Category Archives: proposition 8

The Public Square Segregated

I read and then replied to some comments on somebody’s note on Facebook regarding the LDS Church’s involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign. I feel it is worthwhile to share that discussion with a broader audience. Here’s how it went:

Brian wrote:

I do not, however, agree that the Mormon church played only a minor role in the passing of Prop 8. While it’s true that the LDS church did not donate money directly, they pretty much rallied up any member who could to donate both time and money to the cause. They held firesides and commissioned their members to do whatever they could to assist in the passing of Prop 8. Many members donated only because it was a “commandment” from the prophet. The quorum of the 12 even personally called a few rich members of the church and told them it was their “priesthood obligation” to donate money to the cause.

The church itself was involved in virtually every way. It’s BECAUSE of what the leaders had been doing, and how they were pushing their members to donate, how they egged people in Utah to donate money to support a ballot in a state that they didn’t live in, and how they made the entire church body feel like it was a commandment to support Prop 8, that people are so incredibly upset.

Brian also quoted his friend Rob as saying:

I am disgusted with the LDS Church. In light of their blatant disregard for the separation of church and state… I wish I could take BYU off my resume.

To have had ANY association with the LDS Church or its educational institutions is now an embarrassment.

My reply:

Brian,
I’m still baffled by what the problem with the church supporting prop 8 is supposed to be. Members did not donate “only because it was a ‘commandment’ from the prophet.” Mormons have brains, they think for themselves, and they spend their money how they want and vote how they want. They supported proposition 8 because they agreed with it. If you read the letter that the church’s leaders used in encouraging the measure ( http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/california-and-same-sex-marriage ) it’s clear that it falls quite short of being a “commandment.”

I live in Utah and saw how the California residents in my area mobilized to support proposition 8. There was no compulsion, no “egging on.” Non-Californians were told not to get involved, though of course some still did anyway. Mormons are just good at making things happen, and they are willing to put their money where their mouth (and heart) is. Is that against the law somehow?

To Rob: I’m sorry that you are ashamed of your association with BYU because of the church’s supposed “blatant disregard for the separation of church and state.” Perhaps you should have paid better attention in your American Heritage class, because you are forgetting some key points about the meaning of the First Amendment. In particular, there is no prohibition of religiously-minded people participating in public debate. Both sides of the Prop 8 debate are founded on moral value judgments. Just because Yes on 8 people’s value judgments were informed by their religious beliefs does not make their value judgments less valid than those whose views were not religiously-founded. Were the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s efforts to promote blacks’ civil rights invalid because he was a Baptist minister? Where do we draw the line between Dr. King taking one stand and the LDS church taking another? It seems that the only line is an arbitrary one based on whether those stands coincide with your particular political views or not.

Indeed, this arbitrary and conveniently agenda-promoting distinction between some religious people supporting one cause and others another strikes me as a profound injustice. Feel free to disagree with whether Proposition 8 was a good idea or not. But please do not vent your disappointment at its passing by claiming that prop 8’s proponents did not deserve to participate in the public debate simply because they are religious people and organizations. To segregate the public square into arbitrary “approved” and “unapproved” segments—especially when these labels are little more than code for the more typical terms “us” and “them”—is not appropriate and does our society a great disservice. In the end we let voters evaluate a measure based on the various arguments put forth for and against, but there is not and there should not be a restriction on who can make those arguments.

For anybody who has lingering doubts on this issue, please read my posting of a speech entitled “Religious Values and Public Policy” which discusses these matters in greater detail.

Familiar Territory

My sincere apologies, friends, but I must impose upon your eyes, web browsers, and feed readers yet again because there now wells up within me that ancient anger against injustice that has boiled the blood of many a Mormon before me. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is familiar territory for us Mormons. Once again, it seems that we’re being labeled as bigots, meddlers, and theocrats for having supported Proposition 8 in California. ((Noteworthy links: 1|2|3)) Much like the Missourians who feared the Mormons’ ability to support a cause they disliked (Mormons were generally anti-slavery) some elements of California society seem to have suddenly realized what the Mormons who have dwelt in their midst since before the Gold Rush actually believe in.

