Monday, June 23, 2008

To the 2%

Tonight FoxyJ sent me the link to this feature on religion in the United States in USA Today. Besides being a fascinating survey of religious beliefs and demography, and on top of that a wicked cool interface, the feature was well-timed for me in that Foxy sent it while I was stewing over this article I read tonight about the LDS Church, once again, telling its members to vote for anti-family legislation disguised in pro-family rhetoric. Seeing via USA Today that Mormons make up only 2% of California's population helped me put things in perspective and calm down a bit. I'm still angry that people feel that denying basic rights to families who don't fit an ideal invented in the 1950s is somehow Christlike or even humane, but at least the impact of this particular instance is limited by demography.

As for the small portion of that 2% of Californians who are Mormon who happen to read my blog, as well as any other Californians who may have a say in the anti-family constitutional amendment that the LDS Church believes so strongly should be passed, even if I believed I had the kind of power to make people do whatever I say, I wouldn't tell you to vote or campaign against this proposed amendment based solely on the fact that I say so. Rather, I ask only that you carefully study the facts before making any decisions, which is exactly what the LDS Church tells its members to do in situations not involving gay people marrying each other.

Gay people will couple up and raise children whether or not they're allowed to legally marry. The only thing denying them marriage rights accomplishes is to severely limit their ability to give their partners and their children the legal protections they deserve. My friend Scot, who is planning on legally marrying his husband of thirteen years (also the father of his two sons) next month, has put together articles on the statistical effects of same-sex unions, arguments for marriage equality, and the "ideal family" argument against same-sex marriage.


Petra said...

I am part of that 2%. Huzzah! And I didn't need any persuading, trust me.

Abelard Enigma said...

Mormons make up only 2% of California's population

Yes, but the LDS church has joined forces with other churches in California in their political activism. The Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons make up 69% of the California population (according to that USA survey you posted)

B.G. Christensen said...

Petra--As I was writing this last night, it occurred to me that all my California readers I know of are either already pro-gay rights or already inclined to think for themselves without my encouragement. Oh well.

Abe--Thanks for ruining my day.

Janci said...

I find the points you make here fascinating. Certainly, those statistical studies debunk many of the (truly flawed) logical arguments against same-sex marriage. This is a tough issue for me, as political issues usually are, because I respect arguments on both sides, and I certainly respect all the people involved.

I don't want to anger anyone, but I do want to pose an alternative (anti-same-sex marriage) argument that I don't think has been covered in what you're saying. Please forgive me. I'm only posting this because I want to know what you think about it.

I think the reasons that the Mormon church is against same-sex marriage has more to do with a basic belief conflict than with the physical dissolution of marriages. As I'm sure you know, LDS people believe that marriage as a man and a woman who live their lives according to what Mormon's believe to be God's law is eternal. Therefore, a move toward same-sex marriage is a move away from that eternal unit in which Mormon's believe. (Same-sex marriage is not the only threat to this unit, but certainly one of many, all of which are opposed by the church.)

I'm not trying to defend this position specifically--as I said, I think that there are many good points on both sides of the issue. What I am saying is that I think the disagreement between people who are for same-sex marriage and against it is one of core belief. You, I assume from your post, believe that all families are equal under the eyes of a higher power. (Forgive my assumption if it's incorrect, please.) Many LDS people believe that marriage is a specific union which binds a man and a woman together with God, and so this core belief leads them to oppose anything that would move away from that. This means the disagreement is not formed by misunderstanding, but by different belief systems. (As so many disagreements are.)

What I'm saying, I suppose, is that because this debate is one of fundamental belief and not of misunderstanding, it is very unlikely that the two sides are ever going to agree. (It is much like the abortion debate in that way, with both sides arguing their own values, which are both inherently good things, but which lead them into conflict with each other.)

And that is sad to me, because I wish the issue could be resolved in a way that would please everyone.

Abelard Enigma said...

