Author’s Note: My intention with this blog is to help people understand the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) religion and culture. Because the gay marriage movement is an important issue of our day and because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has opposed this movement, I wrote this post. However, my arguments are not “Mormon” arguments; they are my personal views. Our church has received a lot of attention for its opposition to legalizing gay marriage in the state of California, but I have never once heard a sermon or Sunday school lesson on the topic of homosexuality or gay marriage. The Church and its leaders have spoken and written on the topic, but it’s not something we preach in our church meetings.
What is special about marriage between a man and woman?
Whether marriage is a commandment from heaven or man’s invention, marriage between a man and a woman is the primal way in which communities are organized and children are created and nurtured. This type of marriage is found in every society on earth and has been so long as history remembers. Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, explained at the fourth World Congress of Families in 2007, “The family predates all states, and can be found in every culture, in every era. … The state did not create the family; rather, families created the state.”
Furthermore, beyond its universality and antiquity, marriage between one man and one woman is the best environment for raising children. Social science strongly suggests that children raised with both their biological mother and father in the home have the greatest chance for well-being. In a July 2009 Time magazine article titled “Is There Hope for the American Marriage?” author Caitlin Flanagan writes,
“On every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households. Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarcertaion – if you can measure it, a sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others.”
Flanagan goes on to quote David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values:
“There’s a ‘sleeper effect’ to divorce that we are just beginning to understand. … Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal.”
Later in her article, Flanagan reports the research on cohabiting. She quotes Robert Rector, a senior research fellow of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation. She writes
“When children are born into a co-habiting, unmarried relationship, says Rector, ‘they arrive in a family in which the principals haven’t resolved their most basic issues,’ including those of sexual fidelity and how to share responsibilities. Let a little stress enter the picture—and what is more stressful than a baby?—and things start to fall apart. The new mother starts to make wifelike demands on the man, and without the commitment of marriage, he is soon out the door.”
Science is beginning to uncover what tradition has already assumed – that, where possible, children should be raised by their biological mother and father who are married. This is not to say that children who come from other types of homes cannot prosper. It is only to say that other situations are substitues and usually present some difficult challenges to the children involved.
Marriage in our nation is in decline with more and more children born outside of wedlock (currently about 40% of American children), and each year the number of divorces is about half the number of marriages. The breakdown of the traditional family is enormously costly to our nation, associated with poverty and nearly every other societal ill, and so states and citizens on all ends of the political spectrum are working to fight the disintegration of marriage.
Beyond recognizing that heterosexual marriages have a special role in society, one might still believe that homosexual partners deserve the institution of marriage. Homosexuality has certainly been practiced in all parts of the world throughout history. There are even a few recorded instances of governments recognizing these relationships. Nevertheless, homosexuality has always been considered an aberration from the norm, and never until our time have homosexual relationships had the same status before the law as heterosexual relationship.
In other words, while homosexuality may be a fact of life, same-gender couples have never been considered an institution. Social experiments with the status of homosexuality may have been tried in the laboratory of history, but none of those experiments have survived for any notable length of time. Heterosexual marriage, on the other hand, was an institution before governments were an institution. Heterosexual marriage is no experiment; it is the tried and true building block of civilization.
Same-gender couples may provide each other with the social and financial benefits that heterosexual couples provide for each other. Furthermore, their emotional and sexual loyalty to each other may provide some benefits to society. Homosexual couples do not, however, have the unique physical ability nor the social responsibility to create and nurture children. A platonic friendship is sometimes the paramount relationship in an individual’s life, but it’s not a relationship recognized or promoted by the government. Homosexual relationships may indeed be of paramount importance to individuals, but they do not further any vital societal need such as creating and nurturing the next generation.
The term family is often used loosley, but it has always connoted a blood relationship. The term marriage has always described a relationship that is designed for procreation. In my view, calling a homosexual relationship a “marriage” or a “family” amounts to what George Orwell, author of Brave New World, would call doublespeak. It recognizes that homosexual partners can have deep affection and commitment for each other, as do married couples, but it obscures the fact that nature never gave homosexual partners the ability or responsibility of parenthood.
What might be the legal consequences of legalizing gay marriage?
If homosexual marriage was institutionalized on the basis that homosexuals can have emotional and physical feelings as deep as those of a heterosexual couple, the state would be setting a problematic precedent. Consider two sisters who are single, never intend to marry and share a home. Their relationship is not sexual, but their love and commitment to each other might be just as deep as that of a married couple. Additionally, they may wish to benefit from the financial and legal benefits of marriage. How can we bar them from the social and financial benefits of marriage when we have given those benefits to others merely because their relationship is sexual? How can we bar threesomes or foursomes from obtaining marriage rights?
One can only imagine what legal complexities might arise and what difficulties courts would have in enforcing marriage laws if the depth of two people’s social connection and their desire to commit to each other should be the rationale for granting them marriage. And yet, this legal precedent is already being tried. My understanding is that California’s Proposition 8 was overturned on the basis that barring homosexuals from marriage interferred with their constitutional right to “the pursuit of happiness.”
In my view, the court in this case interpreted “the pursuit of happiness” too broadly. Defining the pursuit of happiness is, of course, difficult because happiness is subjective. Certainly the government interferes in our private lives every day in ways that could reasonably be said to counter our pursuit of happiness. A few examples are drug laws, prostitution laws, the regulation of medical professionals, FDA regulations, income taxes, the taxing of alcohol and cigarettes, and institutionalizing psychiatric patients.
