Lawful marriage

No one else has commented on the recent First Presidency statement on Same-Gender marriage, so I’ll venture something. Forgive me if this has been hashed out before — I haven’t read all of the gargantuan threads in the archives.

The press release reads in part:

As a doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture, we affirm that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The powers of procreation are to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

(emphasis mine)

The Family: A Proclamation to the World contains similar language:

We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

By contrast, here is a statement of Faith and Message from the Southern Baptist Convention relating to the family:

God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption.

Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race.

No mention of legality or lawfulness here.

The notion of marriage in the Mormon (LDS) church is tied up with laws and legality in a way that seems strange to me. The Church’s history with polygamy obviously has something to do with this. However, there’s something else going on that I can’t quite put my finger on. It has something to do also, I think, with the fact that not all Mormon marriages are temple marriages.

Could I missing something about the word “lawful”? What better place to ask than Times and Seasons?

74 comments for “Lawful marriage

  1. We have hashed this out before. I definitely believe there is something unusual in the Church’s application of “marriage,” in that it condones legal marriage, even as it is separate from temple marriage. If same-sex marriages were to be legalized, this might put the Church in a difficult position of having to say which marriages are valid and which are not (presumably all the same-sex marriages would not be condoned). Therefore, it’s best to take the (perfectly valid) position that same-sex marriages must be prevented from legalization.

    I think my sister Peggy Stack has suggested (along with others) a viable alternative. I believe (with Peggy) that same-sex marriages should be legalized, if only to allow equal rights to partners choosing marriage. Peggy has said that perhaps ALL legal partnerships be called “civil unions.” Allow the churches to keep sacred the word “marriage.” Then same-sex partners will have the rights, and will not consider their group “separate but equal.”

  2. What strikes me as obvious about the statement is its timing. Much of the statement follows closely to the Proclamation on the Family (almost verbatim), except this last line seems to be the heart of the statement, “The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”

    With an election almost upon us, this essentially means the Church supports Amendment 3 here in Utah, and similar measures around the country.

  3. Two incoherent ramblings on the focus on “legal” marriage:

    The right to perform marriage is derived from a state’s sovereignty, if memory serves. Why should sovereign nations have this right as opposed to indiginous peoples? I’ve always been a little bothered by the question of marriage among tribal peoples, and whether the church would recognize these marriages. Say the missionaries in Brazil, or New Guineau are wandering around the hinterlands and find some nice group of indiginous people who want to join the church. Do all the couples have to be carted off to the nearest civil authority to be married there before they can be baptized? If so, why? Is that even practical? (I am assuming here they have been through some tribal ceremony that is a loose equivalent of marriage). The relationship between some of these couples may be phenomenally better than what some couples pass off as marriage. What if the trip is so far they can’t afford it? Do we then get to hear a conference talk on how this couple scrimped for years so they could afford to travel to be married and then baptized?

    One reason I can think of for the focus on legal marriage in church statements has to do with protenstingthe entitlements of children, as defined by the church. For example, child support is usually a bit easier to deal with in the context of a broken marriage than just a botched relationship (although any family law practitioner is welcome to correct me here). One of the temple recommend questions has to do with whether the interviewee is current on any child support obligations. More important, though, with respect to entitlements, is a statement from the Proclamation that has always struck me: “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” I believe strongly in this entitlement, although it is currently not legally enforceable. It would be interesting to see someone try that theory in court. An interesting wrinkle in tort law involved the “wrongful birth” suit, brought by parents of a child whose birth defects are somehow attributable to a physician. What if single mothers had standing to sue on behalf of their bastard children and force a marriage? (I’m just thinking out loud here, and recognize the novelty/impracticality of what I am thinking about. In many cases, support is the best that can be hoped for).

  4. Since it looks like the moratorium has now been breached…

    I thought about writing a post making reference to this a while ago, but didn’t. I’ve cited Noah Millman’s stuff before as part of the debate over same-sex marriage; there is still no one who has written on the issue that I’m aware of with whom I agree as much as I do with him. In my view, trying to tease out a special legal and/or constitutional justification and/or space–called “marriage”–for certain (non-polygamous?) heterosexual relationships buys into a host of arguments about the natural and social bases of sexuality which I think are both 1) arguably inconsistent with our own theology and 2) a non-starter politically. This is not to say that the legalization of same-sex marriage, especially the judicial imposition of such, would be a good thing; it definitely wouldn’t. But the focus ought to be on the role and nature of marriage itself (meaning a focus on divorce, parental rights, etc.), and not solely the orientation of those who seek to participate in it. As Noah concludes:

    “If we had a healthy marriage culture in America, I don’t think there would be any push to redefine marriage as a unisex institution, because we’d understand in our bones what marriage is for. Would there still be a push to create some kind of fair legal framework for gay families? Perhaps, and if there were I’d be pretty favorably inclined. If we don’t want gays to live in the closet, then we have to think seriously about how they can live in the light, and that means thinking about how gay families are supposed to live. And I don’t want gays to have to live in the closet; the closet is a dark and loney place, and a dangerous one to boot. But that would be a very different discussion than the one the courts are having about marriage today–a discussion about wrongs, not rights, about how to reduce suffering and promote health and virtue, not about how to mandate equality.”

  5. I wonder why we need any kind of legal framework at all, in these days when parenthood can be objectively determined with absolute certainty. IANAL (I am not a Libertarian), but the Libertarians have an interesting standpoint in that marriage should be a religious institution, and therefore the state should not be involved.

  6. It seems to me that the inclusion of the word “lawful” is a way of prohibiting polygamy without saying so. Since polygamy is generally illegal, this wording prohibits polygamy while not being so messy as to mention it. This way the church sends a message to those that understand what is being said and it doesn’t have much meaning to those that miss the connection.

