Elder Oaks Shows Us the Way Forward

So gay marriage is legal now in Utah. At least for a moment, until the appeals begin. The Church’s response, not surprisingly, is to hope for the ruling to be overturned:

This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.

But this was just the response on day one. Longer term, I wonder how hard the Church will fight this. I mean, if they spent so much money (mostly technically out of members’ pockets rather than directly, but still) and time and goodwill to fight gay marriage in California, how hard will they fight when it’s in their own backyard? Or maybe Utah should be considered their front yard.

(An aside: I feel odd calling the Church “they.” I feel like I should be able to say “we.” I’m a Mormon. I attend and participate. But I have zero voice in or influence over what the general Church leadership does, so in this circumstance, I think it makes sense.)

I think there’s a better way, and it comes out of Elder Oaks’s talk in October Conference. He tells us:

man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Commitment to our highest priority—to love and serve God—requires that we look to His law for our standard of behavior. For example, we remain under divine command not to commit adultery or fornication even when those acts are no longer crimes under the laws of the states or countries where we reside. Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities—even those becoming popular in our particular time and place.

His intent here is clear, I think. He’s pointing out that even if laws change to allow gay marriage, the Church will still oppose it, so members shouldn’t take cues from secular laws in deciding what’s right and wrong. But the point he’s also making, perhaps unintentionally, is that it doesn’t matter if all the laws change. The Church is fine being out of step with the laws. The GAs will be happy to give a bunch of talks where they dismissively call them “so-called” laws. So given this, why doesn’t the Church take a page out of this talk and just drop its opposition to legalizing gay marriage?


  1. Ziff, I was so happy last night when I heard the announcement that I almost cried. I think that in our society marriage brings dignity, connection, and commitment, and I’m glad that, at least for a time, our LGBT brothers and sisters in Utah will have that opportunity. I feel blessed by my marriage and I’m hopeful that they can come to feel the same way.

    I like your take. The Church (or at least some elements of it), has already expressed its displeasure about gay people having sex, without or within the bonds of marriage. I don’t think there’s a Mormon alive who hasn’t gotten that message. They’ve made their point, so why don’t they just live and let live when it comes to civil marriage?

    I think many Mormons would feel troubled to have the government dictate how and with whom temple marriages can be performed. So why are we intent on telling the government how and with whom civil marriages can be performed, insisting that LGBT individuals, most of whom do not share our beliefs, not be permitted to marry civilly because of our religious beliefs.

    Above all, I’m troubled by how the Church’s current position contradicts what I believe Jesus would do if he were here. LGBT individuals are real people–they are my nephew, my boss, my wife’s boss, my co-blogger, my next door office mate, and my inactive Mormon friend. I just cannot picture Jesus saying to them, “It is not good for man to be alone, unless he wants to be with another man, then it is good.” And if they are not to be alone, why don’t we support them by giving their relationships the status bestowed by marriage?

    Because of this contradiction with what I feel in my bones is true Christianity, it is my sad yet hopeful prediction that in some number of years the Church will look back on these comments by Elder Oaks and others in the same way we look back on the comments of Elder McConkie about race and the priesthood. But for the sake of my LGBT brothers and sisters, I just wish we could see it now.

  2. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, “What does it matter so long as they are contented?” We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all”.

  3. It’s inevitable that gay marriage will be legal everywhere. So maybe “they” are smart in changing their stance to a defense of principle instead of actively trying to change the inevitable. Also, the percentage of the population that is gay is minimal and the percentage that are gay and want to marry is smaller still. So, what’s the big deal anyway? And the 2008 fight in CA was really a “me too let’s rally the troops political effort” to show our bona fides to the other religions and religious right.

