Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Prop 8: Mormon Persecution, Marriage and the Refuge of Patriotism

LOS ANGELESAbout a year ago, a friend from Utah called to tell me that he was gay. I'll call him James, though that's absolutely not his real name. This would have been March or April, about six months after Prop 8 passed. We spent two hours on the phone that night, and several more over the next few weeks. He'd talked about it on some anonymous online forums, and even been on one or two tentative dates, but I was otherwise the first person that he told. I wonder now if he chose me because he could call from two thousand miles away: if I were to reject him, at least he wouldn't have to see my face when I did it. We were both Mormon. He no longer is.

Now, what I remember of this conversation is the hesitancy, my normally exuberant friend dropping off into silence, the awkward phrasing he used. Not "I'm gay," but "I've been struggling with homosexual desires." This was no accident: it is the language the church uses. His voice caught when he said that he couldn't tell his family, who are from a part of the world where gay men are regularly shunned or even attacked. He had also been warned that if his university found out, because it is a religious school, he wouldn't be awarded his degree. But he didn't sob until he told me how the most important dream in his life was to be a father. He was convinced he would never have that opportunity.

Obviously, there are ways for gay couples to have children, even children who are genetically related to at least one parent. But James imagined fishing trips with his kids and their cousins, rowdy family barbecues, Christmas dinners, everyone traveling to celebrate the baptism of another grandchild. These were the things he'd grown up with, the things he couldn't wait to do for himself, but he was sure that coming out would destroy his relationship with his family. James didn't want to leave the church, but he couldn't pretend to be straight any longer. Most of the other Mormon gay men I know have also left.¹ A few are sticking around, paying a high personal cost for their choice.

When Proposition 8 came up for voting in 2008, I was one of the (progressive, East Coast, probably elitist) Mormons totally aghast at what the church was doing in California to influence the result. The church itself, while it can't lobby for candidates as part of its 501(c)(3) tax exemption, can, quite legally, lobby for issues, as long as that time is duly reported, and what a court would deem as a "substantial" portion of the organization's resources doesn't go towards those activities. For example, most American churches took a side on Prohibition.² Even so, I had never seen the church mobilize on a political point the way it did in California. And I had never seen the resulting backlash play so easily into a Mormon persecution complex, transforming what was essentially an internal doctrinal position into a battleground between the church and its surrounding communities.

Individual patriotism-generally of the conservative variety, but not always-has been a central Mormon value for most of the 20th century. There are many reasons for this, but the short version is that in the late 1800s, Mormons had to be as American as possible in order to allow Utah to enter the U.S. as a full state. Statehood had become necessary because of the Edmunds-Tucker Act, passed in 1887, which removed most political protections for citizens of U.S territories that were practicing polygamy, and allowed the federal government to seize Mormon property. When the Act was upheld by the Supreme Court, the church banned the practice of polygamy as part of a set of economic and cultural concessions that would make the Mormon communities in Utah acceptable to the country as a whole, and part of its political system. Statehood was granted in 1896.

Since then, members of the church, even those without pioneer ancestry, have passed down from generation to generation a commitment to the civil process. Sometimes this renders in strange ways: when leaders of the early 20th-century church in Utah feared that believers might vote en masse, congregations were split and one half was told to vote for one party, the other half its opponent. Which defeats the purpose of voting at all, but points for trying, I guess. What's important is that the Mormon community was trying desperately to fit in as an American one after having been driven out of the United States in the 1840s for being exactly the opposite.

I won't spend a lot of time on the terror campaigns against Mormons in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Suffice it to say, most contemporary Mormons remember them, particularly the ugliness of incidents like the Haun's Mill Massacre, in which a militia descended upon the farming settlement of Haun's Mill, putting their gun muzzles up to the gaps in the walls of a building where the town's men and young boys had taken refuge, killing everyone inside. Often this violence was state-sanctioned: Governor Boggs' 1838 extermination order in Missouri, that "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary," wasn't formally rescinded until 1976. Not long after the assassination of Joseph Smith and other leaders in 1844, the members of the church headed West for good. It's not surprising, then, that the Mormon response has been, as a culture, to wear a lot of flag pins.

So, the LDS church has reasons to want to fit in, and until recently, did so easily. Members were encouraged to vote, whichever country they lived in, and while there was an obvious Republican majority among American members, there were also prominent Democrats within the church leadership. It seemed that we had managed to achieve both religious freedom and political equanimity. In 2003, President George W. Bush presented the National Medal of Arts to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The question, then, is why the church would risk its hard-won truce over homosexuality, of all things. Especially since the doctrine of polygamy was eradicated in favor of statehood, the church has worked hard to draw the lines of the male/female Venn diagram, and the differences between genders as the church explains them, usually in terms of "roles," are an ongoing subject of tension. (For more on that, spend some time in the archives of the excellently-named blog Feminist Mormon Housewives.) A major document, the Proclamation on the Family, released by the church in 1995, is the most recent and coherent attempt to lay out the Mormon theology around gender. Among its major points: gender is an eternal characteristic of one's soul; marriage and family relationships are also eternal; and that salvation comes in part through sealing families together in some of the church's most holy ceremonies. To be sealed in the temple is both a marriage and something far greater in the eyes of Mormons.

As currently described, there is no room for homosexuality, because marriage is defined as a relationship that exists purely between a man and a woman. (Note the phrasing there: "a man and a woman." As in one each, as in "please let's not talk about polygamy, everyone.") You could make the argument that this arrangement exists because only heterogeneous pairs can produce children, but the church has no issue with couples adopting and having those children sealed to them. In the eyes of the church, adopted children are as much a part of a family as any biological children would be. It's the sealing that's important, and that's the thing that's unavailable to gays.

The irony that an organization once threatened with violence over its weird marriage practices would try to legislate against other people's marriages is not lost on anyone. But the nightmare of some in the church is that somehow, if gay marriage were legal, it would be forced to marry gay couples in its own temples: absolute sacrilege.

Now, as homosexuality-as fundamental characteristic, not "sin"–has come to seem so normal, so everyday, the idea that gays would be shut out of these vital ceremonies and relationships is becoming steadily more unpalatable, especially to younger Mormons, many of whom, like me, know gay men and women who leave the church because there is no home for them there. Certainly there is a fair amount of homophobia and cultural resistance to the very idea of homosexuality in the church. But it's the doctrinal foundation that makes many members go along, even uneasily, with the church's statements on gay marriage.

So, look at Prop 8. On one hand you have the church, with a complicated set of doctrinal and cultural reasons to feel threatened by gay marriage; on the other, a civil rights movement that, to many lay members, had the moral high ground. And all of this was taking place in a context in which the church rarely muddies the waters between an individual's civil life and devotional one. In my lifetime, I haven't seen the church rock so hard. In public addresses, leaders continued to express love for all people, particularly gays, even as local bishops in California, sanctioned by higher-ups, were asking members to go door-to-door and work against the rights of some of those same people.

The dissonance resounded. A few left the church, or moved from California so they wouldn't have to go against the requests of their leaders. On the web of Mormon blogs–affectionately called "the bloggernacle" after the Tabernacle building in Salt Lake City–hundreds of believing Mormons despaired at the position they'd been put in. We were being pushed into a political stance that had nothing at all to do with politics: the doctrinal complaint against homosexuality has little to do with the civil marriage arrangement.

Things got worse when the gay rights community-legitimately!-lashed out against the Mormons and other religious groups that supported Prop 8. Given the Mormon martyr history and our collective sensitivity to the need for religious freedom, it became all too easy to take a line of defense there. Some members, remembering Haun's Mill and the ancestors buried along the westward trail to Utah, began to feel a certain self-righteousness that fueled their conviction that the church was in the right.

Unfortunately, few things settle one's opinions like being persecuted for them. In November 2008, an ugly protest outside the Los Angeles temple only inflamed the sensibility. What had been a nuanced, complex issue regarding the Mormon theology around the make-up of the soul, the process of eternal salvation and the importance of families morphed into a minor war taking place on civil ground. And those of us caught in between felt we had no choice but to align ourselves with the homophobic coalition or to betray our religious community.

Now, the recent news that the church will be fined for its lobbying comes as a painful reminder of an issue that most would prefer disappear entirely. I know no one who would argue that the fine isn't warranted. The church is legally responsible for its actions, absolutely, obviously. But the ruling solves nothing. Rather, it's a sharp jab in an unhealed wound-which won't heal any faster when the federal court verdict on Prop 8 itself comes down. Personally, I fear that the breach between gays and the LDS church as a body has become unbridgeable for the foreseeable future.

I hope this doesn't read as an apologetic. I found my church's involvement in California to be wretched and underhanded. My crises of faith are multiple, and this is a pretty big one. But here's the thing: to be Christian is to claim as truth the idea that one person can atone for another's sin, and that hell is to reject forgiveness when it is offered. Overtures have been made. For example, the church has worked with gay rights activists in Salt Lake City to lobby against discrimination on the part of landlords and employers. It's a small thing, depressingly small, but it exists.

My friend James has graduated, is working on projects he's excited about, and is slowly starting to tell members of his family that he is gay. He tells me that his parents were crushed, but have been nothing but loving and supportive, even of his decision to leave. It's good to see him freed of some of that weight, and I'm happy for him. I hope he gets the chance to marry whomever he likes, if he ever wants to, and that he gets to be a father later in his life. Point is: I haven't written about his story here because I think he's a symbol for anything. He's just a dude, and my friend, whom I love. But there might be some grace to that last thing. Some.

¹ I'm not sure why I haven't had this conversation with any gay women in the church. Either I don't know any–unlikely–or they fly lower under the radar. Perhaps, if they leave the church, they don't cite their sexuality as a factor. Certainly there are other gender-related reasons for women to leave the church, but that's a post for another day. And many people leave the church for reasons that have nothing at all to do with sexuality.

² While researching this essay, I also learned that the church prevented the building of a missile base in Utah in the 80s, on anti-war grounds. Someone tell Mitt Romney.

Xarissa Holdaway is a writer and editor who no longer has a blog. She always appreciates thoughtful mail at xevenstars [at] gmail [dot] com.

Photo by Eric Mueller from Flickr.

200 Comments / Post A Comment

gumplr (#66)

This is excellent.

cherrispryte (#444)

I learned things. Thank you.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

I'm relieved to see such a candid and open explanation about what the Church believes and why it does the things it does, as that is often something Saints shy away from (at least out here in Utah). We want everybody to like us and we fear that we might get strange looks when we mention things like Temples and Sealings, etc. So it's nice to hear an open and not embarrassed explanation of the Church.

I do have one point of contention however: if the school your friend went to was Brigham Young University (which I'm assuming it is), then if he were to come out he wouldn't be expelled or barred from receiving his degree. As one who knows the school intimately (divine the reason here), I also know a good number of homosexuals in the school who both are open and unashamed of their sexual persuasion. Granted, one can't practice being a homosexual (at least outwardly) at BYU. But the mere fact that someone IS gay isn't reason enough for expulsion or exile.

Another point I want to bring up is the fact that that Church, in the past, HAS stood strongly on some issues: the one that comes to mind most obviously is Communism during the 1950's. The Church had a decidedly negative stance towards Communism and, as in the Prop 8 proceedings, exercised its full power to stem pro-communist sentiment in the U.S.

