A few thoughts on marriage

A few (personal) thoughts on Judge Robert Shelby’s historic ruling on Utah’s Amendment 3 in December.

As a practicing, temple-endowed Latter-day Saint who was sealed for time and eternity to my high-school sweetheart almost 36 years ago, I believe that the religious sacrament I call marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.

However, here’s the problem: Others have deeply held religious views that marriage between individuals of the same gender is also approved by God. This creates an uncomfortable quandary (or at least it should) for a people who believe in a modern scripture that reads “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government”. The quandary is especially uncomfortable when Amendment 3 opponents are able to produce quotes by John Taylor and Brigham Young condemning monogamy (i.e. traditional marriage) that use much the same language as today’s opponents of same-sex marriage.

How do you decide whose religious belief gets enacted into law, when there is no consensus? The obvious answer is you can’t. Because of this, well-meaning supporters of Amendment 3, including attorneys in Utah’s AG office, have tried to translate religious arguments into secular and legal ones. It is from this perspective that Judge Shelby decided arguments that same-sex marriage was harmful to traditional marriage did not hold water. In their latest appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay to Judge Shelby’s decision, the AG’s office sent a subtle signal about the legal weakness of their case when they dropped the procreation argument. Attempts have been made by Amendment 3 supporters in editorial columns in Utah newspapers the last month to state logical, legally sound secular arguments for their support, and to any fair-minded person, these arguments come across as stilted and strained.

I think we have to admit that the only logically sound arguments for opposition to same sex marriage are religious ones, and the soundness of such arguments depends upon whether one accepts that particular religious viewpoint.

Given the political climate in Utah, the Attorney General’s office probably doesn’t have any choice but to pursue all avenues of appeal to Judge Shelby’s decision. But it’s hard to see that effort succeeding in turning back the sweep of history.

In the meantime, LDS Dems have a great opportunity to change the discussion. If the goal is strengthening the family – who can disagree with that? Why not start a discussion of things we agree on, and how we can take effective, concrete steps to strengthen traditional families?

Here is one example. Leaders as diverse as Ezra Taft Benson, Hillary Clinton and Robert Reich have argued forcefully that full-time care by a parent in the early stages of a child’s life is a worthy goal for society. If that is true, if we all agree on that, then why is it that the “godless socialists” in Europe have parental leave policies that are so much more family-friendly that we do? My own daughter gave birth to a beautiful daughter six months ago, but little Mariah was born with significant health problems related to being one of the “little people” (the new kinder term for dwarfism). The crush of medical bills made it necessary for my daughter to go back to work just a few short weeks after birth. Thank goodness for a good girlfriend who was able to care for this handicapped child, but how can one describe this situation as “family friendly”?

Our fellow Mormons claim strengthening the traditional family is their most important priority, and Judge Shelby’s ruling has brought that subject to the forefront. It’s an opportune time to forcefully point out how damaging conservative economic policies have been to the traditional family.

In closing: A wise and good friend, who is a member of a stake presidency, made an interesting comment in a Sunday School class recently. He said that we as Latter-day Saints believe the ideal family is a father and mother married in the temple for life and raising their own children in righteousness. But he went on to say that upholding this ideal is not mutually exclusive to recognizing the reality that there are other types of families, and we need to find a way to serve and strengthen all families. There are single parent families. There are families like my wife and I who are raising a grandson. And yes, the unavoidable fact is that there are families where two members of the same gender are making a life together. I am hopeful that recent events might act as a catalyst to help us begin working on the things that we can agree on to strengthen all families.


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