Some may think the government should stay out of the situations listed above, but most believe this would be an impractical or impossible way to govern a nation. I believe the government must sometimes interfere with our personal lives in order to promote the greater social good, especially the well-being of children. It is the job of citizens, politicians, and courts, to find a practical and moral balance between interferring with the rights of individuals and protecting the welfare and stability of society at large. I do not believe government is overstepping its bounds when it defines marriage legally as a union between one man and one woman.
Many groups who oppose granting marriage status to homosexual couples, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church), do not oppose civil unions or domestic partnerships for homosexual couples, which allow them to make a lifelong commitment to each other, to share a home and finances and to support each other through sickness and death. In my experience, most people who oppose homosexual activists are not bothered that gay couples want to make life-long commitments. What they are bothered by is calling such a relationship a “marriage.” Calling a homosexual relationship a “marriage” amounts to changing the English language; doing so implies that families are a construct of the state, rather than a natural institution merely recognized by the state. Furthermore, when a state requires its citizens to call a homosexual union a “marriage,” the state is, in effect, coercing its citizens to value homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally, a stance that threatens their religious liberty.
What might be the social consequences of legalizing gay marriage?
Proponents of gay marriage believe legalizing gay marriage would help society acknowledge the equality of homosexuals and heterosexuals as human beings and as citizens. I cannot pretend to know what will happen if gay marriage is recognized by the state, but I do believe it is a dangerous experiment because it further erodes and obscures the cultural ideal of traditional marriage.
A good comparison to the traditional family is the practice of breastfeeding. Both breastfeeding and the traditional family are the natural and historic way of nurturing children. Both the traditional family and breastfeeding create strong social bonds and provide physical benefits to all participants. Traditional families and breastfeeding are universal. Throughout time, both have sometimes been an impossible ideal and substitutes have been found. However, until the 20th century, never have substitues for either breastfeeding or traditional families been considered ideal, nor have they become so widespread as to challenge the norm.
In the 1940s, infant formula gained cultural acceptance as a proper way to feed a child; it was considered the modern and scientifically-proven way to feed a baby. A few decades later, in many parts of the world, breastfeeding became the exception, no longer the rule. This is unfortunate because only after the formula-feeding trend was firmly established did scientists begin to understand the significance of breast milk. Not only does the milk provide perfect nutrition for the baby, changing with the baby’s age, it transmits antibodies from mother to child. Furthermore, the frequence and physical closeness of nursing is thought to nurture the baby mentally and emotionally. Breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk for a myriad of ailments and correlates with higher IQs in adulthood.
When the state came to realize that breastfeeding is so beneficial to infant health, they began promoting it through the WIC program, through Medicaid and through media campaigns. A primary goal in these efforts is to reduce the cost of medical care to children, a cost that society largely bears together.
It is conceivable that some feminists may find this offensive. Who is the government to impose its ideas of gender roles on the public? Women are surely more valuable than their breasts and may find it restrictive to their lifestyle to breastfeed. Shouldn’t men help bear the responsibility of feeding infants? One might argue that the differences between breast-fed children and formula-fed children are so minimal that government is certainly overstepping its bounds in promoting breastfeeding—that government is unnecessarily intruding into the privates lives of women.
The government’s campaign to encourage breastfeeding seems to be working: breastfeeding rates are rising. What if feminists opposed to the government’s actions on this issue should fight for states to give the same support to bottle-feeding as it does to breastfeeding? What if they demanded that bottle-feeding also be called “nursing” so as to show that bottle-feeding is also an appropriate and loving way to “nurse” or nurture a child.
In the same way that bottle-feeding challenged the tried and true way of feeding a child, the idea of homosexual marriage challenges the tried and true way of creating families. The difference is that bottle-feeding has already been normalized and found to be inferior, while gay marriage has yet to become widespread. It is my belief that if we legalize homosexual marriage, within a few decades, the scientific evidence will accumulate to show that our nation’s experiment with homosexual marriage only added to our social problems.
Children are too valuable to be experimented with, and thus we should support policies that increase the likelihood of children being raised by their biological mother and father. We should preserve the ideal of mother-father-child.
What is a good solution to the LGBT community’s request for marriage?
One solution to satisfying the LGBT community’s desire for greater equality before the law would be to create a “significant other” law that could benefit anyone who is not married. It would allow any two people to make a lifelong commitment to mutually care for each other, share employee benefits such as health and life insurance, share finances, and make decisions for each other in the event of mental incapacity. This type of law could give all people the same legal advantages that marriage gives heterosexual couples.
A “significant other” law, along with enforcement of laws barring discrimination in employment and housing, would create a situation in which both traditional families and gay couples may prosper. To those who believe this amounts to discrimination, I agree. The true meaning of discrimination is simply to differentiate. Discrimination can be evil or false as in differentiating between blacks and whites on the idea that one race is inherently superior. However, in other instances, differentiating between groups of people is not only morally acceptable but necessary, as in legally differentiating between adults and children with the age of eighteen. In the case of heterosexual and homosexual couples, I believe it is crucial to our nation’s well-being that we do differentiate between them so as to preserve the norm of the biological family, giving children the best possible start in life.