The Puzzling Position of the Church on Same-Sex Marriage

In the fallout from the SCOTUS ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, I received an email that noted a quote from John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

The email went on to say that in the past when the country was filled with moral and religious people, the Constitution worked. But now that the country is increasingly filled with immoral and irreligious people, the Constitution is being used against logic, against reason, and against once moral and religious principles. In other words, the Constitution of the United States is wholly inadequate to now govern our citizens. Isn’t this a veiled attack on the Constitution?

This was my reply.

If the framers of the Constitution created it only to govern a religious people, they made a grave error. Did they think that only religious people would ever live in the United States? No. Did they think that only religious people lived there at that time? No. It was framed as a social contract for all citizens of the country, whatever their beliefs may be. How foolish it would have been to frame it to only govern a subset of the population. I think they were smarter than that.

It’s noteworthy that John Adams was not a signer of the Constitution. He was in London at the time of its drafting in 1787. His writings seem to have influenced the Constitution in the ideas of a republican division of power, i.e. checks and balances. But he did not seem very tolerant in his religious views. He once declared, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.” Thomas Paine was a Deist. We might be grateful that John Adams was not more influential in the drafting of the Constitution, or we may not have the religious freedoms that we do today in this country.

James Madison, on the other hand, is considered the “Father of the Constitution,” having been instrumental in the drafting of it, and a signer. He was also the key author of the Bill of Rights. As Michael Austin has noted, “Madison believed that the government should always adopt a posture of strict non-cognizance towards all religious beliefs,” including unbelief. “Madison believed that [the] coercive mechanisms [of the state] should only be used to protect legitimate state interests. They should never be used to enforce religious beliefs, which exist prior to and wholly apart from the social contract.” The United States Constitution was framed for a secular state so that all religious and irreligious beliefs could be treated equally. It is a stretch to believe that James Madison helped draft the Constitution only to govern a religious people.

What about LDS people who support same-sex marriage? Are they immoral, amoral, or irreligious people?

Some people seem to think the Constitution is only good insofar as it supports their own views. When it supports any view other than their own, it is being used wrongly, and it is wholly inadequate. Can you see how that might be problematic?

It seems to me that the Constitution was made to govern a people of all types of beliefs, religious or irreligious, and to protect the freedom of those beliefs insofar as they do not infringe upon others’ beliefs. That is why many say that the United States is the only country on Earth where the LDS Church could have been founded, and even then it ran into intense persecution.

I think we should be grateful to live in a country that does not govern by religious principles (which religion?) or for religious people (a subset), and I think that was a deliberate and wise choice made by our Founding Fathers. I think the alternative would have been extremely dangerous and detrimental to the union and to our freedoms. Again, see Michael Austin’s well written post.

Someone replied:

“I believe the leaders of the church have been very clear that acting out on homosexual attraction/tendencies/temptations is a sin and not condoned by God. I don’t see how someone who professes to believe said leaders are prophets and apostles can therefore promote/agree with/fight for an activity that has been repeatedly described as sinful.”

Perhaps it is because they believe in a country and a government where LDS religious views should not be imposed on others who have very different views. LDS belief in the sinful nature of homosexual activity should not define what the marriage contract should look like for everyone else in the country, where there are many others that believe that homosexuality is it not sinful. It is precisely that, religious principles defining government contracts, that James Madison warned so strongly against, and drafted the Constitution to protect many differing beliefs equally.

How can you treat friends and family with respect and dignity and show them Christ-like love, but demand that they live by laws informed by your own religious views?

And:

“…churches and religious activity in general will be attacked unless they conform to what a vocal minority considers the correct view/course for society.”

Have not homosexuals been “attacked” by what the vocal majority considers the correct view/course for society? How is that any better? Wasn’t the Constitution framed to protect the beliefs of all people, whether the majority or the minority, as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ beliefs?

The question is, does marriage between same-sex people infringe on others’ beliefs? It may not agree with others’ beliefs, but does it infringe on them? Does it violate others’ beliefs in some way such that they cannot have freedom to believe as they will? If it does not infringe on others beliefs, rights, or freedoms, then why would it be illegal in this free country, and why should such freedom not be supported? Even the Church has taken this stance:

Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

I’m unsure why the Church believes the marriage contract is so different than these other social and government institutions and contracts. Perhaps it is because they put more weight on marriage being a religious contract than a government contract, and so they want to protect the religious contract? But what about the government side? What about those who enter the marriage contract under completely different religious or irreligious views? Do they not have protection for their viewpoints?

It seems to me that religions lost their control of the marriage contract the moment that it became a government contract, with government advantages, benefits, favors, incentives, protections, recognition, etc. for religious and irreligious peoples. Of course, that doesn’t mean that religions cannot continue to practice the religious contract side of marriage as they see fit within their own church walls. And that is what the argument will be in the months to come, and the one that the Supreme Court will have to work on.

Unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviors that differ from one’s own is the very definition of intolerance. The ability and willingness to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of something without interference, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with, is the very definition of tolerance.

I received another reply that included statements like this:

No, I do not accept or support sinful behavior. I can love the sinner, just as Christ did. Christ destroyed the money lenders in the temple. Did that make Him intolerant? Religious people are not being intolerant by expecting other people to abide by moral standards they believe to be commandments from God. People with standards don’t have to abandon them just because they are no longer popular.

Moral relativism will destroy this society. There is such a thing as right and wrong. Just because there are a group of people who don’t believe a certain action is wrong doesn’t mean that action is suddenly not a moral absolute anymore. Just because a large amount of people want to be pedophiles, that doesn’t mean that it is an acceptable lifestyle, or that its “value” should even be up for debate. (before you think I am being extreme, this is currently a movement happening right now to make pedophilia simply a mental disorder, nothing more. Google it.)

Just because there is a huge number of the population that partakes in pornography and lives by it day to day, that doesn’t mean it is helpful to society and should be promoted, or even considered.

I am not intolerant because I believe murder is absolutely wrong and sinful and I do not accept it at all.

The sentence that really baffled me was this one: “Religious people are not being intolerant by expecting other people to abide by moral standards they believe to be commandments from God.” How is it okay for people of one religious group to hold everyone outside of that group to the same standards that they believe to be true? Should Orthodox Jews expect other people to keep kosher kitchens? Should devout Muslims expect others to keep the five pillars of Islam, including reciting the Muslim profession of faith, five daily prayers, paying alms, fasting during Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca?

I replied with a parable.

Once upon a time there was a small group of people who believed in plural marriage. It was something they truly believed in, one which they believed was revealed to them by God. They practiced it independently and apart from the rest of the country in which they lived. Their practice infringed on no one. They believed in the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience, and allowed all people the same privilege. There were many others in the country that disagreed with those polygamous beliefs and practices because it was contrary to their own values and moral absolutes, and sought to ban it, outlaw it, and even went so far as to throw its practitioners in prison, and confiscate all their property for insisting steadfastly upon it. They certainly did not agree to make it legal.

Was that majority intolerant to expect this small group of people to abide by the differing moral standards of the majority? Did the majority’s standards which differed from this small group make their actions correct? Was the fact that the small group’s standards were not popular make them incorrect? Did the majority have to abandon their standards just because this small group believed something different? The majority believed that monogamous marriage was right, and polygamous marriage was wrong, sinful, and even barbaric (savagely cruel, exceedingly brutal). Just because there was a group of people who believed in plural marriage, did that mean that monogamy was suddenly not a moral absolute anymore? Just because polygamy was an acceptable lifestyle to this small group, did that mean its “value” should even be up for debate? Was this group’s plural marriage practice helpful to society, should be promoted, or even considered? Was the majority intolerant because they believed plural marriage was absolutely wrong and sinful and did not accept it at all? (Before you think I’m being extreme, this actually happened, to a group you might know.)

Which side was correct? The small group who believed in plural marriage and sought to make it legally protected under the law, or the majority who believed that monogamous marriage was the moral absolute and did everything in their power to prevent plural marriage and outlaw it in the country?

Yes, there are certain things that we do not approve of, but we need to be very careful in applying legislation wholesale to everyone in the country based on our own dearly held and cherished beliefs. Beliefs change, even so-called “moral absolutes” change. We should champion freedom of belief, even if that belief differs from ours.

There may be some people who believe in pedophilia, pornography, and murder, but these in many ways directly and severely infringe on the rights of other people. There are certain unalienable rights that we believe as a society that people should have, among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore we’ve instituted laws to control these individuals to prevent them from doing harm to others. I don’t think these examples are comparable to same-sex marriage, or plural marriage for that matter. Among consenting adults, did not the Church believe and teach for quite some time that plural marriage was perfectly moral, even a commandment from God? And why should anyone else care what those consenting adults did, if it did not harm anyone else? Or do you not believe that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others in the Church were morally correct in instituting and practicing plural marriage, and calling for its legalization? Do you believe it was correct for others to call for it’s legal prohibition?

The fact that the LDS Church had it’s own deviant marriage beliefs and practices that were officially taught and practiced for about 70 years in this country, and for which it was also refused and rejected by the religious majority and government, seems to be entirely lost for many Mormons, which is quite ironic. Unfortunately it also seems hypocritical. Maybe it is some sort of retribution? “If we can’t marry who and how we want, then neither can you.”

Do I doubt the Church’s position on same-sex marriage? I do.

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