Friday, February 28, 2014

What Are BYU-I Students Supposed to Think, Elder Oaks?

This past Tuesday, while addressing a crowd of BYU-Idaho students at a devotional, Elder Dallin Oaks implicitly stated what the State of Utah has studiously avoided saying since the Kitchen decision last December: religious beliefs are really what is behind the State’s adoption and defense of Amendment 3, which bans same-sex marriage in Utah.

In a wide-ranging talk that focused on testifying of God, Oaks touched on a topic on which he has often spoken: the perceived threat to “religious freedom” in today’s society. Here are his remarks that are the subject of this post:
“We should also use our political influence to resist current moves to banish from legislative and judicial lawmaking all actions based on religious convictions and motivations. A dangerous recent example of this was the opinion of the single federal district judge who invalidated the California Proposition 8 constitutional amendment. The precedent of his decision on the inappropriateness of presumed religious or moral motivations as a basis for lawmaking was used by the lawyers who persuaded another federal district judge to invalidate the Utah constitutional provision and laws affirming the traditional limitation on marriages to one man and one woman. Then, when an eminent lawyer was hired to take the appeal, he was criticized by the Human Rights Campaign for having religious motivations for his decision to defend traditional marriage. Where will this illogical attack on religious motivations end?”
There was a point in time when I admired Elder Oaks, who in his earlier life was a law professor and a judge on the Utah Supreme Court. But in a number of addresses given in the past few years (about which I have written here and  here), I have found myself shaking my head, not only because I disagree with what he is saying about legal and political matters, but because I believe he is consciously misleading in what he says. 

In my view, the above-quoted passage from his devotional address this past Tuesday was another example of this. I’d like to break this passage down and add my own commentary.

"We should also use our political influence to resist current moves to banish from legislative and judicial lawmaking all actions based on religious convictions and motivations." 

Elder Oaks does not explain what he means by, or provide examples of (despite what he says in the next sentence) “moves” that are intent on “banishing” “actions.” What moves? Banishment? What actions? By using these ominous words, Oaks paints a dark and foreboding picture to the students listening to him, but he provides no context, no specifics. What does he expect the students to think?

Furthermore, he implies that there is something the students who are listening to him can do, some way that they can use their “political influence” to affect “judicial lawmaking.” Federal judges are appointed, not elected. Federal judges rely on established precedent and legal principles in reaching decisions and verdicts in every case that comes before them. Elder Oaks knows this. What does he expect the students to think?

"A dangerous recent example of this was the opinion of the single federal district judge who invalidated the California Proposition 8 constitutional amendment."

Dangerous. Why? A single judge? The Prop 8 case began as a trial. Trials are heard by one (a single) judge. Elder Oaks knows this. Judge Walker’s trial decision in the Prop 8 case was then appealed, but not by the State of California, which refused to defend Prop 8 at the appellate level. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a group that had sponsored Prop 8 to appeal, but upheld the trial court’s decision. Elder Oaks knew all this, but he did not say so in his address. What does he expect the students to think?

"The precedent of his decision on the inappropriateness of presumed religious or moral motivations as a basis for lawmaking …"

Here, Elder Oaks is using his background as a lawyer and jurist, which appears to give additional gravitas to his remarks. What does he expect the students to think?

Elder Oaks implies that Judge Walker’s decision was based (solely) on the “inappropriateness of presumed religious or moral motivations” for banning same-sex marriage in the State of California. This is, in fact, untrue. There were a number of bases upon which Judge Walker followed established legal principles in deciding whether the discrimination against same-sex couples in California was justified by a rational connection to legitimate state interests. What does Elder Oaks expect the students to think?

That being said, one of the legal principles upon which Judge Walker relied is that developed in a string of Supreme Court decisions over the past 30 years (which in turn were based on earlier decisions). That principle is that, though the governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral, this is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice, and without any other asserted state interest, “morality” is not a sufficient rationale to justify a law that discriminates among groups of persons. Elder Oaks knows all this. What does he expect the students to think?

“ … was used by the lawyers who persuaded another federal district judge to invalidate the Utah constitutional provision and laws affirming the traditional limitation on marriages to one man and one woman.”

I’ll just cut to the chase on this one. Elder Oaks seems to imply that Judge Shelby (the judge who ruled on the Kitchen case) is incapable of determining on his own what legal principles were involved in the case before him. Oaks also implies that there was no basis for Judge Shelby’s decision other than “the inappropriateness of presumed religious or moral motivations as a basis for lawmaking.” Elder Oaks knew this wasn’t the case. What does he expect the students to think?

“Then, when an eminent lawyer was hired to take the appeal, he was criticized by the Human Rights Campaign for having religious motivations for his decision to defend traditional marriage.”

Okay. Does Elder Oaks really believe the students before him know what the Human Rights Campaign is? I can almost see the look of disdain on Oaks’ face as he said these words. What does he expect the students to think?

The Human Rights Campaign, which is arguably the most important gay-rights advocacy organization in the country, took issue with the appointment of Gene Schaerr  because Schaerr’s duty was to represent the interests of ALL Utahns, not just Utahns who happen to be Mormons who do not support marriage equality. (I pointed out my own issues with this appointment here.) Elder Oaks’ comment substantiates concerns voiced by the HRC and others, in that he implicitly states that the interests of the LDS Church and that of the State of Utah are one and the same. What does he expect the students at BYU-I to think? 

"Where will this illogical attack on religious motivations end?"

Indeed? Illogical attack? What about it (assuming there is an “it”) is illogical? What does Oaks expect the students to think?

I’d like to turn his concluding question around: Where will religious-based attacks on constitutional principles end? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Toll: Inside a Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriage

“Losing you [when you joined the church] was like a guillotine blade that beheaded the loving richness I had in my life.  [After you joined the church] I saw you withdraw from life. The relationship between your withdrawal from life and your involvement in the church appeared to be proportionally related: the more you became fervent about the church, the more withdrawn and less talkative and sadder you became. 
“It was surely due to the instinct for survival that you beheaded your true self, or tucked him away under the folds of your memory and heart. In order to survive and achieve a happy life that the church promised to be yours after so much trauma, guilt, shame and lack of love [in my childhood and youth], you had to get rid of your Self. As you couldn't actually kill that self, you had to pretend that it never existed.”
This post was originally published in the spring of 2011. I am re-publishing it now as the first of a series of posts about mixed-orientation marriages - posts that were originally made on my Invictus Pilgrim blog, which is now closed.

The above passage was written by my younger sister in the fall of 2010, shortly after I had begun the process of coming out. Her very astute perceptions about what happened to me when I converted to Mormonism as a young adult validated very strongly what I already knew. I sensed this even while on my mission, which I served after joining the LDS Church. But this realization was locked away a long time ago and frankly took a back seat to the consequences that flowed from my decision to reject my gayness and abandon much of my old self when I got married. 

I use the term “reject” deliberately. Paradoxically, it was on my mission that, for the first time in my life, I came the closest to truly accepting my gay identity and choosing to live life as a gay man. I also felt that, toward the end of my mission, I was starting to recover some of who I was before I joined the Church.

Then I came home and embarked upon an extremely tumultuous “courtship” with the woman who became my wife, whom I had met before leaving on my mission. One of the reasons for the tumult was my struggle over what to do with my life: gay or straight; active Mormon or leave the church; married or not married;; marry this woman or someone else?