    Oddly, I have yet to see the text of a recent marriage ammendment that would clearly outlaw polygamy as well as same sex marriage.

  7. D. Fletcher: I am attracted to your position probably from my experience in France, where everyone has to get married by the State, then you go for a church/temple ceremony after if you are interested. Being a relative newcomer to this community, I have not participated or read the previous threads. I don’t know if it has been discussed or not, but Jonathan Rauch’s book Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America kind of takes the wind out of the sails of this position.

  8. I have a very close friend who has “come out” in the last year. While some of his actions are obviously at odds with the gospel, he still believes to some extent. He recently commented that he would like to be married and live in a monogomous relationship. He hopes that the person he finds will have a similar belief structure and will want their children to be raised in the LDS church. Can you imagine how this would work? If he and his partner can legally adopted the kid, I can see this being the next step after SSM, then how will the parents of the child be listed on the church records?! What happens during primary, at the child’s baptism, mission farewell, etc?

    I personally have no problem with SSM marriage, but I can see why it worries the leaders of the church so much.

    And yes, I’m voting No on 3.

  9. John H: your assertion that this statement _must_ necessarily be an endorsement of Amendment 3 here in Utah comes across as glib, as I imagine that reasonable people could very well disagree on that point (especially considering that Amendment 3 is so poorly written).

  10. Silus, it’s difficult to see any other reason for the First Presidency to have issued this statement, given the timing and the very close way it tracks the language of the amendment. P.S. How is the amendment poorly written?

  11. Ryan: to my knowledge, Utah’s is not the only “measure” around… this could be a restatement of current policy (hence the wording so closely following previous statements), with an enjoinder to support efforts to protect traditional marriage.

    Read the entire statement:

    “We of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord.

    “As a doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture, we affirm that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The powers of procreation are to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

    “Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”

    The church said it supported amendments to protect traditional marriage… and now it supports measures.

    Personally (and I haven’t made up my mind on this — which is why I found John H’s comment so glib), I think that an amendment + legislation should suffice.

    As for the wording of Amendment 3, all three candidates for Utah Attorney General have lambasted the amendment — and just yesterday a 100 (or was it more) Utah lawyers placed an ad saying as much, which in addition to other cries from groups such as Modern Tapestry paint this amendment as poorly worded.

    First amend the constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman… then — outside the heat of the moment — craft legislation (or another amendment) that would close loopholes.

    Why put all our eggs in one basket?

  12. Another thing that the recent statement seems to suggest is that the Church sees marriage under the law primarily as a means of regulating sexual relationships. I recognize that this is not actually the case (or is it?) but the language points us in that direction. However, the US government has steadily been getting out of the business of regulating sexual relationships between consenting adults. Is linking sex to marriage in the legal sense then a bad idea for the Church? It seems like it to me.

  13. Silus,

    I certainly didn’t mean to sound glib. Could it all be a coincidence? Sure, I’m happy to say that. But reporters in Utah have been asking Church spokesmen everyday now about how the Church feels about Amendment 3. The election is 13 days away. It isn’t like the debate over SSM is just heating up. They could’ve issued this statement anytime – why now? I’m happy to entertain other reasons, but at this point, the upcoming election seems to be the most obvious factor.

  14. I am not a lawyer but I would like to ask a question that you brighter minds could answer.
    When was marriage first defined in law or was it a natural union based on common law.
    The reason I ask this is a curiosity about a bait and switch that we may have been dragged into by those who can’t change the way things really are. and is this a preamble for further changes they may want. ( I speak here of the radicals)
    The reason I call it a bait and switch is we’ve already seen divorces in same-sex marriages because, in some cases, they found out that everything becomes equal under the law. The switch part has to do with organizations like the man-boy groups who have an even more radical agenda that will only be accepted thru judicial rulings.
    By dragging the marriage issue before the courts they have set a precedence that over time will become the natural course to follow – given that the courts have become a law unto themselves and appear to be disregarding the other branches of government. They also appear to be using foreign law to establish precedences for domestic rulings.
    Am I way off or is the trend in that direction?

  15. My question is why do we let the law define what is marriage to us. My great grandparents were not married until my grand father was about 8. They married because of the Roosevelt programs of the era. Now as this is common law everyone in the community considered them married and a happy family. Before the state got involved marriage was between two people and G-d’s representatives.
    This whole debate is about the legal side of marriage. Idea! Get the state out of my bed and out of my family. In the early days of the church when a man had more then one wife did he have to get permission from the state, or did he and his spouse go to G-d’s representative?
    The issue is not marriage. The issue is why are we letting the state define our family?
    There is the issue of benefits and the courts, but most large companies already offer some sort of partner benefits, and the courts are pretty loose on many issues of inherentance and ownership.
    I say let the two people involved be the ones who define marriage and let the state build roads.

  16. Russell, that was an interesting link you provided above. Millman picks out no-fault divorce as the beginning of the end, but I would push back even further. I’ve often thought that the separation of childbirth from marriage–ie readily-accessible birth control–sounded the first death-knell of traditional marriage. Birth control then allowed sex to move outside the marriage (for women, that is–men have always carried on extra-maritally); inevitably, then, despite the promise of birth control, children were born outside marriage, and from there it’s a short step to no-fault divorce and extra-marital parenting, and Millman picks up from there. (There have been other consequences to the birth-control revolution, of course–it seems like I hear about the plummeting birth rate over large sections of the globe nearly daily; another example of a personal benefit that can exact social costs.) Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we pull back birth control; I personally have greatly benefited from the ability to delay childbirth somewhat, and I do think it makes life much better for women. The point, I guess, is that we have already left traditional marriage far, far behind us–and I’m not so sure all we straight couples would be willing to go back to it.