We Remember

To those who accuse us of forgetting the persecutions we suffered in the past, and of now persecuting the gay population: did you really think we’d forgotten? Be assured that the memory of our people being driven from Ohio and Missouri, of our Prophet being murdered in cold blood in Illinois, of being driven from homes in the United States to the desolation of a mountain wilderness, haunts us to this very day. But the Holy Spirit has witnessed to our hearts that the Church is God’s, that the Book of Mormon is a revelation meant for our day, and that the president of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, is a prophet of God. And so it took no coercion to convince us to support traditional marriage.

The church teaches that sexual relations are sinful and wrong in every situation except between a man and a woman who are married to each other. This is known in the church as the law of chastity. Given our support for chastity as defined above, and keeping in mind that the most fundamental meaning of marriage is as society’s (and God’s) official seal of approval upon a sexual relationship, and given furthermore that the defining aspect of a homosexual relationship is, well, homosexuality, ((Please listen to this speech by Princeton’s Robert George for more on this.)) which does not fit in with the law of chastity, it therefore makes absolutely no sense for Latter-day Saints to wish society to stamp its approval upon gay relationships by calling them “marriage.” It might even be understood as a crime against conscience to do so. ((What’s more, the state has no interest in promoting families headed by a same-sex couple. Has family studies research shown that same-sex couples provide optimal support for the rearing of children, as it has shown for heterosexual couples? Do homosexual relationships contribute to population growth that is vital to economic expansion? Have the results of same-sex marriage in nations and states where it has been approved been studied to determine whether it really promotes the general welfare? No. Why are we so anxious to leap aboard ship if it’s as-yet unknown whether it has a leak in it? Of course, an obvious counter-argument is to recall the paternalistic racism that tried to preserve segregation in the United States, and even more-so in the colonies of Imperial Britain. However, the rise of divorce rates in the last half of the twentieth century precipitated serious scholarship on the impact of a traditional mother-father pair vs. a single parent on children. The results demonstrated a dramatic positive impact of having a father and a mother in the home. Can it not be supposed that the natural complementarity between men and women is a significant contributor to that outcome, and therefore that this would not exist in family headed by a homosexual couple?)) ((Moreover, homosexual couples who adopt children seem to be attempting to convince themselves that their family is normal by surrounding themselves with the trappings of a traditional family. Who knows — maybe gay couples will be wonderful at rearing children? But at best they can only ever be is surrogates, for they cannot be biological parents.))

Corrections

Much of what I’ve seen written concerning Proposition 8 has suffered from substantial, unacknowledged preexisting biases. Here are some corrections.

A Right?

Many have presupposed that marriage between people of the same sex is a fundamental right like those mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. According to the LA Times:

It was the latest in an escalating campaign directed against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its role in marshaling millions of dollars in contributions from its members for the successful campaign to take away same-sex marriage rights. ((My emphasis.))

The California voter guide guide put it this way, claiming that Proposition 8

ELIMINATES RIGHT OF SAME-SEX COUPLES TO MARRY.

The San Francisco Chronicle:

Proposition 8 has passed, denying to some the right enjoyed by other citizens in California, the right to marry. Now, the central question for the courts to decide is: Are gays in California equal, or can members of certain churches declare them constitutionally inferior?

I take issue with the implication that there is some sort of right to have society treat your homosexual relationship as equivalent to the long-established institution of marriage. I wonder to whom the man writing in the SF Chronicle refers with his conspiratorial phrase, “certain churches”? No church has the right to change with the constitution. But the people do.

Discrimination?