Ultimately, I made my choice: heterosexual; married; this woman; Mormon. I knew I was gay; my wife knew (before our wedding) of my “struggles” involving “attraction to men.” However, in getting married (and buying into everything that went along with that) I felt that I was making the “righteous” choice, i.e., the choice sanctioned by God and his church. I would get married because it was the “right thing to do”; and, similarly, I felt I could reject my gayness and repress any homosexual inclinations because that, too, was the “right” thing to do. I had decided that I wanted to, and could be able to, function as a righteous heterosexual priesthood holder should.

I did not then realize the toll that this choice would exact upon me and – ultimately – upon my former wife as well as my children.

I use the word “toll” deliberately, in the sense of one of its definitions:  “a grievous or ruinous price.” Only after coming out, in hindsight and after finally accepting who I am, did I begin to understand the nature and extent of this price – the price I paid to deny and betray my true sexual identity, and the price I paid upon abandoning many aspects of my identity. 

In turning away from my true sexual identity, I think – subconsciously – that my gay self felt that it had been betrayed. It had emerged to some degree on my mission, but now it was to be repressed and discarded, not only temporarily, but forever.  But one cannot deny the essence of who one is and remain healthy, mentally, emotionally and even physically. Perhaps for a time; but not, I have learned, in the long run.

Though consciously I felt like I was willingly making this choice, it was only after coming out that I started to realize how deeply that betrayal of my gay self affected me subconsciously. It created a tension in the very core of my being that gradually built up resentment and anger, continually being added to and hardening like the dome on a volcano. In retrospect, I now clearly see the presence of constant pressure, which made day-to-day life a challenge, difficult, frustrating, void of happiness, full of stress. This pressure would also build up and erupt from time to time, expressing itself in anger that, combined with the after-effects of child abuse, made for a toxic mix.

The situation might have been different if I had not been on the “priesthood path” – if there had not this constant pressure to be a model husband, a model father, a model provider, and a model priesthood leader, i.e., if I had had just a little more freedom to be me. But I was determined to do everything expected of me, everything asked of me, in order to prove (to myself, ironically) that I could overcome my “same sex attraction” and be a “faithful” “worthy” priesthood holder, a successful Mormon husband and father. 

I became my own worst enemy.

As it was, my rejection of my gayness was virtually complete and total as I steered clear of any “distractions” (i.e., any situation that would in the remotest degree entice or tempt me to indulge to the slightest extent my gay self). Meanwhile, the subconscious pressure created by the truly existential bind I had put myself in manifested itself in migraine headaches, irritability and a general sense of deep unhappiness.

However, in addition to this “existential bind” resulting from a betrayal of my gay self, I now see that I also abandoned many other aspects of my identity at the time of my marriage. Because I felt the need to commit myself heart and soul to the marriage, I felt that I not only needed to repress the gay me, but I also had to abandon many other aspects of what had been my identity. 

Why? Because the old me – the one who loved music, drama, art, literature, history – was tainted with homosexuality. The presence of the old me would only have been an embarrassment; he would have been a third wheel in our marriage, out of place in the “new order of things.”

How a third wheel? Well, letting go of my old identity, I embraced a new one. My wife and I really had very few things in common; our interests are quite different, even divergent. The one thing we had in common when we got married was a belief that we were “supposed” to get married to each other, along with a belief that as long as we remained faithful in the church, everything would work out. 

The situation might have been different had my wife been interested in the same things I was, but she was not. If I had not been determined to do practically whatever it took to make my marriage a success (partly because of my parents’ failed marriage, but also to “overcome” the “gay factor”), if I had not had the specter of my homosexuality always in the background, then I never would have subjected myself to this abandonment of my old self.

I now realize the toll that this abandonment exacted. Subconsciously, it created another huge conflict that only added to the conflict I felt after betraying my gay self. 

Looking back on it, I can see how much I subconsciously raged against this abandonment. I had abandoned my “core,” but yet I raged against feeling that I had to adopt someone else’s core as my own. I raged against feeling like I had to be a certain way in order to be accepted, to be true to the path I had chosen. Yet I had to be accepted in order to fulfill the path I had chosen. It was a hopeless conflict that played itself out day after day, month after month, year after year, adding to my sense of unhappiness, alienation and lack of fulfillment, exacting a terrible toll.

Let me state plainly that I am not blaming my former wife for any of this. No. This was my problem, my fault. And I am not prepared to say that getting married was a mistake, nor am I saying that my marriage was all bad; far from it. And I certainly don't regret having my children. But, in terms of my identity, my psyche and, as a result, the mental and emotional health of me and my family and children – in terms of all this, my decision to get married took a dreadful toll.

So, where did I go upon coming to these realizations? Well, I began. I began by deciding to affirm my sexual identity instead of continuing to try to repress and deny it. 

I then began the process of trying to recover my identity – the person I was before my marriage, then the person I was before I joined the church, and – ultimately - the person I was or might have been, but for the abuse I suffered as a child. Next came the process of mourning and healing:  mourning lost opportunities, mourning unintended consequences of living a lie, mourning pain inflicted on others as well as self.  Then, hopefully, healing - which I am very thankful to say did come and continues to come.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Callous Dumbing Down of Mixed-Orientation Marriage Issues

“I am so fed up, it's unbelievable. There is no simple solution. No single right answer. I have to answer to so many. A family who needs me, but I am dying emotionally, mentally, spiritually … Yet to leave my children, to cause pain to both them and wife - that is something that is not me, not something I would deliberately do, let alone choose to do. I would rather die. And so I am dying …”

~ Gay Mormon Man in a Mixed-Orientation Marriage

This is not a post about same-sex marriage. This is a post about Mormon mixed-orientation marriages. Specifically, this is a post about an op-ed piece that appeared in Sunday’s Deseret News that conflates mixed-orientation marriages with the issue of same-sex marriage by touting that mixed-orientation marriages are an alternative to “same-sex marriage.” 

In support of this proposition, the authors of the article – Michael and Jenet Jacob Anderson – do not point to extensive personal experience with or research of Mormon mixed-orientation marriages, nor to they point to statistical or academic studies. In point of fact, their piece is not only based on but liberally quotes from (without explicitly identifying the source, other than through an innocuous link) an amicus brief filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal in the Kitchen case.

The fact that the Ericksons take such an extremely complicated, emotional issue, i.e., mixed-orientation marriage, and use it for political purposes is repulsive to me. I lived in a mixed-orientation marriage for over 20 years. I know many Mormon men who either are or have lived in a mixed-orientation marriage. I know a fair bit about mixed-orientation marriages, and in every case of which I am aware, there has been a tremendous amount of heartache; the circumstances of each marriage were unique to the couple involved; and the sexual orientation of one of the partners was only one factor that played into how the marriages evolved and, in some cases, ended.

The fact of the matter is that many, many gay Mormon men of my generation entered into marriages with women because that is what the Church taught they should do. Marriage to a woman would fix their problem. Living the Plan of Happiness would fix their problem. But it didn’t. What it did was, sooner or later, to one degree or another, create a tremendous amount of heartache.

The stories of these men and their spouses and children are largely unknown to the general LDS population (something I hope to help change). Stories such as those of Miguel, Allen, Kurt, Gary, Mark, Scott, Sarah, Sean, Kennedy, Steve, Shawn, Dan, Beck, Jeff, and many others. Because of this obscurity, the issues these families face and have faced are not appreciated by the larger Mormon community. 

This highlights yet another reason I took issue with the Erickson’s piece. They point to a few stories of couples on the Voices of Hope website who are making their mixed-orientation marriages work, imply that these are the people whose stories have been suppressed and then callously use them for their own rhetorical/political purposes by claiming that “their lives dispel the myth that same-sex marriage is the only path to being free, equal and happy.” What nonsense. I would have to think that the couples whose stories are featured in Erickson’s piece would themselves be mortified at the use to which their stories were put.