    I seem constitutionally incapable of reaching conclusion on the SSM issue, just as on abortion, welfare, or any political issue, really; I’m lacking the “politics” gene, I think.

  17. The Press Release states The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.

    This seems to leave the door open to something that the language of Utah’s Proposed Amendment 3 also seems to retain as an option. That is, if a state passes such a constitutional measure, a legislature would still be free to grant benefits and privileges to same-sex partnerships, but not based on those partnerships as sexual relationships. Rather, legislatures could decide to confer such benefits (which it seems should satisfy the gay community) on any partnership that applies for them, whether it be gay lovers, an aunt and her niece, two (non-sexually-involved) senior citizens, or whatever. Instituting SSM would discriminate against couples who want those benefits but who aren’t involved sexually with each other, wouldn’t it? The Church’s press release as well as the text of Utah’s proposed amendment seem to disallow basing conferral of such benefits on the fact that a couple (besides a husband and wife) are sexually involved but also seem to leave the possibility open that, even after passage of such an amendment as Utah’s proposed amendment, the legislature could enact legislation that confers the essential benefits without making sex (the action, not the gender) the defining characteristic.

  18. I’m curious as to what everyone’s thoughts are regarding the language of yesterday’s 1st presidency statement. While it clearly opposes vermont-style civil unions, it seems to me not to fully resolve the issue in that there remain a whole range of nuances that might allow some form of civil union.

  19. I say this as one, who while opposing gay marriage, had not necessarily opposed the idea of civil unions.

  20. I think a good question is this.
    Why do we feel that a secular body, the state, has the right to define what we , a religious group, call sacred? Why do we feel this secular body has the right to define marriage for ones who are not part of our religious group and viewpoint?

    In another words why do we think we are so special that we can tell others they have to follow our vision of family and to heck with their free agency and free will? Sounds rather self important to impose our will on others when what they do in their own home is not any of our business.

    I am not sorry if this sounds harsh but are we the pharisees ruling and judging others from on high?

  21. To return to Bryce’s original question, why does the church emphasize the issue of “lawful?” It seems pretty clear that the Church is referring to societal approval, which therefore makes a marriage lawful. In primitive societies, or on isolated islands, marriage involves a public commitment. The message is: we two are wed. The rest of the society is asked to approve of this marriage, which is expected to last for life — and other potential suitors are told to go find other mates. The society recognizes that the marriage will probably produce children, who will continue the pattern and the growth and prosperity of the society. This commitment is the obvious basis for our now grand and public wedding ceremonies. Gay marriage proponents love to cite exceptions (what about polygamy? what about this isolated society that approves of menage a trois? etc, etc). But this cannot undermine the basic fact that such arrangements are the exception rather than the rule.

    A basic foundation of a functioning society is that there has to be a commitment between the husband and wife — and the rest of the society — to honor and respect that marriage. The key building block for future prosperity of the society is at stake. Society will begin to fall apart the moment that this basic building block is undermined in any way. This is a universal rule — part of the “Tao” that CS Lewis described. The Ten Commandments are aimed at part in supporting this basic building block of society. Thus, the Church’s emphasis on legal marriage is, imho, a recognition of the importance of the societal recognition of marriage — in all its myriad forms. Can Indians in the Amazon isolated from a court house be “married?” Yes. They will make a commitment in a public forum involving the rest of the society and they will be “married,” regardless of whether or not they have a piece of paper signed by the Brazilian government. If they do not make this public commitment (let’s say they elope, for example) their marriage will eventually be recognized by the society to the extent that they themselves honor the traditional marriage commitments.

    The legal recognition of the marriage (stamp of approval by society at large) is crucial to the reality of any marriage. Of course, we believe that the stamp of approval of God is the next step, meaning that a marriage is then recognized by God AND the society of believers.

  22. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the comments yet, but my first reaction to your post, Bryce, is that the church recognizes that only it can perform temple marriages. If that “religious” marriage were the only legitimate marriage, than the majority of the world would be sinning. By addressing it as lawful marriages it extends to non members not married in that ordanance.

    I would add that the Baptist church does not require such distinction. I have no idea how good a reason this is but it is my first thought before perusing the comments. I’ll do that as time permits.

  23. My wife and I have been discussing marriage and what special rights a person has from a legal marriage. Then at a recent wedding I attended I ran into a divorce lawyer (who happens to be a friend of the family) and realized that the opportunity was ripe to find out what exact special rights/privileges a married spouse enjoys that is not granted to a live-in partner or companion. It was a brief conversation but here’s some of the points that were brought up:

    1) Inheritance — under the law a spouse automatically inherits a dead spouse’s property. Even if a will has been created that specifically instructs that none of the property should be given to the spouse, there’s something called “homestead rights” that creates a de facto right to most of the deceased’s property. Partners who have lived together don’t have these rights. If a partner dies and there is no will, the government will only offer inheritance rights to those who are blood relatives of the deceased (not the partner). I was told the government will go up or down three generations to find a living relative and that if no such relative exists then the property goes to the government.

    2) The Right to Pull the Plug — if a spouse suffers a sudden accident and is in a coma or vegetative state, then the healthy spouse is the ONLY person who can go in to the doctors and say: “pull the plug.” Even if gay partners have lived together for twenty years (or an extended period of time), the doctors will not listen to any input from the live-in partner and can in fact bar that partner from the care room.

    3) Adoption — we didn’t have an in-depth conversation about this … we just mentioned it in the conversation. But my friend agreed that a married couple has a much better chance of adopting children than unmarried partners.

    Any others? Are there lots of others?

    It’s this kind of information that interests me most — what rights married couples have that others don’t have. It seems it might make more sense to realize what rights/privileges are being denied to those who live alternative lifestyles. If this discussion already occurred I’d like to read it. I’m not aware but then I haven’t searched them thoroughly either.

