Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement in August that reaffirmed heterosexual marriage while at the same time supporting some rights for same-sex couples.
In June the church issued a letter to all California bishops stating its opposition to same-sex marriage in California and urging all Mormons to support a ballot initiative to define marriage in the state’s constitution as the union of a man and a woman. The California Supreme Court overturned the state’s gay marriage ban on May 16.
As in the June letter, the Aug. 13 statement, titled “The Divine Institution of Marriage,” the church stated that its involvement in Proposition 8, the ballot initiative specifically concerned “same sex marriage and its consequences,” and not gay people themselves.
“The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference,” the document, issued by the church’s Public Affairs Department and apparently authorized by the First Presidency, read. Further, it stated that the church’s opposition to gay marriage neither “constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards men and women” and did not free church members from the “Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people.”
Leaders of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons praised this part of the church’s statement.
“This is, by far, the church’s most affirming statement of both human and civil rights of gay people since the issuance of ‘God Loveth His Children,’ which acknowledged that being gay is not a disease or a sin,” said David Melson, the group’s media spokesperson. “We applaud the courage of the leaders who chose to make this statement, which is contrary to many of the Church’s words and actions of the past, and we see this as a positive step.”
He added, however, that the organization “would have been more pleased if [the press release] had not been issued during a time of contradictory action by the Church to repeal the civil rights of gay U.S. citizens and to seek to break apart families.”
But the church also defended its support of Proposition 8 by citing its belief that families headed by a mother and father are “the anchor of civilized society” and stated that legalizing gay marriage would harm the autonomy of religious organizations. The marriages of same-sex couples, it said, could put “church and state on a collision course” by forcing governments to take tax exemptions away from religious organizations that don’t grant gay couples access, among other things, to religious-owned facilities or adoption agencies. Leaders also expressed concern that gay marriage would harm society in the long run by eroding “the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children” and preventing them from developing “sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation.”
Affirmation said the emphasis on heterosexual married couples “marginalizes families headed by widows, single parents, adoptive parents, grandparents or foster parents, and ignores the church’s own history honoring polygamous marriage.”
Affirmation Executive Director Olin Thomas called many of the church’s assertions “half-truths” and much of the rest of the release contradictory. California law, he noted, did not require any religious institution or official to perform or recognize marriages that run contrary to their teachings. He also cited researcher Jonathan Rauch’s book Gay Marriage, in which Rauch discovered that countries that have enacted gay marriage actually saw their rates of divorce and cohabitation (two things the LDS church also cites as a threat to families) decrease.
George Cole, Affirmation’s young adults director, stated that the “positive and affirming portions of the Church’s release” were a “very appreciated step forward.”
“We hope and look toward the day when the church will value all families and will recognize that our families are not a threat to theirs, but just another one of the pillars of our society,” he said.
“The Divine Institution of Marriage” was released in the wake of Affirmation’s Aug. 11 press conference asking church leaders to address the problems gay and lesbian Mormons face because of anti-gay teachings. The Sunstone Symposium, a conference addressing issues in Mormon culture and politics, also held a panel discussion about gay marriage in California in which participants said many of the church’s legal and social objections to gay marriage were exaggerated or incorrect.