There is yet one more aspect of the Erickson piece that offends.

Many, many gay and lesbian Mormons, at some point in their journey, have been asked by (sometimes) well-meaning friends, family members and ward members, “Why can’t you be like _____?” The blank represents someone who has “successfully” addressed their same-sex attraction and is a faithful Mormon. These well-meaning (but often ignorant) people point to websites such as as proof of their point; but what they often don’t realize is how complex same-sex attraction is and how offensive their “advice” is.

The Ericksons, in their piece, took this practice to a whole new level when they in essence applied it not to just one individual but to the entire community of gay Mormon men and women, implying that – if they wanted to – they could be like the people in the Voices of Hope videos. What the Ericksons did was ignorant, but I don't think is was well-meaning. It was callous, self-serving and offensive.

There are other voices available on the web that tell different stories from those found on Voices of Hope. Kendall Wilcox has collected and posted a number of these stories on his Far Between movie website. Stories of gay and lesbian Mormons who have chosen to live their sexuality with loving partners can be found at Voices of Love. In addition, I plan to republish a number of the posts I wrote about mixed-orientation marriages when I first came out, starting with one that I published earlier this month entitled “A Situation That Defies Our Nature,” from which the opening quote (above) was taken. 

The issues pertaining to mixed-orientation marriages are extremely complicated. There needs to be more awareness and knowledge of these issues in the Mormon community. But they need to be talked about in a respectful and sensitive way, not used for callous political purposes.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Same-Gender Relationships: Editing Elder Callister

When I first sat down to write this post, I intended it to address three questions prompted by Elder Callister's article in this month's Ensign

First Question: Why was a talk given over a year ago to a limited audience (BYU-Idaho devotional) by a member of the presidency of the Seventy made a prominent article in a Church magazine that reaches members around the world?

Second Question: Why did the Ensign make several edits to the remarks Callister made at BYU-Idaho?

Third Question: Why are there so many conflicting signals coming out of Church headquarters about homosexuality? More specifically:
  • why are general authorities making conflicting statements 
  • why are some remarks given top billing in the Ensign 
  • why is the Church resorting to websites to convey information about its position on homosexuality instead of using resources such as the Ensign, and 
  • why has nothing been said in general conference about these issues? 
I decided to address the second question first, and it turns out that this is as far as I got in this post. I'm not sure if I'll tackle the first and third questions ...

Deciphering the Edits

Set out below is the actual text of Elder Callister’s article as printed in the Ensign. Words he spoke at BYU-Idaho but were omitted from the Ensign text are crossed through, whereas words added in the Ensign article are underlined.
Same-Gender Relationships 
This is engaging in intimate physical relationships with someone of the same gender. Some would have us believe that the Church’s stand against same­-gender physical relationships is a temporary policy and not an eternal doctrine. 
Such a belief would be at odds with the scriptures, with the words of modern prophets, and with the plan of salvation, all of which teach the necessity of eternal marriage between a man and a woman as a condition to exaltation. A same­gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern that husbands and wives not only have children in mortality but also have eternal increase in their exalted condition. 
Having said that, We recognize that everyone is a son or daughter of God and deserves to be treated as such. We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing. But we also believe in an infinite Atonement that has the capacity in this life or the life to come to endow us with every power necessary to convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths. The Lord promised us, “For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). 
If someone has same-gender tendencies then it is his or her duty to Those with same­gender tendencies have a duty to (1) abstain from immoral relationships just as a single heterosexual must do and (2) do all within their power to avail themselves of the refining, perfecting powers of the Atonement. In the interim, however, those who have same­gender tendencies but do not act on them are worthy to hold Church positions and receive a temple recommend.
I don’t want to play conspiracy theorist here, but it seems obvious that these edits were made for a reason.

Is any type of same-gender relationship immoral? 

Whereas in Elder Callister’s talk, he made it clear that he was referring to intimate same-gender physical relationships, this is less clear in the Ensign version. He also made it clear in the last paragraph that he was saying that homosexuals must abstain from the same type of behavior that is forbidden to single heterosexuals. The omission of this phrase (“just as a single heterosexual must do”) from the Ensign version would appear to be tied to the same reason that the opening phrase was omitted – the editors wanted to give the impression that ANY type of same-gender relationship is considered immoral, whereas Elder Callister referred only to intimate physical relationships.

This gets to the point of what the Church does and does not consider immoral with respect to same-sex relationships. Using Elder Callister's original standard, same-sex dating would be appropriate. Hand-holding would be appropriate. Kissing would be appropriate. Feelings of love would be appropriate. Only intimate physical activity would be inappropriate. The Church tells its gay and lesbian members that they must be "chaste," but what does that mean, exactly, in a same-sex context?

It is also interesting to note that Elder Callister did not label as “immoral” same-gender relationships that were not intimate physical relationships. He merely states that they are “at odds with” and “inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern.”

“Having said that …”

Why was this simple clause omitted? It seems to me that its original use provided context for what he was about to say and gave it meaning. In the Ensign version, this context is removed. Why? To me, the omission of this phrase in the Ensign conveys a slightly less tolerant tone to a discussion of same-gender relationships.

“His or Her”

Why this edit? Call me far-fetched, but it is a fact that almost all the Church’s involvement with the issue of homosexuality has always focused on gay men. To this day, there is very little discussion – anywhere in the Mormon community – about lesbians. It’s as if the subject is too taboo, too revolting (in the eyes of the male hierarchy) to the whole Mormon concept of Womanhood to be acknowledged – at least to the same degree that male homosexuality is acknowledged. This change to Elder Callister’s remarks seems to be reflective of this general approach.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Same-Gender Relationships: In This Life or In the Life to Come

“We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing. 
But we also believe in an infinite Atonement that has the capacity 
in this life or the life to come to endow us with every power necessary to convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths.”

~ Elder Tad Callister

As I pointed out yesterday, Elder Tad Callister’s article on morality in this month’s Ensign, which ignited a firestorm of controversy concerning his comments about women, also contained some comments on the subject of “same-gender relationships.”

In this post, I’d like to focus on two points, which are related: first, his brief discussion of how gays do not fit into the “Plan of Salvation” (the LDS doctrine concerning man’s progression through life and into eternity); and second, his implication that gay people will be “fixed” in the after-life. I’d like to first address the second point.

Fixing People Who Experience Same-Sex Attraction

In his article, Elder Callister implies in the strongest possible terms (i.e., stopping just short of a direct statement) that being gay is an “imperfection” and a “weakness.” This belief is offensive and demeaning to any person who experiences same-sex attraction. It is a belief that my generation was raised on, comparing homosexuality to, for example, alcoholism and birth defects. It is a belief that has been diluted over the years, but it is still there, as evidenced by Callister’s remarks. It is a belief that is the basis of reparative therapy and the cause of widespread and deep depression among Mormons who experience same-sex attraction.

But what is even more troubling is Elder Callister’s implication that homosexuals can be “fixed” in the afterlife. Everything will be made “right,” and a faithful gay Mormon will be able to have a spiritual transfusion that will make him straight so that he can move forward toward exaltation and eternal increase (see below).

Unfortunately, other general authorities have made statements to this effect in the past, but it is not based on anything more than their understanding of the Plan of Salvation. Meanwhile, it conveys a message to the entire church membership that being gay is a weakness that will be fixed in the afterlife, a message that reinforces many members’ beliefs that homosexuality is “unnatural,” a “sin,” and unworthy of recognition as something that is real. 