  24. Danithew, the right to legally immigrate with your spouse is an important right granted only to those who are legally married. If you as a US citizen live overseas and meet somebody and marry that person overseas, that person has a legal right to immigrate much faster if you are legally married.

    SSM proponents completely underestimate how radical a change legalized SSM would be. All family law, immigration law, adoption law, inheritance law and on and on would need to be changed.

  25. Danithew, it seems that all of those rights can be easily contracted for. It might take a wee bit more work than getting a marriage license and performing a ceremony, but I still haven’t come across any right that two gay partners can’t simply confer on each other contractually. Perhaps our contract law expert, Professor Oman, can tell me if I’m wrong.

    (I understand that some of the automatic rights of married couples can’t be conferred– like the rights of spouses to inherit *without* a will. But still, they can get the substance of those rights *through* a will, so this seems like a trivial problem.).

  26. Thanks for your responses guys. So what I have in mind as marriage rights that gays might want to attain to in their partnerships are:

    1) Adoption ; 2) Inheritance ; 3) Pulling the plug; 4) Expedited legal immigration

    Any others?

  27. 5) Prenuptial agreements 6) Divorce 7) Their half of the shared assets after divorce 8) Child Custody after Divorce 9) Child support after Divorce 8) Alimony?

  28. And:

    joint filing of tax returns;
    joint filing of customs claims when traveling;
    wrongful death benefits for a surviving partner and children;
    bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or child;
    decision-making power with respect to whether a deceased partner will be cremated or not and where to bury him or her;
    crime victims’ recovery benefits;
    loss of consortium tort benefits;
    domestic violence protection orders;
    judicial protections and evidentiary immunity
    joint parenting;
    joint adoption;
    joint foster care, custody, and visitation (including non-biological parents);
    status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions where one partner is too ill to be competent;
    joint insurance policies for home, auto and health;
    dissolution and divorce protections such as community property and child support;
    immigration and residency for partners from other countries;
    inheritance automatically in the absence of a will;
    joint leases with automatic renewal rights in the event one partner dies or leaves the house or apartment;
    inheritance of jointly-owned real and personal property through the right of survivorship (which avoids the time and expense and taxes in probate);
    benefits such as annuities, pension plans, Social Security, and Medicare;
    spousal exemptions to property tax increases upon the death of one partner who is a co-owner of the home;
    veterans’ discounts on medical care, education, and home loans;

  29. There are a lot of benefits to marriage that we take for granted which cannot easily be contracted for. And even when Powers of Attorney, wills, and other legal documents are drawn up, there is always the chance that those agreements will not be honored. For instance, if you are traveling in a foreign country and have a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare in force but no marital status, there is no guarantee that your POA will be honored, even though you took great time and care in drafting the document. Imagine being seriously ill in a foreign country and unable to visit with or speak for your companion.

    Here are a few more benefits of marriage to add to the list:

    Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.

    Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse — that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse’s behalf.

    Receiving public assistance benefits.

    Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse’s employer.

    Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.

    Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse’s close relatives dies.

    Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.

    Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.

    Living in neighborhoods zoned for “families only.”

    Receiving family rates for health, homeowners’, auto, and other types of insurance.

    Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.

    Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.

    Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can’t force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.

    Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.

  30. Laura, that was aweseome. Thanks for those long lists. Obviously marriage really does offer many special privileges and benefits under the law. I’m probably going to have to copy and past these in a document and share them with my wife so that we can discuss this further.

    We’re trying to figure out a little better why it’s wrong to give gay couples the same privileges and benefits as married heterosexual couples. I thought having a better knowledge of what marriage actually means from a legal standpoint could be useful. I’m not sure it would make the logic and discussion any easier … but it’s certainly very pertinent information.

    I’m so grateful that my wife will be able to visit me in prison. :)

  31. So who makes a greater mockery of “traditional” marriage — the lesbian couple who lives up the street to my right, who have been in a stable relationship for about fifteen years now, and who are raising a couple of to all appearances pleasant and well-adjusted (biological) children;

    Or the heterosexual neighbor down the street to my left, who is now in his fourth (or fifth, I’ve lost count) revolving door marriage, and whose kids are in and out of the detention and protective services facilites in six states, which is not terribly suprising, given that they are forever being shipped off to visitation with various biological and step-parents all over the country, and can’t possibly keep track of the various half-siblings, step-siblings, half-step-siblings, and quarter-step-siblings to whom they are supposedly somehow related?

    I’m sorry, but if the First Presidency is so worried about preserving the institution of marriage, where’s the press release “favoring measures” that revoke no-fault divorce laws? I’ll take living in a community of committed gay couples over living in a community of unstable heterosexual couples any time.

  32. I’m not sure comparing the best of homosexual relationships with the worst of heterosexual relationships is really a fair way to make the argument. Perhaps it would be best to compare the worst of heterosexual relationships with the worst of homosexual relationships (how they are handled under the law) and the best of heterosexual relationships with the best of homosexual relationships (how they are handled under the wall). The comparisons might be more useful.

    Otherwise it just sounds to me like a slam against traditional marriage. I mean, DUH, yes I know that heterosexual marriages aren’t always ideal.

  33. Actually I’m guessing that the use of the word DUH in that manner is completely contrary to T&S comment policy. My apologies. :mrgreen:

  34. Re danithew’s comment 32: There is no contractual way to provide for immigration benefits for non-family members, other than employment. Thus, absent a change in the law, a US citizen could not sponsor his or her gay partner for any family-based immigration benefit. Period. The only avenue available would be for the US citizen to sponsor the foreign person under one of the employment based categories, or for the foreign person to claim asylum in the US based upon persecution against homosexuals in his home country.

