Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Utah's Proclamation on the Family

"The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to 
His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, 
and to be reared by a father and a mother ..." 

"We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish 
the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the 
sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, 
lawfully wedded as husband and wife."

~ The Family: A Proclamation to the World
(by the First Presidency and Quorum of Apostles of the LDS Church)

Utah makes no bones about it. Marriage in Utah is about Utah "family values."

Translation: Marriage in Utah is about Mormon family values. Specifically, marriage is all about children.* This, I think, was the thrust of Utah's opening brief to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that was filed late Monday night. And this, given who was hired to handle Utah's appeal, is exactly what I anticipated when the state announced the composition of its legal team a few weeks ago.

There is much that could be written about Utah's brief, but in this post I want to focus on the fact that the State's position on marriage, as embodied in its arguments (as well as in its current laws and policies), is a political and legal embodiment of LDS teachings about the family. 

In its brief, the State argues that its interests in implicitly preserving and enforcing these teachings provide a rational basis for its refusal to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Though the LDS Church is never mentioned in the brief (so far as I recall), anyone who is to any degree familiar with the Church's teachings on the family will recognize these teachings as being reflected in the State's brief. Here are just a few quotes:

"First and foremost, the man-woman definition of marriage promotes the interests of children by fostering a generally child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents routinely to subordinate their own private interests - emotional, sexual, career, recreational, etc. - to the needs of their children, present and future. That encouragement flows not just from the law - including restrictions on divorce and prohibitions on such things as child neglect - but also from the cultural expectations, norms and ideals that make marriage a social institution. In a host of ways, such rules, norms and expectations guide husband-wife couples to sacrifice their personal desires for the benefit of their children"

"Utah's marriage definition furthers the State's vital interest in fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children. At the most basic level, Utah has a critical interest in preserving the child-centric husband-wife ("conjugal") marriage culture that it has carefully nurtured since its inception as a state."

"As presently understood in Utah ... marriage's most vital public purpose is to encourage the creation of stable, husband-wife unions for the benefit of their children."

"[Children are] "a principal object of the marital relationship."

"Utah's self-sacrificing, child-centric view of marriage and parenting is important to a range of parental decisions beyond ensuring that the child is raised by both her father and her mother. For example, it might encourage parents to forego abusing alcohol or drugs; avoid destabilizing extramarital affairs; avoid excessively demanding work schedules; or limit time-consuming hobbies or other interests that take them away from their children."

An interesting exercise is to substitute the words "the LDS Church" for every instance in which "Utah" or "the State" is mentioned in these quoted passages.

Now, while it is generally conceded that the teachings of the LDS Church have traditionally contributed to the stability of Utah's families, as reflected in historically lower divorce rates, lower illegitimacy rates, etc., and while I am fully aware of the importance of the Church's teachings about eternal families to members of the LDS Church - teachings with which I do not take issue in this post - it is wrong for the State to serve as the enforcer of Mormon teachings - even if a majority of the citizens in this state are Mormon.** It is further wrong - and unconstitutional - to use such teachings in order to deny civil rights to a minority of citizens of this state.

* Judge Shelby took issue with this position in his ruling, which I wrote about here

** I personally believe that a large percentage of active members of the LDS Church - particularly those under the age of 30 - would take issue with the heavy-handed, conservative, hierarchical view of marriage that is reflected in the State's arguments, resenting the notion that their main purpose in marriage is to produce babies, and the more the better.

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