I enjoyed this article. It shows that we LDS can think for ourselves; that we have autonomous power. Members of the Church are people with individual opinions and desires and all within the Church have the ability to exercise their personal freedom.

Also, to clarify: I am LDS, I was not in support of Prop 8, I am straight, I often get along with gays a whole hell of a lot better than straights, and I am proud of my faith and the members, like Xarissa, who choose to exercise courage and intelligence in matters like these.

xarissa (#3,317)

I went to BYU–like my friend here, as is probably obvious–and I think you're right that the school won't explicitly expel you for being gay. But he was going on dates, and that's the thing he was worried about.

And thanks!

brent_cox (#40)

Grew up not ten miles from Hill Cumorah, and yet I still learned a bunch about LDS. Nice.

dham (#4,652)

I am surprised to see the fear that "somehow, if gay marriage were legal, [the church] would be forced to marry gay couples in its own temples" reproduced here without criticism.

This is the main non-grossed-out-by-gays argument any church (Mormon or otherwise) offers for their opposition, and if we can make it legal for fucking doctors to refuse to provide services that contradict their faith, we can find a legal exception for the church.

Sproing (#561)

Polygamy was disavowed in part through a revelation to then-church president Wilford Woodruff: "The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice." So let's say a sitting Prophet has a similar revelation, that God wants love to determine who may marry within the LDS church, regardless of gender. That would separate the godly from the hate-filled in a hurry, probably in the form of a church schism far vaster than the Warren Jeffs-style cult movements that dot the Southwest.

dham (#4,652)

So Prop 8 can prevent God from getting word out to the Prophets that gay marriage is cool? This argument seems even stranger!

Davis (#4,805)

Nah. You'd see a smattering of people leaving, yes, but the numbers and impact would be immaterial.

Bittersweet (#765)

Excellent and thoughtful essay, Xarissa, thank you.

I feel compelled point out, however, that while I can understand Mormons' need to fit in after the "terror campaigns" against them in the Midwest in the 1830s and 40s, and while the Haun's Hill massacre was a terrible thing, Mormon groups were by no means blameless in those skirmishes with state and local authorities.

Bittersweet (#765)

But this is a nitpick. Overall your piece was terrific.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

You know, one Mountain Meadows Massacre opposed to decades of unchecked hatred and persecution is a little steep of a ratio.

Tyler Coates (#451)

I'm pretty sure most every western religious group has a massacre or two in its history.

xarissa (#3,317)

the awl should do a "crusades" series.

Bittersweet (#765)

@A.R. Chrisman: I was actually thinking about the militant behavior of Mormons in OH/IL/MO. But that doesn't mean I condone the killing and persecution of LDS followers in those area.

In fact, given that my church's founder was Mr. Bloodthirsty himself, I'd have to agree with Tyler.

Bittersweet (#765)

areas, sorry.

Tyler Coates (#451)

We Episcopalians love divorce, beheading, and social hour!

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

@Bittersweet: I have agree with Tyler as well, and I have to add that my previous comment came off a little more snarky than intended.

mmmark (#4,458)

Oh, I agree with this! And fantastic piece. Thank you.

Wasn't a lot of the resentment (and violence) towards Mormons as they tried to find a home (moving progressively westward) because they would/could overwhelm the democratic process of the areas they settled in (as briefly mentioned in the article regarding a voting bloc)? Not saying any of the cause or response either way was warranted, but it does seem interesting now, when viewed against the Prop 8 issue.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Tyler: don't forget the vestry meetings!

@A.R.: the snark is completely understandable. Stay snarky!

@sorry: from what I read, you're right – people were worried about large Mormon blocs in their states/towns. Newspapers also apparently weren't happy with Mormon leaders' incitements against those presses who published negative articles.

Ron Obvious (#351)

Mountain Mills wasn't the only atrocity the LDS Church pulled off. Your ratio isn't nearly as steep as you think.

Davis (#4,805)

For example . . .

melis (#1,854)

Donnie and Marie joke.

Tyler Coates (#451)

More of things like this, always!

sajrocks (#2,067)

Thank you for this.

laurel (#4,035)

This was beautifully written and the best thing I've read on the LDS' actions in California, but there's a point where your reason falls away and it's here: "And those of us caught in between felt we had no choice but to align ourselves with the homophobic coalition or to betray our religious community."

You are obliged to do neither. You may pursue for yourself whatever doctrine you like, and you may even prosthelytize. But you may not seek to impose religious doctrine in the civil arena while avoiding taxation. If the Saints want to embrace what is central to what it means to be an American, you can't just toss this aside.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

@betty: This is my problem with modern religion – the lack of understanding that there can (and should) be a difference between doctrine and law.

Your church can be opposed to divorce and contraception – that's fine. It's backwards, but it's fine. Your church can be opposed to The Gays, that's fine (well, it's not, but it's your right).

But the idea that the Church (whatever Church that may be, whether it's Islam in the middle east or Christianity here at home) should determine what the law is…that's where I have a problem. Practice whatever you want, disallow whatever practices you want, within the confines of your church walls. But leave me free to disagree and practice something else. Imposing your beliefs on me in a nominally secular country is not cool.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I have gotten flack on this in the past, but there's a line in the Bible, when an old woman is going to pay her taxes and someone tries to trip Jesus up. He says, "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's."

My personal interpretation on this is that religion is fine, it can make arbitrary rules as it pleases (even if they suck), but the law of the land is separate and must still be adhered to. You pay your taxes, you let other people do as you please, and if your religion bans being gay or wearing long hair or being a female clergyman, or whatever, then you do that within the walls of your church, and let the free market (as it were) decide who worships where and who adheres to what.

ljnd (#86)

My father was a Presbyterian minister, courtesy Harvard Div. I am a Catholic alto-in-the-choir who grew up furiously discussing these things. My father and I would BOTH agree that you are dead-on in this assessment. I apply this to headscarves in France as well.

Also that bit about the adulterous woman and who casts the first stone. There's also that. And the log vs. splinter in the eye. Judging. This too.

Thank you. You took the words out of my mouth. To assert in one breath that Mormons can think for themselves AND are obligated to fall in line with doctrine or be a heretic is absolutely ludicrous–and more to the point, the two are mutually exclusive.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@Pete: Yeah, I like to point out to some particularly political fundies that in that line, Jesus himself promoted (or maybe invented!) the separation of church and state. Such a position was a pretty radical break from Jewish thinking at the time, but JC spelled it out in no uncertain terms.

However, @John, I think you're oversimplifying the situation for Mormon dissenters. The church community is a huge, HUGE part of Mormon life, more so than in most branches of Christianity. To downplay the importance to a Mormon of being part of that group is unfair to people who were raised in it.

jfruh (#713)

But the nightmare of some in the church is that somehow, if gay marriage were legal, it would be forced to marry gay couples in its own temples: absolute sacrilege.

This is a nightmare that every religious group trots out about gay marriage. I'm sure that most people who say it believe it, but surely — surely — the religious leaders must know better.

The Catholic Church, for instance, has multiple reasons it won't marry you in a church — because one party had a church wedding and later divorced, because you didn't do your pre-Cana counseling, etc. Nobody has ever sued over this, and if they did they would be laughed out of court.

I realize that many religious Americans have a hard time getting their heads aroundt this, but the marriage gays and lesbians are fighting for is not a religious sacrament. It is a civil contract, and a civil right. The quirk in American law that allows the clergyperson who performed your religious ceremony to also sign off on the paperwork certifying your civil marriage does not mean that the two statuses are identical. There are already churches (Unitarians, UCC) who will perform same-sex weddings, and others that do blessings. That's a fight that has to happen within each religious body. That's not what Prop 8 was about.

(I'm sure that everyone reading this already knows this, but I feel very strongly that when thoughtful people write thoughtful things like this, they need to explicitly acknowledge that the "nightmare," as the author put it, as no basis in legal reality.

xarissa (#3,317)

you're right. it's absolutely paranoid. and on some level the leaders of the Mormon church seem to get this: they basically only care about the word marriage, and have publicly stated that civil unions are not something they would lobby against.

my suspicion is that as time goes by, and marriage continues to be redefined by the culture at large, the sealings that take place in the temple or in other churches may stop being referred to as marriages, or that the legal ones will. there will be a civil partnership, and a religious partnership, and the two will have less and less to do with each other. but that's all very unformed in my head–maybe a future piece from somebody here?

amer (#9,326)

I believe you've hit the nail on the head, xarissa. Why can't gay unions be referred to as "civil unions"? I'm assuming from my conversations with people who were against Prop. 8, the reason is because "But marriage between gay people is the same as marriage between non-gay people." I think this is the heart of the matter. Religious people feel there should be a diffentiation between the two unions and others feel it either doesn't matter or they want a gay union recognized to be the same thing as a union between a man and a woman. I certainly hope this can be resolved and that legal adults in any legal union all have the same rights and are treated with respect. (Wow, I am an idealist! But wouldn't it be nice?)

laurel (#4,035)

Seriously, couldn't this be settled by legally defining all marriages as civil unions licensed by the state and letting couples pursue church sanctioned marriages, under whatever definition their church recognizes, separately?

I mean I know people would freak because of tradition and custom and everything, but logically, why does the state endow the church with the ability to define and award civil benefits?

jfruh (#713)

xarissa, I don't know if you ever watch Big Love (I don't know offensive even a progressive Mormon would find it; it always strikes me as pretty fair to the mainstream LDS church). There was a scene last season (uh, spoilers, if people are catching up) where the main characters first wife (who was raised in the mainstream church and still in many ways identifies it) finds out that her daughter (who is slowly disentangling herself from religion generally) has decided to get married in a civil ceremony at the courthouse. The mother is VERY upset and at one point shouts at her, "That's not a marriage! That's just a contract for the government!"

Would you think that many more conservative Mormons might have that attitude, and if so is this a possible avenue for discussion on the issue?

xarissa (#3,317)

I wish I'd seen that, jfruh. Honestly, I can't afford cable and I try to limit my Hulu time, so I haven't watched any of that series yet. But I plan to! Netflix!

Without having seen the scene in question, I can say the following:
–some Mormons would say something similar, tho probably less dramatically. this is partly b/c of the importance of the sealing, but also b/c there is a teensy bit of stigma around not getting married in the temple. there might be gossip about what activities the engaged pair–or its members–have participated in that make them unworthy to go to the temple. (a person can't just walk in. he or she needs to be approved by a local bishop, using a stringent set of guidelines on things like sexual conduct and personal faithfulness.) so, having your kid get married outside the temple could in theory be a shameful thing.
–in this instance, since the girl is already partly out of the church, it seems odd that the mom would react that way, unless, plot-wise, this is the product of much built-up tension that ends in a screamy and tearful confession of what's REALLY going wrong: in this case, her daughter is leaving the church. so, the civil ceremony is the straw that breaks the camel's back.

as for the bigger question, about how to find some kind of common ground, i think it lies in the difference between marriage as a CIVIL arrangment and the doctrinal importance of the temple sealing. in some countries, the temple sealing isn't recognized as a legal contract, so this isn't an issue. you get civilly married, then you go to the temple and get sealed. in the U.S., these two things can be done by the same person, which causes a lot of confusion, and is a big piece of the church's weirdly territorial attempts to protect the word "marriage."

