Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Morality, Mormonism, and Marriage Equality
Popular culture within Mormonism has elevated the words of the Brethren to a status of infallibility. While people nominally say we ought to question their teachings, anyone who, after questioning, comes up with answers different than the Brethren are looked down upon and feared. Generally people seem to me to feel that if prayer doesn't yield the results we feel it ought to, the only explanation is that the person is not praying right. I deeply disagree. I stand that someone can disagree with the Brethren, and still be a faithful member of the church. And I believe that the aura of infallibility that surrounds the leaders of the church presents an even greater danger than questioning.
When our system of morality is downgraded to simply "do as you're told," we give up our own moral conscience. Particularly disgusting is the blaming of past inequities on God. I've hardly had a conversation about the pre-1978 ban on blacks holding the priesthood in which someone hasn't mentioned that God's wisdom is beyond ours and we cannot comprehend his ways. I refuse to believe that denying equality has ever or will ever be part of the ways of a God who "is love." The 2013 edition of the scriptures changes the explanation of the official declaration in which priesthood rights are extended to all worthy men regardless of color to say that the teaching that black people couldn't hold the priesthood was merely a policy and that we're not sure how it crept in. It was not revealed by God. It was the mistakes of men. And yet we are so staunchly unapologetic that we blame our mistakes on the "wisdom of God" instead of taking responsibility.
Morality has to be something more than simply doing as one is told. If it were mere deference to religious leaders, then any member of the church who supported the abolition of slavery in 1852 when Brigham Young advocated its legalization in the state of Utah would be morally wrong in their advocacy. To find a moral qualm with the teachings or practices of the church does not mean that one has to cease believing in the divinity of the church. It merely confirms the scriptural declaration that we are wrong when we believe that "all is well in Zion."
Families are sacred for reasons far more substantive than executive mandate. To truly appreciate and advocate for families, we must understand the reasons behind their sacred nature. Is it simply the gender of the parents that determines the sanctity of a family? Is gender the essential factor in determining whether or not a relationship can be given the status of marriage? I argue that to believe so is, in reality, to undermine the true value of families and marriage relationships. There is something deeper that defines our relationships than simple biology.
The essential element that defines marriages and families is not gender identity or sexual orientation, but commitment. The familial ties between a single mother and her child are not related to gender, but to commitment. The loving bonds between parents and their adopted child have nothing to do with biology, but to do with commitment. The essential element that makes a family sacred and endows it with the power that Mormonism describes as saving is neither gender identity nor sexual orientation, but the loving bonds of commitment that family members share for each other.
And the importance of extending marriage rights is that the public commitment acknowledged by the state that occurs in marriage has been shown to increase the commitment between partners. Studies have shown that there is no difference in children raised by heterosexual and homosexual married couples, but that there is a difference in children raised in homes with no marriage commitment. Legalizing gay marriage will increase family values and family commitment throughout society, not decrease it. I think that heterosexual couples should reflect on their own relationship and ask this question--is the nature of your relationship more defined by your partner's gender, or by the commitment you share together? The extent to which your commitment reaches beyond gender is the extent to which you ought to support marriage equality.
In addition, qualifying family values with the adjective "traditional" hardly adds legitimacy to the argument. The traditional family was one in which the woman was treated as property and the utility of a child was either in its hereditary capacities or the economic value of its labor. In addition, traditions differ across cultures and civilizations. "Traditional marriage" definitively includes same-sex marriage for Native Americans, while including polygamous, polyandrous, and polyamorous relationships for a host of other cultures. In fact, the transformation of marriage from an economic union to one of love and commitment has largely been a product of the past two hundred years of popular culture. Modern heterosexual marriage is anything but traditional.
When marriage becomes something more to do with biology than compassion and as defined more by the physical characteristics of the persons involved than the nature of their feelings and commitments for one another, then the true, sanctifying power of marriage is trivialized. Opposition to marriage equality undermines the importance of marriage in a way more powerful than gay rights activists have ever approached to doing. And thus lies the deep irony that the defense of "family values" in opposition to marriage equality is actually undermining the very values claimed to be espoused.
This is perhaps a controversial argument, but it's one we need to face and reconcile. We need to be more thoughtful than simply doing as we are told. To do so is to place our own moral agency in the hands of others.
"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson