Along with anyone surfing the web, I've witnessed an incredible volume of traffic surrounding California's Proposition 8 (eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry). I'm not vain enough to assume this post will make it past a handful of readers; however, I am not naive enough to underestimate the viral nature of the web (nor the emotional potency of this issue, which greatly increases the likelihood that even the most mundane sources go viral).
With that in mind, out of respect for the diversity of opinion surrounding the passage of Prop 8 - (to assume LDS members are monolithic in opinion on this issue is both false and counterproductive) - let me preface these thoughts by clarifying that I am not speaking for church leadership or fellow church members. In fact, I don't even claim to speak for church members who agree with me, those who also stand in opposition to Prop 8. I speak only for myself. I have come to my fluid conclusions over years of study, travel, exposure, prayer, conversation, and personal experience.
Now that that's out of the way...
On 16 October I posted this open letter from my friend Crystal. I respect her opinions a great deal and wanted anyone within eye-shot of my blog to understand that there are progressive Mormons who take serious issue with Proposition 8. Within moments of the post going live I had a comment from Prince Gomolvilas, an LA blogger posting at Bamboo Nation.
Last week Prince sent an email to me asking, "How is it you are able to reconcile the acceptance of homosexuality with your religion, when so many people have trouble doing so?" Unlike the at-times-disrespectful debate raging on my facebook wall as we speak, Prince sent his email in a genuine effort to understand. This post attempts to answer his question.
"How do you reconcile the acceptance of homosexuality...?" I reconcile the acceptance of human beings. I reconcile the acceptance of people that I consider to be my sisters, brothers, and fellow travelers.
Christianity teaches me that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. To love someone is to care deeply for them, for their welfare, life, liberty, and happiness. I have yet to understand how members of my faith can claim to follow that commandment and yet deny to their neighbor the rights that they themselves enjoy. I don't understand how members of my faith who fought against the liberty and happiness of their neighbors can say they love those neighbors as they love themselves. That is what I cannot reconcile. Perhaps the question is better posed to LDS members who supported Prop 8: "How do you reconcile your decision?"
The LDS religion, specifically the baptismal covenants, state that we are "willing to bear one another's burdens that they may be light; and are willing to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort..." (Mosiah 18, Book of Mormon). My religion teaches me - no, scratch that - my religion requires that I covenant to love others, bear another's burdens, mourn with them, and offer comfort. My religious doctrine does not teach me to hate, fear, and persecute.
Beyond specific religious doctrines, I point to the influence of my parents. They converted to the LDS faith after they were married, and after they put both the missionaries and church doctrine through the veritable ringer. Forget my mother listening to the missionary lessons in a crocheted bikini with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other. Forget the treks they made into Seattle to round up all the anti-Mormon literature they could find. Forget all of that and let's talk instead about the conclusion they came to about the church: "It is a racist institution and we cannot join a church that denies equal rights to it's African American members." It was in the spring of 1978 when they finally told the missionaries, "Thanks, but no thanks..." and sent them on their way. On 08 June 1978 the church's policy on blacks and the priesthood changed completely. The rest is history. My brother and I were born into church membership and were subsequently raised with the doctrine, but not with the culture (...and yes, there is a significant difference).
Why do I share that story? I share that story to illustrate the point that I was raised by hippies-turned-Latter-day-Saints to have no tolerance for inequality. Just as my parents made a stand for the civil rights of their black sisters, brothers, and fellow travelers, I am fighting for the civil rights of my gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered sisters, brothers, and fellow travelers. I don't think it can be more clear that this is the civil rights issue of our generation. The claim that gay rights are exclusively a "moral" or "religious" issue is a slippery red herring and/or a cowardly scape goat. Take your pick, because either way the claim is outright false.
I realize the people who present the "moral issue" argument do believe that gay rights are, in fact, an exclusively moral issue. Perhaps for their religious community, homosexuality is an exclusively religious issue. I recognize their perspective, but I disagree. I don't care if the people in question are gay, white, black, straight, tall, short, or purple, they are being denied fundamental rights. In my America, all citizens are equal under the law. In my America, I won't stand for it. I will not look my gay friends in the eye and tell them they don't deserve happiness, that their families don't deserve safety and security, that their love isn't the right kind of love. Not in my America. Not in my name.
