Photo by Scot Facer Proctor
The California Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex marriage was legal in California . Recognizing the importance of marriage to society, the Church accepted an invitation to participate in ProtectMarriage, a coalition of churches, organizations, and individuals sponsoring a November ballot measure, Proposition 8, that would amend the California state constitution to ensure that only a marriage between a man and a woman would be legally recognized. (Information about the coalition can be found at http://www.protectmarriage.com/ ).
On June 20, 2008, the First Presidency of the Church distributed a letter about “Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families,” announcing the Church’s participation with the coalition. The letter, which was read in Latter-day Saints’ church services in California , asked that Church members “do all [they] can to support the proposed constitutional amendment.”
Members of the Church in Arizona and Florida will also be voting on constitutional amendments regarding marriage in their states, where coalitions similar to California ‘s are now being formed.
The focus of the Church’s involvement is specifically same-sex marriage and its consequences. The Church does not object to rights (already established in California ) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference.
The Church has a single, undeviating standard of sexual morality: intimate relations are proper only between a husband and a wife united in the bonds of matrimony. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people.
As Church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility.
Intending to reduce misunderstanding and ill will, the Church has produced the following document, “The Divine Institution of Marriage,” and provided the accompanying links to other materials, to explain its reasons for defending marriage between a man and a woman as an issue of moral imperative.
The Divine Institution of Marriage
Marriage is sacred, ordained of God from before the foundation of the world. After creating Adam and Eve, the Lord God pronounced them husband and wife, of which Adam said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” 1 Jesus Christ cited Adam’s declaration when he affirmed the divine origins of the marriage covenant: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.” 2
In 1995, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” declared the following unchanging truths regarding marriage:
We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children . . . The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
The Proclamation also teaches, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The account in Genesis of Adam and Eve being created and placed on earth emphasizes the creation of two distinct genders: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” 3
Marriage between a man and a woman is central to the plan of salvation. The sacred nature of marriage is closely linked to the power of procreation. Only a man and a woman together have the natural biological capacity to conceive children. This power of procreation – to create life and bring God’s spirit children into the world – is sacred and precious. Misuse of this power undermines the institution of the family and thereby weakens the social fabric. 4 Strong families serve as the fundamental institution for transmitting to future generations the moral strengths, traditions, and values that sustain civilization. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society.” 5
Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. While governments did not invent marriage, throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social stability and perpetuating life itself. Hence, regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, married couples in almost every culture have been granted special privileges aimed primarily at sustaining their relationship and promoting the environment in which children are reared. A husband and a wife do not receive these privileges to elevate them above any other two people who may share a residence or social tie, but rather in order to preserve, protect, and defend the all-important institutions of marriage and family.
It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility, but the special status of marriage is nonetheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation, and to the inherent differences between the genders. Co-habitation under any guise or title is not a sufficient reason for defining new forms of marriage.
High rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births have resulted in an exceptionally large number of single parents in American society. Many of these single parents have raised exemplary children; nevertheless, extensive studies have shown that in general a husband and wife united in a loving, committed marriage provide the optimal environment for children to be protected, nurtured, and raised. 6 This is not only because of the substantial personal resources that two parents can bring to bear on raising a child, but because of the differing strengths that a father and a mother, by virtue of their gender, bring to the task. As the prominent sociologist David Popenoe has said:
The burden of social science evidence supports the idea that gender differentiated parenting is important for human development and that the contribution of fathers to childrearing is unique and irreplaceable. 7
Popenoe explained that:
. . . The complementarity of male and female parenting styles is striking and of enormous importance to a child’s overall development. It is sometimes said that fathers express more concern for the child’s longer-term development, while mothers focus on the child’s immediate well-being (which, of course, in its own way has everything to do with a child’s long-term well-being).
What is clear is that children have dual needs that must be met: one for independence and the other for relatedness, one for challenge and the other for support. 8
Social historian David Blankenhorn makes a similar argument in his book Fatherless America . 9 In an ideal society, every child would be raised by both a father and a mother.