Celestial Glory Shall Be Mine

In his brief remarks about homosexuality, Elder Callister opens by stating the following:
“[Same-gender relationships are] at odds with the scriptures, with the words of modern prophets, and with the plan of salvation, all of which teach the necessity of eternal marriage between a man and a woman as a condition to exaltation. A same­gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern that husbands and wives not only have children in mortality but also have eternal increase in their exalted condition.”
Elder Callister is right: same-gender relationships are at odds with the Church hierarchy’s current understanding of the Plan of Salvation. They are also at odds with the Church’s fixation on its understanding of exaltation. But this does not mean that there is not a place for God’s gay sons and daughters in the eternal scheme of things.

I have written more extensively on this subject before, but for present purposes, I’d like to point out that the Church’s current understanding of “exaltation” is essentially based on only six verses in the Doctrine and Covenants, i.e., D&C 131:1-4 and D&C 132:16-17, which read as follows:
“[131:1-4] In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this border of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase … [132:16-17] Therefore, when they [i.e., those who are not sealed in the temple] are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven …”
Note that other than these passages, there is nothing in all of Mormon scripture that addresses the two lower degrees of celestial glory (let alone the two lower kingdoms). Nothing. 

That being said, is there not ample room within Mormon theology to provide a place in the afterlife for Heavenly Father’s gay and lesbian children? Did not Jesus himself say that in His father’s house are many mansions? Why aren’t these “other mansions” ever discussed in modern Mormonism? 

Because nothing is known about them. 

Gay people don't need to be "fixed" - either in this life or in the life to come. They are as God created them, and they are here in mortality for the same reason as all of God's other children: to fulfill the measure of their creation.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Imperfections Not of Our Choosing

"A same­ gender relationship is inconsistent with God’s eternal pattern ... 
We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing."

~ Tad Callister, Mormon General Authority

The Mormon social media lit up this past week concerning an article in the March issue of the Ensign authored by Tad Callister, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy. Most of the discussion focused on Callister's comments concerning young women being the guardians of the virtue of the young men of the Church.

But he had a lot of other things to say on the subject of morality, including some choice comments about those "who have same-gender tendencies." (Just as Callister could not bring himself to use the word "masturbation," using instead the term "self-abuse," he apparently could not even bring himself to use the term "same-sex attraction" to describe homosexuality.)

There is oh so much that could be written about the few short paragraphs that Elder Callister devotes to "same gender relationships," but I'd like to focus in this post on the following passage:
"We all struggle with imperfections, some not of our choosing. But we also believe in an infinite Atonement that has the capacity in this life or the life to come to endow us with every power necessary to convert our weaknesses and imperfections into strengths. The Lord promised us, “For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27)."
I cannot express how much I wrestled with this scripture for almost three decades of my life. And I'm quite confident in stating that I doubt there is a gay or lesbian Mormon who has not done the same - who, in the infamous words of Spencer W. Kimball, has knocked on that door that would banish their homosexuality "until [their] knuckles are bloody, till [their] head is bruised, till [their] muscles are sore? 

This scripture was a constant reminder that I obviously wasn't doing something right, regardless of how hard I tried. I knew what my "weakness" was. I tried to be humble, I tried to have faith. I got married. I had 10 children. I did everything I could. But still the weakness remained.

Mormon theology and culture encourages one to perceive of oneself as Superman (or Wonder Woman, as the case may be). There's a lot of talk in the LDS Church about the "power of the Atonement" and "applying the Atonement" - as in Elder Callister's article. As I once explained to a non-Mormon friend, what this technically means, in Mormon theology, is that Jesus took upon himself all our sins, thus enabling us to be redeemed from the Fall. However, Mormons add the gloss that Jesus not only redeemed us from our sins but also from all sorts of bad stuff that aren't really sins but make life pretty shitty. Technically, Mormon theology teaches the centrality of Jesus' atonement and our reliance upon him, and him alone, to "save" us.

Putting technicalities aside, the practical matter is that members of the Church typically believe that their salvation is up to them. This is one of the elephants in every Mormon living room, so to speak - never discussed, but everyone knows it is there. Members may have to go to the celestial store and purchase some "Atonement" in order to apply to their lives - thus leading to a beautifully insightful comment made by Dr. Bill Bradshaw (one of the founders of LDS Family Fellowship) that many Mormons tend to approach the Atonement as "consumers" - but beyond that, it's up to them. 

Gay Mormons are repeatedly told that, first of all, they're not "gay," they're "same gender attracted," and second, that they can "overcome" their "feelings of same gender attraction" by "applying the Atonement." They are also told - repeatedly - that God gives no commandment to his children unless he prepares a way for them to do what he has commanded (another Book of Mormon scripture). This deadly spiritual mix has led to an existential despair that, on far too many occasions, has led gay Mormon men to kill themselves.

Thus the Superman comment. In my case, I carried my own Kryptonite deep inside me. It - my innate homosexuality - was my greatest weakness, the one I tried most desperately to hide, to control, to subdue, to eliminate (as if it was something that could be flushed through my bowels from my body).  I prayed, I fasted, I "applied the Atonement." But still my "weakness" was there, sucking the life out of me.

It was only when I came out that my greatest weakness became my greatest strength, my greatest asset, my secret weapon that exploded from within, shattering my false persona, my heterosexual Mormon identity and, ultimately, my faith in Mormonism. Ironically, in so doing, I fulfilled - in a manner of speaking - the scripture that had haunted me for so many years.  I no longer felt the need to be Superman. I realized that be strong, all I had to do was to be myself.

Friday, February 21, 2014

In Plain View: Utah, the Zion Curtain and Gays

Yesterday, I heard on the radio that a member of the Utah Legislature, Kraig Powell, proposed an alternative to Utah's so-called "Zion Curtains" - partitions that are required in restaurants that serve alcohol so that the public's view of a bartender's mixing of alcoholic drinks is restricted. Powell proposed that restaurants be able to opt out of using the partition if they post a notice on all entrances and in their menus that reads: "Notice: This establishment dispenses and serves alcoholic products in public view."

There have been several attempts in the past few years in the Utah legislature to remove the "Zion Curtain" requirement; but this year, the LDS Church made the rare move of publicly opposing (as opposed to privately through discreet lobbyists) the barriers' removal, saying that separate alcohol preparation areas are part of an effective system for protecting against underage drinking, overconsumption and DUIs.


The real purpose, as everyone knows, is to try to hide the presence of alcohol in Utah society. The LDS Church takes the position that if alcohol is hidden, then the youth of Zion will be less likely to be enticed into drinking. But even the very conservative, very Republican, very Mormon Speaker of the House, Becky Lockhart, has called the partition "weird" and has said there's no evidence that it prevents children from taking up drinking.

When I heard the phrase "public view" on the radio, something clicked in my mind over which I've been ruminating for some time, i.e., the real reason why the State of Utah is so fiercely opposing marriage equality is that the State has constructed a "Zion Curtain" between its citizens who are LGBT and those who are not. 

So long as the State can keep gays and lesbians out of the public view - whether through opposing same-sex marriage or nondiscrimination legislation or in other ways - it can - as it believes (and as the LDS Church hierarchy believes) - keep the youth of Zion from being "corrupted" by homosexuality. Marriage equality, however, will remove that curtain, exposing the reality of gays and lesbians and the love that they share to not only the youth of Zion but to all Utahns. And this is what the State of Utah - as well as many other states around the country - as well as the Mormon Church, fears.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Is the Hidden Gay Agenda?

There has been much written over the past few days about the "hidden gay agenda." Here are my thoughts about what the hidden gay agenda consists of:

To learn to love oneself rather than despising oneself

To learn to accept oneself completely, rather than utterly reject oneself

To learn to own and celebrate one’s own unique gift to life instead of 
hiding one’s light in a closet.

To encourage oneself and others to embrace life, rather than fear it

To learn to be tolerant of others and to extend that gift to oneself 

To learn to celebrate diversity, rather than fear it

To learn to experience first hand the love of God 
instead of feeling condemned by God

To encourage others to allow themselves be loved by God, just as they are

To offer to others what gay people have learned 
on their journey through life as an “other”

To bring fresh and beautiful meaning to the concept of “family”

To bring families together, rather than tearing them apart

To open minds and hearts that may have been closed 
to the beauty of the world around them

To share the gift of authenticity and empowerment with countless numbers 
of non-gay people who live in closets of fear, low self-esteem,
ignorance of self and shallow relationships

Within religious communities, to challenge oneself and others 
to look at and use the Bible as an instrument of love 
rather than oppression, hatred and fear

Within Mormon families, to present opportunities 
to look at the concept of family 
in a way that is reflective of relationships, 
rather than ritual 

BTW, the lead picture is of my partner Mark and his grand-nephew sharing a popsicle

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Gay Agenda of Disney's Frozen: Them That Call Good Evil

The Mormon social media world as well as realms beyond have been abuzz the last couple of days about a blog post written by "A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman" about the hidden gay agenda in Disney's Frozen.

My response to this woman, as well as to many, many other Mormons and conservative Christians is condensed from a post I wrote a year and a half ago. It is based on a well-known scripture that is very well-known within the Mormon community and that has unfortunately, like many other scriptures, been used as a weapon of hate and intolerance. Here is the scripture:

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; 
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; 
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"

~ Isaiah 5:20

This scripture has often - many times - been used to condemn what are perceived as "wicked" practices and trends in society, as well as to defend LDS Church doctrine, policies and practices. Those who have different views from the Church - or from certain Church members - are perceived as calling evil good, of putting darkness for light and bitter for sweet. 

On the other hand, those who criticize certain doctrine, policies and practices of the Church are perceived as calling good evil, of calling that which is light, darkness, and of calling that which is sweet, bitter. 

These kinds of attitudes are deliberately fostered within the LDS Church (as well as in many other conservative Christian denominations) with respect to many issues and teachings. Mormons are taught to view themselves as both guardians of virtue and recipients of the mockery of the prideful world (e.g., in Lehi's Dream). This view tends to promote self-righteousness and a rigid, skewed and frankly uncharitable world view, justified by scriptures such as Isaiah 5:20.

But I'd like to turn this scripture around, looking at the Church's teachings about homosexuality and family. I'd like to suggest that it is the Church (through its doctrines, practices and policies that have in turn affected the attitudes of millions of Church members), that has called good, evil.

For most of its history, in fact until just recently, the Church taught that those who experience feelings of attraction to members of their own sex were depraved, in grave danger of hellfire. Men and women, but primarily men, were (and are) labeled and judged based on a single (but very important) characteristic - their sexual orientation. 

Any other "redeeming" qualities of such persons that were/are "virtuous, lovely or of good report," were ignored. Such people were/are "evil," and it wouldn't do for them to be considered "good." They had to change from "evil" to "good." Any pronouncement that gays are just as good as other people (or just as bad), that homosexuality is not a moral issue, was calling evil, good; and any criticism leveled at the Church for its teachings on homosexuality was essentially calling good, evil.

The Church teaches and has always taught that "acting" on one's gay sexual orientation is a sin and bad. And this is not limited to actual sex. It applies to any other type of feelings or displays of affection that, with respect to a heterosexual relationship, would be considered healthy, appropriate and in no way a violation of the law of chastity - but with respect to a same-sex relationship is wrong. In fact, there is no such thing as a same-sex "relationship" in the Church - at least nothing that could be considered "good." Mormon gays are expected to be not only celibate sexually, but celibate emotionally as well. 

And as to gay relationships, gay partnerships and gay marriage, the Church's stance was pretty well stated recently by Elder Boyd Packer when he referred to same-sex marriages and partnerships as "Satan's counterfeit for marriage." Any claim that such relationships were anything but bad was calling evil good, and any criticism of the Church's stance in this regard is calling good evil.

But I think it is time to turn Isaiah around. The Church - and most pointedly for present purposes, the Well-Behaved Mormon Woman - is calling something that is good, evil. It is labeling something that is full of light, darkness. It is claiming that something that is sweet, bitter. 

Thankfully, more and more people are realizing that not only the LDS Church, but many other conservative Christian denominations, pundits and political groups are, I believe, under Isaiah's condemnation. More and more people are realizing that what they had taught to regard as evil is nothing of the sort; that their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers are not the people that others would portray them to be; that these people's relationships are based on love, commitment and dignity - not depraved sexuality as they had been taught.

And when they see love for what it truly is, when they give themselves permission to act on the love they have for their gay family members, they in turn are blessed with that same love and are enabled to better view the world as a place of goodness, sweetness and light, rather than a vale of evil, bitterness and darkness.

"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; 
and what doth the LORD require of thee, 
but to do justly, and to love mercy, 
and to walk humbly with thy God?"

~ Micah 6:8

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Nonsensical Bogeyman Brief of the LDS Church

An amicus (friend of the court) brief (the “Brief) was filed last week with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in connection with Utah’s and Oklahoma’s marriage equality cases. It was proffered on behalf of the LDS Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and several other conservative religious organizations (together referred to below as the “Churches”), and was prepared by the General Counsel of the Bishops’ Conference and by the “Church’s law firm,” Kirton McConkie of Salt Lake City.

A friend asked me after the Brief was filed whether I would be writing a piece about it. I was out of town this past week, but beyond that, I had skimmed the brief and frankly found it bizarre. I wasn’t really motivated to wade into those waters.

But I thought I’d read it again this past weekend to see if my initial impression had changed. Nope. I still find it bizarre for at least three reasons.

First, the brief seems to me to bear no rational relationship to the issues that will be before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The main thrust of the “legal argument” – if such it may be called – is to defensively assert that the Churches are not full of bigots. The brief indignantly asserts that accusations of “antigay animus” that are seen to be hurled at the Churches are “false and offensive” (see sample quote below). 

While the Churches have the right to, as they see it, defend themselves, they are not parties to the litigation, and whether or not they feel slighted has no relevance to the legal issues involved. The nonsensical-ness of the argument could not be better stated than in their own words: 
“In this brief we demonstrate that Utah’s and Oklahoma’s marriage laws should not be overturned based on the spurious charge that religious organizations support such laws out of animus.” 
Huh? Ummm, it’s not all about you, Churches, despite how much you like to think it is; and as much as you think that your interests are the same as that of the state, you’re wrong. 

Second, the Brief is full of discussion of “animus.” (The word is mentioned 30 times in the brief.) Now, in terms of analyzing whether a law that discriminates (in the neutral sense) against a class of people is constitutional, courts must first determine what level of scrutiny is applicable to such analysis. In certain cases, courts apply a heightened scrutiny test, in which animus (dislike) plays a part; i.e., the courts inquire as to whether the legislative body (i.e., not the Churches) was motivated by animus toward the class of people in enacting a discriminatory law.

But the thing is, in Utah’s case (Kitchen v. Herbert), Judge Robert Shelby, although he queried whether heightened scrutiny should be used, ultimately relied on a lower test, i.e., the “rational basis” test – in which a finding of animus is not a factor. In fact, Judge Shelby specifically found that he could not inquire into the mind of Utah voters when they passed Amendment 3, thereby dismissing any allegations of animus. So, in legal terms, the discussion of animus by the Churches in the Brief is irrelevant (not to mention nonsensical).

