Who Is My Neighbor? A Straight Mormon's perspective on Same Sex Marriage

Jeremy Robinson shares his journey on the issue of marriage equality, which he titled: "Who Is My Neighbor? A Straight Mormon's perspective on Same Sex Marriage"  


"Who is my neighbor?" asked the lawyer of Jesus. In response Jesus told the now well-known parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37):

"A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do."

In 2000 as well as 2008 there were ballot initiatives that would clarify the law such that in California, marriage would only be recognized as being between a man and a woman. It was anticipating future legislation, which could alter the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships. I was in California during both elections and the LDS church campaigned heavily to make sure each passed and they did, in part due to their efforts. I recall canvassing during Prop 22 to help it get passed. We'd go around and hand out "Vote YES on 22" leaflets and our main task was to make sure that people understood that voting yes meant you wanted to keep marriage between a man and woman. It was kind of fun because it reminded me of my mission days, going door to door but it seemed most people were supportive of our cause (I think it was generally a pretty conservative area to begin with) despite a few people who wanted nothing to do with us, there was a feeling that all would be right with the world and marriage would be safe. My experience with Prop 8 was much different. Things were different. People's views were changing. My views were changing. During Prop 22, I didn't think much about the issue of homosexuality. It was not only a sin but a sin next to murder and we needed to protect society by ensuring that the official, state sponsored relationship was a heterosexual one. At the time I felt that people who are gay may be good people with a difficult struggle to overcome, but if same sex marriage were given sanction it would change society and not for the better. These arguments resonated with me in 2000 but in 2008, they left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. They certainly did not seem very neighborly and unfortunately at the time I, like the Priest and Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho, did nothing to help. I, like the Levite and Priest, did nothing partially because of my religious tradition. The tradition in Jesus' time was such that to touch a dead body would defile one's self, particularly if you were of the priestly class. If the Priest or Levite were to check on the man lying in the street and by doing so touch his body, they risked touching a dead body, which would require an inconvenient cleansing ritual (Numbers 19:11-13). Handling a corpse was not the duty of a priest. The Priest and Levite not only avoided touching the body, they moved to the other side of the road to avoid having to even deal with the issue. Likewise, the LDS church was actively involved in the Prop 8 campaign, which gave me justification to avoid dealing with the issue, despite the pain occurring from the LGBT community. At the time I am writing this now, in 2012, my views on same sex marriage and homosexuality have completely reversed. How did I get here? How did I go from going door to door, soliciting the idea that marriage should remain between a man and a woman to thinking that LGBT partners should also be allowed to be married?

I first came to the conclusion that people don't choose to be gay.

Did I choose to be heterosexual? Could I, with enough will power, make the choice to be homosexual? Not a chance. The idea of kissing another man makes me more than a little uncomfortable... but it leads me to the conclusion, anecdotally that as I did not choose to be heterosexual, it seems unlikely that anyone would choose homosexuality... and why would they? Bullying, rejection from family, friends, society and even God, feelings of guilt and inadequacy are not enjoyable and the numbers bear this out. LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to take their own life than heterosexual counterparts with between 30% and 40% of them attempting suicide.[ref]Suicide Prevention Resource Center (2008) Suicide risk and prevention for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.[/ref] These are people beaten up and left on their own road to Jericho. The following is taken from a friend, Shawna, who struggles with many health problems yet talks of how much harder it is being gay in a culture which doesn't make room for her:

"EVEN MORE DIFFICULT THAN JUST BEING GAY,--- IS BEING A GAY MORMON. You have no idea how conflicting that is. You think my health issues have been hard, try walking in my shoes, being gay, and Mormon. Are you afraid cancer might kill me? Be more concerned that I will take my own life, for there's not a day I don't fight with suicidal thoughts because I struggle with being something I didn't choose to be, and a religion that doesn't allow one to act on their sexuality. To my wonderful, faithful, family-oriented friends, imagine if your heterosexuality were to be denied, and you were told you could only marry someone of your same sex. How could you do that if you're heterosexual, and not homosexual? People are born gay."

There are countless stories like this and far too many that end tragically. Currently the causes of homosexuality are not completely clear. Genetics play a role and there are also environmental factors within the womb, which may play a role. There is probably not one cause from a biological standpoint. What is clear is that it is not a choice for the individual.[ref]Frankowski, Barbara. “Sexual Orientation and Adolescents,” PEDIATRICS: June 2004.[/ref]

Is there a “cure”?

People don't choose their sexual orientation but can people be "cured" from homosexuality? I'll leave the philosophical question of whether there is actually anything "wrong" with being gay to the individual, but one thing is clear, that as of now, there is no evidence of any effective way to change someone's sexual orientation. In fact, all attempts at doing so appear to cause far more damage to the individual. Attempts at personal righteousness or trying to act in a gender appropriate way or dating those of the opposite sex or especially the more extreme measures like shock therapy, greatly decrease the emotional well being and often do irreversible damage to the individual. Oh, and they don't actually change a person's sexual orientation.[ref]Haldeman, Douglas C. (1991), "Sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay men and lesbians: A scientific examination", in Gonsiorek, John; Weinrich, James, Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy, Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, Inc.[/ref] In trying to help these individuals in this way, we are only beating them up more.