Challenges to Marriage and Family
Our modern era has seen traditional marriage and family – defined as a husband and wife with children in an intact marriage – come increasingly under assault. Sexual morality has declined and infidelity has increased. Since 1960, the proportion of children born out of wedlock has soared from 5.3 percent to 38.5 percent (2006). 10 Divorce has become much more common and accepted, with the United States having one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Since 1973, abortion has taken the lives of over 45 million innocents. 11 At the same time, entertainment standards continue to plummet, and pornography has become a scourge afflicting and addicting many victims. Gender differences increasingly are dismissed as trivial, irrelevant, or transient, thus undermining God’s purpose in creating both men and women.
In recent years in the United States and other countries, a movement has emerged to promote same-sex marriage as an inherent or constitutional right. This is not a small step, but a radical change: instead of society tolerating or accepting private, consensual sexual behavior between adults, advocates of same-sex marriage seek its official endorsement and recognition.
Court decisions in Massachusetts (2004) and California (2008) have allowed same-sex marriages. This trend constitutes a serious threat to marriage and family. The institution of marriage will be weakened, resulting in negative consequences for both adults and children.
In November 2008, California voters will decide whether to amend their state constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has joined in a broad coalition of other denominations, organizations, and individuals to encourage voter approval of this amendment.
The people of the United States – acting either directly or through their elected representatives – have recognized the crucial role that traditional marriage has played and must continue to play in American society if children and families are to be protected and moral values propagated.
Forty-four states have passed legislation making clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. More than half of those states, twenty-seven in all, have done so by constitutional amendments like the ones pending in California , Arizona , and Florida . 12
In contrast, those who would impose same-sex marriage on American society have chosen a different course. Advocates have taken their case to the state courts, asking judges to remake the institution of marriage that society has accepted and depended upon for millennia. Yet, even in this context, a broad majority of courts – six out of eight state supreme courts – have upheld traditional marriage laws. Only two, Massachusetts and now California , have gone in the other direction, and then, only by the slimmest of margins – 4 to 3 in both cases.
In sum, there is very strong agreement across America on what marriage is. As the people of California themselves recognized when they voted on this issue just eight years ago, traditional marriage is essential to society as a whole, and especially to its children. Because this question strikes at the very heart of the family, because it is one of the great moral issues of our time, and because it has the potential for great impact upon the family, the Church is speaking out on this issue, and asking members to get involved.
Tolerance, Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom
Those who favor homosexual marriage contend that “tolerance” demands that they be given the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. But this appeal for “tolerance” advocates a very different meaning and outcome than that word has meant throughout most of American history and a different meaning than is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior taught a much higher concept, that of love. “Love thy neighbor,” He admonished. 13 Jesus loved the sinner even while decrying the sin, as evidenced in the case of the woman taken in adultery: treating her kindly, but exhorting her to “sin no more.” 14 Tolerance as a gospel principle means love and forgiveness of one another, not “tolerating” transgression.
In today’s secular world, the idea of tolerance has come to mean something entirely different. Instead of love, it has come to mean condone – acceptance of wrongful behavior as the price of friendship. Jesus taught that we love and care for one another without condoning transgression. But today’s politically palatable definition insists that unless one accepts the sin he does not tolerate the sinner.
As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has explained,
Tolerance obviously requires a non-contentious manner of relating toward one another’s differences. But tolerance does not require abandoning one’s standards or one’s opinions on political or public policy choices. Tolerance is a way of reacting to diversity, not a command to insulate it from examination. 15
The Church does not condone abusive treatment of others and encourages its members to treat all people with respect. However, speaking out against practices with which the Church disagrees on moral grounds – including same-sex marriage – does not constitute abuse or the frequently misused term “hate speech.” We can express genuine love and friendship for the homosexual family member or friend without accepting the practice of homosexuality or any re-definition of marriage.
