My Theological Response to Prop Number Eight

What follows is a response to the many socially minded LDS members in California who have supported proposition number eight, the amendment on gay and lesbian marriage in the state. It is not meant as a blanket proclamation, but rather my own personal interpretation of the theological position members of the LDS church should consider. This was originally written as a response to a friend’s blog posting, but I thought it could be useful for a wider audience.
I have been really struggling with the concepts of Prop number eight. I have spoken to ecclesiastical leaders about the issues, read the documents issued by Church officials, as well as official Church documents to the saints in California. I have watched the live leadership conference that was for Californian saints. And after all of my research, I was very torn.
The language of the proposition was what initially tore my decision. I felt that both sides of the argument utilized language that was highly polemic, and designed to place people into one of two camps, a difficult idea, since most people have a range of emotions regarding such issues. Therefore, polarizing the debate seems disingenuous.
However, as I looked at the debate in more detail, I realized that there was something dramatically wrong, theologically and constitutionally with the “yes” side. First, theologically, The LDS doctrine is very clear on the issue of marriage, and the definition of the word. There can be no grey area in this issue. Nevertheless, two points of doctrine supersede the issue of homosexuality; charity and agency. The first law of the gospel is love the lord, while the second is love ones neighbor as oneself. This includes all manner of respect. The second issue of agency plays an even more important role in the debate, as LDS theology dictates that a war was waged in the eternities before the temporal existence of man, over the divine theophany of agency, as the only possible method for exaltation. Regardless of the relative value that would exist if man were unable to enact his own free will, the divine chose to exercise a plan which guaranteed a sphere of unlimited choice. Not choice without consequence, but choice in all matters.
Proposition number eight is similar in language and intended meaning as many of the old Jim Crow laws of segregation. Equal rights in theory, but discrimination and limitation in practice. Mormons have a responsibility to be vocal on the theological stance of the church regarding homosexuality and transexuality, as well as the divine origin of marriage, while still guaranteeing the free exercise of agency and peace among all of the lords children. For this purpose, one must choose between two poorly written sides of a proposition, and follow the path of the savior. The divine plan, as outlined in the theology of the LDS church guarantees freedom of choice, as well as the defense, to the point of taking up arms, of that freedom. The language of prop 8 restricts freedom and choice. Therefore, one must by necessity support no, while still being valiant to their religious beliefs.
The “traditional” definition of marriage has been challenged in the past, although unsuccessfully, by some of the most vocal opponents to the challenge today, the LDS church. I understand the cultural divide and theological problems of such a situation, but one must examine history and theology to be able to make informed decisions. Although the issue is passed now, it is not too late to speak up for the rights of others. The prop still has to go up against the supreme courts, and the voices of individuals, specifically individuals who are tied to the issues and proponents in some way, are heard. No on prop 8.

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~ by maffersalmon on November 8, 2008.

19 Responses to “My Theological Response to Prop Number Eight”

  1. Thank you, Matt. I’m currently writing a blog post about this whole mess, and definitely wanted to talk to you about the LDS involvement in prop 8. I am always grateful for your reason and compassion.

  2. Matt, while I appreciate the viewpoint you give here, there are a couple points that must be further explored.

    First of all, charity and agency should not be excuses for acceptance of sin when action can be taken to enact change. The argument you present could similarly be used to support legalization of just about every immoral practise in society. Should we be lenient when people want to legalize illicit drugs? How about child-pornography? There are those who claim that these are things that they have genetic predispositions toward, much like homosexuality.

    Secondly, while Prop 8 may be poorly worded, the main message it sends is that, according to the majority of voters in California, the definition of marriage needs to be specific to monogamous, heterosexual relationships. This has nothing to do with rights. Marriage is not a right. Provisions are available that allow same-sex couples every civil right recognized by the government in married couples. Whether or not they label this as “marriage” is irrelevant to their rights. When taken simply in this light, I could agree with whichever option the majority decides. In this case, “marriage” is simply a name.

