President Obama's recent announcement of his support for gay marriage sparked a firestorm of debate across the country. For Mormon Democrats such as myself, it has put us at odds with Obama on an important social issue.
In Support of Traditional Marriage
As a Latter-Day Saint, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe, as the Proclamation on the Family states, that "marriage between man and woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children." I do not support the right to gay marriage or attempts to redefine traditional marriage for society at large. Ultimately, I believe that the only form of marriage recognized beyond the grave is the one that is performed in sacred LDS temples. All other marriages end at death: “ 'till death do us part." In that sense, the religious debate over gay marriage is somewhat moot for Latter-Day Saints. While social conservatives often see the push for gay marriage as a threat to traditional families, I have never felt that my own traditional marriage and family were threatened by the prospect of gay marriage. As an American who cherishes individual liberty, I do not concern myself with the lifestyle arrangements of others.
Biology’s Role in Homosexuality
I also don't believe that granting additional rights to gays will make more people gay, as I've heard some gay rights opponents assert. Science has made it clear that biology has a prominent role in causing homosexuality. Among the significant body of scientific evidence showing a biological link to homosexuality are the studies of a prominent Brigham Young University (BYU) micro-biology professor, Dr. William Bradshaw, who has published writings and given lectures which included data obtained from clinical studies regarding brain anatomy, birth order and genetics. A recording of Dr. Bradshaw's September 2010 lecture at BYU, entitled "the Evidence for a Biological Origin for Homosexuality" can be found here. In a recent statement, the Church affirmed a universal guideline: "The bedrock moral issue for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is how we treat each other as children of God." Gay bashing, ranging from verbal denigration to violent assault, are horrific offenses that no Christian should commit.
Standing Against Discrimination
I stand firmly in favor of many gay rights, including prohibitions of discrimination in housing and employment. The Church itself has in fact supported such statutes. In November 2009, the Church announced its support for proposed ordinances in Salt Lake City that were designed to protect gay and transgender residents from discrimination, and as a result, the Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved the measures. The Church spokesman, Michael Otterson, who declared that the Church viewed the ordinances as "fair and reasonable," noted that the Church's support was consistent with its teachings because it "believes in human dignity, in treating people with respect when we disagree."
I also strongly support President Obama's repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy, allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. Studies have shown that other militaries, including those in the UK, Canada, and Australia, which allow gays to serve openly, do not experience lowered morale or any other significant problems. As General David Petraeus stated, allowing openly gay service members in other countries had been "uneventful." However, by repealing DADT, we are one big step closer to living the ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence, "that all men (and women) are created equal," affirming the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that all have equal protection under the law.
Civil Unions Provide Equal Protection Under the Law
In regards to marriage, I support civil unions for gay partnerships, with equal protection under the law. This means I support civil unions that provide gay couples with all of the legal rights that matrimony bestows on a heterosexual couple, such as rights of inheritance, Social Security, employer benefits, and hospital visitation. While I acknowledge that my belief in traditional marriage may seem at odds with this, I believe that the 14th Amendment requires that we provide equal treatment under the law to all civil partnerships. Jon Huntsman, a prominent Latter-Day Saint and former GOP candidate for President, notably expressed his support for civil unions, while still affirming his belief in traditional marriage. The controversial Proposition 8 in California, which prohibited gay marriage, also affirmed equal partnership rights for gays under domestic partnerships. It's noteworthy to point out that the Church supported Proposition 8, despite the measure's support for legal recognition of gay partnerships under domestic partnership rights, a shift from the Church’s previous stance. Civil unions are the best solution to the controversy because they satisfy the 14th Amendment's requirement for equal protection under the law while avoiding a government-backed and highly controversial redefinition of the institution of marriage.
Leaving the Debate Over Marriage to Religious Institutions
In some European countries (including Poland) couples, either heterosexual or homosexual, wanting legal recognition of their partnership must obtain a civil union from the government, after which they can be married in a church. This keeps the government out of the highly charged and partisan debate over the definition of marriage. It allows churches to administer the marriage ordinance in accordance with their doctrines, while making available partnership rights through civil unions. This may or may not be a plausible solution for the U.S.; however, when considering that there are many churches that support gay marriage, it is helpful to reflect on the Eleventh Article of Faith, which states "we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." A deeply plural country like ours cannot function well if people do not possess at least some tolerance for others’ differing moral views.
Is Gay Marriage Advocacy a Push for Acceptance?
The push for legalization of gay marriage is thought by many to be a push for societal acceptance of gay marriage, one that seeks to eliminate any distinction between gay and traditional marriage. One potential consequence that I worry about with the legalization of gay marriage is the possibility that the government could require teachers to instruct young children about gay marriage and preach acceptance of it. While on the surface this may appear to be inline with education about civic responsibilities, value judgments about gay marriage should be left up to parents, not the schools. There is also uncharted territory in the area of religious freedom. Will religious adoption agencies be compelled to place children with same-sex couples? H. David Burton, the former Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints co-signed an open letter with other religious leaders that warned same-sex marriage could force "individuals and religious organizations -- throughout their operations, well beyond religious ceremonies -- to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of [heterosexual] marital sexual conduct." Legalization of same-sex marriage could subject churches that support only traditional marriage to the "full arsenal of government punishments and pressures" reserved for racists and bigots.
Some may ask why I continue to support President Obama, given his stated support for gay marriage, which I clearly oppose. I prefer to approach politics by looking at all of the issues I care about and seeing which candidates come closest to my views on most issues. While gay marriage is one area where I clearly differ from President Obama, I strongly support his policies in most other areas, including economic, environment, education, health care, foreign, and national security policy. And I am much more concerned about our government adopting the best economic and national security policies than I am worried about culture war issues like gay marriage.
On a final note, the fight to prevent legalization of same-sex marriage appears to be a losing one. There have been huge shifts in public opinion on the issue over the past ten years and as of 2012, polling has consistently shown that a slim majority of Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage. Eventually, same-sex marriage will be recognized in most, if not all, states and religious organizations should prepare for that eventuality by focusing on protecting their religious freedom to affirm only traditional marriage. Supporters of traditional marriage should also do more to reach out to gays to improve mutual understanding.