firm on definitions that have, as you say, very long-term consequences.

    1. I think you are onto something important: we need to offer more respect and freedom for people who choose same-sex relationships...especially if we're concerned about keeping a more cautiously traditional definition of marriage.

      Most gay marriage advocates didn't start out with wanting marriage. They got to marriage after facing very real malice from many people, finding there were legal obstacles to caring for each other effectively, and so on.

      We need to show people who have strong feelings of same-sex attraction that we respect them. While we don't advocate pursuing same-sex relationships, we need to help those who do feel secure in their legal right to try to make meaning that way if that's what they choose.

      I actually think the church has done a decent job of this. Pres. Hinckley's funeral was picketed by a fierce anti-gay group because of statements he'd made about honoring the contributions of church members who deal with same-sex attraction and about the importance of extending love and respect to everyone. While the church worked hard for Prop 8 after a California Supreme Court decision that made them nervous, they have remained open to laws protecting gay couples, even publicly endorsing an SLC ordinance protecting gay people from discrimination in housing.

      I think church leaders are trying to show the church both that our beliefs are probably incompatible with gay marriage and that we need to care about people with strong same-sex attraction and take appropriate steps protect their rights to live with dignity anyway.

    2. Exactly. When we move from fear-based interactions on this subject to love-based interactions, solutions will present themselves.

  7. I admit I am baffled by many aspects of the whole situation and often don't know what to think. The one thing I am sure of is worry about how the creation of children occurs. It is one situation to adopt a child who needs parents and greatly benefits from loving, stable adults. It is another when surrogate mothers or donor sperm are involved. I have been concerned about those methods among heterosexual couples for a long time. Perhaps it's my novelist bent, but I can think of multiple scenarios of abuse/confusion/emotional damage on the part of everyone involved. I believe a movie has already explored one scenario. Even things like genetic illnesses no one was aware of cropping up could be problematic. If these methods were to become a norm rather than something used in extreme cases, it could have some subtle long-term effects we're not aware of now.

  8. This was done well. After all the pieces written about traditional marriage vs. marriage equality, I wasn't sure what would emerge, if it would be just a retread of what has gone before. I was surprised to find new perspective(s). I think it is important to articulate how being unsupportive of gay marriage does not necessarily mean hatred for gay and lesbian people; so many people automatically assume support for traditional marriage makes one a hater. I think you have presented a compassionate position, and I agree it is important to find ways to protect gay partners' right to care for each other.

    I am glad I could read your series of blog posts, and I am glad for the comments that came after. Thoughtful perspectives are much more enlightening than the bashing that happens in many forums.

    My concern about changing the definition of marriage is that saying same-sex and opposite-sex relationships are equivalent and the same will further erode the idea that children have a right to expect the man and woman who create them will care for them. I know that adoption accomplishes much good. However, as was raised in an earlier comment, if the exceptions become the norm, what will happen? We don't know, exactly.

    What we do know is that there are data that show children do best in a stable marriage with their biological parents. If the law says that all marriages are the same, will we cast away the importance of a child's tie to biological parents? Will we instead legislate that parents are interchangeable and abandon the idea that there is a best situation for children? My concern is that changing the marriage norm to give priority to the lateral relationship will (further) compromise ideal vertical relationships, as you also mentioned.

  9. James, I especially appreciate your comments in part I. I have always been troubled by the growing rhetoric of "You think, therefore you are." Do I have strong feelings of love and affection for certain men in my life? Yes. Does that make me homosexual, or would even romantic attraction to other men mean I was homosexual? Not any more than thinking about food on an empty stomach makes me fed, or thinking about paying a bill makes me current. I personally am attracted to women, but I can't truly call myself heterosexual yet because I have yet to consummate any relationship. Recognition of the fact that there is a difference between attraction and sexual orientation is oh so important in a society that increasingly demands, and seems to be trying to convince, that one's sexual orientation be a matter of every and any idle thought.

  10. I very much enjoyed this four-part series, James. Thank you very much for addressing the issue of gay marriage, for recognizing the need for rights and overall decency for our LGBT brothers and sisters, and for doing so in a conscientious and loving matter.

    This is overly simplistic, but I feel the greatest issue is that no one can, or should, be legislated into morality. On the one hand, we theologically believe in the the immorality of sexual expression outside of marriage and for homosexual sexual encounters of any kind. On the other hand, many opponents to gay marriage have neglected to use common, human decency in their interactions and conversations with or concerning those who choose to live in and enjoy homosexual relations. My theological beliefs lead me to feel that both are immoral.