What about the children?

In the most recent General Conference of the church, Elder Dalin H. Oaks said in his talk about protecting children:

Most of the children born to unmarried mothers—58 percent—were born to couples who were cohabitating. Whatever we may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the relative stability of marriage matters. We should assume the same disadvantages for children raised by couples of the same gender. The social science literature is controversial and politically charged on the long-term effect of this on children, principally because, as a New York Times writer observed, “same-sex marriage is a social experiment, and like most experiments it will take time to understand its consequences.[ref]Douthat, Ross. “Gay Parents and the Marriage Debate,” New York Times: 11 June 2012.[/ref]” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Protect the Children," General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 2012)

Elder Oaks is referring to a highly controversial 2012 study in which 15,000 people were randomly asked if their parents have EVER been in a same-sex relationship and then asked a range of questions about well being, employment, etc. and they found that children raised with a parent who has at some point had a same-sex relationship turned out significantly worse off than the rest.[ref]Regnerus, Mark. “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research, July 2012, Pages 752–770[/ref] The framing of questions in studies is important and the problem is that there is a huge difference between a child who has a parent who has "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex" and a child who is raised by committed, same-sex parents. While he acknowledges this limitation, the author downplays it. Included in the sample of people raised by a parent who was gay are all sorts of scenarios that probably are damaging to a child's development and which in the past at least were more prevalent to children who were raised by a parent who is gay. It is important to remember, however that people who were gay were often forced through social pressure into heterosexual relationships which are far more likely to fail, leading to split families and instability for their children when they would separate. This study does not control for children raised by two same-sex parents from infancy, which would be the equivalent to children raised by traditional parents. In fact, the study never asks if participants were raised by a same sex couple so there is not even data to compare. Instead it lumps them all together. To Elder Oak's main point in his talk, the study does confirm that children do better in stable environments by two committed parents who love each other. If anything, this seems like a good argument to elevate same-sex partners with children to a legally recognized status: marriage. It would be good for the children. This more appropriately fits with past studies on same sex parenting. In a 2006 review of the studies to date of the social implications of same sex couples, on the question of children raised by same sex couples the review concluded:

Despite considerable variation in the quality of their samples, research design, measurement methods, and data analysis techniques, the findings to date have been remarkably consistent. Empirical studies comparing children raised by sexual minority parents with those raised by otherwise comparable heterosexual parents have not found reliable disparities in mental health or social adjustment. Differences have not been found in parenting ability between lesbian mothers and heterosexual mothers. Studies examining gay fathers are fewer in number but do not show that gay men are any less fit or able as parents than heterosexual men (Herek, Gregory. “Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Relationships in the United States: A Social Science Perspective,” American Journal: 2006).

Elder Oaks is correct in saying that children need to be protected from many threats. It appears however that same-sex parenting is not one of them and that there is no reason to assume that children raised by gay parents are at any such disadvantage.

Why is homosexuality considered such a serious sin in the first place?

The short answer is because the Bible says so... at least at first glance. Closer inspection and a clearer understanding of the context as well as translation misunderstandings, brings into serious question many of the verses which seem to be clearly stating that homosexuality is condemned. I would love it if all these verses could be explained away but there are a couple which are hard to argue are not condemning, namely Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as well as Romans 1:26-27, though even for those there is more ambiguity than at first glance. The website religioustolerance.org has a fairly comprehensive section called, "What the Bible says and means about same-sex behavior." Latter-day Saints have a few other problems if they want reconciliation between their beliefs and a view that supports gay rights: following the prophet. Fundamental to Mormonism is the belief that modern prophets communicate with God, just as the prophets of old and because of this, there is strong pressure in the church to conform views with pronouncements from these leaders. To further complicate the issue, all the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency are also considered "Prophets, Seers and Revelators." The message from these LDS leaders has been quite clear, even going as far as to give resources to push ballot measures advocating traditional marriage. There is a saying that, "Catholics say the Pope is infallible but don't believe it. Mormons say the Prophet isn't infallible and don't believe it." Biblical prophets were not perfect, why should we expect modern day prophet perfection? Terryl Givens, a Mormon scholar writes in his "Letter to a Doubter":

Abraham lied about Sariah being his sister. Isaac deceives Esau and steals both his birthright and his blessing (but maybe that’s ok because he is a patriarch, not a prophet strictly speaking). Moses took glory unto himself at the waters of Meribah, and was punished severely as a consequence. He was also guilty of manslaughter and covered up his crime. Jonah ignored the Lord’s call, then later whined and complained because God didn’t burn Ninevah to the ground as he had threatened. It doesn’t get a lot better in the New Testament. Paul rebuked Peter sharply for what he called cowardice and hypocrisy in his refusal to embrace the gentiles as equals. Then Paul got into a sharp argument with fellow apostle Barnabas and they parted company. So where on earth do we get the notion that modern day prophets are infallible specimens of virtue and perfection? Joseph [Smith] said emphatically, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.”(Givens, Terryl. “Letter to a Doubter,” From a Fireside Presentation to the Single Adult Stake, Palo Alto, CA: 14 October 2012. Revised on October 22, 2012)

