Privilege and the Family

In a post at By Common Consent over the weekend (What has two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap about the Family?), Rebecca J writes that “If I’m not currently standing up for the Family, it’s… really just that I don’t care enough about the Family. I don’t think I care at all.” She goes on to write:

I’m really not sure what they [Church leaders] mean. I mean, it can’t mean that I’m supposed to be speaking out against divorce or same-sex marriage or unwed parenthood because if it did, they would just come out and say that, right? I mean, I know that church leaders rarely just come out and say anything, but if I were to raise my hand and ask for clarification by saying, “Hey, does this mean I should be speaking out against divorce and/or same-sex marriage and/or unwed parenthood?” they would definitely not respond in the affirmative but would probably say something that had nothing to do with my question and didn’t mean anything, which I think means that there’s some deeper message here that I’m just not getting.

So here are some thoughts on the twin questions Rebecca J raises:

  1. Why should we care about the family?
  2. What does it mean to stand up for the family?

As for the first, I can do no better than reference the string of posts my co-blogger Walker Wright has written for Difficult Run over the past couple of years:

Obviously, there’s a lot of material to cover, and I can’t hope to summarize it all. Instead, I’ll justcopy-paste a couple of charts to whet your interest (and perhaps Rebecca J’s as well.)

Children's Rate of Exposure to Domestic Violence by Family Type

If you care about domestic violence, then you should care about the family.

Difference in income rank at age 40 between children of continuously married mothers and children of never married or discontinuously married mothers.

If you care about poverty and income inequality, then you should care about the family.

Children's Exposure to Neighborhood Violence by Family and Neighborhood Type

If you care about children and violent crime, then you should care about the family.

Single Motherhood vs. Relative Mobility Across U.S. Commuting Zones

If you care about social mobility, then you should care about the family.

Now, one might take the approach that family isn’t really the causal factor in any of these cases. It’s just a correlated variable. Maybe being rich, being educated, and/or being happy are all correlated with getting married before you have kids and with staying married. So we think we’re looking at the benefits of marriage, but really we’re just attributing the benefits of wealth, education, and happiness to marriage because they’re all positively correlated with each other.

Of course the bane of all social science research is that you generally can’t run controlled experiments. You have to make due as best you can with natural experiments and sophisticated controls in your statistical models. So this isn’t a question that I can hope to answer definitively in a blog post, but it’s worth pointing out that many of these studies do control for income, race, education, and pretty much every other measurable factor and—while some of these factors are clearly relevant—marriage and family still come out as important factors in their own rights. Which is why I agree wholeheartedly with Walker’s conclusion: “those who are concerned about social justice should be the biggest advocates of marriage.”

Now that we’ve answered the question of why we should care, let’s address the second one: what does it mean to stand up for the family?

Let me observe, first and foremost, that not a single one of the articles that I cited from Walker focused on either gay marriage or divorce. Those issues are relevant, but standing up for the family is first and foremost a positive approach to what the family gets right, not a negative approach to alternatives or problems which erode the family’s beneficial impact. In any case, gay marriage and divorce are not the core threat facing the family. The much greater threat is the casual dismissal of marriage and the family as unimportant and irrelevant. As Rebecca J writes:

Perhaps I’m supposed to go around affirming that being married for eighteen years to the same guy who fathered all my kids (after we were married) has made me very happy and that it can make other people happy too. Well, I’m not sure that’s true.

She then goes on to express doubts that the family itself really has anything very much to do with the benefits she enjoys in her life. By far the most incisive criticism of this particular approach comes from Ross Douthat’s January 2014 editorial in the NYT: Social Liberalism as Class Warfare.

The core of Douthat’s piece is the simple observation that a lot of those who are most dismissive of family and marriage are the best practitioners thereof. He notes that the one thing uniting social elites from across the political spectrum (“Wall Street’s Randians and Harvard’s academic socialists, a left-leaning media and a right-leaning corporate sector, the libertarians of Silicon Valley and the liberal rich of the Upper West Side”) is outright antipathy towards “any kind of social conservatism, any kind of morals legislation, any kind of paternalism on issues of sex and marriage and family.” And yet despite this apparent denigration of the traditional moral script, “In upper class circles, liberal social values do not necessarily lead to libertinism among the people who hold them, and indeed quite often coexist with an impressive amount of personal conservatism, personal restraint.”