    You addressed how this argument is really coming to a head because of prejudice attitudes preventing rights for same-sex couples in the past. Since most people will concede that policies and prejudices barring rights for same-sex couples of the past were wrong, I wonder where we move from here. What will be the legislative history we hand to our children and how will it affect the societies they inhabit?

    I'll be honest, I really just find myself weary of the whole issue. It seems as if same-sex marriage _will_ be legalized in all 50 states eventually, probably sooner than later. So why not place energies into protecting our families and teaching morality on a familial and/or church level rather than concerning ourselves with legality?

    The argument I hear most frequently is that gay marriage legislation would result in loss of religious freedom. I have read a number of statements from the Brethren, from Elder Oaks in particular, addressing religious freedom as the reason for the Church's involvement with Prop 8. Obviously, I have no grounds on which to refute such arguments. I sustain and support the leaders of our church as prophets, seers, and revelators. But such a belief does not prevent questions or a desire to greater understand the whys and hows of such statements.

    It has been interesting residing in Canada this last year where gay marriage has been legal for a number of years now. I will not pretend to assume that the laws, culture, and attitudes of Canadians are identical to those in the US. However, Canada is probably as close as it comes in comparison so perhaps it's worth a consideration.

    In any case, during a conversation with a bishop here in Calgary, I was informed that when gay marriage legislation was passed in Canada, the Saints inquired of Church Headquarters as to how they should proceed. In short, they were counseled to just let it go. And so they did. The church and families, from what I have seen thus far, have been relatively unaffected by the legislation.

    Again, I'm not going to presume or pretend that it is an identical comparison. I find that while the USA boasts a heritage of free-thinking and freedom, religious freedom and concession for religious groups abound much more here than in the US. And so I wonder, is the greater acceptance of religious freedom because churches are less involved in matters of state? Or does the Canadian government have more respect for religious groups and religious freedom than its American counterpart, and therefore leave less desire for religious groups to get involved?

    1. I don't know for sure what's different about Canada and California in terms of church legal concerns, but my guess would be that court involvement has something to do with it.

      Proposition 22 and Prop 8 have both been attempts to keep the American judicial system from enforcing gay marriage as a matter of constitutional equality. I've actually read a Master's thesis by a non-LDS writer who examined the relationship between what he called the "constitutional order" (the groups who controlled the government, courts, etc.) and three religious types: Native Americans, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses. His central thesis was that the people who interpret and enforce the constitution have been fairly accommodating of groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses whose differences (i.e. refusing to serve in armed forces) were largely a matter of individual conscience, but have been pretty tough on Native Americans and Mormons whenever there was a recognizable difference in land and social organization. Maybe that's all in the past...but maybe it's not. When Elder Oaks was BYU President, the justice department initiated a lawsuit over BYU's practice of wanting male and female students in different buildings. Even though Oaks found a way to make some concessions and settle out of court, I think the idea that the courts could try to crack down on something like that made LDS leaders really nervous.

      So yeah: Canada may have gay marriage laws that give church leaders less cause for alarm than CA court rulings have.

    2. And there hasn't been any unraveling of society here, funnily enough. :)

    3. I don't mean to come across as flippant, but I do need to make one point again: how long were we burning fossil fuels before anyone noticed that we were changing the composition of the atmosphere in ways that are probably serious?

      My guess is that gay marriage develops like industrialization. People insist at first that it's pure progress with no downside and that critics are nut-job reactionaries. After an extended period of time, perhaps a few generations, people start to notice that there are subtle but significant unintended consequences. Then--like global warming--entrenched interests spend another generation resisting the evidence. Then we gradually build up the will to do something...but have changed society so much, we don't really know what to do.

    4. It's also important to note the difference in the lands where nonprofit organizations are set up. The laws in Canada have very little effect on the church in Canada, because it is registered in the US. US laws, however, have a tremendous effect on the church. I think a primary (and rightful) concern of the church is its tax status. Should we refuse to solemnize marriages between gay individuals in our temples, or even excommunicate sexually active gay members, individual leaders are exposed to prosecution of hate crimes and the church's status is questioned. This is a significant question of religious liberty wherein faiths are being forced to promote a secular agenda and money and prosecution is the tool. Once upon a time the gay agenda was less inflammatory, as James responded to my earlier post. Unfortunately, now it is a strident agenda and requires a strong response from our leaders to protect what seem unrelated religious rights.