    Re diogenes comment 39: the reference to “(biological) children” of a lesbian couple suggests a violation of the laws of nature that, so far as I know, have not been broken in humans. Ever. Those children may be the offspring of one or the other of the women, but are surely not the offspring of the two. We may as well marry our pets, and call the puppies our biological children, but we’d know that it was the male dog at the breeder’s that is the biological father.

  35. Following a thread of thought from comments 14 (by me), 23 (john fowles), and the lists of benefits/rights listed by danithew, laura, ebenezer, mds, and others, as I look at the list of the rights, benefits, and privileges that legally married persons in this country enjoy as a consequence of their marriage stauts do not include any that derive from or have an effect on the sexual behavior of those persons. Yet the Church’s position seems to be based largely on the grounds that marriage should be used to license certain types of sexual activity.

    Given this disconnect, is the Church fighting the wrong battle for the wrong reason? Or the right battle for the wrong reason? Or is the reason proper as well?

  36. Mark,

    Just to nitpick, you may be being too strict with the semantics here. After all, perhaps the reference to biological referred only to the fact that the children weren’t adopted. Or perhaps there is one child, a biological child, from each partner, making the general phrase “biological children of the members of that couple” accurate. After all, there’s a biological child of one, and a biological child of another; taken together, they are the biological children, of the two as a group. (Similarly, I might refer to the “biological children of employees of IBM” as a group. That would include children of different employees, despite the fact that they’re not the biological children of each and every employee).

  37. Laura gave us with long lists of benefits. What do these benefits have to do with the act of sex or feelings of love? (Not much really). Shouldn’t these benefits be available to ANY self-selected group of competent adults?

    PS. The only (minor) gripe I have about the lists is the inclusion of benefits (work leave, insurance, etc.) granted by private corporations. If Apple Corp want’s to grant (or not) benefits to committed partners that’s their business, not the governments.

    My biggest concern about SSM is the government FORCING third party individuals or groups (companies) to recognize the marriage. Just as the governmnet is forcing Catholic charities to offer birth control. If Apple Corp wants to offer benefits to ONLY SSM or ONLY DSM that should be fine for the rest of us.

  38. In recent days have had basically the same question/s that Bryce has expressed. My first instinct has been to support what I feel is the Church’s position, that marriage is special and that gay couples should not be able to achieve the equivalency of marriage. But I have been questioning first of all 1) What does marriage actually mean legally? and 2) What immediate harms or dangers exist in giving committed gay couples similar or same legal rights as married couples?

    But that kind of logic might simply lead to a dead end. Of course no logical harm should occur because my gay neighbors can share the same insurance plan or can inherit from one another. That logic probably leads directly to the conclusion that there is no harm in gay marriage.

    Bryce brings up the issue of what law has to do with sexuality. But I’m guessing that might be a wrong question to ask as well. Rather, perhaps we need to look at that equation in reverse — granting legal standing of any sort constitutes granting homosexual relationships (and thus homo-sexuality) a kind of societal legitimacy that is completely contrary to the words of the prophets. It sets a bad example by laying out for our generation and future generations an option that should not be allowed. We are perverting the ways of the Lord.

    Also, as is often brought up … who is saying that granting legal rights to gay couples would be the last step? We’ve acquired a kind of momentum here and it’s likely that we’ll keep moving in a certain direction. We might be able to see ahead fairly clearly but not see what is lying in wait around the corner. What causes would the gay movement (or others who are determined to live immoral lifestyles) undertake next? Perhaps the Church leadership foresees (they are prophets after all) that legitimizing gay marriage is yet another intermediate destructive step. There’s sort of this idea that at the end of the day everyone is reasonable and things will work themselves out — but look at how much things have changed in society over a short period of years. Things that were inconceivable a decade or so ago are commonplace and conceivable now. Things that are inconceivable this year might be conceivable in another decade or less. Whatever and whoever is left in the closet could be up for legal consideration next.

    What impact would legalizing gay marriage have on the Church’s legal status, seeing as how the Church denies gays any rights to temple marriages? Any chance there could be legal encroachments at the temple door someday? We’ve already seen in Church history that when Church marriage practices and teachings contradict the law, the Church suffers.

    I have wondered how much our country can really handle such dramatic changes in the legally accepted family structure. What kind of stability would the nation have afterwards and for how long?Even if whatever disagreements arise are non-violent, that might not be the only problem. My understanding is that the prophets have said that when we cross these kinds of lines we stand in danger of God’s judgments.

    Perhaps the issue isn’t whether or not I can live in peace with my the concept of gay neighbors and even gay marriage (because I really can befriend them and get along with them) — but perhaps at a certain point an indignant God will not.

    No, I’m not paranoid. I’m just trying to remember what I think our prophets have been telling us.

  39. “The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”

    That last language puts to rest the speculation that the Church would still favor civil unions. I am not at all surprised. I don’t think anyone should be.

    The release may well be aimed at giving Utah’s Amendment 3 a boost. It also appears to track the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment fairly well. That amendment also defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and then prohibits using a sexual relationship as a basis for giving marriage benefits to people who aren’t married.

  40. Adam–

    Why should that statement preclude civil unions? I’m not very up on all of the proposals floating out there, but John Fowles has pointed out that the state could choose to legitimize any relationship between adults with no reference to sexual activity and provide benefits on that basis. I have a hard time imagining a test for civil unions that requires the prospective partners to provide evidence that they are sexually active. For example, I can imagine that a brother and sister with no interest in getting married to other people might want to obtain the rights and benefits of marriage through the civil union mechanism. Could that be reasonably be denied? (Not a rhetorical question, you lawyer types) I can’t think of a good reason why they should be.