Third, the Brief takes up the bizarre (from a legal standpoint) refrain that Judge Shelby called Utah voters irrational in adopting Amendment 3 (and that his Oklahoma counterpart similarly insulted the citizens of Oklahoma). This refrain is announced in the Brief’s Introduction:
“A common theme has arisen among advocates for redefining marriage to include same-sex couples: that those who oppose them must be irrational or even bigoted—that they are motivated by “antigay animus,” whether in the form of unthinking ignorance or actual hostility. Such aspersions, which take various forms, are often cast at people and institutions of faith. The accusation is false and offensive.”
That such an argument could be advanced by presumably competent constitutional lawyers is, well, difficult to believe.

The rational basis test is based on a well-developed body of constitutional law as formed by the Supreme Court and consists of inquiry by the court as to whether there is a rational basis between the stated legislative goals of a questionable statute and the provisions of such a statute (or constitutional amendment). This inquiry has nothing whatsoever to do with calling citizens irrational because they voted for Amendment 3, and it certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with calling members of the Churches irrational for holding the beliefs that they do with respect to marriage equality.

The Brief seems to me to be more of a public relations document than a legal document. It plays on the fears, defensiveness and moral outrage of the members of the Churches who are encouraged to believe that “renegade” judges are imposing the “homosexual agenda” on the general populace and are destroying “religious freedom.” In other words, it creates bogeymen – and nonsensical ones at that (although I guess a bogeyman could never be "sensical.")

Monday, February 10, 2014

Whose Marriage Is It, Anyway?

"Marriage is the right of the individual. It is not the right of the state."
~ Theodore Olson

On February 4, 2014, the day after Utah filed its opening brief in the Kitchen v Herbert case with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a hearing was held in a federal district courtroom in Virginia. Oral arguments were heard as to whether or not Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. Ted Olson - who played a pivotal role in arguing the Prop 8 case from federal district court all the way to the Supreme Court - argued on behalf of the plaintiffs.

As I read a transcript of Mr. Olson's argument, I was electrified by these passages that touched on something that had deeply troubled me about Utah's arguments in our own same-sex marriage legal battle:
"[Marriage] is the right of the individual. It is not the right of the state. That is the country that we live in. We have rights as individuals which are fundamental and cannot be taken away." [at p. 6, emphasis added] 
"The State wants to have marriage for people of opposite sexes so that they will channel their sexual activity into the institution of marriage. But there's two points with respect to that. It's not the state's right to impose a restriction on marriage because it wants to accomplish some social objective. The state could decide tomorrow we don't want procreation or we don't care about responsible procreation and change the rules. No because it's an individual right. It goes to the heart of who the individual is, their liberty, spirituality, and so forth" [at p. 9, emphasis added].
What had deeply troubled me about Utah's argument, as reflected in both its (multiple) applications for a stay of Judge Shelby's ruling as well as in its opening brief in support of its appeal of that ruling, is that it is ultimately based on the proposition that it - the State - has a right to promote a particular kind of marriage and family unit and that this right trumps an individual's right to marry.

At the time, I thought, "Do we as citizens exist for the benefit of the state, or does the state exist for the benefit of its citizens?" More to the point, "Does marriage exist for the state, or the state for marriage." Ted Olson's words articulated the response to these questions.

After reading the transcript of the oral arguments, I read the plaintiffs' briefs filed in the Virginia case, in which Olson and his team of lawyers wrote the following (in their second brief) with respect to these issues:
"If marriage exists solely to serve society’s interest, as Defendants argue, it makes no sense to speak of an individual’s right to marry" [at p. 1]. 
"There is only one fundamental “right to marry.” It is a liberty of association that fosters “a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.” Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486 (1965). It is safeguarded by the Constitution not to promote “causes,” “political faiths,” or “social projects,” but instead “a way of life,” “a harmony in living,” and “a bilateral loyalty.” Id. It is a right to which everyone—including gay men and lesbians—is entitled" [at p. 8].
I then went back and re-visited Judge Shelby's ruling and read the following passages with additional insight:
"[T]he [US Supreme] Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Court struck down a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, established that the right to marry is intertwined with an individual’s right of privacy. The Court observed: 'We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.' 
"In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the [Supreme] Court emphasized the high degree of constitutional protection afforded to an individual’s personal choices about marriage and other intimate decisions: 'These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.'"
There are many legal challenges going on right now in various states across the country. Utah is not alone in basing its argument against marriage equality on not only "states rights" but, more importantly, on a state's right to do precisely what the Supreme Court in Griswold said it could not do - use marriage to promote "causes," "political faiths," and "social projects."

It is ironic that, in a state that is considered to be one of the most conservative in the nation, a state whose citizens typically pride themselves on their staunch defense of personal liberty, Utah's government is insisting that its citizens do not have the right to enjoy "the heart of liberty," a "liberty projected by the Fourteenth Amendment": the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" without being subject to the "compulsion of the state." 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To Make Her Happy: Of Sealing Rooms, Golden Cages and Closets

"Your job is to make your wife happy."
~ Temple Sealer

We were in the sealing room in the Jordan River Temple.* The sealer was imparting some words of wisdom to my former wife and me. He first told the story of Adam and Eve, about how Eve partook of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, but Adam did not partake. When Eve “confessed” to Adam, he steadfastly refused to partake, citing “Father’s” commandment not to do so. Eve then points out to Adam that if he refuses, she will be cast out and he will be left a “lone man” in the garden of Eden.   

The sealer arrived at his point. Addressing me, he said, “And Adam said, ‘I see that this must be so.’” Gazing intently at me, the sealer continued, “There will be times when you will turn to your wife after she has given you counsel regarding a difficult decision and you will say, ‘I see that this must be so.’” 

Then came the clencher. “Your job,” he said, “is to make your wife happy.”

As far as I recall, the sealer said absolutely nothing to my wife about what she was supposed to do for me. There was, of course, no exchange of vows. No mutual promises to love, honor and cherish, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, in the closet or out of the closet. Merely, I was supposed to listen to her counsel and make her happy. That was my role.

The problem is, I took this charge very seriously. If this mandate had been given to another man, say a heterosexual man who was very confident in his sense of self, he might have rolled with it. To me, however, plagued as I was by self-doubt and an inner sense of self-loathing because of my (by then) 15-year-long experience of attraction to people of my own gender, it was a command (not the only one) to offer up all of me upon the altar of marriage. My job was to make her – not me – happy. Only by completely surrendering myself to this marriage could I have any hope of redemption.

Parenthetically, even if I had been heterosexual, however, this assertion that I was responsible for my wife's happiness, played into and turbo-charged very unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that I had brought into my marriage from my own childhood and dysfunctional family of origin, wherein I had experienced role-reversal with both of my parents and had been made responsible for their happiness. It wasn't until years and years into the marriage, however, that I gradually began to understand what was going on.

Meanwhile, over the years, I grew increasingly disturbed by how the Church as an institution and as a culture treated women (and, consequently, men) and how it encouraged men to treat their wives. Put up on a pedestal, in a gilded cage, women were and are treated by the Mormon Patriarchy as "special." Men are the virile protectors and women are the subservient, weaker dependents.

I have frankly been disgusted over the years as I have heard various local church leaders refer to their wives as their “sweethearts,” and publicly fawn over them – as long, that is, as they stayed in their gilded cage. Mormonism makes such a fuss over women and mothers; Mother’s Day was almost unbearable for me, there was always such a gush of saccharine goo.  

