Should Hetero marriages give up their privileged position?

May 22, 2007

When it gets right down to it, the “gay marriage” issue is about the distribution of advantages.  That is to say, hetero marriages are privileged in our society.  In no way that I can ascertain is the debate really over something called “the sanctity of marriage.”  Since when has the government been involved in declaring anything sanctified, anyway?

The truth is that hetero couples are given certain legal rights by simply skipping down to the local justice-of-the-peace/drive-thru-Elvis-Wedding-Chapel while half drunk that committed gay couples of many years need reams of legal documentation and hundreds of billable-hours to establish.  This is obviously unfair; the question really is, is it bad policy?

I don’t know.  I think that there may be good reasons for priviliging hetero marriage over other options.  Certainly, the protections for children from being abandoned by either parent are legally strengthened when a marriage contract is in place.  However, it is also harder to get out of an abusive relationship if the same contract is in place.  We have all heard stories of divorces when an estranged spouse took advantage of the privileges given in order to really screw over the soon-to-be ex.  Marriage, like anything else, comes with pros and cons.

We might wonder, in this age of commitment ceremonies and patrimony, why gay couples would like to get married?  Certainly, it seems possible to create a legal equivalent to marriage (civil unions or some such) that allows people the same rights and protections that marriage affords, while calling it a different name.  Obviously, this is a hassle and a hassle unfairly placed on commitment-minded gay couples, but it would be possible.  So why is the Church opposed to such a thing?

Of course, the Church hasn’t said it is opposed to such a thing, but when the issue came to a vote in Utah, the brethren issued a statement that was interpreted to mean opposition.  The implication being that they don’t want the privileged place of hetero marriage to be touched.

In this case, I think it all comes back to children.  We should remember that the concept of romantic love (ie getting married to someone because you are in love with them) is a relatively recent development.  For the most part, marriage relationships have traditionally been formed between the families of the couple, not between the couple themselves.  The intent of such marriage is to strengthen the abilities of both families to care for their own for the foreseeable future.  Marriage, in this light, is all about providing for children, who are the future that all families grow toward.

The privileges given hetero marriage were not given because anybody thought hetero sex was holier, more pleasurable, or more healthful than homosexual sex.  The privileges were installed because of the likelihood of children, on average, being born from hetero unions and the government having a vested interest in providing a stable home for its future constituents.  While our government has a habit of only seeing 2 years or less into the future, the privileges for hetero marriage are a rare case of planning for the long haul.

For the time being, the Brethren are seeing fit to maintain the privileges of hetero marriage.  I don’t know that this is necessarily helping keep marriage a holy sacrament, but I can see how it might still be good public policy.



  1. My inclination is to think that they also may have a sense that there could be an effect on children in other ways as well, such as indoctrination in school, etc. regarding homosexuality as being “normal.” I don’t see the protection of heterosexual marriage as only being about the institution of marriage but about a larger issue in society as well. I could be wrong, but that’s my take on it.

  2. m&m,
    I have heard such arguments before, but I don’t know how people differentiate between abnormal and minority in these cases. I have no doubt that some people are sexually attracted to members of the same sex. I actually don’t have any gay friends (as far as I know), but I suspect that they are gay because they actually are gay. At the same time, I don’t think of sexual orientation as being contagious. You either are or you are not.

    Now if the bigger issue is acceptance, then I don’t see the issue at all. Of course we should be accepting of other people, assuming that they are good people. Homosexuality doesn’t make anyone bad, in my book, so I don’t care if homosexuality is portrayed as a normal. I don’t see how doing so makes anyone worse off.

  3. In our doctrine, homosexual behavior is a sin, and my comment was addressing that more than just attitudes of acceptance. As homosexuality is normalized, homosexual behavior will be, too, and this can create problems for children and teens, regardless of religion but especially in a faith where such behavior is considered wrong. I am not advocating a lack of acceptance; in fact, I wish there was more opportunity, for example, for gays in the Church to lean on those around them to be able to stay in the Church. Rather than being hounded about not being married, etc. or feeling they have to suffer in silence, they could be supported in their effort to remain chaste while acknowledging their feelings and struggles. And/or could find the support as they try to repent and change if they have engaged in behavior that isn’t acceptable in our faith.

    I also fully accept that some people just have those attractions; but I also believe they can be influenced or encouraged or even induced by a culture that accepts and encourages and fully embraces them, too. When I was a teen, having a homosexual family member messed me up for a while, wondering if I was gay, too, because at the time I didn’t really care for boys. I don’t believe it’s always a cut-and-dried thing — that you are or you aren’t. I think there are some people who could go either way depending on societal influences. Not all, but some, perhaps.

    I think parents can teach acceptance, as well they should. I’m not advocating any kind of lack thereof. I just am concerned about what I have already read about children being exposed to things at school that would infuriate me if it were in my children’s schools. I also am concerned about what family is in the plan of God vs. what family ends up meaning where there is a more loose definition of marriage, parenthood, family, etc.

    I also have read about potential risks of religious liberty if gay rights take more hold in society.

    Prophets are our watchmen on the tower, therefore I think that there is more than just public policy driving their firm stance on this. I am taking some stabs at things I think we might be able to see as potential reasons for the position, but I suspect it’s more complex than what we could see or anticipate.

  4. m&m,
    The Brethren have not come out strongly against coffee drinking, even though it is a sin for a member of the church to drink coffee. I think the Brethren are fine leaving well enough alone if they think it is in the country’s best interest.