    The thing that passing this proposition allows, however, is a further peace of mind to those who feel that allowing same-sex marriages to continue (as they do here in Canada) could open the door to a slippery slope that begins to take rights away from those who believe in the sanctity of marriage. I’m not foolish enough to think that the failure of this proposition alone would destroy the rights of religions and others who disagree with homosexuality to express their views. However it could become the first step down the road to just such a situation.

    Anyway, these were just a couple of things that I thought about while reading your post.

  3. While I will admit that I see the validity of your view in relation to principles and protocols of the LDS church with regards to proposition 8, I feel that this is not a situation where the government is asking us what we feel the best way to make sure everyone’s rights are taken care of in accordance with the principle of agency. This is a moral issue which must be considered with our own personal feelings at the forefront. Do we feel that the legalization of same-sex marriage is appropriate, or do we not? Once we determine what our answer is, then we can introduce the teachings of the gospel back into the equation. In actuality, freedom of choice has not been taken from anyone because the choice was presented to everyone, and majority voted in the affirmative.

  4. Wah to much deep thinking for me. Read a talk that said something like forget adult onset pessimism and replace it with child like optimism. When I prophet of God asks members to engage in the worthy cause of Prop 8, do I disagree with the man God has ordained as his prophet here on the earth today. I think it’s that simple.

  5. “The thing that passing this proposition allows, however, is a further peace of mind to those who feel that allowing same-sex marriages to continue (as they do here in Canada) could open the door to a slippery slope that begins to take rights away from those who believe in the sanctity of marriage. ”

    This is an argument I don’t understand. How does gays getting married take away other peoples’ rights? They can still marry, right? Their church still considers it holy, and they should too. Religious marriage and legal marriage are different, after all. I don’t think outside forces can cheapen anyone’s relationship – that’s all intrinsic.
    Unless you mean it takes away their right to prevent others from having rights. I don’t know. This kind of argument seems to assume that rights are like a pie, and if one person’s slice gets bigger, another’s has to get smaller. But that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes one person’s privileges lessen (such as the privilege of having a black slave), but the right to fair and equal treatment under the law would remain, which is ultimately what this issue comes down to. Fair and equal treatment under the LAW, not your God. Do with him what you please, that isn’t for anyone else to touch. That’s personal. but the law is public.

  6. Thanks for your insight Cooledskin. I must emphatically agree, that the allowance of free and equal treatment under the law in no way inhibits the rights, privileges or responsibilities of participants of a constitutional pluralistic society. As for the aforementioned “slippery slope argument”, I would recognize that there is some dramatic validity there, although, not along the lines that the previous author implied. Specifically, a slippery slope argument philosophically describes the inherent dangers that are implied when one concession is provided, that may lead to the alienation of rights for further cases. As in Bens comment, regarding the Canadian situation, we have found this to be the exact opposite case, as no religious proposition has or will be challenged, and the rights of all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation has been mitigated.
    However, the slippery slope does come into effect with the restriction of marriage as found in California, and proposition 8. As individuals are marginalized and systematically denied the inalienable human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as guaranteed by the U.S. constitution, a stigma is championed, regardless of the language of inclusion that is utilized in disparaging their orientation. As the stigma becomes a cultural meme, there are possibilities for further alienation, discrimination, and unfortunately, the possibility for a fostering of bigotry. This is a legitimate slippery slope.
    Now, slippery slope arguments are fundamentally worst-case scenarios, but nevertheless, they must be guarded against, and prepared for. Now, if people do not choose to respond to the theological arguments, and either accepts or reject the validity found therein, allow me a further appeal to common philosophical logic. We can look at the issue from two prevailing paradigms, or three if you are a fan of feminist philosophy, although I often feel that the feminist position just takes the best parts of the two main theories, and synthesizes them to one fantastically articulated whole. I am sure a feminist would love to take me to town for such a gross overgeneralization, but I will leave me ignorance at the door on that one.
    So the argument may be examined from one of two paradigms. First, we could utilized Kantian theory, and explore the greatest good for the individual. How does the restriction of any right to a particular class of people bring the greatest good for any individual? Those opposed do not have their rights magnified, and those feeling the effects of the opposition definitely do not have their rights magnified. Secondly, we could examine it through the Utilitarian perspective, where we attempt to find the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Again, the logic remains the same. The greatest good is the inclusion of the largest individuals possible into a system that provides stability and strength to a society as possible. This does not restrict those who are opposed to same sex marriages, but included those who stand in favor to it. Therefore, but either Kantian logic or Utilitarian logic, such a basic civil right is fundamentally positive for society.
    As for the individual who claimed that the argument was over their head, and appealed to a basic, but faulty understanding of the particular theological position of their affiliated institution, I would encourage them to reconsider their championing of blind faith, as blind faith does not lead, theologically speaking, toward any form of exaltation, nor does it lead, socially speaking, toward a harmonious pluralistic society.