Legalizing same-sex marriage will affect a wide spectrum of government activities and policies. Once a state government declares that same-sex unions are a civil right, those governments almost certainly will enforce a wide variety of other policies intended to ensure that there is no discrimination against same-sex couples. This may well place “church and state on a collision course.” 16
The prospect of same-sex marriage has already spawned legal collisions with the rights of free speech and of action based on religious beliefs. For example, advocates and government officials in certain states already are challenging the long-held right of religious adoption agencies to follow their religious beliefs and only place children in homes with both a mother and a father. As a result, Catholic Charities in Boston has stopped offering adoption services.
Other advocates of same-sex marriage are suggesting that tax exemptions and benefits be withdrawn from any religious organization that does not embrace same-sex unions. 17 Public accommodation laws are already being used as leverage in an attempt to force religious organizations to allow marriage celebrations or receptions in religious facilities that are otherwise open to the public. Accrediting organizations in some instances are asserting pressure on religious schools and universities to provide married housing for same-sex couples. Student religious organizations are being told by some universities that they may lose their campus recognition and benefits if they exclude same-sex couples from club membership. 18
Many of these examples have already become the legal reality in several nations of the European Union, and the European Parliament has recommended that laws guaranteeing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples be made uniform across the EU. 19 Thus, if same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, there will be substantial conflicts with religious freedom.
And in some important areas, religious freedom may be diminished.
How Would Same-Sex Marriage Affect Society?
Possible restrictions on religious freedom are not the only societal implications of legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps the most common argument that proponents of same-sex marriage make is that it is essentially harmless and will not affect the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage in any way. “It won’t affect you, so why should you care?’ is the common refrain. While it may be true that allowing single-sex unions will not immediately and directly affect all existing marriages, the real question is how it will affect society as a whole over time , including the rising generation and future generations. The experience of the few European countries that already have legalized same-sex marriage suggests that any dilution of the traditional definition of marriage will further erode the already weakened stability of marriages and family generally. Adopting same-sex marriage compromises the traditional concept of marriage, with harmful consequences for society.
Aside from the very serious consequence of undermining and diluting the sacred nature of marriage between a man and a woman, there are many practical implications in the sphere of public policy that will be of deep concern to parents and society as a whole. These are critical to understanding the seriousness of the overall issue of same-sex marriage.
When a man and a woman marry with the intention of forming a new family, their success in that endeavor depends on their willingness to renounce the single-minded pursuit of self-fulfillment and to sacrifice their time and means to the nurturing and rearing of their children. Marriage is fundamentally an unselfish act: legally protected because only a male and female together can create new life, and because the rearing of children requires a life-long commitment, which marriage is intended to provide. Societal recognition of same-sex marriage cannot be justified simply on the grounds that it provides self-fulfillment to its partners, for it is not the purpose of government to provide legal protection to every possible way in which individuals may pursue fulfillment. By definition, all same-sex unions are infertile, and two individuals of the same gender, whatever their affections, can never form a marriage devoted to raising their own mutual offspring.
It is true that some same-sex couples will obtain guardianship over children –through prior heterosexual relationships, through adoption in the states where this is permitted, or by artificial insemination. Despite that, the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation? Traditional marriage provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation. By contrast, the legalization of same-sex marriage likely will erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children. Is it really wise for society to pursue such a radical experiment without taking into account its long-term consequences for children?
As just one example of how children will be adversely affected, the establishment of same-sex marriage as a civil right will inevitably require mandatory changes in school curricula. When the state says that same-sex unions are equivalent to heterosexual marriages, the curriculum of public schools will have to support this claim. Beginning with elementary school, children will be taught that marriage can be defined as a relation between any two adults and that consensual sexual relations are morally neutral. Classroom instruction on sex education in secondary schools can be expected to equate homosexual intimacy with heterosexual relations. These developments will create serious clashes between the agenda of the secular school system and the right of parents to teach their children traditional standards of morality.