Father’s Day, on the other hand, was typically treated almost as an embarrassment by the men who were running the show. Why is that? The most important calling that a man can have on this earth is supposedly that of father … yet fatherhood is never discussed in human terms in priesthood meetings, sacrament meetings, or elsewhere. Rather, the myth of the heroic Mormon father holds sway, and as long as we read our scriptures, say our prayers, don’t look at pornography and pay our tithing, all will be well.

And heaven help the homosexuals, because they cut to the very heart of the Mormon myth of the heroic father. The Mormon patriarchal hierarchy despises homosexuality because homosexuality upsets the patriarchy’s view of itself and the natural order of things. It opens up the male persona to other interpretations that don’t fit neatly within the Mormon box.

Roles (using the term in its psycho-analytical sense), whether in the Church or in families, are not healthy. We are each here to fulfill the measure of our own creation, not fulfill a role that someone else assigns to us. And we are, ultimately, each responsible for our own happiness - not someone else's.

*This post was originally published on one of my former blogs (now closed) in August 2012. My mind turned toward it as I was reading Utah's arguments against marriage equality and the roles that the State (as an agent of LDS teachings on the family) seeks to assign to men and women.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Birth Rates Hanging By a Thread

One of Utah’s primary arguments against marriage equality – believe it or not – is that same-sex marriage would imperil Utah’s birth rate and send it crashing from its current pinnacle to depths that imperial the continuation of the species in the Beehive State. “Utah,” the State argues, “has a strong and compelling interest not only in the quality of parenting its children receive, but also in the number of children who will be conceived in the future and raised in high-quality home arrangements.”

A Causal Non-Causal Link

As their opening salvo in this argument, the State’s attorneys attempt to establish a causal connection (even though they refer to it a correlation) between marriage equality and lower birth rates in states and countries that have legalized same-sex marriage:
“It is striking that fertility and birthrates tend to be markedly lower in nations and states that have embraced same-sex marriage. For example, the birthrate in states (and Washington, D.C.) that have adopted a genderless marriage definition is significantly lower than the national average. In fact, the six lowest birthrate states [comprising the New England states] have all adopted that redefinition  … The same is true overseas. As of 2011, ten countries permitted same-sex marriage. Six of these ten fall well into the bottom quarter in both birth rates and fertility among 223 countries and territories, and all ten fall below the average worldwide fertility rate.”
After citing these statistics, however, the State admits that “ …  [w]hile these statistics obviously do not prove a causal link between same-sex marriage and declining birthrates, they do create cause for concern.”

Utah’s Orwellian Interest in Procreation

After strongly implying that other states are not pulling their birth rate weight – especially those that have already legalized same-sex marriage – the State goes on to point out how successful it has been in procreating. “So far,” the attorneys for Utah argue, “Utah has been more successful than these states and countries in encouraging procreation.”

Utah’s lawyers then go on to explain to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals why Utah has been so successful:
“By providing special privileges and status to couples that are uniquely capable of producing offspring without biological assistance from third parties, the State sends a clear if subtle message to all of its citizens that natural reproduction is healthy, desirable and highly valued. That message fosters more reproduction …  Utah’s marriage laws and traditions subtly convey to all citizens that it is good to make the sacrifices necessary to have children—even though doing so may be inconvenient or even burdensome to adult parents … [T]he very institution of man-woman marriage stands as a State endorsement not only of the value of raising children in intact marriages, but also of the value of procreation.”
Hmmmm. Is it just me, or does this sound more like a General Conference talk by a leader in the LDS Church than a legal argument advanced by a sovereign state? Since when does a governmental entity tell its citizens that they should have children, even if it is “inconvenient” or requires “sacrifices”? (See also the italicized passage in the quote below.) That this Orwellian argument is being advanced by the state of Utah – which prides itself on its “conservatism” – is an irony of almost limitless richness.

Hanging By a Thread

Utah then goes on to paint a picture of what would happen in the Beehive State if marriage equality is legalized:
 “By contrast, redefining marriage in genderless terms would tend to reduce fertility rates, for at least three reasons. First … redefining marriage in genderless terms breaks the critical conceptual link between marriage and procreation … Second, … a genderless redefinition would send a powerful message that it is entirely appropriate—even expected—for adults to forego or severely limit the number of their children based on concerns for their own convenience. That a new child might “cramp the style” of an adult would come to be seen as sufficient reason not to have the child at all. That too would tend to reduce fertility rates. Third, to the extent a genderless marriage definition encourages the further abandonment—or privatization—of marriage, it would almost certainly reduce birthrates"[emphasis added]. 
Again, however, I ask: is this an argument of a sovereign state or of a leader in the LDS Church? And, by the way, should I also point out that the State offers absolutely ZERO citations to ANYTHING – no social studies, no legal precedent, nothing – in support of this argument. But I guess that could be easily deduced by the incredible inanity of it.

As in other sections of Utah’s opening argument before the 10th Circuit, there are strong Mormon overtones to this procreation drivel (by which I mean the legal argument, not Mormon doctrine). There is almost a millenialist, impending judgment overtone to it, bringing to mind the legendary prophecy ascribed to Joseph Smith that the US Constitution would one day “hang by a thread” and that it would be members of the LDS Church who would save it. In this section of its argument, the State of Utah sends out a similar warning that same-sex marriage will cause birth rates to plunge to apocalyptic levels. Do the State’s lawyers really expect anyone to treat this argument seriously? (Facepalm)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Alma vs. Oaks: Religion in Civil Society

One of the primary arguments of the State of Utah in its recently filed brief with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals focuses on "preserving Utah’s marriage definition [because it] furthers the State’s vital interests in accommodating religious freedom and reducing the potential for civic strife." 

"Protecting" religious "freedom" has become a common theme among certain conservative religious leaders around the country, including members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and members of the LDS Church's hierarchy. Elder Dallin Oaks of the Church's quorum of apostles has been particularly vocal on this issue.

In partial response to Utah's brief, I am republishing the following post which was originally published on my Invictus Pilgrim blog in February 2011. I think it is as timely now as it was then.


At another time in my life, I, like most members of the Church, would read what Elder Oaks has said about religious freedom in modern American life and, given that he had an impressive legal career prior to becoming an apostle, assume that he was making valid points that were not only inspired, but based solidly in American constitutional law and tradition. That was at another time in my life. 

This past Friday, Dallin Oaks gave a speech at the law school of Chapman University in California, entitled “Preserving Religious Freedom," the complete transcript of which (along with a video) is available here.  Though I have a legal background, I am not learned in constitutional law and do not propose to comment on Elder Oaks speech from that perspective. But I do not think one needs to be a constitutional scholar to take issue with the basic points that Oaks makes in his address. (It should be kept in mind that Oaks was not addressing an LDS audience in General Conference, but a non-Mormon audience in a secular environment.)

Since he conveniently summarized them at the conclusion of his remarks, I will use these (set out below in bold) as an outline for my comments, heading various sections with his summary points.

One could respond to Elder Oaks’ speech from a number of different perspectives and in a number of different ways. I have chosen to analyze Oak’s comments within the context of a comparison of Elder Oaks’ views on the role of religion in civil society to those of Alma the Younger. Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will remember that, in the first chapters of the Book of Alma, Alma was serving as both high priest of the church as well as chief judge, thus combining ecclesiastical and political power in one person. Because of growing iniquity in the church, however, he eventually decided that he needed to do something. 

Interestingly, however, Alma did not choose to use his political power to enforce standards of morality among his people. Rather, he resigned as chief judge and devoted himself to preaching to the members of the church, “seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them … confin[ing] himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy” (Alma 4:19-20).