  7. Awesome.
    One of the things that bothers me most about this debate is the selective conflation of religion and law. Do you remember that case of the officiant (not clergy, bear in mind, but a government-sponsored offical) who refused to sign a marriage license for a gay couple because of her religious beliefs? Many people arguing against gay marriage will appeal to their higher power’s dictates regarding homosexuality, and claim that allowing gays to marry or making people acknowledge such things is a violation of their religious rights. Here, the state and religion are opposed. Then they turn around and claim their religion shold inform public government policy, and now the two are BFFs. To this I say, “Double-yoo tee eff?”
    It’s not that I think society should be secular, not at all. I just feel that a legal definition of marriage should not be based on religious ideals, because churches get to decide whether or not they recognise a religion all on their own anyway, so why do they need the law behind them?

    Well, now I’ve lost my train of thought. This is Kira by the way.

  8. Cooledskin/Kira, you took one statement of mine and misinterpreted it. I knew that statement might be up for interpretation, which is why I continued to explain myself. I went on to clarify…

    “I’m not foolish enough to think that the failure of this proposition alone would destroy the rights of religions and others who disagree with homosexuality to express their views. However it could become the first step down the road to just such a situation.”

    Allow me to add a couple off commas to clarify the first sentence…

    “I’m not foolish enough to think that the failure of this proposition alone would destroy the rights of religions, and others who disagree with homosexuality, to express their views.”

    I clearly am not claiming that the failure of this proposition alone would inhibit the rights of its supporters. What I am claiming is that it sets a precedent that could lead to situations where freedom of speech becomes a restricted right. When speaking out against homosexuality becomes a hate crime, freedom of speech is inhibited. When preaching that only heterosexual marriages are sanctioned by God is classified as civil unrest, freedom of speech is inhibited. When telling your children that the school is wrong and that same-sex intimate relationships are not appropriate becomes a matter for the courts, free speech is inhibited.

    Again, please remember that I’m NOT saying that this would be the result of a failed prop 8. I’m simply saying that it COULD have set a precedent that could lead to some of these situations. That’s all.

    One may remember the case of the British Columbia man who attempted to make the case that, since the definition of marriage was up for interpretation, it should allow for polygamous marriages also. Some would also use the situation as an opportunity to argue in favour of such atrocities as: incest, paedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia.

    Let’s, for a moment, throw religion out of the issue. The fact is that the majority of Californians that voted, regardless of any theological influence, voted in favour of the proposition. This, then, is a decision of the people, by the people, for the people. That’s democracy in action, folks. There are always going to be various groups/religions/activists on either side of any controversial issue. But when push comes to shove, the churches don’t get a vote in these decisions; the people do.

    As for the officiant who refused to sign the marriage license, if my religion was such that aiding someone in performing something seen as sin was as bad as committing the sin, then I would refuse also. It may cost my job, but freedom OF religion is not freedom FROM religion! This seems to be far to often confused in modern western society.