Finally, throughout history the family has served as an essential bulwark of individual liberty. The walls of a home provide a defense against detrimental social influences and the sometimes overreaching powers of government. In the absence of abuse or neglect, government does not have the right to intervene in the rearing and moral education of children in the home. Strong families are thus vital for political freedom. But when governments presume to redefine the nature of marriage, issuing regulations to ensure public acceptance of non-traditional unions, they have moved a step closer to intervening in the sacred sphere of domestic life. The consequences of crossing this line are many and unpredictable, but likely would include an increase in the power and reach of the state toward whatever ends it seeks to pursue.
The Sanctity of Marriage
Strong, stable families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor of civilized society. When marriage is undermined by gender confusion and by distortions of its God-given meaning, the rising generation of children and youth will find it increasingly difficult to develop their natural identity as a man or a woman. Some will find it more difficult to engage in wholesome courtships, form stable marriages, and raise yet another generation imbued with moral strength and purpose.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has chosen to become involved, along with many other churches, organizations, and individuals, in defending the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman because it is a compelling moral issue of profound importance to our religion and to the future of our society.
The final line in the Proclamation on the Family is an admonition to the world from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” This is the course charted by Church leaders, and it is the only course of safety for the Church and for the nation.
1 Genesis 2:24.
2 Matthew 19:4-6.
3 Genesis 1:27.
4 M. Russell Ballard, “What Matters Most is What Lasts Longest,” Ensign , November 2005, p. 41.
5 United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III), 10 December 1948.
6 David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York: Basic Books, 1995); Barbara Schneider, Allison Atteberry, and Ann Owens, Family Matters: Family Structure and Child Outcomes (Birmingham AL: Alabama Policy Institute: June 2005); David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: Martin Kessler Books, 1996); David Popenoe and Barbara Defoe Whitehead, The State of Our Unions 2007: The Social Health of Marriage in America (Piscataway, NJ (Rutgers University): The National Marriage Project, July 2007 ) pp. 21-25; and Maggie Gallagher and Joshua K. Baker, “Do Moms and Dads Matter? Evidence from the Social Sciences on Family Structure and the Best Interests of the Child,” Margins Law Journal 4:161 (2004).
7 David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: The Free Press, 1996) p. 146.
8Ibid ., p. 145. See also Spencer W. Kimball, “The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign , November 1979, pp. 102-104.
9 David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America , pp. 219-220.
10Stephanie J. Ventura and Christine A. Bachrach, “Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940-99,” National Vital Statistics Reports 48:16 (18 October 2000); and Brady E. Hamilton , Joyce A. Martin, and Stephanie J. Ventura, “Births: Preliminary Data for 2006,” National Vital Statistics Reports 56:7 (5 December 2007).
11Alan Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States ,” In Brief , July 2008.
12 Christine Vestal, “California Gay Marriage Ruling Sparks New Debate,” stateline.org, 16 May 2008, updated 12 June 2008. Stateline.org is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
13 Matt. 19:19.
14 John 8:11.
15 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Weightier Matters,” BYU Devotional speech, 9 February 1999.
16Maggie Gallagher, “Banned in Boston : The Coming Conflict Between Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty,” The Weekly Standard , 15 May 2006.
17 Jonathan Turley, “An Unholy Union: Same-Sex Marriage and the Use of Governmental Programs to Penalize Religious Groups with Unpopular Practices,” in Douglas Laycock, Jr., et al., eds., Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts ( Lanham , MD : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008, forthcoming).
18 Marc D. Stern, “Gay Marriage and the Churches, paper delivered at the Scholar’s Conference on Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty, sponsored by the The Beckett Fund, 4 May 2006.
19 “European Parliament Resolution on homophobia in Europe ,” adopted 18 January 2006.
Article prepared by the LDS Newsroom at www.lds.org and used by permission.