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Something comes to mind, actually, regarding this.

In ye olden days before temples were a dime-a-dozen (temples have like tripled within the past 10 or 15 years), members who lived far away from a temple and wanted to get married often would go to the courthouse and simply get hitched in the civil court. Then they would arrange a way to get to the temple, which could take days or weeks of travel, and then get sealed. Not only that, but these couples would move in and live the married life before getting sealed. I'm thinking, in particular, about the history of Samuel P. Cowley, a respected and honored LDS member (who also gunned down Baby-Face Nelson(!!)).

I remember discussing this issue several years ago (probably 2004-ish, during the GOP scramble to make this a hot-button issue in advance of the Kerry-Bush election) with a gay friend of mine.

My friend said that he opposed gay "marriage" precisely because the word is so loaded with religious doctrine, and favored Vermont-style civil unions for all, extending to the full array of legal rights that traditionally accompany marriage.

jfruh (#713)

Thanks A.R., I've actually always wondered about that — I know that for many years there were only a few temples (in fact, for a while there were no temples!) and getting to one could be quite arduous. Is there any kind of middle ground ceremony at your local stake (is this the right term?) — where you get (legally) married in a religious ceremony, and are viewed as such, so long as you have an intention of getting to a temple to be sealed in as timely a fashion as practicable?

xarissa, the lead-up to the scene is kind of hard to explain, especially as Barb (the mom) is obviously not in good standing with the LDS church (since she's living in a polygamous family), though she's underground and still has her temple recommend (there's actually a scene where she and her mother and sister go into the temple that portrays some of the rites there, which generated some controversy). She's basically kind of in denial over how separated she is from the church she grew up in. Her family and one other have basically set themselves up as a very tiny splinter sect, and her husband has taken on sort of patriarchal duties therein. I'm not sure what exactly she envisioned as a wedding for her daughter — I'm not sure if even she had a vision that was realistic — but obviously a courthouse-only ceremony wasn't it.

(In the end, the daughter and her not-even-a-fringy-Mormon husband end up getting married in the courthouse and then coming home and being sealed by her father in a ceremony in their backyard, which seems to satisfy everybody.)

jfruh (#713)

@Setec Astrology — I do think that it's worth noting that in the West civil marriage preceded religious marriage, to the extent that "civil" and "religious" could be separated in Ye Olde Times. The early Christian church accepted marriages contracted by the pagan authorities as legitimate. The Catholics didn't come to the conclusion that only a marriage solemnized in a church counted as a marriage for the church. In fact, in many times and places, the idea that a "marriage" was a single moment where someone (either a gov't official or a priest) said a magic word and you instantly went from one state to another, simply didn't hold; often just telling everyone you were married meant that you were married, and neither church nor state would bother you much about it. (This was only possible when there was a much stronger consensus about what a marriage was, of course.)

jfruh (#713)

Ack, left out a date. The Catholics didn't come to the conclusion that only a marriage solemnized in a church counted as a marriage for the church until the 11th century or so.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

@Jfruh: In the Church today, at least in the United States, temples are so prevalent that most members wouldn't wish to simply have a legal ceremony in order to move forward to the temple at a later date. To my knowledge, this was a practice more out of necessity and convenience than personal desire. That being said, I'm sure it does happen. In fact there was a rather hilarious series of incidences at BYU a few years ago where students would go to Vegas, get married, consummate the marriage, and then get it annulled.

I do also know of members who, as a compromise if they are converts whose families didn't join with them, will include a ring ceremony along with the temple sealing.

Bridget Callahan (#5,234)


cuiveen (#370)

Great piece but I'm really fucking tired of the "we're being persecuted" shit. Mainstream fundamentalist Christian pull it too and they're talking about martyrdom from centuries ago. I will not recognize your paranoid delusions, whether based on century- or millennium-old incidents.

Also, if you are expected to exactly toe the line on every issue as your organization directs, you are in a cult, not a religion.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Isn't that exact point of the article though? A member of the Church doesn't agree with the Prop 8 push and struggles to understand it. She comes up with the logic but can't endorse it. She is still a member of the Church.

That's the article, as concisely as possible. If she was forced out of the Church because she dissented, well, that would be a different story. However, the fact is that there are people in the Church who don't agree with various parts and pieces of the doctrine and they aren't kicked out or ostracized whatsoever.

cuiveen (#370)

So about the part where some Mormons left CA rather than work/fund/vote for Prop 8?

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Some is exactly the right amount. Some. Not all. Not even a good portion. If "some" felt compelled to do that, then that's their personal choice. But the majority of members who disagreed vehemently with the measure, myself included, didn't take it upon ourselves to heed a call no one issued. The Church didn't tell us to pack up and leave if we didn't like it. The Church told us to make our own decision in regards to the issues at hand; they asked us to consider certain points and asked us to vote a certain way, but there was no caveat that if we chose not to, we'd be high and dry without a Church anymore. If it helped some people personally deal with the whole issue if they simply left California, then that's what they had to do. But nobody ever asked them to or told them to.

I hope that clarifies things.

cuiveen (#370)

In the Baptist cult I grew up in we were taught to not try to argue with members of other cults so Imma just have to let this go. Suffice it to say I haven't persecuted any Mormons lately but as a big fag with a legal marriage in CA, I feel pretty fucking persecuted myself.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

And, as a member in good-standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I'm telling you that I appreciate, respect, and defend your right to a legal marriage in any state of the union.

spanish bombs (#562)

By defend you mean… actively opposing the Church's (which you support financially) campaign against this? Like, um, voting no on Prop 8 doesn't make up for your implicit approval by being a member.

If you're part of a big group that does a bad thing, standards for you not being an asshole are much higher if you choose to remain a part of that group.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

You're right, bombs. Why won't the Muslims apologize for 9-11?

Abe Sauer (#148)

I too learned things. This "Ask Them" column has totally turned itself around.

My two cents is that while Prop 8 appears to be the church flexing its muscle it is in reality evidence of weakness and a desperate lashing out. (This is true of ALL anti-gay measures across America). The aging, serious homobphobic church leadership (all denominations) recognizes the liberalization of the next generation and they are attempting a last gasp lockdown (which is doomed). Homophobia is not about to go away anytime soon. But with the death of one generation, America will make massive leaps in acceptance. This does not mean everyone should just kick back and wait, the civil rights movement of the next generation is already pathetically backed by so-called progressives. But again, these moves by the church to align itself with government authority is a sign of weakness and desperation, not authority and power.

Will Charles (#5,671)

I would like to thank you for your thoughtful article, it is very difficult for someone unacquainted with LDS doctrine and culture to fully understand the Mormon position, partially because it differs so much from person to person. I was raised in a devout LDS family and it wasn't until I was nineteen that I decided to break from the Church. As most former members will tell you, it is a very traumatic experience for anyone, as it isn't merely a rejection of faith, but a divorce from the only community you know. Mormonism isn't just something one does on Sunday, it is the defining characteristic of your being. It is the totality of ones existence. Which is why the LDS church's stance on gay marriage is all the more violent. For a gay Mormon, the implication of not being sealed in the temple is more than a denial of a civil union or legal recognition. It is a PERMANENT divorce from your community and loved ones. This is only understandable in context of the Mormon conception of family. Much is made of Mormons devotion to family. It isn't simply a leftover of conservatism, although it is that, but the point upon which the entire gospel is hinged. The promise of Mormonism is the eternal family. The horror James feels for not being able to have an eternal family is the fear of eternal isolation and damnation. If one cannot hold the priesthood or be sealed in the temple then they go to a lower heavenly kingdom. While this kingdom is hardly hell (the lowest celestial kingdom is often described of as being worlds better than our mortal condition) it carries with it a far greater penalty, the separation from one's family. You would literally be isolated, stuck in a sort of spirit limbo. For a wayward straight Mormon, leaving the church is a painful experience, but in the back of his or her mind is the possibility they could always go back, be a good priesthood holder, and get married. For the gay Mormon, no such possibility exists. This belief and the LDS church's stance won't change until their notion of gender and sexuality changes. Gender, far from being an arbitrary, cultural thing, is a truth which stands for all time. We were men and woman in the preexistence as we will be in the afterlife. A man and a womans role in the church is clearly defined as its power structure. One cannot separate the church's stance on gay marriage from the church's stance on equal rights for women. Let's not forget the church's opposition to the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment. I have rambled on for a while now, I am glad to see there are members of the LDS church who are in disagreement with the church's actions on Proposition 8 and who are willing to express it openly.

untitled HD (#4,555)

Poor dear….

Stockholm Syndrome, classic case.

Is there a religion out there that teaches anyone to think for themselves,
to be skeptical, to be independent?

Or is that the opposite of religion?

Will Charles (#5,671)

Utah ranks first in the nation in its rate of depression and seventh in the nation for suicide. To be sure Mormonism values obedience over all. I'm not so sure under individuation is cause though. It is generally not looked so highly upon. More likely it a product of ostracization? A feeling of a rejection? Something a little more than Stockholm Syndrome?

Will Charles (#5,671)

But you are right, not much open skepticism within the church.. There was an incident in the 80's when a group of left-leaning professors were purged from BYU's faculty. "Intellectualism" was even called by one prophet the greatest threat to the faith. That being said, there is a wider range of opinions and beliefs within the church than one would expect. I know quite a few liberal Mormons who count themselves as advocates for gay marriage, environmentalists, and vegans. Just don't ask me how they reconcile it all.

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

I always thought that it made perfect sense that the Latter Day Saints would be the religious denomination most interested in banning gay marriage. If the Saints had to abandon the principle of plural marriage, then, gosh darn it, no "weird" marriage for anyone.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Much as I enjoyed this thoughtful article, I am left wondering about James. He has now committed "the unpardonable sin," right? He is condemned to outer darkness, forever, for having absolutely rejected the church. I wouldn't ask such a personal question unless you'd shared your thoughts with us, but please: do you believe this to be true? That just because your friend is made the way he is, that he will be in torment forever?

How would it be possible to stay in a church and "enjoy" the "benefits" of Heaven in these circumstances? Wouldn't it be better to reject the very idea of Heaven, if the price to attain it is so heavy for others?

The whole thing makes me feel like Lord Asriel in His Dark Materials.

xarissa (#3,317)

I am not really qualified to talk about unpardonable sins, either as God or the church would define them. The particular one you're referring to is, I think, the rejection of the Holy Spirit. But personally, I don't think that anything my friend has done would qualify. And certainly nothing about the way he IS.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Thank you so much for your reply. It's wonderful how gracious and articulate you've been with everyone. These are difficult things to discuss, and I appreciate all your grace and candor a lot.

With respect to the matter at hand. All's I can say is: if I were you, I would want to know exactly what the rules are, here. Or what am I saying, this very thing happened to me; it's exactly why I left the (Catholic) church.