  9. Ben, two clarifications. First, democracy was never in question. Yes, democracy was manifest that day. But democracy can be done in the name of the restriction of civil liberties. It is the fact that the restriction was even tabled that I am opposing. This will be receded in the supreme courts anyhow, so the larger issue is not whether it was done, but the moral stance of individuals that supported prop 8.
    Second, you again inferred that a slippery slope was possible through the setting of precedent. I respectfully disagree with the direction you took your slippery slope possibility on two fronts. First, you associated, either directly or indirectly (and I truly feel it was not malicious, but rather a slip), that homosexual union is similar too, or on par with polygamous, incestuous, bestiality, or other types of sexual perversions. This is an unfair and bigoted assertion. Secondly, in each of those cases, there is harm done to individuals, and thus not in the same category as a consensual relationship of two rational and caring adults. These are not similar issues, and are not related in law, thus no possibility for precedent.
    The problem I originally outlined dealt exactly with the theological problems you bring up at the end of the article. Although public servants are not required to marry those they choose not to, they are required to assist those individuals, as a matter of civic duty. Much as a soldier follows orders due to civic duty, or a lawyer follows an ethical code, or a doctor is required to respect the wishes of individuals requesting DNR even if they disagree, as civic servants they are required to either respect, or pass off to another who will. Therefore, the final argument is fallacious. It is a matter of civic rights versus bigotry. It is completely legitimate to disagree with a practice on a theological level, but we still must respect civil liberties of a pluralistic society. We have no justification ever, or restricting the civil liberties of others when their actions cause consenting parties no harm, either socially or theologically.

  10. Hmm.. The logic here is disturbing to me. I would like to put in my bit in more detail, but this will have to suffice for now.

    My first suggestion Ben, is that in no way can pedophilia for example be supported constitutionally despite anyone’s claims to religious freedom. The rights of a child take precedence over freedom of religion in Canada as has been illustrated in recent BC court mandates. Secondly, this “slippery slope” argument is valid in many situations, but not here. People argued about slippery slopes when inter-racial marriage was legalized too. Individual situations need to be carefully examined, and to propose that the legalization of same sex marriage would lead to pedophilia is fallacious and disastrous. To imply as you have that same-sex marriage would cause the same “atrocity” to human dignity as incest, pedophilia, etc is disturbing and offensive.

    Next, and only briefly, I would like to propose that your facile conclusions on how democracy works and who it serves are highly misguided. Yes, democracy is government for the people, but it also protects minorities against this type of ignorance. Imagine if the American people got to vote on which religions were valid – whose rights would be protected there? Surely the millions of people in America or Canada that are not Christian would be offended by the popular “democratic” vote to delegitimize their faiths. This of course would not be constitutional and therefore is impossible. A basic civics class will teach you that while the majority rule, the minority has rights which do not submit to the majority.

    To Mattie – you are a Saint.

  11. No, i really am not, have never been, nor do i suppose i will ever be.
    However, the remainder of your argument was sound 🙂

  12. Hmm. I’d also like to point out that I wasn’t being particular to Proposition 8 in my response.
    In fact, my argument was that those who feel that allowing gay marriage violates their rights have no legs to stand on. Because, simply put, giving a minority equal rights won’t take away the majority’s rights.

    Also, that government official should NOT have the right to refuse confirmation of that couple’s legally guaranteed right to marry. If he had done so to a couple of mixed race, he would have been fired. Protecting bigotry such as this under the umbrella of “religious rights” is disturbing. : /

  13. Ack! Just getting back to this. Let me catch up…

    Matt, your assertion that harm is done in all situations of polygamy or incest. There are plenty of consensual adults relationships in this world that could fit into these categories. Canadian law prohibits the marriage of those who are already in the relationship of sibling, parent-child, grandparent-grandchild. Cases of siblings that desire to marry have been turned down, regardless of their willingness to have vasectomies and/or hysterectomies to prevent procreation. In this situation many could use the ambiguous definition of marriage to argue that they should be allowed to marry. Likewise there are polygamous relationships between consensual adults that cannot be legally recognized as marriage due to law that could be put to future test. This is the type of situation to which I was referring, at least in part.