In other words, social elites—while continuing to enjoy the benefits of marriage and family themselves—have worked hard to erode the capacity for those less fortunate to do so. How has this been accomplished? In what sense is the family under attack? Douthat writes:

Much of what the (elite-driven) social revolutions of the 1970s did, in law and culture, was to strip away the most explicit cues and rules linking sex, marriage, and childrearing, and nudging people toward the two-parent bourgeois path. No longer would the law make any significant effort to enforce marriage vows. No longer would an unplanned pregnancy impose clear obligations on the father. No longer would the culture industry uphold the “marriage-then-childbearing” script as normative, or endorse any moral script around sexuality save the rule of consenting adults.

The conservative view of marriage and family is not as naïve and magical as stereotypes would lead you to believe. We understand that marriage:

only delivers benefits when it’s part of a larger life script, a way of pursuing love and happiness that shapes people’s life choices – men as well as women — from the moment they come of age sexually, and that exerts its influence not through the power of a singular event (ring, cake, toasts) but through that event’s place in a larger mix of cues, signals, expectations, and beliefs.

Unfortunately, however, it is this larger script that has been under attack since the 1970s. We live in a society where lots of folks point out that the divorce rate has declined, but far fewer pair that with a recognition that so has the marriage rate. Marriage is increasingly becoming an exclusive privilege of socially liberal elites (who, in our increasingly hereditary meritocracy, are busily kicking away the ladder after they have climbed it) and religious conservatives (who are increasingly vilified for trying to maintain the social mores and cues from which marriage and the family have historically derived much of their vitality, strength, and accessibility.)

I may as well take a moment to address the elephant in the room: gay marriage. If conservatives are so intent on promoting and strengthening the family because they believe that the two-parent + kids model (“the Family”) is so great for everybody, why aren’t they on the front-lines advocating for gay couples to be able to join their ranks? I can’t address that completely in this post, but it’s absolutely essential to note at least one point: if gay marriage were being promoted first and foremost under this banner, it would be far less disconcerting to social conservatives. It’s not, however. The first recourse of gay marriage proponents is a set of arguments about equality. This approach redefines marriage (before we even start talking about the gender of the spouses) as primarily a right that exists for the sake of the participating spouses as opposed to a binding contract that exists primarily for the sake of their offspring. Along these lines, for example, prominent members of the gay community are open about challenging conventional marriage norms like monogamy. Thus, it’s reasonable to point out that a great deal (not all) of the conflict over gay marriage arises not from the policy itself (how should marriage be defined?) but rather from the particular arguments which have been employed to advocate for same sex marriage thus far. These arguments, while clearly very persuasive in terms of public opinion, do themselves represent a threat to the family over and above any threat represented by the institution of gay marriage itself. In short: I think it’s entirely possible to imagine a pro-family, pro-gay marriage Mormon, but such a Mormon would have to be deeply uncomfortable with a lot of the rhetoric and logic being used by his or her allies. (Nate Oman has not designated himself this way to my knowledge, but it certainly seems to fit his views as expressed here about two years ago.)

Now, I want to make one more observation from this piece by Douthat. He observes that:

It’s hard for the meritocracy’s inhabitants, I think, to recognize that their own script really can be a kind of a gnostic secret – that people outside their circle are getting a very different message about sex and children and marriage than the one that’s implicitly imparted to the new upper class’s organization kids.