    Note that I’m thinking purely in terms of sexual relationships here. Clearly also at stake are family relationships between parents and children. The Church’s press release does not address these issues, however. If civil unions could be instituted without reference to sexual activity such that they gave rights, privileges, and benefits to partners insofar as they did not include relationships with children (not likely, as this is essentially relegating homosexuals to second-class status, and would therefore not pass muster with the gay lobby), wouldn’t that be acceptable to the Church given this language?

  41. When I say “civil union” I’m talking about legal status conferred on a sexual relationship. I admit that usage varies, though I have most often seen the term they way I’m using it. The people who were holding out for the Church being willing to recognize civil unions were also using it the way I’m using it. No matter.

    Though i do think ‘civil unions’ in your sense will catch on better if they get a different term. ‘Union’ is union, after all.

    Anyway, call ’em what you will, I don’t think they’ll have exactly the same status as marriages, even apart from the children. I don’t think it makes sense to adopt the marriage laws wholesale.

  42. Adam (and others)–

    What I’m trying to work out in this thread is this question: Does marriage under US law confer legal status on a sexual relationship? It seems to me that the law has been getting out of the bedroom in this country over the past forty years. Sure, it used to be that the married couple hung the bloodied sheets out the window, and that non-consummation was grounds for an annulment (as I understand it purely from reading Victorian-era literature), but I take it the legal climate has changed in this country. Are there any legal tests regarding sexual relationships between adults that relate to marriage? Certainly there are tests when children are involved, but I’m not interested in that question at the moment.

    In other words, is marriage as a legal institution any more about sex than the idea of a civil union when children and procreation are not involved?

  43. I think you’re making an artificial distinction between the law and everything else, Bryce. I don’t think the law requires proof of a sexual relationship (though I believe non-consummation is still grounds for annulment/divorce in many states). But everyone knows that marriage involves sex. You and your wife, for instance, probably just assumed that your marriage would involve sex. I doubt there was a whole lot of agony in that decision, or even a decision at all

  44. Adam–

    So how am I to understand the wording in the Church’s press release: “The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”

    When, if ever, does the US or any other jurisdiction confer legal status on a sexual relationship?

    As to your assertion that “everyone knows that marriage involves sex,” despite the fact that I know that plenty of senior citizens are sexually active, I imagine there is a significant population among the elderly who enter into marriage at an advanced age without assuming there will be much of a sexual relationship. Are these marriages somehow different than mine?

  45. Are you arguing that sex is not properly an element of marriage in the Saints understanding of civil marriage? In our society’s understanding of civil marriage?
    And where does the Church’s statement come in? I’m not sure what your asking.

  46. Adam–

    I’m trying to parse the Church’s statement to see what the fundamental objection is. I’m also working out my own thoughts and feelings on SSM.

    Here’s where I am on the issues in this thread:

    1. The church recognizes civil marriages as a means of legitimizing sexual relations between a man and a woman.

    2. The homosexual lobby in the United States is attempting to change the legal institution of marriage in the United States to include their relationships.

    3. The Church appears in its statement to view marriage as a means of defining a sexual relationship. “Marriage” is contrasted with “any other sexual relationship.” Fundamentally, marriage in the view of the LDS Church defines a sexual relationship.

    4. The legal institution of marriage in this country seems not to be about defining who can have sexual relations with whom under the law. (I’m not sure on this point — this is one of the questions I’m trying to answer)

    5. If the Church is in favor of laws that define marriage as being between a man and a woman for the purposes of regulating sexual activity, and the battles over the laws in the general public are being fought not over the regulation of sexual activity, but over something else, then I fear that the efforts of the Church to protect the legal institution of marriage as it is traditionally conceived are doomed to failure. If the Church is fighting over who gets to have sex with whom, and the rest of the country is fighting over who gets to visit whom in the hospital, I don’t see how the Church can win, since the law doesn’t care about sexual activity, only sex as in gender. The Church’s arguments as described in the press release don’t carry any weight in the sphere it seeks to influence.

    6. I think it would make much more sense for the Church to frame its argument in terms of family structure than sexual activity. The privileged and preferred model of family relations in this country should be one man and one woman.

    It’s late, and I’m not making myself clear. Thanks for trying to address my questions. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.

  47. It’s simple to me.

    1) The Church only recognizes legal and lawful marriages between a man and a woman, as ones authorized by diety to excercise the powers of procreation.

    2) The Church supports measures to make the law of the land reflect the same.

    There is no contradiction between temple and legal marriages since even temple marriages are “legal and lawful”. <-- That is the only criteria. Now if you want to make it to the highest kingdom of the Celestial Kingdom, then temple marriage is a must, and just any legally binding union between a man and a woman will not do. But that's really not the same topic at all.

  48. Here’s another stab at what I was trying to articulate last night:

    The Church’s press release makes clear that its primary concern is preserving marriage as a means of licensing sexual activity. If this is not the case, certainly the language suggests it.

    The broader national debate over SSM in the United States is not about sexual activity at all. That battle has been largely fought already, with the result that adults are free to do as they with with whomever they wish so long as they both consent (there are bounds, of course, but generally speaking, this is the case). The debate is about what the proper composition of family units in American society should be.

    The result of this disconnect is that the Church’s announcement invites itself to be ignored. No one cares in the legal debate about preserving marriage as a place where a man and a woman can enjoy an exclusive sexual relationship. They care about who can be a mother, who can be a father, who can make decisions, how property should be divided.

    I don’t disagree with the Church’s statement, but I find it strangely worded, and ineffective.

    I’ll shut up now.

  49. Bryce, I think your argument/issue/questions you are raising make perfect sense. I’d say more but I’m still struggling to understand a number of matters involving the issue of gay marriage. So I’m the one who probably needs to shut up.