Same-sex marriage is not the only threat to this unit, but certainly one of many, all of which are opposed by the church.

Therein lies the problem. There is passive opposition and active opposition. Why has the LDS church chosen to abandon their usual stance of political neutrality to actively oppose this one issue while remaining on the sidelines passively opposing all others? Many of these other issues are true threats to the traditional family - so why pick this one issue, which really serves to strengthen the importance of family, and actively oppose it?

Abe--Thanks for ruining my day.

Your welcome - we aims to please :)

JB said...

Therefore, a move toward same-sex marriage is a move away from that eternal unit in which Mormon's believe.

I think this is a matter of how you look at it, though. Gay people in the LDS religion at least are told not to get married, if I remember correctly. So, if they are allowed to marry at all, then they are not moving away from marrying someone of the same sex, they are moving from eternal singlehood to at least having a marriage partner in this life, if not the next.

I don't understand why gay marriage would degrade straight marriage in a way that last minute elopements and then annulments hasn't been doing for centuries, though. . . those don't mean anything, and yet two people who genuinely love and are devoted to each other for years can't be together for fear that the word "marriage" would lose its power? I don't mean to be inflammatory, though I realize I may be, I tend to be very strongly on the one side so I don't see the other well. And there's the fact that you can't hear my tone so it may sound more inflammatory than I intended. I am curious, though, to hear what you think, Janci.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that President Monson's sadly non-prophetic choice in California will be what finally provokes me to have my name removed from the Church's records.

And I pity LDS folks like your guest Janci. She wants to know what we think about her view that equal access to civil marriage threatens their her own marriage or religious freedom. The answer of course is that it doesn't. And she is free to grapple with the tensions of belief within her own religion without imposing the dogma of one religion on everyone else in California. In return, I promise I won't campaign to take away the right to vote from people who ignore the scriptural command to drink wine, or who burden the planet with lots of kids.

It's unfortunate that most mormons are so historically myopic, because they miss out on the chutzpah and irony of today's anti-gay LDS rhetoric -- not just because of the obvious parallel to the treatment of polygamy in the 19th century, but because of the very recent pre-1978 example of racism likewise being a "basic belief" of Mormonism.

The other day I was reading someone who said that longtime American institutions should be judged by how they have responded to the great moral issues of the last three centuries: slavery, racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The Mormon church and culture definitely likes to stay well behind the curve on the big issues.

Janci said...

I personally am not convinced that same-sex marriage degrades heterosexual marriage. I certainly don't feel that "equal access to to civil marriage threatens [my] own marriage or religious freedom." Not one bit. In fact, if people in California (where I grew up but am not currently registered to vote, so therefore have no say) choose to accept same-sex marriage, then I am happy with that choice. I apologize if anything I said sounded like I wasn't.

What I did mean to do, however, was to present what I feel is the core argument of the other side, as I felt it might be a bit misrepresented. I still feel that the problem between the two sides is a schism in belief. That's all I intended to say.

@ aberlard--I see your point. I think what I meant was that this is why individual people oppose the movement--not because they are uninformed, but because they believe differently. I'm not sure why the church itself would choose to speak on some issues and not on others.

@jb--I certainly agree that many heterosexual couples have made a mess of marriage. That annulment example is a great one. Maybe heterosexual people who are opposed to same-sex marriage would do better to examine their own contributions to the institution of marriage, rather than attacking the contributions of people in same-sex relationships.

@Ben--sorry for causing conflict on your blog. I probably shouldn't have said anything at all. I was just curious what you thought about the argument that I didn't feel was well-represented in those very well-informed links you posted.

Scot said...

"@Ben--sorry for causing conflict on your blog. I probably shouldn't have said anything at all. I was just curious what you thought about the argument that I didn't feel was well-represented in those very well-informed links you posted."

I don't know about Ben's blog, but, when is up and running, I'm sure we'd love to have your debate in the forum or in comments on those pages. We aim to welcome it all, and your civil approach, even if we might disagree, is always welcome.