Ryan Tate (#5,672)

Great post. I realize you wrote with some sympathy to the anti-Mormon Church backlash, but the sheer magnitude of the anti-Mormon Church anger always seemed unfortunate to me, mainly because it let off the hook the seven MILLION California voters who passed Prop 8. And also because of the underlying premise of "Gosh, if you spend that much on *teeve ads* then there's no way we Californians could *not* vote your way."

It's all too easy for people in more liberal parts of the state, like where I live, to forget how conservative the rest of it can be, and has always been. This in turn magnified the blame heaped on the Mormon Church. Not that I have much sympathy for the church as an institution in this case, but a more honest reckoning with what happened might help California's left come up with some strategic and even systematic changes to keep other regressive measures from passing.

Wrapitup (#975)

Absolutely true, Ryan. Heck, I remember a gay buddy of mine being terrified to be out in fucking Gilroy (Garlic Capital of The World!) for fear that he would be attacked and beaten.

Having said that, I do know that the gay community in California has predominantly white leaders who have done precious little to integrate Asian, black and Latino gays into the fold. And their sneering, clueless condescension extends to minority straights as well. I think leaders in the gay community could have gotten away with isolating themselves from racial minorities even in New York. But in California, that's suicidal.

Wrap, the gay community has reached out to minority gays and has been rebuked on numerous occasions. Gay minorities historically have not wanted to be included in the fight lest they were disowned by there own families/ethnic communities. And no, no one sees how your vote, but they most certainly did not want to stand up and cheer.

Want is not the best word "were not in the best place" maybe.

Wrapitup (#975)

Thanks for your response. Hmm yeah, I think you make a very good point. After reading your comment, I'm thinking this has has 'vicious cycle' written all over it. I believe though that Caucasians in the out gay community should not back down in the face of rebukes from minorities. The truth of political marketing is that those who show up and show up and show up get the vote regardless of how their target audience initially felt about them. And given the future of America's demographics, I still think it's very self-destructive over the long term for Caucasian gays to succumb to feelings of hurt and rejection from minorities.

Leland (#5,673)

Informative post, however…

"…when the gay rights community-legitimately!-lashed out against the Mormons and other religious groups that supported Prop 8."

"legitimately"???? So you think vandalizing church property was a 'legitimate' way to protest the church's position on Prop 8?

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

I think, Leland, she was simply saying that the genuine frustration over the entire situation was legitimate.

And, in the same vein, was it legitimately necessary for Church members to react violently to the protesters?

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

You must be a farmer, Leland, because you're an expert at cherry picking.

Leland (#5,673)

On the one hand, if someone was vandalizing my property, I would stop them. On the other hand…

Be honest, how often did a Mormon even try to stop any protesters from vandalizing their church at all – much less by the use of any kind of force?

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

You're missing the point of the overall article Leland just to claim that saints were somehow victimized in this whole thing. We weren't victims of anything. The temple is standing, it is clean, and the event is over. The temple isn't even our property. It's the Church's. Let the General Authorities figure out how to deal with the Church's property.

Leland (#5,673)

You (and some others apparently) are missing the point of my post. I got the article, in fact I saved it for future reference. I just took issue with the suggestion that besieging people's churches after the election (not to mention a few churches and even people's homes during the election) is a 'legitimate' way for folks to express their opposition.

And what do you mean "Let the General Authorities figure out how to deal with the Church's property."? It's not just about property. Do you really think that sort of intimidation has no effect on people's ability or willingness to participate in their own democracy? What happened to the idea of civil discourse?

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

And I submit, again, the fact that what you took from her statement: "…when the gay rights community-legitimately!-lashed out against the Mormons and other religious groups that supported Prop 8" is missing the point of her statement.

She isn't condoning the acts, she is merely expressing the fact that in her opinion the outrage and backlash from the whole ordeal were warranted and understandable. She's not demonizing their actions.

And, ultimately, she never brought up vandalism of chapels and temples. You did. She might have been talking about any of the many forms of response that members of the GBLT community took during Prop 8; most of which were peaceful and in the interest of civil discussion.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Surely I meant to type civil discourse, and not civil discussion (like an idiot).

iplaudius (#1,066)

Xarissa, you seem like a really sweet person, but at the end of the day you’re following a religion that was founded in the 19th-century by a known fraud who said he received a pair of "seer stone" glasses and some golden plates from an angel named Moroni-on which plates was engraved, among other things, the history of a lost Jewish tribe that traveled to the Americas around 600 BCE.

jfruh (#713)

Everyone who declares himself to be a prophet is either a fraud, a lunatic, or the real deal. There isn't a single religion whose founding story stands up to rationalist scrutiny, and I'm never sure why more recent religions get this line harder than older ones. I mean, I do know, it's because the record-keeping is better, but that doesn't make it a reasonable position.

xarissa (#3,317)

oh wow! i never knew that! tell me more of these golden plates, please, they sound so shiny!

@plaud: Man, I would not mind them co-opting Zion or referring to me as a "gentile," just as long as they quit ringing my doorbell so early in the morning on a weekend. This mean ol' Jewess needs her sleep!

iplaudius (#1,066)

Oh, Xarissa, empty comment-board sarcasm is hardly a defense of your outlandish dogma. On the other hand, good on you for attempting an essay: to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, a Mormon writing an appeal to reason is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

*zing zing zing!*

erikonymous (#3,231)

you got told, iplaudius, and for mansplaining no less. just walk away.
I personally am not religious, but I have been swayed occasionally by some very convincing and rational arguments for faith. Johnson, charming though he is, is not always right.

La_Tri (#5,680)

…you had that "empty" response coming at you…why are re-hearsing Mormon history to a Mormon who is writing an article about (partly) Mormon history? And really, wasn't your original comment just a little too condescending? (and by that I mean very).

iplaudius (#1,066)

"Got told"? "Mansplaining"? More tired commenting tropes.

I didn’t rehearse history. I asked a question. If a Morman wants to pass herself off as a reasonable person on a matter that involves the intersection of her religion and world outside it, she had better be able to explain how a reasonable person could subscribe to such bullshit. I would ask the same thing of a Scientologist. If you want to play with intellectuals, you need to leave the fairy tales behind.

erikonymous (#3,231)

well, now that you bring it up, insisting that everyone meets your criteria for being a "reasonable person" is a pretty tired commenting trope, too. just stop, dude.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I think you should stop acting as a moderator, which you are not. If you have nothing substantial to say, then you, dude, should just stop.

Bittersweet (#765)

iplaudius, I generally really like your commentary, but the idea that no religious person can be "reasonable" by definition isn't exactly substantial. There are a lot of people in the world for whom Enlightenment principles just aren't enough, and ridiculing them when they try to share how they reconcile their worlds is…kinda mean.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I apologize for offending everyone, including and especially Xarissa. I wish you the best, and I hope you continue sharing your thoughts on these difficult issues.

n2dgroove (#5,668)

Very well-written piece. I grew up in the 70's being taught that the Mormon church was a cult. After moving to California and meeting so many wonderful people who were of the Mormon faith, I gave up that belief until Prop 8 passed. Now, when I meet someone of the Mormon faith, I instantly dislike and distrust them. It's something I'm working on overcoming and I know it's a knee-jerk reaction…but having to sit in front of a news report to see if my marriage had been annulled as a result of that initiative has taken a toll. The Mormon church made millions of enemies that day who wouldn't shed a tear if the entire organization collapsed. In fact, some of us pray that it would. I'm not proud of those sentiments, but I also didn't start the war. Reading thought-provoking pieces like this one helps me through the healing process, though forgiveness is a long way off.

xarissa (#3,317)

i appreciate this–thank you.

erikonymous (#3,231)

I think it bears mentioning here that every "religion" that we consider as such began as a "cult." Much in the same way that we think of a "language" as opposed to a "dialect." "Cult" doesn't necessarily denote creepy lawlessness, but it tends to be the word thrown most often at spiritual views we find distasteful.

worst_1_yet (#681)

I dug it. Never hurts to learn something. If a guy was looking for a ballsy, 1880s start up, he could've done a lot worse than Joseph Smith did.

NewDetroits (#5,674)

Thanks to Xarissa for a very insightful and sincere post.

Another complication for members of the LDS church is their belief that the prophet speaks on behalf of God, and is very literally operating as God's mouthpiece.

So, for members of the church, it literally comes down to the question of, "Am I going to support God's stance on Prop 8?".

Now, before we get into bashing the "blind sheep" who would be dumb enough to passively follow a prophet's every word, it is important to understand another central LDS doctrine, that of personal revelation.

Members of the LDS faith are encouraged to come to a personal understanding and belief, what is referred to as a "personal testimony" by asking God, through private and personal prayer, whether the LDS church is, in fact, true. Most members of the church have done so, and have received personal communication from God that they have found the true church. Having that personal testimony of the church's truthfulness then means that they also accept the word of the prophet as the word of God.

I am one of the many members of the LDS church who has a personal testimony of its truthfulness. I have come to it personally, without coercion or influence, and it is as indisputable to me as other indisputable traits and feelings, including my sexuality (I am not gay, though have dealt with a similar situation of a close Mormon friend who came out a few years ago).

So the hard question is, what does a gay person, who is as undeniably attracted to someone of the same sex as they are undeniably sure that the LDS is the true church, do to reconcile that spiritual dissonance?

I don't have the answer, and neither does the church at the moment. I, like many other members, have to rely on my knowledge that an infinitely loving God, who desires for each of His children to have joy, will at some point make things right.

Until then, it's my hope that those on both sides of the debate will be respectful to the beliefs and traits that are undeniably a part of all of us, namely those of our spirituality and sexuality.

I have difficulty anytime I am asked to believe that a human is the mouthpiece of God considering the multitude of times throughout history corruption has followed that kind of power. It is much, much easier for me to follow what my own mind says when I meditate on it (which I'm guessing is similar to the personal testimony you describe). If I am myself corrupted and I can't admit it? Well, that's delusion and I'm surely f–ked.

itamarst (#5,667)

"those of us caught in between felt we had no choice but to align ourselves with the homophobic coalition or to betray our religious community."

So in the end, you felt supporting your community was more important than following your sense of right and wrong? Was there a practical consequence to this choice, and what actions did it imply?

xarissa (#3,317)

since i don't live in CA, i honestly didn't have much of an actionable choice–at least not on the civil ground where the church had set up shop. i didn't get to vote.

the key word in that sentence is "felt." for non-california mormons, this caused a lot of angst, but there wasn't a lot we could do to show support one way or the other aside from duking it out in conversation, on the blogs, at church, etc.

gregorg (#30)

And all this time I thought I was Choire's Token Reasonable Mormon Friend.

I've been frankly baffled by the Church's broad defense of generic straight marriage that encompasses both temple sealing and drive-thru Elvis weddings.

As has been pointed out several times already, there is basically no way, not even a plausible legal argument, by which a church could be compelled to perform a gay marriage it deemed to be against its doctrine.

Why not turn this exceptionalism from a bug to a feature, then, by emphasizing the purported benefits and uniqueness of its own offering, Temple Marriageâ„¢ or Eternal Marriageâ„¢ or something.

The other thing that strikes me is the how the Church's mobilizations seem strategic or opportunistic, tactic- not principle-driven. I.e., this all went down in California, where there were significant numbers of members to influence things.