  50. Yeah, I think we’re all doing that. The thing that would be interesting with respect to the lengthy list of marriage benefits we’ve listed, would be to know just which ones are problematic for the church with respect to civil unions. I doubt, for example, that the church has problems with gay couples having visitation rights in hospitals. On the other hand, I am certain that adoption is much more problematic.

    By the way, with respect to the statement in comment 57 (“There is no contradiction between temple and legal marriages since even temple marriages are “legal and lawful”.”). That may be true in the United States, but as has already been pointed out, it certainly isn’t in many others. Many countries refuse to recognize religious marriages as legally binding, and the Saints in those countries are therefore civilly married prior to their temple sealing. Does anyone know of efforts by the church to get involved in this debate outside the United States?

  51. By the way, I just want to say how much I appreciate the comments on this thread — particularly those that listed in such length and detail (nice job Laura) what benefits the law constitutes to marriage. It’s odd that we talk so much about eternal marriage in the Church but I’ve never learned what marriage actually meant according to the law. I’ve got to wonder if we couldn’t gain some insight into marriage and its meaning in general by seeing and discussing more often how society and law treat marriage as an institution.

  52. “I doubt, for example, that the church has problems with gay couples having visitation rights in hospitals.”

    I would speculate that the bretheren do not always think alike on these issues. While they probably all agree that homosexual behavior is a sin, they might disagree on the details of how homosexual relationships should be treated legally in a pluralistic society, and about what steps the church should take to move things in the right direction. The approaches taken by the bretheren have evolved over time and will probably continue to evolve. This is probably why the official statements are often brief and somewhat ambiguous, leaving many questions unanswered. I expect the bretheren might have differing views on things like visitation rights for gay couples, if they have even thought about it at all. Therefore I doubt it is even meaningful to ask whether “the church has problems” with these rights.

  53. Ed,

    I have no doubt that you are right that there are differing views, but am confused as to how you arrive at the conclusion that this renders my question meaningless. Part of being lead by those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators includes the opportunity to receive fairly detailed revelation through them, at least on occasion. Since these issues appear to be destined for further debate, I am hopeful that, as the debate becomes more focused on civil unions and the rights that might be connected to them, the church will clarify its stance.

  54. MDS: All I mean is that, until the church leaders issue some kind of official or quasi-official statement about visitation rights, “the church” can’t be said to have a position on it. We can’t find the church’s position, because it doesn’t exist.

    I think it would be more meaningful to ask if some specific church leader would favor allowing visitation rights, or if God himself would favor such rights, but then our answer would depend a lot our own speculations, opinions and interpretations.

    I meant no offense in saying your question wasn’t meaningful…we all talk and think in these shorthand, reductive ways all the time. I expect that the official church may have more to say on this issue in the future, but I predict that the pronouncements will remain brief and leave many detailed questions unanswered.

  55. Bryce,

    Re: your comments in 58. You mention that the Church’s “primary concern is preserving marriage as a means of licensing sexual activity.” Then you say later on that “the debate is about what the proper composition of family units in American society should be”, implying that the Church has not made it’s position clear.
    The issue is clearly a moral issue and has been from the beginning. The Church has never waivered nor been unclear about sex outside of marriage nor has it been anything but clear on what constitutes a family.
    All this other discussion on rights and privileges, (and restrictions), have always been there for everyone regardless of who they are so why the debate. There is a can of worms opening over this debate that I’m not sure a lot of people have thought through.
    Take sex out of the equation, therefore being gay or lesbian, or straight is irrelevant, and apply the law regarding rights across the board to everyone. What would constitute a civil union?
    Let’s assume that it’s any time 2 or more people decide to co-habitate. We allow them to share benefits because they co-habitate. That way they can be protected if one becomes sick or disabled and is unable to pay their share of costs.
    What you have then is any 2, people who share an apartment or home, (say 2 single moms who can’t afford to support themselves and their kids, but together they can pull it off) and do so for a period of time. They now get to claim rights ahead of anyone else on the benefits of their housemate (and on their estate) .
    They die. What happens to their loved ones for whom they thought to leave their estate, because now their will can be legally challenged by those with whom they lived. Then “their” heirs become beneficiaries and get the spoils. This only begins to address some of the issues.
    What do you think will happen to the social fabric and how long do you think it will take before it breaks down, and what direction do you think it will go?
    By the way, if you think I’m blowing hot air, there was an apparently innocent law respecting this very issue passed in Alberta that has created this connundrum.
    Mess with the way things should be and all “H” will be unleashed. The Church is clear and it is right!

  56. “And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.”
    Doctrine and Covenants section 132.

    “THE arise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the ccoming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April

    2 Which commandments were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church . . . ”
    Doctrine and Covenants section 20.

    Seems to me this “lawfully wedded” wording is not a new idea, although it is put in modern terms. The Church has always recognized the laws of the land as of some kind of moral force, even if temporal.

    “Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land.”
    Doctrine and Covenants section 58

  57. Bryce,
    I think part of the problem might be that your trying to see the Church’s statement as a message to the world. It’s true that talking about regulating sex isn’t going to change a whole lot of minds in Tallahassee. I don’t think the Church intended too. I think they meant to make clear to the members where we stood. We’re the audience, not the world.

  58. Larry —

    I think you’ve misunderstood what I’ve said, because I agree with what you’re saying, and I get the sense that you’re arguing with me.

    The point I am trying (and failing) to make is that the debate over SSM in the United States is about exactly the kinds of issues that you bring up with your story about the single mothers. It’s about how we as a society manage relationships between adults and between parents and children in all kinds of arenas: visitation rights, inheritance, child custody, benefits, but curiously, it is not about what kinds of sexual activity people may engage in. My feeling is that the Church should be engaging in the debate along these lines. The question should be, what would SSM or its equivalent do to the structure of the family as we know it? This is the question that should worry us as members of American society and as members of the church, because they affect society as a whole.