    5. Here I am going to finally and simply say that we will not agree on this point at all. I fail to see any evidence whatsoever of negative effects of legalizing gay marriage and given the small percentage of people who are gay, I can't see it having any real social impact.

    6. Bonnie,

      I'd like to write later about the concerns Prop 8 has raised on both sides about church-state interactions...but I don't want that issue to get too entangled with the question of whether gay marriage will ultimately be good for society. If there were no direct threat to the church, would there still be cause for concern? I think so, and would like to keep this discussion focused more on that.

    7. Matthew,

      I think it's fine to disagree. And actually, I will be happy if you turn out to be right!

      My primary hopes for this series are twofold:

      1) To show gay marriage proponents that intelligent people can be nervous about the possible impact of gay marriage for reasons other than homophobia.

      2) To help LDS people who are nervous about gay marriage that there is a larger context to the movement for it.

    8. I do think you have done a good job of presenting your views respectfully and broadening the context, so thank you for that. :)

    9. Sorry to come to the party late - I really enjoyed reading this series of posts and how thoughtfully they presented this issue. I wanted to reply to this comment, because as gay marriage is legalized and other anti-discrimination statues are put in place, religious groups and individuals are increasingly having to deal with this in the courts. A couple of news articles that illustrate this:
      It will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

  11. As always, I'm glad I was introduced to your blog, and I'm glad you're not afraid to tackle the hard questions and try to formulate some answers for people. I didn't read all of the comments, but I liked the series and everything you covered.

    Looking forward to your next post.

  12. Thank you for this. It is helping me to codify my own thoughts on the matter. As a newly expectant mom, I feel keenly how important it is that I raise my baby together with my husband, her father. I'm excited to breastfeed, and to see how she'll look like us, and to teach her our family history and traditions. I sincerely love my gay friends, but at my core I believe that parenting should be the realm of a mother and father, working as hard as they can to be the best parents possible. Everything less than that, adoption (though it is of course necessary when a child's parents are unwilling or unable to raise their child), single parenthood, abusive parenting, or a child missing out on a mom or dad in a gay marriage, is just not the ideal. It gets harder and harder to say that out loud any more, but that's how I feel. I don't mean to act superior--I don't associate any personal virtue with this belief that I have. I believe that it is a God-given truth that exists outside of me, and I try to live my life according to that ideal.

    Anyway, thanks--

  13. Anonymous, I am a little shocked that you lumped in adoption and single parenting with abusive parenting. That being said, I am quite sure that you didn't intend to equate them, though.

    As someone who was adopted, I can honestly say that biology is not the primary bond that makes family family.

    Single parenting is a bloody hard job, and they deserve far more credit for what they do than they get. And, I really think that there is something to the village-raising-a-child idea that we have lost in our culture.

    A gay couple raising a child provides two parents, love and stability as much as any straight couple. In fact, not every heterosexual marriage will be the heterogenous either. Dads can be sporty, masculine, athletic, mechanical, and they can also be artistic, sensitive, emotional, and no good at doing any kind of "manly" things. Ditto for mothers - some mothers are kick boxers, others are knitters.

    I am just not convinced that there is an ideal group makeup as much as there are ideal conditions - love, respect, empathy, selflessness.

    1. I spoke to the adoption issue in a new comment above.

      Love, respect, empathy, and selflessness are certainly central to parenthood. And I agree that we should be impressed with people who make non-ideal situations like single parenthood work. But as I describe in the other comment, I think we do best in those situations when we acknowledge that they're not ideal.

      I am a better adoptive parent knowing what I've missed than I would be if I assumed there were no complications inherent in adoption.

    2. Sorry about the confusion--I definitely don't put abusive parenting and adoption/single parenting on the same level, of course. Thanks for the benefit of the doubt, Matthew. I agree to part of your point about ideal conditions in family (what we all must strive for, and what can make most family situations succeed). But I also agree with James that it is good to recognize that an ideal family organization exists: mother and father working hard to raise the children they brought into the world. If we say that that is passe or doesn't matter anymore, I think it will cause more harm than good.