"How do you reconcile the acceptance of homosexuality...?" I reconcile the acceptance of our inspired constitutional separation of church and state.
The issue of gay marriage is not a religious issue for me, it is a civil issue. As such, churches do not have the purview - or stewardship, to use a popular LDS term - to dictate laws governing civil marriage. In the New Testament, Jesus clearly states that we are to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17, KJV). In so far as this metaphor is concerned: civil/secular marriages are to Caesar as religious marriage ceremonies are to God. (NOTE: By no means am I saying gay marriages must be devoid of god and/or religion. Absolutely not at all. I'm simply making the point that church and state, in so far as law making and law enforcing are concerned, should be entirely separate.)
In fact, this very principle is found within the bedrock of LDS doctrine. One of the sacred tomes of LDS scripture, Doctrine & Covenants, clearly states in section 134 verses 9-10: "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied. We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members [...] according to the rules and regulations of such societies [...]; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's good..."
I cannot overstate the importance of the doctrine taught in D&C 134. I was asked how I reconcile my opposition to Prop 8 with my religion. Read carefully D&C 134: 2-4, 9-10: "We believe that no government can exist in peace except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. [That governments should] administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people of a republic. We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others. We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied. We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members [...] according to the rules and regulations of such societies [...]; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world's good..."
How do I NOT reconcile? Perhaps the question is better posed to LDS members who did support Prop 8: "How do you reconcile your decision?"
Because of my religious faith, because of my absolute insistence that all people are equal, because of our shared humanity, I hold inviolate the rights that will secure to each individual - gay and straight - the free exercise of their conscience, the right to property, and the protection of their life. To add one more caveat, as Jefferson did, the right to happiness is also inviolate to me. All (wo)men. Period. All (wo)men are created equal. Period. All (wo)men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Period. It took our country a while to figure out those sacred words included women, but we eventually figured it out. It also took our country a while to figure out those sacred words included ethnic minorities, but we eventually figured it out. I pray we eventually figure out how bigoted our treatment of the GLBT community has been and continues to be.
By the voice of the people, by the collective voice of this republic, I stand in solidarity with my sisters, brothers, and fellow travelers who are demanding that their government administer the law in equity and justice. Religious persons answer to their god unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others. In which case, when your opinions infringe on the rights and liberties of others, you then must answer to those fellow citizens on whom you are infringing. You have an obligation, a social contract, a sacred stewardship that mandates you respect the rights of your neighbor as they will in turn respect your rights.
"We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government" (D&C 134:9). So again, perhaps the question is better posed to LDS members who did support Prop 8: "How do you reconcile your decision?"
The leadership of the LDS church claims that gay rights is a "moral issue" and that reason is justification enough for hijacking our civil political process. With that paradigm in place, I would then challenge their comparatively passive stance with respect to other moral issues. I would ask why they are not rallying $22,000,000 and countless volunteer hours for the following: The fact that we are disrespecting Mother Earth is immoral. The fact that we have poor among us is immoral. The fact that the bottom dollar trumps human dignity is immoral. The fact that we are waging an unwarranted pre-emptive war, all the while spitting in the face of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions, is immoral. The fact that human rights are abused the world over, including by our own government, is immoral.
There are other moral issues that deserve our attention, but we can start there. Now see, those are mobilization efforts I would like to hear dictated over the pulpit. Those are moral issues around which I would be happy to organize. You can even give me a calling. I'd be more than happy to work that phone tree until my fingers fall off.
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Miscellaneous musings for your consideration:
For thorough, respectful, insightful readings from Mormons in favor of marriage equality, click here and surf a while.
Another practicing Mormon speaks out against Prop 8: "All Are Alike Unto God"
Hugh B. Brown (then a member of the First Presidency) said in October 1963 General Conference: “We believe that all men are the children of the same God, and that it is a moral evil for any person or group of persons to deny any human being the right to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship….We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children.”
To read similar teachings encouraing the activism of church members, click here. On that site you'll also find excellent quotations from LDS leaders, re: church members should not blindly follow church leadership.