And what makes forbidding marriage between people of the same gender discriminatory? The prohibition enacted against homosexual marriage applies with equal force to all people. Not having an inclination to participate in marriage as traditionally defined has never been an occasion for special treatment in the past; why should it be now? To quote the comments immediately following that article:

americanb4black: Gays aren’t the only group(s) that doesn’t have the RIGHT to marry, but that’s mainly because there isn’t a RIGHT to marry. Marriage is a privilege given by the society (typically the state) in which you live. Other groups that don’t have a RIGHT to marry: fathers marring daughters, sisters marring brothers, men marring two or more women at once. Should these groups also have the RIGHT to marry?! Why not?!

batmanyey: geez, enough already – the people of california have spoken and Prop 8 won! It doesn’t matter who voted for this proposition the bottom line is the people of california by majority vote DO NOT APPROVE OF GAY MARRIAGE! How many times do the people have to vote on this matter?

dragons7: If there is such a concern about separation of church and state, then why is there such a demand to have gay “marriages”? It would seem to make sense that they would be demanding “civil unions”.

Once marriage means anything and everything, it will clearly mean nothing.

False Dichotomy

Here’s a statement quoted favorably in this CNN article:

“It really feels personal. It feels like why would someone not want us to live in love and respect,” said protester Jayne Dean-McGilpin.

Do I even need to explain this false dichotomy? So Jayne Dean-McGilpin is saying that anyone who does not want to change the definition of marriage to accommodate homosexuals doesn’t want homosexuals to have loving, respectful relationships. That’s simply false. I hope that all human relationships will be positive, and in the sphere of your own domestic life I hope that translates into love and respect. But marriage is, nonetheless, between a man and a woman.

Separation of Church and State

Another one from CNN:

“I believe that politics and religion should be completely separate,” protester Eric Rogers told CNN affiliate KGO-TV. “This has been, actually, one of those lines that has been blurred by that.” ((My emphasis.))

Let’s have a little civics lesson. The First Amendment is quite to the point about these issues:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

According to Wikipedia, Justice Souter wrote that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” Supposing the federal constitution to ultimately be applicable at the state level (as has been established by precedent), no reasonable argument can be made that Proposition 8 was a “law respecting an establishment of religion.” Defining marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibiting anything else from being called marriage is no more a “law respecting an establishment of religion” than are laws which define murder as one person willfully causing the life of another to come to an end and then forbid people to murder.

In claiming that, by supporting Proposition 8, the Mormons have somehow overstepped their rights with regard political discourse, some people seem to think that parts of the First Amendment are suspended with regard to groups who oppose their views. Proposition 8 was a “petition [of] the Government for… redress of [a grievance],” namely, that the Supreme Court of the State of California had redefined a key cultural institution without regard for the negative consequences of so doing. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in organizing themselves to campaign for Proposition 8, were exercising the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” Moreover, this assembly and petition was done as a manifestation of “the free exercise [of religion]” which, we are told, “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting….” Thus says the fundamental law upon which our republic was built, the Constitution.

It’s About Money?

And, inasmuch as contributions to causes are recognized in the courts as protected speech, all of the church’s media activities (videos, articles, phone calls, websites, etc.) related to the campaign were likewise protected. So this isn’t about the church stepping out of bounds. This is rather about the church standing for something that some gay marriage proponents hate. And it’s also the church’s ability to get things done in support of its views. As church leader and former Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks has noted:

Perhaps the root fear of those who object to official church participation in political debates is power: They fear that believers will choose to follow the directions or counsel of their religious leaders. Those who have this fear should remember the celebrated maxim of Jefferson “error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” Some may believe that reason is not free when religious leaders have spoken, but I doubt that any religious leader in twentieth century America has such a grip on followers that they cannot make a reasoned choice in the privacy of the voting booth. In fact, I have a hard time believing that the teachings of religions or churches deprive their adherents of any more autonomy in exerting the rights of citizenship than the teachings and practices of labor unions, civil rights groups, environmental organizations, political parties, or any other membership group in our society. ((My emphasis))