After "The Letter" was read in Church meetings all across the land this last Sunday, I have kept an eye out for increased discussion of the "Marriage amendment" to the Constitution on the blogs I tend to frequent.
A word about the mix of those blogs: I have a list of several, and upon analysis, it seems there is a mix of opinion there - highly Mormon-based, other religious-influenced blogs - Catholic, Jewish, political (both national and local), Fringe groups - like some individuals in the GLBT community, humor, sports, family members, other miscellaneous stuff...
Anyway, I've watched for traffic there talking about the proposed amendment, and in particular, the influence and opinion of these individuals who have a published position on the matter. I have not been disappointed either. There is every opinion and idea out there right now, and arguments both for and against a possible amendment, along with opinions and other ruminations regarding the specific letter that was read, and various interpretations of said letter.
When an organization, ANY organization, encourages its followers to contact their representatives on any issue for which it feels concerned, I often wonder what legislators think upon receipt of the various form letters, and "form contacts"... I wonder if they simply think, "well, here's a bunch of form letters from Sheeple who were told to contact me... that's great, pile them up over there..."
Seems to me, if one was truly serious about expressing their own opinions, support, ideas, opposition, whatever, they would have already taken the time to make that contact and make their thoughts known. In reality I would hope that "sheeple letters" would almost be discounted in the grand scheme of things.
A quick overview, from my point of view, of what is being asked by supporters of SSM (Single Sex Marriage, and what is being asked by the movement to amend the US Constitution:
As legal citizens of the United States, there are some people who want the right to be joined in a Civil ceremony, thereby gaining access to the rights afforded to those who have had access to this Civil ceremony for decades already. There are more than 1000 legal benefits afforded to people who a "married" together as a civil partnership. Those not allowed access to that partnership do not have access to those rights.
Incidentally, in a 75 page letter from the Chariman of the House Judicuiary Committee, Henry Hyde outlines a total of 1049 Federal Laws that are impacted by "marriage" "spouse", "widow", etc., confirming an impact on individuals by a proposed amendment.
The movement to amend the constitution seeks to cement the denial of these rights to individuals who do not seek to conform to the standardized view of a "married couple". They seek to permanently deny access to these rights be permanently altering the Constitution to reflect that a "couple" or "partnership" should consist of a certain prescribed makeup, based upon a personal moral/religious rule.
All opposition to Civil Same-Sex Marriage comes down to it being contrary to one's religious/moral beliefs. Opponents try to justify their opposition by raising issues related to morals, religious beliefs, family values, etc.
In a nutshell that's it - granted, it's become GROSSLY overbaked in the public opinion arena, and MANY religious groups have become invested in the outcome because of a moral belief that affording these rights to all legal adult citizens somehow erodes society, and further, dilutes THEIR "marriage" or "partnership" to a point of being disrespected in the national public view. Somehow this has become a religious debate, rather than a social one, in my view.
While I am no constitutional scholar by any means, it seems to me that this would be the first amendment to DENY rights to citizens of the United States. (This is also the reason I feel this amendment will not be passed at the end of the day - it would need a 2/3rds majority of state support - and I don't think that will make it.)
I'm going to base my focus here on the LDS perspective, because I've seen SO MANY posts that basically say, well, I'll leave it up the leadership to tell me what to do - that's good enough for me, can't go wrong there...
So, back to the Church's statements:
Frankly, I'm offended that the Church would stand up and tell its members to get out there and contact their legislators in support of this amendment. Here's why: for decades now, the Church has held the position of not interfering with political issues - at least that is what the policies state. To whit:
1) Bruce R McConkie (Former member of the Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles), states in his Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, that "Wherever one dominant church has controlled a government, or a government (as in communistic nations) has dictated or proscribed systems of worship, men have been denied that agency without which they cannot work out their salvation." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:601.)
2) The 2000/2001 Priesthood/Relief Society manual stated - "(W)e favor: The absolute separation of church and state; No domination of the state by the church; No church interference with the functions of the state; No state interference with the functions of the church, or with the free exercise of religion; The absolute freedom of the individual from the domination of ecclesiastical authority in political affairs; The equality of all churches before the law." (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church, pg. 125)
These statements clearly note that the legal/secular aspects of issues should be rendered unto Caesar (the government) and the religious aspects, if any, should be rendered unto God via religion. The legal/secular aspects of marriage (eligibility, rights, responsibilities, etc..) should be determined by the government and be free from sectarian interference. Neither the Church nor the State should be able to trespass on the other's domain. Such trespasses infringe upon agency, per Elder McConkie.
3) Elder McConkie goes on further quoting scripture: D&C 134:4 - "We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others..." It is anathema to God to force our subjective moral standards on others thereby denying them their rights and liberties.
Withholding the legal benefits offered by Caesar harms gay couples, their children and therefore society at large. Government officials specifically authorized to perform marriages should be required under law to perform marriages for gays and lesbians in the same way they are required to perform them for any other couple. This protects the Equal Protection and equal rights of all.