    Further, I don’t know that the Brethren have much to say about homosexuals being homosexuals. I don’t remember. Didn’t KSL run Will and Grace? You couldn’t have a show with a more blatant homosexual agenda. I don’t think that the brethren are worried about homosexuals turning the wider world.

    If my meager reading of the literature is correct, it is not uncommon for adolescents to have periods of curiosity while trying to figure themselves out. However, actual instance of “bisexuality” is rare. You apparently are or are not and you figure it out fairly quick. Not making homosexuals pariahs does not seem to increase the number of homosexuals, only the number that are out of the closet.

    Is it possible for God to change orientation? Sure. But I am not sure that it is his will to do so in every earthly case. People who are gay have things to learn by being so, same as those who are straight.

    Finally, I don’t know why we should assume that the Brethren have more on their mind than public policy. Revisions of the definition of marriage are entirely matters of public policy. Gays who are married, even unofficially, consider themselves married. We cannot stop them from getting married, nor should we, if we take the Book of Mormon seriously. Nor do I expect the United States government to begin to dictate to churches what their holy sacraments ought to mean. Therefore, this is purely a public policy matter. The Brethren have a right to weigh in and I respect their opinion. I just don’t know that we should invent motivations that we don’t know are there.

  5. If we’re speaking about public policy…let’s look back to less than one hundred years ago before women had the right to vote. Most (many) men of that time felt that if women were granted the right to vote, the world was going to hell in a handbasket. They could not fathom a women and her little pea brain (please note the sarcasm) making decisions right along side a man. How dare they even think of such a thing?! Fast forward to today and there is a concern that gays are going to ruin the institution of marriage and family. How dare they want the same rights as the straight folks?!

    Obviously I am being a bit dramatic…but still. History has proven that the laws and people can change and evolve. There were a lot of people against women voting…made it very difficult, in fact. And yet, thanks to the 19th amendment, I have voted in pretty much every election since I turned 18.

    I should stop, though…otherwise I will have nothing to post on Thursday.

    My point: Times change.

  6. jp,
    I don’t want to poach your post, but I see the parallel. The question then would have been: is the privileged position that men enjoy good public policy? I think it was not, for what it is worth, but that is the question that should have been asked. Instead, there was a lot of drivel regarding the need to protect frail women from the rigors of public life (more or less).

    Since we aren’t absolutely refusing homosexuals all public rights, though, it is a bit different in this case. Nor are only homosexuals affected; in many cases, common-law marriages have been eradicated based on the constitutional ammendments that are being suggested. In any case, this is a question of whether it might be in the country’s best interest to privilege certain groups, without removing rights already given to others. I don’t know that it is, but it is possible to ask the question without believing gays = bad.

  7. HP,
    I understand if you are uncomfortable considering that there may be more than public policy going on, but things like the Proclamation suggest that it’s likely me that there is. Most of the time, they just keep out of public issues (including what is shown on KSL…I really don’t think that is the way to determine what they think is or isn’t important). For the very reason that the prophets don’t usually get involved in issues of public policy, I think it’s interesting to consider why this particular issue is one they consistently get involved in (and why not others that are related to important issues in our faith). But I understand wanting to focus your reasoning on public policy alone and I think you brought up good points in your post. Sorry if I’m getting beyond what you want to focus on.

  8. I think that it is good politics for some because it rallies our most unreasoned emotions. It is not good policy because it does not address a serious social problem. Homosexuals are not a threat to society or much or anything else. The claims to the contrary are only supported by the most extreme cases of crappy social science. Such claim are only seem accurate because we want them to be, not because they are true.

  9. m&m,
    I’m not trying to limit discussion here. I am just uncertain that we can read much more into their opposition than their opposition. Regarding the Proclamation, what there do you believe applies here? I don’t think that I would take the Proclamation as applying beyond what I have already said, but I am interested in your take.

    At the same time, in this day and age, no-one (outside of talk radio) revels in being called a bigot. So much of the rhetoric against and much of the rhetoric for gay marriage is unreasoned. While I agree that homosexuals probably don’t pose a great risk to the greater society, it is too easy to dismiss arguments against as being plain bigotry. I am assuming that other issues are at work amongst the Brethren and I am trying to figure out what they could be.

  10. HP, I only brought up Women’s voting rights as a (only somewhat) parallel issue because, well…I am a woman and I am able to vote knowing that wasn’t always the case. There are other major prejudices throughout history that follow a similar path. Obviously, we are comparing apples to oranges…but you get what I am aiming for.

    I am not, in any way, an expert on how the Proclamation reads, but I am curious about people’s opinion on other issues in church history that have evolved over the years since the beginning of the church. Issues such as polygamy, or African Americans holding the priesthood ten years after the civil rights movement, and (although, it is not appropriat to discuss this here) even they way temple cerimonies were conducted changed over the years. My only point, or question is that if those individual issues evolved and changed within the church throughout the years…is it unreasonable for me to wonder if The Proclamation (or parts of it) will also change and evolve over the years?

  11. as a side note, I have to wonder (from what I’ve read) if men really were out to protect women from the “rigors of public life” by voting against the bill within Congress more than a once…or just worried about their dinner still being there when they got home each night. 😉

  12. HP, I never said that they were bigoted. They just fail to meet the demands of public reason. In other words, there is no reason other than “God said so.” I am sympathetic to such reason. However they cannot form the basis of reasonable public policy.

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