After discussing Elder Oaks’ comments, I would like to return to Alma’s actions in order to compare the way in which Alma chose to address societal “immorality” and lack of belief, versus the positions that Elder Oaks advocates.

Oaks Point #1: “Religious teachings and religious organizations are valuable and important to our free society and therefore deserving of their special legal protection.

As support for this proposition, Elder Oaks basically makes the argument that religious organizations do a lot of good work in society and teach people to be moral, which in turn supports a stable society and, hence, government. Because of these services, Oaks argues, religious organizations and teachings deserve special legal (as opposed to simply cultural) protection. Among many other things, implicit in Oaks’ statements is that religious speech (i.e., teachings) deserves special legal protection, above any other kind of speech – an important foundation for the rest of his arguments. 

Oaks treats his proposition as self-evident, needing no basis in law or tradition – which he does not in fact cite. Rather, after treating his point as self-evident, he goes on to decry the deterioration of faith in society and implies that this situation provides even more justification for his position.

But why, in fact, should religious organizations, let alone religious teachings be granted special legal protection in 21st- century American society? This is the question that Oaks does not answer. Given that this assertion is the foundation for the rest of his arguments, it deserves careful and critical scrutiny. I will leave this to others. For the purpose of this post, I will simply contrast this approach to the legal status afforded religion with that described in the first part of the Book of Alma as pertaining to Nephite society. Alma did not seek legal buttressing of his preaching; rather he approached the issue from the opposite perspective:  he viewed his preaching as buttressing the legal framework of society.

Oaks Point #2: “Religious freedom undergirds the origin and existence of this country and is the dominating civil liberty.”

Again this assertion, at least the first half of it, sounds totally reasonable on first hearing. But I find the combination of the historical role of religious freedom with the assertion that it is the “dominating civil liberty” disingenuous and, some might argue, insidious. The acknowledgement of the first half of the assertion is apparently intended to lend credence to rather striking assertion that religious freedom is the “dominant liberty” in the panoply of individual rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Oaks offers no scholarly support for this assertion. He cites one document, a report prepared in 1999, but does not identify the authors. Once again, he makes an extremely broad assertion with no authority, treating his conclusion as self-evident. He concludes this section of his speech with a statement which strikes me as breathtaking in its scope: “I maintain, that in our nation's founding and in our constitutional order religious freedom and its associated First Amendment freedoms of speech and press are the motivating and dominating civil liberties and civil rights.” 

Once again, I leave it to others to discourse in a more scholarly fashion on the many implications of this statement. I will simply point out that I find this assertion extraordinary and dangerous, if for no other reason that it purports to again hand organized religion a “trump card” that ensures that freedom of religion trumps every other right guaranteed to American citizens under the Constitution.

Oaks Point #3: “The guarantee of free exercise of religion is weakening in its effects and in public esteem.”

The bulk of Oaks’ speech is directed to a discussion of this point. Having established, in his view, that religious teachings and organizations deserve special legal protection and that freedom of religion (including the all-important right to exercise one’s religion) is the “dominant” civil right, Oaks launches into a lengthy discussion of how the right to exercise (whatever that term means) one’s religion is under assault in modern America. I will focus on only a few of Oaks’ comments, particularly those having to do with gay rights. 

Before launching an attack on gay rights advocates, Oaks plainly highlights one of the main themes of his address: “Religion must preserve its preferred status in our pluralistic society in order to make its unique contribution—its recognition and commitment to values that transcend the secular world."  He then refers to comments that Cardinal Francis George made when speaking at BYU in 2010, who spoke of “threats to religious freedom in America that are new to our history and to our tradition,” one of these being “the development of gay rights and the call for same-sex 'marriage.'"

Oaks describes a number of examples of how he feels that religion has been denied its place in the “public square” by gay rights advocates. In the process, he manages to totally distort the entire debate between those who seek equal civil rights for gays and those, such as the LDS Church, who seek to deny, on religious grounds, these civil rights. In addition to his previous assertions that religious organizations and beliefs should enjoy special legal protection and that freedom of religion is the “dominant” civil right, he now claims that the act of those who assert civil rights for gays is an attack on the freedom of religion (and must therefore be quashed).

“Along with many others,” said Oaks, “I see a serious threat to the freedom of religion in the current assertion of a “civil right" of homosexuals to be free from religious preaching against their relationships. Religious leaders of various denominations affirm and preach that sexual relations should only occur between a man and a woman joined together in marriage. One would think that the preaching of such a doctrinal belief would be protected by the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, to say nothing of the guarantee of free speech. However, we are beginning to see worldwide indications that this may not be so.  Religious preaching of the wrongfulness of homosexual relations is beginning to be threatened with criminal prosecution or actually prosecuted or made the subject of civil penalties.”

Almost all of the examples cited by Oaks of such “prosecution” involve persons who are trying to assert personal religious beliefs in governmental or quasi-governmental environments. In other words, these individuals have been called out by gay rights advocates for trying to use their public positions to espouse their own individual beliefs. So, not only does Oaks apparently believe that freedom of religion can be used as a “sword” (enjoying special legal protection and status) in public debate, it can also be used as a “shield” to protect it from responsibility for its actions and comments in the “public square” (a classic case in point being the Church’s involvement with Proposition 8). 

Oaks Point #4: “This weakening [of religious freedom] is attributable to the ascendancy of moral relativism.”

This point is pretty much self-explanatory: Oakes decries the “rise” of moral relativism and the corresponding decrease of respect for organized religion. He then concludes with this statement:
“The preservation of religious freedom in our nation depends on the value we attach to the teachings of right and wrong in our churches, synagogues and mosques. It is faith in God—however defined—that translates these religious teachings into the moral behavior that benefits the nation. As fewer and fewer citizens believe in God and in the existence of the moral absolutes taught by religious leaders, the importance of religious freedom to the totality of our citizens is diminished. We stand to lose that freedom if many believe that religious leaders, who preach right and wrong, make no unique contribution to society and therefore should have no special legal protection.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sure seems to me that Elder Oaks is essentially saying that the fact that more and more people in society have less and less respect for organized religion militates even more strongly for a special legal protection being given to the “unique contribution” that organized religion makes to society. Nothing seems plainer to me, however, that the intent of the Founders was to ensure that organized religion did not enjoy a privileged place in American society. Rather, religion was to do its thing, and government was to do its thing. Period.

Put another way, Elder Oaks’ assertions appear to put new garb on the age-old practice of trying to legislate morality: rather than simply having the government do organized religion’s bidding, organized religion seeks special protection and status within society to advance its agenda.

Oaks concludes by calling for a “broad coalition” to defend religious liberty, as he sees it: “All that is necessary for unity and a broad coalition along the lines I am suggesting is a common belief that there is a right and wrong in human behavior that has been established by a Supreme Being.” The question, of course, is who decides what that right and wrong is, and how much privilege, deference and protection are religious organizations and beliefs to be accorded in society in advancing “religious” views of right and wrong.


Many, if not most, members of the LDS Church will cheer Elder Oaks’ comments without giving them any serious thought. The bells and whistles, the catch-phrases, the code words are all there, triggering emotional responses that evoke that often-deadly mix within many members of patriotism, faith and blind obedience. 

But I maintain that if thinking members of the Church would step back and consider the lesson of Alma from the Book of Mormon, as well as the ramifications of the central doctrine of the plan of salvation (free agency), they could not help but be deeply troubled by Elder Oaks’ comments. If organized religious organizations would do as Alma did, i.e., confining themselves “wholly to … the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy” then they would fulfill the task which Elder Oaks ascribes to them – without needing special status, privilege or protection in civil society.