  14. No worries - I knew that you didn't intend it that way. :) And for the record, I absolutely approve of father and mother raising children, just that I approve of same-sex couples doing so as well.

  15. Thank you for writing all of this. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    I'll still have to reread these posts a couple more times before I completely understand all you presented, but what I did understand - you wrote the thoughts and feelings I have trouble expressing. I especially appreciate your analogy about baby formula and breastfeeding. I agree with letting everyone have equal rights, but I cannot be moved to accept gay marriage as equal to eternal marriage.

  16. I guess we should be happy that American culture has finally recognized the value of marriage. Ten years ago it was an outdated, oppressive, patriarchal relic and free-thinking couples wanted nothing to do with it. Now same-sex couples can't possibly be expected to have monogamous relationships, acquire insurance benefits, buy houses, or raise children together without MARRIAGE.

    For what it's worth, I regard same-sex marriage as an inevitability. It won't be decided by states or even the federal government; it's going to come from the Supreme Court when it happens. And I totally agree with your statement that we don't really know how it will affect society - no matter how much its proponents insist otherwise, you can't change the fundamental nature of a societal institution without fundamentally changing society. But I also regard it as a far, far lesser evil than legalized abortion, which has been going on for decades.

    In the end, I refer to the Family Proclamation: " Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets." In other words, someday the debate will be over and everyone will KNOW.

  17. James, I also have a blog that describes my views as a Mormon. I don't think it's quite as sensitive or thorough as your blog, but I was amazed just now as I was reading your arguments to see that I have made many of the same ones. I even used the analogy of breastfeeding, thinking that I was quite original! I've written twice about this. You might enjoy seeing a similar mind at work:

  18. Wow, I found the 4 parts fascinating. Thank you! The cultural study over history is very intriguing. I found these two questions particularly interesting:
    "Would including same-sex relationships under the legal umbrella of marriage affect vertical relationships in the long term?"
    "But do I think we can treat traditional marriage and same-sex marriage as identical without affecting the strength of our vertical relationships in some way? "
    I wish, wish, wish we had more research on this! I can only hope that we well document and research our current same-sex foster homes and same-sex adoption homes so that we have more information for our future generations.
    And your formula analogy gave me a good chuckle- will have to think about that one :) Thanks for the discussion. I am still pondering it all out in my mind.

  19. Great thoughts, James. By the way, your link to Jane Galt's (super) article is broken (it needs a prefix):

    Richard Wilkins has commented on another purpose of traditional marriage that is independent of children. To summarize, there's reason to believe that it significantly bridges the gender gap, helping men and women take the leap of trying to understand each other despite the ways that we are programmed to think of each other as irredeemably Other and not worth the effort. In other words, it's the main catalyst to the intergender glue that society needs. Without intergender commitments one couple at a time, the tendency is for men and women's worst qualities to not be ameliorated by the other's best, on a large scale.

  20. Christopher WilliamsOctober 7, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    James- Your blog on same-sex marriage was enlightening. I would just like to state my beliefs as I view this topic with an eternal perspective. However, I must admit it is difficult to look that way with our own individual imperfections, but even more complicated when those matters involve us as a community, nation, or even on a global level. God who sees through the eternal looking glass understands wisdom much more effectively than us mortals.

    The Family: A proclamation to the World reads, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

    I often wonder if those that have same-sex attraction developed those tendencies before this mortal life knowing that we didn't have a physical, but a spiritual body. Nevertheless, thanks to modern revelation we know that gender was essential characteristic of that spiritual body.

    In Alma 13:3 (speaking of priests) And this is manner after which they were ordained-- being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good , and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

    I always seem to be very intrigued when the scriptures speak about a life before mortality. Agency was a detrimental part of our Father's plan. Even though, we could not literally sin physically being within the presence of God and being without the mortal body within that realm, I believe we still could develop life changing eternal decisions being able to choose good from evil within our ante life. Thus those choices we made in our spiritual bodies affect the way our minds operate emotionally and spiritually in this estate.

    D&C 130:19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

    Now I know this scripture talks about what we gain in this life continues into the afterlife, however wouldn't the objective be the same if we apply the spiritual traits we developed within our first estate continued with us to this probationary life. We were influenced by good and evil there, so we all may have developed some good talents and personality traits along with some evil tendencies and impurities. Therefore, we are facing the blessings and consequences from the decisions we made in that life, now in this life. Life is eternal!



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