    As for the case of the public servant, I don’t know the details, and was just responding to the information provided in the post to which my response referred. I was simply stating that, put in the situation, given the conditions I stated, I wouldn’t sign the license. Certainly I would pass the case along to someone who would. I’m not at liberty to stop people from doing things that are within the law, regardless of my moral view of the situation. But participating is the part I would abstain from. I hope that makes sense.

    thegenkischolar, you are obviously not reading my entire message, but rather taking the parts that have been previously misinterpreted and perpetuating the misunderstanding. I don’t know how to be more clear on this. I am NOT saying that same-sex marriage would cause the legalization of incest, paedophilia, etc. I’m not saying this any more than I would say that the legalization of recreational marijuana would lead to the legalization of cyanide or arsenic. What I AM saying, is that leaving an open definition of marriage is dangerous as other will also find ways to work their situations into the legal categorization. I’m not equating homosexuality with any of the atrocities that I listed.

    As to the democracy and majority rule vs. minority rights issue, I think you underestimate the majority. If a vote were brought before the general public as to the legitimacy of religions (not that this would ever happen, but hypothetically), I believe that the vast majority would care enough about the freedom of religion to allow those of various faiths, Christian or not, or even no faith at all, to practise according to their beliefs, and be recognized for such if they choose. You seem to suggest that Christians would vote only to have Christian religions recognized. Forgive me if I’m wrong on that. That argument would be like saying that only homosexuals voted against Prop 8, which obviously wasn’t the case. The minority does have rights, but they must be allowed by the majority. They are not mutually exclusive groups, and they can work together and vote together.

    cooledskin, I didn’t claim that allowing gay marriages would violate the rights of those who oppose it. I’m unsure what you are referencing here. I’ve already made my point on the other issue you’ve reiterated.

  14. “The minority does have rights, but they must be allowed by the majority.”

    WHAT?

    Rights are there to protect the minority from the majority. The majority DOES NOT ACCORD RIGHTS TO A MINORITY. The rights revolution, particularly in Canada, has been about PROTECTING the minority from democracy. If democracy as you you believe it to be is to give the majority the right to rule over the rights of the minority, rights begin to lose their legitimacy. Also, if you think for one second, that most Canadians would not love to diminish the rights of certain religious groups and their right to legitimacy, you are awfully mislead. This is the fundamental reason we have religious freedom in Canada, and it is also the reason that we have moved to make sexual orientiation a right and a freedom – that is in order to protect it from bigots.

  15. I was responding to this:
    “I clearly am not claiming that the failure of this proposition alone would inhibit the rights of its supporters. What I am claiming is that it sets a precedent that could lead to situations where freedom of speech becomes a restricted right.”

    I knew that already. So I clarified what I was talking about, as you seem to have misinterpreted my response.

  16. Minority rights must be granted by the government. In Canada, the majority of government representatives (MPs) must approve any such changes. The MPs are a (somewhat unfairly skewed) proportional representation of the public. This is what I mean by majority allowing for minority rights. In these cases, of course, constitutional rights trump majority desires, unless there is enough support to amend the constitution (like there was in California, for example).

    I honestly think most people are not so self-serving that they would wish to take away others’ religious freedoms given the opportunity. If you disagree, then either you have a pessimistic view of humanity, or I’m being overly optimistic. If I’m wrong, I’d much rather live in my delusion than in a world that’s so ignorant and intolerant.