One must get rid of the idea that prophets can't teach us anything wrong. They are men and men with biases and opinions. Brigham Young taught that Polygamy was essential to gaining exaltation, that Adam was God and that blacks wouldn't receive the Priesthood until the Millennium and for years these were doctrines of the church that now we have abandoned. Either one must believe that the church is in apostasy, or that Brigham Young, the prophet at the time, was wrong. From the scriptures themselves Paul admits, "For now we see through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). The Christian Pastor Brian McLaren echoes my feelings:

Over time, I could not square their [gay parishioners] stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) ... we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish "what the Bible says" from "what this school of interpretation says the Bible says," and that helped me in many ways. (McLaren, Brian.“A farewell, Brian McLaren moment, or not,” http://brianmclaren.net)

I know many in the church, if they've made it this far, will not agree with me. They may even condemn my point of view. I hear so often that same-sex marriage being legalized is a sign of the world becoming more and more wicked and evil. At this point, I need to express that it is because of my religious upbringing, combined with the truth I have learned about homosexuality and the painful stories I've heard, that I feel I must come to new conclusions on this issue. I don't, however, feel that I must abandon my faith to do so.

How do I make sense of what is of God and what is the prophet's (modern or ancient) opinion?

Thankfully, Jesus himself answers this very question. In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked of a lawyer what the greatest commandment is (v.36). Jesus answers first that we are to love God with all our heart but volunteers, without being asked, the second greatest commandment which is like the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (v.39) The next part is key: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (v.40) Loving God and loving our neighbor are like unto each other. Jesus is showing how we show love to God: through loving your neighbor. It is clear from the text that Jesus is teaching that these twin laws supersede statements in the Bible or statements by modern day Prophets. Who is our neighbor? In another version or in a similar situation found in Luke and at the top of this page, Jesus uses the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate not only who our neighbors are but who we should be neighbors to. Samaritans and Jews hated one another. They were rival religions who both believed the other were perverting the ways of God. At the time of Jesus, tensions were especially high. Jesus, being a Jew and having a Jewish audience, used the Samaritan to push the point that it is through showing mercy and compassion and kindness that we can be neighbors to our fellow man. He flipped the lawyer’s question, from who is my neighbor to how can we be neighbors to others, despite our differences? Conversely, He used the Priest and Levite to show that religious beliefs and practices can keep people from being a neighbor to someone in need and therefore break the two most important commandments of all. I can't judge others for their views, only myself. I don't seek to change anyone's mind here but lets review what is known about the issue. People don't choose their sexual orientation. Sexual orientation can't be changed and attempting to do so is often harmful. People engaging in same-sex relationships don’t actually hurt anybody. I would like people to ponder this: Can we truly be neighbors by showing love, compassion and kindness if we treat them as second-class citizens and withhold rights that seem very likely to improve their emotional happiness? Can we truly be neighbors to Gay and Lesbian members of society if we do not make them part of our community and allow them to live lives as full and happy as we seek to live? Can we truly be neighbors to our fellowmen if a good portion of them are forced to choose between their religion and fulfilling lives with families of their own like my friend Shawna:

"I am alone, and always will be in this life, because I am prohibited from loving who I am attracted to. I have never been attracted to men. I've dated guys because I was ashamed and didn't want anyone to find out I'm attracted to females. I wanted to have the faith that marrying a guy would bring blessings to me as I raise our children unto the Lord. But I just couldn't go through with marrying anyone. I still feel ashamed that I'm attracted to the same sex, and I am pretty scared putting myself out here like this. I have decided I can't turn away while one more gay youth, young adult or adult (especially Mormon) takes their own lives, or feels they have to leave the church because they can't reconcile their homosexuality with their faith."

Will allowing same sex marriage change society? Will morality, as we know it be changed forever? It is important to realize that this is a given. Society is always changing and this includes when rights are given to people. Would you go back to a time before segregation was done away with because of the changes it had on society? Would you take away the right of women to vote? What changes on society did freeing slaves have? To take it to the genesis of our country, what effect on society did freeing the people from the tyranny of the King of England have? At each one of these milestones there were those who feared the possible changes to society resulting from giving rights to certain people. Sometimes our understanding of morality NEEDS to be changed forever, especially when the status quo means people are figuratively (and sometimes literally), beaten and left on the side of the road. Perhaps the question we should be asking is this: is our morality changing in ways where we are showing more love and compassion and kindness to our fellow man? For me at least, this means my views on same-sex marriage had to be changed.



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