Also, your point on faith is well taken. The site is being built with each day, and we will have a separate area for that as debate on faith plays by very different rules than debate on science, or law.

Janci said...

Thanks Scott. I really am impressed with the work you've done there. Very nicely argued. And you're right, the arguments about faith probably wouldn't fit in that particular piece.

Anonymous said...

janci - I think on some level we actually agree, in that you characterize the two sides in the debate as a "schism in belief." There are indeed interesting religious arguments for and against extending the sacrament of marriage to same sex couples - both within the Mormon tradition and elsewhere. There are also (to me less interesting after years in the trenches) legal and political arguments regarding marriage equality. What I was criticizing is the injection of purely religious arguments into what should be secular debates; code words like the "sacred" bond of marriage attempt to impose a particular religious viewpoint on what is actually a separate and nonreligious civil institution.

Mormons are certainly welcome to join the California discourse; but while religion can be an appropriate motivation for their participation, the arguments should be something other than "thus saith the lord." Mormons like other minorities should be especially concerned when government imposes a particular religious viewpoint on all citizens.

B.G. Christensen said...

Janci--You've nothing to apologize for. As Scot said, you were civil and polite in your thoughts, and I didn't feel like you were even arguing so much as, like you said, offering up a side of the argument that seemed to be ignored.

I agree that the validity of same-sex marriage is an argument that hinges on core beliefs. For many people their faith tells them that only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God; I understand and respect that position. What I don't understand or respect is why that religious belief should affect secular legislation. So long as the only valid opposition to same-sex marriage is a faith-based one, laws should not be made to conform to the faith of any minority or majority. (As Eleanor's Papa has said, more or less, in the time it's taken me to write this comment.)

Like Abe, I don't understand why the LDS church chooses this one issue (apart from abortion, which is a whole other can of beans) to push in the political arena. Why not campaign to make divorce illegal? Why not campaign to make temple sealings the only legally recognized form of marriage? As far as LDS doctrine goes, any marriage, even "time only" ceremonies performed in LDS chapels, is a deviation from God's definition of marriage. As JB implies, from an LDS perspective a same-sex marriage is really not all that different from, say, a widow who is already sealed marrying a second husband just for this life.

I certainly don't pity you, Janci--rather, I admire your ability to approach complex issues from multiple perspectives and to do so respectfully and diplomatically--but I empathize with you; I understand why this is a tough issue for you and for a lot of people. As far as I'm concerned, the LDS church telling its members how to vote only makes it tougher. Either you oversimplify the situation and do what you're told in order to be obedient, or you continue to wrestle with the issue and have the added complication of knowing that you might be disobeying your God-appointed leaders. I attended an anti-gay-marriage rally in 1997 because the LDS church told me to. When they told me to vote for a constitutional amendment in Utah in 2004, I decided it was time to rethink my allegiances.

Thanks, everyone, for contributing to the discussion.

Janci said...

Thanks Ben. That was very well put.

I really tend to agree with you about civil laws. They can't be governed by what a minority believes--and they shouldn't be. Legislation needs to intervene when there is harm done...but if there's no damages, I don't really think it's the governments job to intervene. Laws are meant to protect our freedoms, not to hamper it.

B.G. Christensen said...


Th. said...


The 1950s? What?

B.G. Christensen said...

The ideal family of father, mother, and children that the LDS church bases its anti-gay-marriage arguments on is a construct of the twentieth century, largely the Cold War era when America clung to the nuclear family model in opposition to the Soviet communist model. Throughout the vast majority of human history children have been raised by communities, not by individual parents, so to claim that children intrinsically need the mother and father that "traditional marriage" provides is ludicrous.

Rebecca said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting those links! They are going straight to my bigoted, dogmatic mother!

B.G. Christensen said...

Thank Scot. He is the amazing man who wrote them.