Meanwhile, in countries with gay marriage or civil partnerships, where its political sway is limited-to-nil, it manages to keep its doctrinal principles intact just fine.

xarissa (#3,317)

gregorg wins the thread! sign me up for CelestialWeddingâ„¢, now with extra holiness.

I've been struggling with heterosexual desires.

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

I've been struggling with homogenized milk.

I've been struggling with pasteurized cheese.

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

I've been struggling with a pastoral scene.

I've been struggling with a plastic-fantastic scene.

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

I still think there should be a Mormon exception to freedom of religion, but I say that only as a rabid Zoroastrian.

Also, and this might just be because it's hot as hell in my apartment and I'm a little pissed off, but did anyone else feel this was a touch sanctimonious? Like, I'm sorry for your crisis of faith, kiddo, but this queer is sitting here feeling a touch second class.

You are strictly first class, babe. And wasn't Freddie Mercury a Zoroastrian?

Case closed.

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

To borrow a little Belle & Sebastian, you rule the school.

And I think ol' Freddie practiced that religion that made everyone sexy time in 'Ghostbusters'. Either that or Roman Catholicism.

untitled HD (#4,555)

Sukie in the Graveyard..

La_Tri (#5,680)

You call her "kiddo" and she is sanctimonious one? Right….

Private Hangnail (#2,576)

If you can't tell the difference between sanctimonious and condescending then you can't play here, asshole.

La_Tri (#5,680)

C'mon!! I wasn't too far off…they both have that self-righteous tinge to it. (you're right of course, but not need to get aggresive here).

Carina (#4,319)

Mormons wouldn't have that attitude. There are more Mormons outside of the U.S. than inside, and separate civil and religious marriages are standard in much of the rest of the world.

The Mormons I grew up with in Switzerland and Austria would have both a civil ceremony, as required by law, and then a temple religious ceremony. No skin off anyone's nose.

As another Progressive Mormon, I do think that untangling civil and religious marriage has potential to make everyone happier.

During Prop 8 I had to explain to people over and over how gay marriage would NOT mean that religious entities would be forced into marrying gay couples. That was fun.

Carina (#4,319)

That was directed @jfruh

Because computers are hard and I can't understand how replies work.

Bittersweet (#765)

There are Mormons in Switzerland and Austria? That sort of makes my head explode, but in a good way.

Carina (#4,319)

There are Mormons everywhere, we're in your town, we're in your building, we're knocking on your door CHICKEN HEART!

paco (#2,190)

Xarissa: It's telling that the story you refer us to about important "overtures" — a story meant to portray the LDS church in a better light — is one from the Deseret News, which is wholly owned by the LDS Church. The result: your piece ends up sounding a bit like an echo chamberand yes, an, apologetic.

It's entirely appropriate and fair that the State of California is punishing the Mormon Church for their illegal campaigning activities. It's also entirely appropriate and fair for gays and their allies to be angry for the Mormon Church for their campaign to deny gay couples their fundamental rights. The unspoken point of your essay appears to be that this punishment and anger are, somehow, unproductive.

I hope this doesn't read as an apologetic. I found my church's involvement in California to be wretched and underhanded. My crises of faith are multiple, and this is a pretty big one. But here's the thing: to be Christian is to claim as truth the idea that one person can atone for another's sin, and that hell is to reject forgiveness when it is offered. Overtures have been made. For example, the church has worked with gay rights activists in Salt Lake City to lobby against discrimination on the part of landlords and employers. It's a small thing, depressingly small, but it exists.

(First, who is offering forgiveness in your definition of what it is to be "Christian"? LDS?)

Your personal narrative of a crisis of faith, no matter how eloquent, has zero relevance to either CA's decision to punish LDS or the rage that exists within the gay community. What would you have those upset with Prop 8 do? give the Mormon Church a hug and say "Aw, shucks, no hard feelings?" Sorry, but the Mormon Church decided to insert itself into the public debate in a big way with Prop 8. It will have to stay there.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

IMHO, this is Xarissa finally speaking up for those in the LDS Church who didn't understand what the Church was doing. The people who don't understand why the separation needed to be made. The people who didn't and wouldn't have (if they'd lived in California) voted with the church on the proposition.

Remember that there are 13 million members in the LDS church and not every single one of them agrees with the central leadership at any given time. In this case, a good number of people weren't in line with church policy. This isn't a cry for sympathy; it's a cry for understanding. Don't demonize everybody in the church, because some of them were right there with you fighting against the proposition.

paco (#2,190)

Perhaps, but then there is of course, this:

"And those of us caught in between felt we had no choice but to align ourselves with the homophobic coalition or to betray our religious community."

That's a pretty clear choice. And there was a choice. Xarissa doesn't come out and headline what her choice was, but she admits it. For me, that is unforgivable, and I'm not willing to read through her eloquent on the one hand, on the other to try to forgive it. You make your choices and you live with the results. Don't ask us to forgive you for making unforgivable choices.

Wow. Deep breath.

Xarissa, with all due respect, I have a few HUGE bones of contention with your words.

Firstly, this: "Unfortunately, few things settle one's opinions like being persecuted for them. In November 2008, an ugly protest outside the Los Angeles temple only inflamed the sensibility." This seems to me to be little more than veiled scolding for protesting the LDS church–that we gays brought this horrible situation on ourselves. To expect gays to not react, vehemently, viscerally, and with vitriol is spectacularly naive and unfair. Because you're a church you're meant to be exempt from vocal protest? From attack ads? We gays are supposed to show you some kind of fundamental respect you can't be arsed to show us? As one commenter said in the LA Times piece you linked to, "This is not about religion, it is about a church that put itself in the middle of politics." It seems that the LDS church can dish it out–a spectacularly offensive, ugly and bigoted campaign against gays–but can't take it. Cry me a river.

However, this sentiment is not surprising since a couple sentences later, you said this: "And those of us caught in between felt we had no choice but to align ourselves with the homophobic coalition or to betray our religious community."

Xarissa, I'm sorry, but absolutely not. You have myriad choices. My central problem with the thrust of your essay is that you seem to be saying out of one side of your mouth that many Mormons can and do think for themselves, while asserting the above–that you have an imperative to follow an LDS doctrine even though it at times challenges your own convictions–out the other side of your mouth. These two things are mutually exclusive. You either think for yourself and follow your own deeply held convictions as directives, or you choose to fall in line with the church doctrine that runs counter to your beliefs. Pick one. This "boo hoo, I was caught between a rock and a hard place! Dilemma!" defense is intellectually bankrupt and, I feel personally, insulting to our intelligence. And do you not see the fundamental disconnect between worrying about "betraying your religious community" when–by your own admission–your religious community has betrayed you, not to mention the gay people you love?

But here's the one I really can't stomach: "…here's the thing: to be Christian is to claim as truth the idea that one person can atone for another's sin, and that hell is to reject forgiveness when it is offered. Overtures have been made. For example, the church has worked with gay rights activists in Salt Lake City to lobby against discrimination on the part of landlords and employers. It's a small thing, depressingly small, but it exists."

Firstly, what Christianity, or your interpretation thereof, interprets as heaven-worthy and hell-worthy is not germane to the discussion. More importantly, how dare you use that as a means to instruct us gays on the gracious way to accept an "apology"? The LDS changed history, in the most unfortunate of ways, by successfully engineering the first known case (to my knowledge) of a right being given to a minority group and then TAKEN AWAY by public referendum. A bit of work against employment and real estate discrimination erases that? It means that we should show some sort of gratitude? That you are worthy of some kind of commendation? That is supposed to show us a turning of the tide in the LDS church? Are you serious? Thanks ever so much for letting me use the same drinking fountain as you! But can I have the rest of my rights now, please? This assertion is so spectacularly offensive that I feel I need to end here because my ire is precluding me from thinking of verbiage that does not resort to the Anglo-Saxon.

I mean no disrespect, and as I'm obviously very angry, I apologize if this comment sounds overly vitriolic. I appreciate you being forthcoming, and your willingness and ability to approach your faith from a place of introspection and intellectual consideration. But my experience of you via this essay is that you need to do two things: figure out, independently of your religion, what you think about things, and then act accordingly. To quote Jesus: "You're either for me or against me." If you truly believe that I am equal and deserving of my rights, you will act accordingly, whether your church sanctions it or not.

xarissa (#3,317)

You have EVERY right to be angry. Honestly, I still am, and did my best to edit it out of this piece. This isn't exactly a relevant point, but had I lived in California, I would have voted against the church's wishes, absolutely, and argued for same with my friends.

The church's actions don't really count as an apology. That would be the church coming out and saying, "We're sorry." If this exists, please point me to it. What's exciting to me is the idea that it may a tiny step toward some real work. Maybe it isn't, maybe it's just some good PR in Salt Lake. But apparently I'm hopelessly naive.

Most importantly, I don't think it's a contradiction to say that there are Mormons who think for themselves, particularly against the church, and yet also feel that the choice to follow a directive that goes against those opinions isn't intellectually dishonest. It's a re-prioritization: one that I disagree with, but understand.

La_Tri (#5,680)

Perhaps try taking two more very deep breaths and then re-read the article. I think you're taking bits and pieces of her article to support your "I'm so offended/yow dare you" stance.
And that particular quote you are referring to ("Unfortunately, few things settle one's opinions like being persecuted for them") works both ways…we're currently talking of the "Mormon-persecution" complex, but it is perfectly logical then to conclude that when homosexuals finally have equal rights we'll be discussing the "homosexual-persecution" complex. From your response, I can see that already happening.

untitled HD (#4,555)

OK, so why does does every Mormon gloss over Polygamy?

Yes, you addressed it here somewhat, ("we stopped it in 1864").. or something; …. BUT:

Say POLYGAMY to me, and I think ownership. My neighbor has 8 wives, so
I'd better get nine. Perhaps, the Higher Ups in the church had twelve.

Twelve things. Not actual persons, or women with careers. Twelve things to show off, or to clean up and cook or have babies.

What's that about? Please tell. What were they thinking?

And why would you want to stay with a religion which had that history
(except that most all religions treated women as servants or currency…).

So, if you are reading the comments, tell us, if you know, "what were they thinking," back before 1864? A whole lot of babies? Women as things?

It does not seem they gave it up voluntarily; only in order to join the United States.

Am I way off here?

Carina (#4,319)

Here's why we gloss over it: We're TIRED of talking about it. We stopped practicing polygamy more than a 100 years ago. Let. it. go.

Now, to answer your question more thoroughly and nicely:
The way polygamy was practiced the and the way it is now are almost incomparable, other than stipulating that a man has multiple wives. We all view polygamy through post-Freudian eyes, which makes it hard to see what it really was. On the face of it, polygamy was a fast way to populate the territory. Contrasted with the controlling way modern polygamists seem to practice, early Mormon polygamy was the exact opposite; it was a way for women to share the burden of child care, housekeeping, and gain the stability of a marriage yet function somewhat independently.

More than one Mormon woman went back East to study art, literature, law, while a sister wife cared for their children. It was actually a revolutionary and empowering way to afford women modern-type access to personal education and careers. It's no coincidence that the Deseret/Utah territory had female suffrage (suffrage they were required to give up on condition of gaining statehood.) Of course there were issues and difficulties, divorces and estrangements, but we have that now. Not all Mormons practiced polygamy, even then it was a fraction of the total church membership.