  17. Sorry Ben, but this is not an accurate representation of the political process of the Canadian System. The rights of minorities is actually enshrined within the Canadian Constitution, in fact, it is enshrined within both the 1867 and 1982 constitutions, and therefore, regardless of which you choose to express your opinion by, we clearly are bale to see that the rights of the Minorities are in fact NOT granted by the majority. They are guaranteed by a document, produced by the minority, and ratified by an even smaller minority (the Governor General) and upheld by an equally small majority (the Canadian Supreme Court). In fact, the Canadian government has no role in the extending of rights to citizens. Laws may be enacted to guarantee the existing rights, but the rights themselves are not extended by the proportional representation.
    Likewise, amendments to the constitution are not easy processes. The last time the government attempted to amend the constitution was under Brian Mulroney’s failed Meech Lake accord, which indeed was brought open for referendum, and caused a major rift in the country and destroyed the Conservative party for a period of over a decade. Likewise, the proposition was not an amendment to the constitution of the Nation, nor was it legitimate amendment to the constitution of the state, as it must be examined, ratified and made harmonious with the National constitution before it undergoes any legitimacy. The minority rights in that situation, although temporarily blocked by a “majority”, will inevitably be decided upon by a minority, the minority being a mixture of elected and appointed judges.
    However, this conversation has taken a very strange turn, as neither line of reasoning is important over the general theme. It is no ones place to restrict a basic freedom of an individual, when the freedom of the individual is an unalienable right. Do not digress and speak of traditional values, as if they were un-malleable entities. Likewise, neither sink to the level of equating one action with another, and thus conflating the situations. Instead, examine the principle in question, and decide whether it is morally aggrieves to restrict individuals of rights based upon religion, ethnicity or orientation. The debate is that simple. No need for flowery oratory, nor complicated philosophies. Is it acceptable to restrict freedom of choice from rational adults based upon one of the afore mentioned three qualifications? Regardless of the theories we may hold of mythical figures in the sky, valid or no, grounded in reality or not, do we have a right within a pluralistic secular democratic nation to restrict the rights of other individuals based upon one of these three qualifications? The answer is no. It will always be no. I originally wrote to propose how it could be theologically conceived to be no as well, but since this conversation never questioned my theological logic, but rather descended to profane politics (no ones fault, and I am happy it did, as it makes for great discussion), we must answer this question at no other level then at the level of profane politics.

  18. I apologize. I’m getting caught up in jumping to semantic conclusions. When I talk about rights, I mean the deliverance, and in some cases the definition, of those rights. The rights, as you’ve stated, are indelibly enshrined in the constitution.

    Back to prop 8, the amendment of California’s state constitution requires no congruence with the National constitution, since marriages are performed solely under state rule in the US. Again, when you speak of the “minority” that will rule on the proposed amendment and its ramifications on the “rights” of the minority, these judges of reference are widely (in the US) elected officials, and therefore answer to the majority.

    As you mentioned also, the theme of this has changed. Let me put it this way:

    I don’t think this prop had anything to do with rights, but rather it had to do with defining an institution: marriage. Within the proposed amendment, any man and any woman, regardless of their sexual orientation, have the ability to join in marriage (assuming they’re not closely related). This is completely indiscriminate, and therefore it is not limiting anyone’s rights. Now, if the argument is that homosexual couples should retain the right to marry, then heterosexual men should be allowed to marry other men for the purpose of tax benefits, etc., even with no “romantic relationship”. When this happens, the significance of marriage is thrown out the window.

    This is purely my opinion on the matter.

  19. Ben, I appreciate the clarifications you provided, and the articulated reasons for a rather more clear “definition” of an institution. This is the type of rational I can get behind. While I obviously do not agree on the definition of secular marriage that you and others would champion, I defiantly see the validity of your arguments.
    However, there seems to be an assumption that marriage is indeed based upon love, and trust in that argument. If not, then I apologies. But if it is, then we can see that marriage as an institution has already moved beyond such logic. Marriage is utilized as a method for gaining entry to the states. It is used for health, tax and support benefits. It is utilized to cement political relationship, draw interests closer together, and keep up appearances. If these are the issues you choose to inhibit by strictly defining marriage, then that is fine, although I do not see how any of these issues has any bearing on same gender attraction. However, the wording, and thus support, for Prop 8 does not address these important issues. It addresses loving relationships. Therefore, why not reject prop 8, and clearly define marriage as an institution not for monetary gain, political control or showmanship, but for a loving relationship. I think if we are going to fight for the sanctity of marriage, we cannot attack those who love and respect each other. Instead we should fight against false marriage, i.e., that of convenience. There is where true definition lays. There is where a true farce of marriage is happening. (Although, it could be argued that such rational for marriage has always been the norm, and a true caring relationship between two consenting adults is the radical change, since it has only been that way for about one hundred years. This begs the question, what is marriage really? Is it the definition that we love now, that is portrayed in movies, or is it the old property and political convenience?)

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