    The recent statement by the church, however, focuses exclusively on the sexual act. Whether or not two men or two women have sex with each other doesn’t affect me all that much. People do it all the time, and for the most part, I am blissfully unaware of the fact. Certainly it matters very much to those people in that they are acting contrary to one of the Lord’s commandments, but from a societal point of view, what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms isn’t any of my business.

    What I find odd is that the Church in its statement has staked out a position that is correct, that I agree with, but that is for the most part irrelevant to the debate that it apparently seeks to enter into, unless I misunderstand the intent of the announcement, which seems to be addressing the political debates over various measures to institute legal definitions of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

  59. Adam —

    I would like to agree with you, and you’re probably right to a certain extent — members will be the ones who pay attention to the statement. However, the First Presidency generally communicates to the general membership of the Church via General Conference talks and letters to bishops. The recent statement was a news release, which means it is definitely intended as a statement to the general public.

    I will be interested to see if there is a similar letter read over the pulpit on Sunday. I guess I’d better get to sacrament meeting on time.

  60. Bryce,

    Sorry again. That should teach me to read a blog after a gruelling day at the office. I didn’t mean to argue with you. Rather I wanted to turn the discussion away from a criticism of the Church to what would happen if “from a societal point of view” if the current trend continues.
    I refer to my earlier comments in #17 when I asked essentially about when when marriage (and/or sex…etc) became the purvue of government. I am onside with you that the government (or you and me) have no business knowing what goes on in people’s bedrooms – between consenting adults. It is a moral issue that creates all sorts of problems when the government gets involved.
    The problem as I see it is, if the government can legalize a certain relationship behaviour that has it origins in religion, it can also outlaw that behaviour. Consequently, we find ourselves where not only relationship behaviour is being legislated, any speech against their interpretation can be interpreted as hate speech and any literature that speaks against that behaviour can be interpreted as hate literature and therefore banned – ergo there go the scriptures.
    In Canada the precedent has already been established with Bill C-250 introduced in the House of Commons during the last government, followed by the fining of a Saskatchewan man for taking out an ad in the newspaper quoting scripture against homosexuality.
    Since your Federal Court is now using international law for precedence, this is certainly one area they can use.
    My concern is why you folks (speaking of Americans), whom we rely on to defend freedom AND religion, have allowed the cause of radicals to go to the courts and avoid the legislative process and validate it with questions of how you feel (or don’t) about it. There appears to be a philosophical inconsistency in arguing a case where the premise (the right of the courts to make law) is false.
    That and the bait and switch which the same radicals will use once they get this ruling in their favour on this issue. (check out the man-boy association) There is absolutely no way religion can win on this issue.
    Everyone in favour of the change to create equality appears to miss the point (to my way of thinking) that a republic (or a democracy) is ruled by a majority. Not by concessions ad nauseum to minorities. When majority rights are protected, then so are minorities. Reduce the republic to concessions to minorities and the rights of the majority will be eroded and the republic will fall into decline.
    Anyone who behaves in a way that is not acceptable to the majority should change the behaviour – not the opposite (or at least keep it private).

  61. “I’m trying to parse the Church’s statement to see what the fundamental objection is.”

    Bryce, nice job of parsing. In all your comments you’ve certainly raised questions about marriage/sexual relations I hadn’t considered before.

    I supported Prop 23 in Cal. a few years back – the proposition that defined “marriage” as between a man & a woman. I interpreted it to allow for civil unions &, I feel sure, the courts will so interpret the amendment. I thot that civil union/partnership could be a viable option for gay couples. Laura’s list of marriage rights/benefits convinces me more than ever that we should go slowly in this area; that the slow, incremental addition of rights to civil unions would be best. Let the genius of experimentation in 50 separate jurisdictions work out the details over time. In the face of an AIDS threat that shows no signs of disappearing, I’ve thot that civil society would have a rational basis for concluding that long-term monogamous gay relationships would/should be favored over the crazy bathhouse scene. If that reasoning is accepted, it favors some acceptance & conferral of benefits to such monogamous relationships. But jurisdiction by jurisdiction would be the most sensible approach.

    The Church’s recent statement may throw a monkey wrench in my reasoning. They seem to be pursuing a “pure” approach. But, as the saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good & in politics an incremental approach to achieving the good is, frankly, the only approach there is. So I’m still inclined toward granting civil union status to committed gay relationships with experimentation in various jurisdictions about which complement of rights proves best/most appropriate. Then wait fifty years. We’ll all know more in fifty years.

    But like everyone else, I’m feeling my way along.

  62. They say that the Scandinavian countries are about 30 years ahead of us in the U.S. in their social experimenting, particularly with allowing gay marriage. As many as 70% of children are born out-of-wedlock, because people thinking nothing of marriage.
    Perhaps the issue is not really gay marriage, but destroying the sacredness of marriage, and the idea that marriage is even important….

    from: The End of Marriage in Scandinavia

  63. Wasn’t there an article on marriage published before the doctrine of temple marriage was revealed?

    Anyhow, as a returned-missionary, I remember a list of requirements for baptism stated that married converts had to be in a legal marriage, with the instruction to “contact your mission president” for clarification on how that applied to various parts of the world. This was an issue in Brazil (where I served), because Brazil has legal marriages and “religious marriages,” and the church doesn’t recogize strictly “religious marriages.” I happened to serve in a part of the country where many people only got married religiously, if at all. In those cases, the mission had worked out a deal with a justice of the peace who would give a discount on legal marriages.

    I assumed this would also be an issue in areas where “common law” marriages are honored. I would expect the church to not accept common law marriages.

    I think this may explain the wording, “The powers of procreation are to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife” (emphasis added). Same-sex marriage won’t change this (note the “man and woman” part)..

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