After the LDS stopped practicing polygamy it seems like the good parts of the system were subverted until it did become about power and ownership, about desire and not common good.

One last thing, we sometimes gloss over it because WE have ISSUES with it. I talked about the good parts, but there were bad parts, because it was a system with people running around in it, making it inherently corruptible. Then again, I'm here because some dudes and chicks way back were polygamist, I can't entirely hate.

untitled HD (#4,555)


Maybe we gays will gloss over your religion's intense battle against same-sex
marriage, a legal and not religious issue, when many of us have been together far longer than any hetero couple
(me and my irritating partner have been together for 10 years.. but we stay together for the pets)).

But, hey, we'll gloss over it, and not demand an uprising in our church and put the Elders on the stand to testify. Because they're old!
Like Pinochet! Or, they were following orders. Or some lame excuse.

The "quick population" thing, I get. It's sub-human, bit I get it.

(note: i walked away from the Catholic church for good, in high school after reading about the Inquisitions. That and Galileo, that was it. No more.
Buh bye,)

Carina (#4,319)

Dude, no, no glossing over same-sex marriage. That's why this here discussion is going. I don't want to gloss over it. My comment was not a shot across your bow. I thought Xarissa did a good job of portraying the internal angst inside the membership over the church's position and material support of Prop 8. It tore families apart, friends apart, neighborhoods apart. Monolithic? Nope. I was ineligible to vote yes/no on Prop 8, but you don't think seeing my faith and my beloved gay friends pitted against each other wasn't heartbreaking? What am I supposed to say to my friends? The hurt runs deep, and I don't know how to fix it. And the Mormon families with gay children and siblings? Are you kidding? This is messy, and we'll be reaping the justifiable hurt for a long time. There's no hiding.

To the other point: Mormons don't like to talk about polygamy because it was a long time ago and it still causes people to get the vapors. It's one of the things we're *constantly* asked about. It gets to be a little tiring, like birthing all those babies and asking my husband for permission to leave the cooking fire.

gregorg (#30)

Not all LDS are tired or wary of discussing polygamy, especially in this context. It underscores the religious and doctrinal origins of the Church's position, which should, in turn, make it easier for those arguments to be removed from the public/civic/political debate.

Way back before gay marriage was ever a political possibility [i.e., just a few years ago], polygamy was the political evangelicals' original Worst Case Scenario, the bottom of the slippery slope. [After Vermont, Rick Santorum et al threw incest and "man-on-dog" into the talking points for good measure.]

Even after the 1893 Manifesto, the Church secretly [quietly?] kept practicing and performing polygamist sealings for quite a while. Though that eventually stopped and banned, the vestiges of the plural marriage doctrine continue–in Heaven: widowers who remarry can be sealed to another woman, but widows get just the one man.

Their history with polygamy [right up to its de should make Mormons the most empathetic to gay folks' marrying cause; obviously that's not gonna happen on an institutional level.

Whatever its particulars or era, Mormon-style polygamy is barely a pimple on the butt of polygamy globally. There are hundreds of millions of Muslim and African polygamists–including several million immigrants in the US who live in the polygamist closet. Just as French heteros are the biggest users of PACS, polygamists may be the biggest numerical beneficiary of governmental approach to marriage that lets individuals decide the configuration of their own family.

And speaking of Africans, Mormons should also consider that until 1978, black men were not permitted to hold the priesthood, and so could not be sealed in the temple. So within my lifetime, the Church was officially opposed to Black Marriage, too. Or at least black-on-black.

spanish bombs (#562)

Angst doesn't count. You actually have to do something to take the position you are taking.

HelloTitty (#830)

@Carina. Does your "It happened more than 100 years ago! Let it go!" stance also apply to the persecutions Xarissa mentioned which also happened more than 100 years ago?

I am sure that it is very tiresome to be constantly labeled a polygamist just because you are Mormon (or even just because you are from Utah), but it is equally tiresome to hear about Mormons' persecution complex. Since Mormon political action on this issue is clear persecution of gay men and women, I guess Mormon persecution sensitivity only occurs when they are the victims.

Former Mormon

Davis (#4,805)

I guess I don't see/hear/feel much regarding the persecution we suffered, so yes, I think the 100 years ago rule applies to that.

paco (#2,190)

LDS and Race. Enjoy.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@Carina the "good" parts of polygamy are almost certainly church propaganda, which has been handed down to younguns for generations to selectively present a "simpler time" in church, and human relation, history. the truth is it was a staunchly patriarchal system where women had no rights, and in practice probably differed little from the 20th century varieties we've all read about, Koresh's compound in particular. for instance, read up on Ann Eliza Young: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Eliza_Young

Carina (#4,319)

I knew it was just a matter of time before someone brought up poor Ann Eliza. Well, speaking as the grandkid of her sister-wife, there are always haters.

And having read my great-great grandmothers journals, it's remarkable how modern church propaganda translated into her daily thoughts during the 19th century OR she may have actually appreciated some of the liberties. GASP!

erikonymous (#3,231)

Well of course the propaganda came from somewhere. It'd be weird if the "good" things people use to defend the Mormon's polygamous past weren't in line with whatever they were telling themselves back when. All dogma is propagandistic. They've been telling themselves the same things for generations, since the practice began. They'd have known from the start that they had to put a user-friendly face on the practice. And I'm not even against polygamy, per se. I just object to the Mormon's defense that it was a benefit to women when it was (and in many ways still is) obviously such a patriarchal society.

erikonymous (#3,231)

and I hope this isn't too far off topic, but just because the women of a society think well of a practice, doesn't mean that it's not a patriarchally imposed (and indefensible) system. just look at female castration: almost always performed by the women of a community.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

@erikonymous: I actually read an awesome article written by Kenneth Rexroth that basically outlined everything that Carina brought up. Communalism, he says, eased the burden of having to move westward and brought higher standards of life. Polygamy was an aide to survival back in the days when basic necessities (i.e.: food, water, shelter, protection) were not so easily obtained.

That being said, the rules changed. The Church changed. It's changed several times. That's why, really, I can stand by the Church even in these hard times. Because I know that it's a Church that's willing to make hard changes. We can only hope in the future that it'll change its stance in regards to civil unions. Until then, my contribution will be talking with fellow members who aren't so keen on gays or their right to marriage about the issue, voting however I choose if I get the chance to, and keeping abreast of the issues. In a sense: being as proactive as possible while still enjoying my faith and its place in my life.

erikonymous (#3,231)

I'd be very interested to read the Rexroth article if you can scare it up.
I was raised by Mormons, so I've heard their arguments my whole life, but I've never been able to understand why the need for communalism (which they undoubtedly needed given their trek and arrival in the Salt Lake Valley) translates to a need for polygamy, specifically polygyny.
Like I said, I'm not necessarily anti-polygamy, but I have problems when a gender-rights disparity has been whitewashed in the context thereof.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

I could not find the essay on ye olde internets. I read it here at BYU in the archives.

I think that the reason communalism translated so naturally into polygamy was due to biblical precedent. At least, when I talk to some of the members who, uh, let's say aren't the deepest of thinkers, the only thing that they bring up is biblical precedence. So, I think that's the accepted, and most probably reason for the LDS Church choosing to embrace and practice polygamy. They felt they were told to!

I'm not going to say that it was all good for women; I mean, if women are still being persecuted and oppressed today, then it's safe to say it was far worse a few centuries ago. Just because it was a practice that helped solidify the population here in Utah doesn't mean that it was fair to all women. But it is undeniable that it was helpful in their survival. So, there's both sides to the coin. Like every single issue ever in life, it's full of contradictions. And you have to look at the issue with both its good and its bad and just try and understand how it fits into your life and your faith.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

But! In regards to the article, if I can find it and get it digitized, I will definitely send you a link! Somehow… some damn way…

@Carina: "Sister-wife"? I think I am going to puke.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@bookishlookish well, that's what they're called! you should watch Big Love. it's pretty good, and suprisingly even-handed.

@A.R. Chrisman granted, it's full of contradictions. and the biblical precedence is certainly a part of their explanation for the practice, but probably doesn't come anywhere near explaining why the church patriarchy saw fit to engage in the practice, or desired to. I'll cede that communalism was necessary for their survival (which presents another strange incoherence in the majority of modern Mormon thought: communalism in the church is good; anything to do with socialism is bad. Figure that one out!), but I still fail to see the NEED for polygamy. I reject the idea that it was the polygamy itself that helped them survive.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

I don't think that polygamy itself helped them survive. They were extremely industrious and successful tradesmen. They knew how to survive. I think that any other method probably would have allowed them to survive and grow as a community. But I will say that, as a form of communalism, polygamy was successful in populating and sustaining Utah settlements.

Again, I don't think it was necessary. But in the warped, Torvald-ian 19th century, I think that it was understandable, at least to the few, if not influential, members who practiced it. Understandable to them. Not us. I'm merely looking back and trying to understand why it happened, and again, what it means to me as a member of the church.

Fredrick (#268)

I dunno. I feel like ultimately I don't get why you 'have to follow' something simply because you were raised to/told to? I feel like, after one's 18th birthday, there's pretty much no excuse for not thinking on your own. That means, if you 'hate gay people', you should totally be allowed to do that. But blaming what you support, or the kinds of people you align yourself, or the kinds of people you're 'forced' to stand beside/quietly disagree with, is kind of a lame excuse.

It's fucking 2010. Saying your religion's stance on an issue–whatever the reason that stance exists–has had an effect on how people act even when they should no better is the most obvious thing, I don't understand how one can make an excuse for it. OF COURSE the pressure to believe/support an issue one way or another exists; isn't that kinda the point. To have people follow specific rules and guidelines.

YOU ARE CHOOSING TO BE A PART OF THAT TEAM. You are no longer a child so it is up to you. My folks are Christian but they kinda let me do my own thing, so it might just be 'easy' for me to say this stuff, but I honestly do not understand. What are you even getting out of it? Like, I don't get what purpose any of this stuff serves at this point in history. Like, I think we 'get the point' and can maybe 'put those books away' and do our own thing now. It seems kinda selfish, is all.

Fredrick (#268)

Typos are sexy in 2010, y'all.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

It's hard to overstate the importance of the religious community for people who were raised Mormon. It is not the casual take-it-or-leave-it thing you find in most Christian sects.

Will Charles (#5,671)

Joseph Smith and other leaders within the Mormon church practiced polygamy in secret for first several years after it was instituted. It was justified under biblical grounds, Moses' multiple wives, yada yada yada, but it was kept hidden because it was controversial amongst church members. A faction within the church printed a publication called the Nauvoo Expositor which detailed Joseph Smith's affairs and condemned the practice. Fearing an insurrection, Smith had the printing press destroyed. This act contributed to the circumstances surrounding his arrest and murder. Brigham Young was one of the early practicing polygamists and his branch, which constitutes the mainstream Mormon branch, continued the practice. Even then, no more than 10% of the church's population ever practiced it. The much smaller RLDS church which Joseph Smith Jr. founded did not continue the practice.
Statehood was granted to Utah on condition of giving up polygamy. Like Carina said, the whole polygamy issue has been beaten to death by now. When someone learns you are from Utah the inevitably ask if you have multiple wives, it gets a bit irritating.

