Just What is Marriage For, Anyway?

It’s tough to be a socially progressive Mormon right now. Since any thinking human could reason out items likely to receive attention during the recent General Conference (Priesthood + Gays = Moar Controversy), this was the first time that I didn’t watch any of it. Not a single session. Because I continue to struggle to find my place — and the last time I struggled for weeks.

You’re not supposed to struggle after conference; you’re supposed to feel uplifted. There are those who point to Book of Mormon verses about how wrong I am to be upset when counsel goes against my own feelings and beliefs. Yes beliefs. But I’m having a hard time right now with the way leaders seem to encourage from the pulpit things that restrict the secular rights and protections of people, based on their own religious beliefs and the teachings of the LDS Church.

Last I checked, we don’t live in a theocracy. Sometimes, Utah might as well be one, but that doesn’t change the fact that the United States of America isn’t a theocracy — and Utah isn’t really, either.

The big debate right now (well, one of them) surrounds the question: What is marriage for?

In the past, the LDS Church has been in support of partnership protections for gays, especially in terms of work benefits and hospital visitation. But, of course, the line has always been drawn at marriage. And, since we as a society can’t seem to separate marriage the religious transaction from marriage the legal transaction, many feel that it’s time to double-down on marriage, and make sure that those pesky gays don’t destroy Western Civilization in their efforts to be treated the same as heterosexuals under the law.

This time, most of the conference-induced Facebook righteousness exploding my feed focused on Neil L. Andersen’s talk, which addressed, in part, ideas surrounding what is marriage for.


In the talk, Andersen is quite clear that about the Lord’s definition of marriage in these latter-days is between a man and a woman. He also gets down to business about the “point” of marriage:

While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not. He designated the purpose of marriage to go far beyond the personal satisfaction and fulfillment of adults, to more importantly advancing the ideal setting for children to be born, reared, and nurtured.

While leaders of the LDS Church — and other religions — see this as the point of marriage, and they are welcome to, the reality remains that legal status, various protections under the law, and tax filing designations aren’t based on religious definitions and a church’s revelation about “what the Lord says.”

This is where my problem comes in. When arguing that gay marriage will harm society, many people say that marriage is for procreation, so it doesn’t “work” between same-sex partners, and that the “ideal” environment for raising children is in a two-parent home with opposite-sex parents. For the love of heaven, ban gay marriage for the children!

Unfortunately, once you get out of the realm of faith and religion, neither of these arguments hold up. In fact, some of the arguments that Utah attorneys made while trying to keep the state’s same-sex marriage ban alive before the 10th Circuit Court reflect many of the arguments made almost 50 years ago in the court debates over interracial marriage. Those arguments were debunked in the case of interracial marriage, and they are already well on the way to being debunked right now with regard to same-sex parents.

In fact, the “nurture the children” argument is in danger of falling flat on its face in this matter, and even Utah’s attorneys had to acknowledge it, according to reports on the arguments:

Much of the Kitchen case was involved with legal technicalities, and with the familiar arguments from Utah about procreation and the “risk” of same-sex parenting. But at the same time, the Utah lawyers had to admit the one study that claimed to show poor results for children in a same-sex marriage had been debunked.

I’m going to repeat that, with emphasis: The ONE study that claimed to show poor results for children in a same-sex marriage had been debunked.

Yes, research indicates that a stable home is necessary for best results for children. However, research also doesn’t say that the stable home has to include an opposite-sex couple, and some research even indicates that stability is more important than the number of parents present. The State of Utah (and, I presume, the LDS Church) dismisses the studies and research from such organizations as major universities, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association in its arguments against gay marriage. This research indicates that children can be adjusted just fine when they come from same-sex homes. In fact, all things being equal, the genders of parents doesn’t matter when it comes to future success and being well-adjusted. Other factors are more likely to influence outcomes.

Religious beliefs aren’t based on studies, research, and what-not. They don’t have to be. It’s about faith. However, when we make secular law, and determinations about the harm to children in a secular society, we use what is available to us in terms of the best research that humans can come up with. Imposing your interpretation of God’s will, and using religious arguments to restrict the rights and protections of others is where I have my problem.

The idea that your version of what marriage is for should be imposed on others is troubling, since we attach so many legal and tax benefits to the status of marriage. Saying marriage is for procreation opens a can of worms related to the elderly, the infertile, and those, like me, who choose not to procreate further, and those that choose not to procreate at all. Saying marriage is for the children means that you need to take a hard look at single parents and other single guardians. Are we supposed to remove children from guardians who aren’t married?

Naturally, these arguments seem silly. Of course we wouldn’t take a child from a single mother or father unless there was some sort of abuse or neglect going on. Likewise, we wouldn’t bar a heterosexual couple from marrying, even if they have no intention of having children. So we’re back to to the point that we are treating others differently based on how they identify themselves sexually because they don’t identify in a way that fits within a set religious context. (And let’s not forget that many, many LGBTQ folks in the U.S. self-identify as devout Christians and are active in their faith communities.)

If you want to determine who is “married” for your own religious purposes, including who can be married in your sacred edifices, that is one thing. Religion has the right to define marriage within the religious context. The LDS Church has the right to decide who is sealed inside temples, and set forth the requirements for a “temple marriage.” But I have serious problems with the idea of taking those religious beliefs and using them as a justification to deny an entire group of people protection and rights that the rest of us take for granted because we’re in opposite-sex marriage relationships.

Especially when the definition of what makes a marriage hasn’t ever been just one thing, and especially when religions, including the LDS Church, are known for changing their doctrines and practices over time.

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