Gay men and lesbian couples should be allowed, via Civil Same-Sex Marriage, the the legal benefits which heterosexual couples are already allowed.
Attempts to outlaw Civil Same-Sex Marriage by religious groups in general, and by the LDS Church specifically, are clearly contrary to the teachings of the scriptures, both ancient and modern (in the case of the LDS Church). Opposing Civil Same-Sex Marriage is contrary to the official teachings of the Church. Those doing so are guilty of "steadying the ark" and are clearly violating the teachings of the scriptures and in need of repentance.
Churches are private organizations with First Amendment protections and as such must be allowed to act as they see fit. Those churches not wanting to perform marriages for gays and lesbians must be free to follow their beliefs and not be forced to perform such services. Those churches that have no problem with marrying gays and lesbians should be allowed to do so and have such marriages be equally valid and binding before the law as any other marriage.
The Church teaches that the scriptures are superior to the teachings of all leaders, including the president of the Church. Joseph Smith himself once said:
We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them [even] if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told do by their presidents they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves. (Joseph Smith - Millennial Star, Vol 14, Number 38, pages 593-595)
(Personal note - I was once told in a training meeting by a Stake President that if 10% is good, 12% is better, and I was expected, with the rest of the bishoprics in the Stake, to cough up 12%, and meet the challenge to be "better". That was my final straw.)
So, it is the position of the church that Scripture supersedes all utterances by the Brethren, on any matter. In light of this, there are still MANY out there this week, struggling with their own position, but have said in posts that they will just go with the "Q12+FP" (Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency), as they must be infallible.
Infallible? Brigham Young said that there were people on the moon and sun. Joseph Fielding Smith said that God would never permit man to travel to the moon or send spaceships to other planets. Obviously no reasonable person would say that the current occupants of the building that faces South Temple are infallible. Why would the Church change doctrine regarding Blacks and the Priesthood? Because it was wrong policy.
Let's say this goes amendment goes through - and then the church comes back in 20 or 30 years, and says, "well, we're changing our minds on this one too..." Therefore, is it right to blindly put one's trust in every word uttered therefrom? We have all been blessed with the ability to discern and make decisions for ourselves. It is our CIVIC responsibility to educate ourselves as to the issues, and make a decision in harmony with all the factors present in the given scenario. Placing the responsibility for your decisions on someone else, thereby relieving you of the burden of deciding for yourself, if I can recall properly, was "somebody else's plan".
The bottom line for me is this: The right to CIVIL partnerships should be accessible to all legal citizens of the US. All religious concerns should be set aside. Those who believe that providing this access to all citizens would somehow dilute the (relatively young) "Institution of Marriage" should sit back down and stop giving themselves more credit than they deserve. Consider:
In 2004, a study, conducted by Ellison Research (which has done several Clergy Studies) among a representative sample of 695 Protestant church ministers nationwide, asked pastors of several denominations to identify the three strongest threats to families in their own community.
The three most commonly named threats were divorce (listed as one of the top three by 43% of all ministers), negative influences from the media (38%), and materialism (36%). These were followed by absentee fathers (24%) and families that lack a stay-at-home parent (22%). The rest of the list included:
* Co-habitation before marriage (18%)
* Pornography (17%)
* Morality not being taught in schools (14%)
* Poverty, unemployment, and/or a poor economy (13%)
* Parental alcohol use/abuse (12%)
* Parental drug use/abuse (11%)
* Drug use/abuse among teens or children (8%)
* Teen sexual involvement/activity (8%)
* Alcohol use/abuse among teens or children (6%)
* Adultery (5%)
* Poor schools or quality of education (4%)
* Teen pregnancy (2%)
* Sexual predators or sexual abuse (1%)
* The expense of child care (1%)
* Other issues (12%)
This was reported in the secular media as well as the Christian media such as Agape Press.
Please note that homosexuals, much less gay marriage, didn't even make it into the top 20 threats to families per the clergy. Gays are not a threat to families. There are few external things that force themselves on families that can't be resisted by otherwise strong families. Most of the threats to the family are self inflicted as the above list shows. Families aren't being attacked from the outside so much as they are decaying from the inside out. We shouldn't be looking outside our windows for supposed threats to our families. We need to look inwardly at ourselves and our own efforts and shortcomings to build strong families.
No opponent of Civil Same-Sex Marriage has EVER been able to explain to my satisfaction how giving gays full and equal civil rights will in ANY way harm their own marriages, make them weaker, or discourage their own children from marrying and establishing strong families of their own. Giving marriage to gays will be like giving women and Blacks the right to vote. The latter strengthened the institution of Democracy and the former will likewise strengthen the institution of marriage. Just as opposing giving Blacks and women the right to vote harms Democracy, denying gays the right to marriage harms the institution of marriage.
If the Church doesn't want these people in the Church, well, that's fine - that's easy. But to deny them CIVIL rights, based on that religious judgment, is harsh, cruel, unlawful, and uncalled for.