Will Charles (#5,671)

I'm with Fredrick, typos are way sexy.

untitled HD (#4,555)

I am SURE it gets irritating. THAT's why you'd thing they would lay low and be neutral about a fairly new 'marriage' because there is still a tiny bit of dried egg on their face.

Control freaks, your leaders are. Just like Catholic leaders and Baptist leaders, etc.

Can't you just stay out of government? Is it that hard?

Will Charles (#5,671)

Where did you get the idea that I'm LDS? I just don't like being asked if I'm a polygamist because I'm from Utah.

erikonymous (#3,231)

Also!: There is good reason to believe that the lynch mob that came for Smith and later expelled the Mormons from MO was led by Masons. After being pushed out of Illinois for their crazy faith, Smith decided it would be a good idea to form stronger ties with community leaders, so he joined the Masons. Then he adapted Masonic rituals for use in the church (many of which are still practiced today). This pissed off the Masons, who generally regard their secrets as important, and furthermore, Smith had shared their secrets with women, which was kind of the last straw. So they killed him. Basically, Smith pissed off everyone who wasn't a follower of his everywhere he went.

Bittersweet (#765)

My mother-in-law is way into genealogy and she has some old books and papers from upstate New York with first-person accounts of the Smith family and their activities that would make your hair curl. (By non-Mormon, hostile neighbors so the bias is obvious.) Can't find them on line, they're still only on paper (sadface).

erikonymous (#3,231)

Yup. Smith also tried to have himself crowned king of the New Jerusalem in a secret ceremony, and planned a run for president of the U.S., wherein he planned to instate a "theocratic democracy," whatever the hell that is. All of this can be found easily with a little googling.

carpetblogger (#306)

This post, and these comments, are Awl excellent.

saythatscool (#101)


KarenUhOh (#19)

There's religion as spiritual identification; and there's religion as societal institution.

The former should be the core of what one thinks, feels and does; the latter, too often, for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with why one believes, tries to inhabit that core.

Fully realizing the social implications of religion are staggeringly powerful–because, quite often, it's the cocoon you live (or are trapped) in–true religion finds its home in the soul. Not in a church.

spanish bombs (#562)

Instead of lamenting that relationships between gays and Mormons may now be irreparable due to Mormons being assholes on the Prop 8 thing (no, blogging about your angst or moving from Cali so as not to disobey your asshole leaders doesn't exempt one) and because Mormons can't get over way less bad shit than many other groups have dealt with, might we just recognize that in this instance the Mormon church and basically all of its members were total dickoffs?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I'm just as cool with recognizing that basically all Mormons are total dickoffs as I am with recognizing that basically all gays are promiscuous drug-addicts and basically all black people are sexist criminals and basically all women are terrible at math. Which is to say, no, I am not cool with that at all.

spanish bombs (#562)

I actually think Mormons are pretty nice people in general. However, when groups you belong to do bad things, I don't think it's okay to simply be angsty about it.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

If you leave every group that does bad things, you will end up living in a cave eating tree bark. It's true that just "being angsty" isn't really a solution, but I think speaking openly about the issue is a great way to increase understanding and eventually change minds.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@doctor agreed. I am genuinely proud to be an American, for instance, but often very upset about and generally powerless to change what this country is.
yes, leaving a church is easier than leaving a country, but … I think my point is valid, especially considering that most religious people put their love of god before their love of country.
and almost every Mormon I know was just as dismayed as Xarissa about the church's Prop 8 campaign.

The ham-fisted and unrealistic shrugging of your "Tree Bark Defense" doesn't cut it, Doc. The fact still remains that Xarissa and countless others on this thread have spoken of an apparently emotionally and spiritually devastating conflict between WHAT THEY KNOW IN THEIR HEARTS TO BE RIGHT and WHAT THE CHURCH EXPECTS OF THEM.

What the rest of us (if I may be so presumptuous as to speak for everyone) cannot understand is how, exactly, you all reconcile that disconnect and, more importantly, WHY? Not one of you has produced a cogent explanation; it's just been eloquently worded iterations of "The church is what it is and I have no choice in the matter."

The unfortunate truth is that we are unlikely to ever understand your milieu because it runs counter to the principles that most of us seem to be guided by–namely that our principles are our principles and they remain our principles. Period. If this is the best you guys can do at bringing forth understanding between gays and Mormons, then I think we've reached an impasse.

spanish bombs (#562)

@doctor: Well, I kind of agree that we wouldn't really have very many major religions left! And it's not that hard to leave religions for other religions; see: the Reformation, the forming of the Mormon church, the forming of the Reformed Mormon church, most people who aren't crazy, people who are crazy, etc.

erikonymous (#3,231)

@John the Craptist, there is something to be said for striving for reform from within. disagreeing with the principles as stated, but working to change them because of the benefits that these people get from the rest of the church's functioning. I don't know if that answers your question, and I certainly can't speak for someone in Xarissa's shoes. but maybe something like that?

La_Tri (#5,680)

@John the Craptist- i just don't think it is weird/rare that they feel conflicted about this and decide to remain in their faith. For Mormons, Catholics, or even you. For example, some members in my family are devout Catholics and yet don't share the Church's stance on birth control. The only reason why they are not torn or conflicted about it is because it does not affect them or simply just ignore it. They feel somewhat removed from that debate. Xarissa and people like her obviously don't. They want their Church to change from within.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

@Craptist: I guess it seems self-evident that if you've been in a tight-knit group your entire life, and your whole family is in that group, not to mention many important friends and mentors and such, you would have a strong inclination to stay a part of that group. Even ignoring matters of faith, it's obvious to me why you wouldn't be quick to leave all those important social connections behind.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Hats off to Xarissa for this excellent article. I grew up around Mormons, so I'm appalled when I see knee-jerk nastiness directed at them. I think this kind of candor and engagement with people who have been wronged by the church (in one of the dumbest moves by a religious institution since Pope Benny forgave priests for denying the Holocaust) is the best way for people to understand that Mormonism is not a monolith. People are people are people, for better or worse.

xarissa (#3,317)

thanks, doc.

In Canada we have same sex marriage rights and have had same sex benefits rights since 1999. This is because it has been deemed unconstitutional to treat any of our citizens as deserving of lesser rights than any others. It is a really simple problem, actually. It is not constitutional to any so-called free nation to deny these rights to all it's citizens. That a church's opinion has any bearing on this process is preposterous.

I don't want to be a sanctimonious cheese eater here, but it is just mind boggling to me that hysteria and hatred are encouraged to flourish and basic rights denied, promoted by groups of people who really have no business being involved in the process.

This is a huge generalisation, but most gays and lesbians don't really want to get gay married and define themselves by hetero standards that are of little interest — they want the same rights and benefits and to have the same choice as everyone else.

I don't want to be like 'all my friends are gay' but it's sort true, so i'll say it. Exactly 1 person out of my acquaintance is married and this was really for immigration reasons. Everyone avails themselves of the rights and that's what it's about. Add to that, none of the straights i know who are married (and there are not many of them!) had a church involved in that process.

This is not a religious matter. The 'sanctity of marriage' is total BS and the churches just need to get over it. As others have mentioned, this is a legal matter, the end.

This was a thoughtful article, but seriously, this issue is not a stumper. Equal rights for everyone, no matter what your opinion of them, is democracy. Anything less than that is not.

City_Dater (#2,500)

@Comments for the void:

Thank you. On behalf of every atheist in America who is sooooo freaking sick of god-botherers of every stripe screwing with the rights of their fellow citizens as if their religious choice was the ONLY choice, thank you.

Rocket88 (#5,682)

This is a thoughtful, balanced essay. I'm curious about one thing: given the Mormon's history of persecution at the hands of the government, why would this shared historical consciousness lead to the Mormons to help the government persecute a minority? You would think that an historically disfavored minority group would be more sympathetic with the homosexuals' struggle for equal treatment under the law. Instead the church reflexively sided with the haters and bigots. Either the Mormon leadership does not share your sense of historical persecution, or they took absolutely the worst lesson from it: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

erikonymous (#3,231)

The interesting thing about Mormons, from what I've witnessed, is that they don't particularly view themselves as a minority. They see themselves as Christians and, in this country, as American as apple pie, which is to say, they see themselves as perfectly normal. Being predominantly conservative, they tend to support the status quo. From cult/quackpot roots, they've established a reasonably respectable place in American society. And, with that American normalcy, comes a staggering lack of historical perspective. Let's be honest: as a people, we are poor students of history.
Not that I'm defending their views! I think they're nuts! Just trying to explain their thought processes.

La_Tri (#5,680)

There is a wonderful poem by (of course I'm forgetting his name now) who asks this same question in the context of the Holocaust and current Israel policy against Palestinians. I guess what I'm tryin to say is that it's not all that uncommon.

melis (#1,854)

It's true! It's so weird! I grew up garden-variety evangelical, and I remember churches in my neighborhood routinely going on missions trips to Utah with "a heart for the Mormons." Not that that wasn't completely crazy in its own way, but I always do a spit-take when Mormons describe themselves as Christians. WHAT DID WE SEND ALL THOSE BUSES TO SALT LAKE CITY FOR THEN

Rw (#1,458)

Whoa! slow down before you shed any tears for the Mormons… take a look at history or try reading their book consider their historical and religious views on Native Americans and other people of color. They Have been the oppressor before.

erikonymous (#3,231)

and most of the time they have been willing to admit their wrongness. just not about homosexuality. yet.

paco (#2,190)

Yes, not to veer too far off topic, but is racism somehow more understandable when it is part of your belief system? The LDS opened up their priesthood to blacks in 1978. Yes, two whole years before 1980! So forward thinking! No biggie, I guess!

erikonymous (#3,231)

hey, I'm by no means a Mormon apologist, and the church has a LOT to atone for. it is definitely a biggie. but, hell, John Paul II only officially exonerated Galileo for his heretical Earth-revolves-around-the-Sun theory in the 90s. what I'm saying is, better late than never? cold comfort, I know, but that's all progressives can usually expect from a formal religion, right?
all of which being said, the Mormons I've known are some of the least racist people I've known. most Mormons were way ahead of the curve with respect to that policy change.

paco (#2,190)

Isn't it sort of hard to get away from the fact that key founders of the LDS church espoused an explicitly racist doctrine? Xarissa went to BYU, the pride of Utah. Here's what Brigham Young said about Blacks:

"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so"

Young was and is considered a prophet within LDS. His pronouncements were prophecies — messages from God. Yet, in 1978 — after some of us were born — bowing to reality and pressure, LDS altered its racially restrictive policies.

Let's think about that for a bit.

Carina (#4,319)

Now you're talking about my grandpappy.

Look, he was a product of his time. I wish those weren't the statements, but they are, and they're period. Ugly stuff. And wrong. He was a person, and people can be wrong. Mormons don't believe prophets are infallible; they're not popes.