  4. Aaron Brown posted an open letter on Facebook (to Jettboy, perhaps a conversation I am not up to date about) informing him that he had been called as a high councilman dedicated to LGBT outreach. I wonder how many others are doing the same thing. My husband is dismayed at the judge’s ruling, although he’s not a hater, he’s just old school. Who knows, he may be right. But I spoke to a dear, dear friend today about this. She is 72 and firmly opposed to same sex marriage. We had a cordial conversation as we shared our opposing viewpoints. Finally, I said that I was coming down on the side of the gays on this one. And I realized I no longer abstain. I simply love too many gay people who I know are good to continue to be neutral. I feel it’s a momentous decision for me. I don’t understand same sex attraction, it still makes me uncomfortable. In a way, I feel left out, like when I realize another dear friend, who is gay, has a lot of friends who share a way of life that I am not part of……I don’t want to be weak or attaching myself to something because it is popular. But for me, and this is what I told my friend, it comes down to the good people I know who are gay. Who are very happy today. Screw the minutiae of reasons I and others have used against gay marriage. I think, bottom line, God’s going to sort this all out. Our job is to be nice. No matter what side one is on. Pretty much my hardest thing.

  5. I think that the church leadership will make a few statements on this issue, but not empasize their opposition as stridently as many LDS would like. They will likely let Brother Lee take the lead against this issue and give mostly quiet support to the legal and political battles to come.
    This is likely to come up in political ads all year, especially in critical Senate race states. This is seen as the crazy feds forcing states to twist themselves into a pretzel for a favored special interest. Plenty of political fireworks to come.

  6. In reference to your last paragraph, why would ‘members’ need to look for cues anywhere other than their own research (study, pondering, praying) to make their own decisions? I hope the membership would make their own decisions regardless what the “secularists” and the GAs think. I mean, B Young was apparently wrong about everything it seems. Why wouldn’t the GAs be wrong now? Not saying they are, but the membership needs to learn to think for themselves.

  7. Louis, maybe the many members ARE thinking for themselves when they choose to listen to the GAs. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
    As a libertarian, I think government should totally get out of the marriage business, and let people make the relationships they will. My concern is, just as government imposed its will on gays, it will do the same on religion.

  8. Whether gay marriage is inevitable or not, those that are called as Aposles of Christ will continue to speak out in favor of god’s definition of marriage and against counterfeits. Even in face of societal opposition, God’s truth will not change. Those who are called of the savior and part of his church should never fear to speak out against sin even as we show love to those who wander an help them learn of God. Christ never compromised his moral standards even as he reached out telling others to go and sin no more. We must likewise show compassion but also uphold the Lord’s ideal of marriage and chastity.

  9. Daniel,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I also have a sense that God’s truth will not change, and yet I’m consistently confounded by how difficult it is for me to discern God’s will and how apparently difficult it also is for our leaders to discern God’s will. Sometimes I wish that things were just more straightforward, but in reading the history of our Church and in studying the scriptures it seems quite common for our leaders to come to varying conclusions about God’s will, and for prophets in the scriptures to come to varying conclusions as well.

    So, I am glad they speak the out against sin as they understand it, yet as I see the suffering of my LGBT loved ones, I wonder if God’s truth is more complicated than we sometimes imagine it to be, and I want to be more cautious in assuming that we’ve received His complete truth already.

    I take comfort in a statement by Pope Francis about the challenge of understanding God’s doctrine, and believe that such an approach could help our church grow and become healthier: “Within the [Catholic] Church countless issues are being studied and reflected upon with great freedom. Differing currents of thought in philosophy, theology, and pastoral practice, if open to being reconciled by the Spirit in respect and love, can enable the Church to grow, since all of them help to express more clearly the immense riches of God’s word. For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel.”

  10. I think there will be some practical problems for the church and I hope someone is thinking constructively about them.

    We have been encouraging gay members to stay active, single, and celibate, and those that do are entitled to a Temple recommend.

    In the temple chastity is defined as “only having sexual relations with the husband or wife to whom you are legally and lawfully married.”

    If this gay person with a TR marries another person of the same sex, who also has a TR, legally and lawfully, what are they now doing that would stop them continuing to hold their recommends?

    What are the requirements for a sealing? Both parties having TR and a legal wedding certificate? Can they be denied a sealing?

    I can’t see why they would, but as we learned with the priesthood ban, conservative culture (as taught by Elder Oaks and 125 years of racists) is often as powerful as revelation.


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