Our history of institutional racism is ugly, just like all the other institutional racism that was and is pervasive. It rankles. But, after the '78 proclamation, you didn't see a mass exodus from the church. We can accept we were wrong and start a new narrative. And maybe it will be the same with gay marriage.

erikonymous (#3,231)

Believe me, Paco, I know all about it, and it's one of the reasons I will never return to the church. But, again, you'd be hard pressed to find a religion that doesn't have some component of racism in the mix. I can't reconcile the Mormon church's history with its present (not that the racism issue is why I left originally, just something I learned about after the fact). Some people, like Carina, can, and I think her argument here is valid. They saw they made a mistake, and they changed course. And, as I believe Carina is suggesting, and which I heartily second, I hope they come to the same point regarding their homophobia some day.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I’m not going to get any love from your interlocutors here. Smith also wrote of a war in heaven in which angels sided with either God or Satan. (Did he get the notion of this war from Milton?) According to Smith, on God’s side, the angels that fought valiantly were born on earth as babies with white skin. Cowardly angels were born black. Since he was a prophet, and since it was relayed as literal truth, it is hard to understand how the facts of the matter could change.

erikonymous (#3,231)

My interlocutors? Honored!
What you've brought up, though, is something that makes it impossible for me to return to the church, and difficult to understand why Mormons remain as such. There was also the idea, formerly common in the church, that black people were "marked" as being descendants of Cain. Which, yes, is totally gross. Everything I've learned about Smith since leaving the church tells me that he was a very bad person, and I'll be damned (perhaps literally) if I follow his lead.
Obviously it's not hard for some to understand, though, and we all participate in willful self-delusion to some extent. Like, for instance, the idea that our reason makes us superior. Or that we are not hypocrites when insubstantially asserting the insubstantiality of others' comments.
The truth is I agree with you, iplaudius. I can't understand how these really awesome, otherwise really smart people in my family can follow such historically racist theocrats, but . . . they do. I can't explain the believers, but maybe they, doing a cost-benefit on their relationship with the church, just come up feeling that what they're getting out of the current system is worth the past indiscretions, and leave them as such.

Davis (#4,805)

Iplaudius, citation please.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I apologize for distracting from the point of this post.

Regarding citations, I don’t want to insert too much text here, so I will leave references and only two quotations. Book of Mormon:
1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 5:21 ("wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them"), Alma 3:6, 3 Nephi 2:15. As the founder and "first prophet" Joseph Smith "translated" these passages, they have his implicit endorsement. His thoughts on the war in heaven in particular were relayed to 2nd prophet Brigham Young, who relayed them authoritatively on various occasions: e.g., as recorded in Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869).

LDS Founder and first prophet, Joseph Smith, History of the Church, v. 5, pp. 218-219: "Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species and put them on a national equalization." Second prophet, Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 290-291 (equating the mark of Cain with black skin). 20th-century prophet and 10th President of the LDS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection (1931; rpt. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1949), pp. 43-44, qtd. in Claudia L. Bushman in Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in modern America (Praeger, 2006), p. 93). Ibid., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1: “There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantage. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less. … There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.”

Davis (#4,805)

Iplaudius, I am familiar with all of those quotes. The part I'm asking for was a specific quote and citation about your contention that "According to Smith, on God's side, the angels that fought valiantly were born on earth as babies with white skin. Cowardly angels were born black."

You seem to give a citation (Kenny) but not a quote . ..

erikonymous (#3,231)

Fantastic piece. Points for bravery.
I was raised Mormon, but left the church at an early age because I simply lost my faith. I've had some awful arguments over this very issue with some of my siblings who have remained Mormon.
Though I appreciate your take, I feel like you, as a Mormon accepting of open homosexuality, are in the minority with respect to the church at large. I'd like to see the church leaders eventually revert their position (which has happened before, with polygamy and non-whites' participation) on homosexuality, but I don't think it will happen any time soon.
Anyway, thanks for writing.

xarissa (#3,317)

i hope i'm not in the minority.

but thank you.

La_Tri (#5,680)

I'm not Mormon or gay or from California, but I still found this article very interesting and honest.

SeaBassTian (#281)

Forget the spirited debate regarding theology, who's the hot sissy with a picket sign? All kidding aside, I would have liked to have heard more about your pal James and how the P-8 campaign has affected his life.

xarissa (#3,317)

In all honesty, I think just coming out in circumstances like his was difficult enough already. He didn't spend much time worrying about Prop 8, especially since he wasn't living in CA, and the idea of marriage seemed so far away as to be almost a non-issue. He just wanted to make it through.

Now that he has, at least to some extent, I think he's watching the issue closely, but hasn't gotten very involved in the fight. He has friends he trusts, he's dating, he's working on projects he likes, and I think he wants to just enjoy that for a while. More than that, I can't say.

Fredrick (#268)

I feel like Hollywood got even for the gays by casting Robby Pattinson, Tay-tay Lautner, and the ripped blond dude from the Comeback in the homo-erotic 'Mormon Twilight' film series.

thejcar (#5,689)

I don't want to be sanctimonious, especially since I consider myself part of several groups that are routinely accused of being so (progressive, secular, feminist) but in the spirit of candor, I want to identify my issue with this whole thing. I don't think I could work at a company where people were fired for being gay. I don't think I could live in a neighborhood where gay people weren't accepted. And I certainly couldn't hold an institution that sought to deprive people of their fundamental rights as a moral authority.
And I know that Mormons stand to lose a lot more than just say, a job, or a house. That they literally have to, in many cases, start their life over and be separated from their entire community and all that they know. And here's where I'm going to sound like kind of a jerk, but it's just my feeling: honestly, knowing that I would reap EVEN MORE benefits in comparison to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters would make such a position EVEN MORE morally uncomfortable. I would never want to support, let alone PERSONALLY BENEFIT from not dissociating myself from an oppressive institution. Again, I'm not advising this as a course of action or trying to play guilt police, I'm just sharing why for some people, this is an issue that can't quite be assuaged with individual testimony of "crises of faith." Thanks for your openness and I apologize if I offend.

Carina (#4,319)

a) no offense, like your comment.

b.) If all the moderate and progressive voices leave, what's left?

Isn't there something honorable about trying to affect change from within? It's easy to leave. It can be harder to stay. It can be even harder to maintain your faith, practice daily and weekly devotion, and try to be a voice of change at the same time. I think we'd be worse off if all the dissenters left. Enough of them have, and I wish their consciouses would have allowed them to stay. Like you illustrated, they couldn't stay.

It's not like the church is intact after this political exercise: families broke, rifts feel permanent, the personal and professional damages are real.

It would better if there were more faithful members who could disagree and stay.

Carina (#4,319)

(It would be better because their opinions are valuable and help with the internal dialogue. But I understand why they left, because it had become morally unpalatable.)

Incomplete thoughts! It's like they're

Austin (#5,693)

I won't try to convince anyone of my opinion. I know how personal this subject is to people and how unlikely it is for them to see another side of things.
But what I will say is that as a convert to the Church, I have not known this faith all of my life. I made the conscious decision to join the Church just about the same time as the Prop 8 decision was taking place.

I did not join because it was the easiest choice. I did not join because I disliked the gay population. In fact, it was the exact opposite for both. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. But I could not deny the peace, beauty, and truth I had experienced in the LDS Church.
Now this is where most will stop reading. I know I've more than stepped on a few toes. But this is what this Church and this faith mean to people. Sure you have those who simply side with the Church because its the easiest way. But for those of us who fight that internal battle, it means much more. Faith is not a political opinion. Faith is as much a part of my life as my sexuality. It's something I cannot deny.
I apologize if that offends anyone. But I just felt like it should be said on behalf of those of the faith.
For the record, I do believe that the Church should stay out of political matters such as this.

To Mormon reading this article:
Whats more important than anything is your testimony of the truthfulness of the Church (3 Nephi 27). Nothing on this earth, no matter the issue, should take that away from you. That's not to say I'm siding completely with the Church on this. We are allowed to have certain disagreements or conflicted opinions. We will never have all of the answers. But we can pray to come to some sort of understanding.

"I can only hope people understand a little more about what goes into our decisions concerning the Gospel, however hard that may be."

Tracy Hall (#5,694)

Those who seek a thoughtful, nuanced — and official –expression of the Church's position on same-gender attraction ought to go to the source, rather than drink here, downstream from the feedlot.


erikonymous (#3,231)

I appreciate that the church "Elders" admit that their position is in no way scientific. I just wish they'd own up to their poor grammar, too. "Homosexuality" is totally a noun.

matt b. (#5,698)

Two things –

First, the position iplaudius attributes to Joseph Smith on race is incorrect. Smith was a colonizationist (like Abraham Lincoln); he wanted to send the slaves back to Africa. However, he also ordained African American men to the priesthood and treated them as full equals in his church, a position later reversed by Brigham Young. The particular notions iplaudius attributes to Smith – about righteousness in the war in heaven – seems to have been developed by Orson Pratt, an early theologian who often sparred with Young. And indeed, Smith's thoughts on 'the war in heaven' are somewhat nebulous, and most were fleshed out after he died. The related notion of 'a curse of Cain' was widely shared among American Christians at the time; everybody here who had American Christian ancestors in the nineteenth century had people who believed in that. The Methodists and Baptists underwent schism over this.

Secondly, Tracy Hall's link is informative and important for a discussion like this. However, Tracy Hall's snide and unpleasant dismissal and characterization of Xarissa's post marks Tracy Hall as an ass and poisons Tracy Hall's own well. Carina and Austin are much better representatives of their faith.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Here, here.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)


Sam Dodini (#5,743)

I did like the sentiment of the essay, but there were a few points that were off base for me, to be honest. The concept of marriage being a right rather than a privilege, whether marriage is something the overall homosexual community even truly wants, what homosexual leaders' intentions are, and the entire idea that the church is somehow against homosexuals are all debatable. For one, church doctrine and the way individuals interpret that doctrine and form it into a culture are completely different things. If people shut out homosexuals, it is because they do not understand the true doctrine the church teaches- to love people unconditionally. Homosexual members of the church, I would hope, would understand the reality of their struggles in a doctrinal light- that all people have their own thorn, as it were, that they deal with. For someone outside the church, it is difficult to understand unless you actually study, which frankly, most people are too lazy to attempt. Even members don't understand. Quick judgments that Mormons are all bigots are easy to make. I think the whole point of the church's involvement in Prop 8 was focused on taking a moral stand that actually has social impact. For something as important as the family, the center of society, both religious and nonreligious, making a decision towards morality was paramount. That is why church members were urged to contribute. The church had "urged" in 1995 the same thing. The church simply pushed harder than before. Separation of the issues is most important. On one hand is loving of individuals: homosexuals as people. The other issue is marriage- something considered sacred. (If you want to address polygamy, really study it out as it was something sacred– I recommend "Rough Stone Rolling"- a biography of Joseph Smith.) Church leadership knew the PR nightmare that would inevitably come, yet they felt it important to make their point clear: that society supports marriage because it helps families with balance of the sexes to be stronger. That is why civil marriage exists- to publicly support sound institutions. PR nightmare, sure- there are hundreds of ways to misunderstand. But that is nothing new to LDS people. Misunderstanding is what has been a part of the church's history since the onset- even until now.

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