This, it turns out, is a general problem with privilege in all its many and varied incarnation: it is routinely invisible to those who benefit from it. As W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in The Souls of White Folks in 1910, African American have to be very conscious of race while white Americans tend not to think very much about it at all. This is just one of the many “wages of whiteness” (essentially: white privilege) they enjoy without a thought. The concept of white privilege was brought back to the forefront in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh in her article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” (Full text here, if you’re curious.) As the title indicates, McIntosh reiterates that privilege is invisible to those who benefit from it. Thus, McIntosh describes white privilege as “an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” (emphasis added)

I submit that under any standard definition of privilege (e.g. Wikipedia: “Privilege is the sociological concept that some groups of people have advantages relative to other groups… Specific elements of privilege may be financial or material such as access to housing, education, and jobs, as well as others that are emotional or psychological, such as a sense of personal self-confidence and comfortableness, or having a sense of belonging or worth in society.”) there are more forms of privilege than those associated with identity. At the top of that list, for example, I would talk about the invisible privilege of a low ACE score.

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience, and it refers to groundbreaking and heartbreaking research into the extent and the impact of traumatic childhood experiences (including abuse, the death of a parent, living with an alcoholic parent, and others). I wrote previously about this concept here, and it also continues to be a topic of important discussion as with articles like this one from NPR. People with a low ACE score are those who avoided most or all major childhood trauma. People with a high ACE score are those who suffered more. What the research uncovered was that high ACE scores were far, far more common than previously believed and that they had long-reaching negative effects on health, income, incarceration, and a wide variety of important life outcomes. The primary researcher described his reaction when he looked at the results from the first large-scale study this way: “I wept. I saw how much people had suffered and I wept.”

A healthy, intact, biological family is another major and invisible privilege. Those who experience it, perhaps like Rebecca J, are unaware of the causal benefits that they have enjoyed in their lives and which they are passing on to their children, children who will have a significant advantage over their peers in school, in work, and in life generally. I do not fault Rebecca J at all for being unaware of her privilege in this particular regard. Unless you know to look for it, you won’t be able to see that it is there. But it is there.

So what does it mean to stand up for the family? It means, first and foremost, recognizing the powerful privilege that being a member of an intact, biological family confers on its members. It means working to strengthen the social scripts that make these benefits widely known and generally accessible. It means lending one’s opinion to policies and attitudes that serve to underscore the importance and blessings of the family.

Of course this work should be done with a spirit of humility, empathy, and tolerance. This is not a unique challenge for us as Mormons. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we understand that there’s no way to teach about the Restoration without at least implying the corollary to that message: the Great Apostasy. Despite the difficulty, we should not abandon our mission to teach about the Restoration. We should simply seek to be effective missionaries and truly Christian disciples by finding ways to speak boldly without contention or animosity or arrogance. We should emphasize the positive things we believe in, not engage in attacking the faith of others, even where we disagree. And, as a general rule, we are fairly good at that. (There is no Mormon analog to the countercult movement, for example, which is something I have always been proud of.) As it goes with the message of the Restoration, so it goes with our mission to stand for the family. It’s a vital message, and one that can bring the world great peace and joy, and so we should do our best to speak out boldly in ways that are loving and uplifting.

If this isn’t concrete enough an answer, let me add one final point. We spend far too much time thinking about the superficial aspects of controversial issues. Which is to say: the legal and political aspects. This tendency is natural. Elections have clear winners and losers. Bills are passed or they are not passed. Courts uphold laws or reject them. This enables us to keep score, to focus our attention on discrete events, and to easily weave simplistic, powerful narratives out of the complexity of real life. But it is mostly an illusion. Laws matter, but they are not as important as the culture that underlies them and provides the context within which they are interpreted and enforced (or not). In this regard, I have found Alma 31:5 coming to mind more and more often as political debates rage all around us:

And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

While I certainly don’t suggest that anyone abandon political activism, I do think that we might want to refocus our efforts on the humble but ultimately more powerful approach of individual, person-to-person “preaching of the word.” To me, this is what standing for the family is primarily about. It is about speaking positively about the family, about the importance of marital fidelity, about the importance chastity, about the blessings of parenthood, and about the central role the family plays in the Plan of Salvation. We all come from Heavenly Parents who provided a home for us before we came to Earth, and who are there waiting to receive us back home when our journey here is through. We all enter this mortal experience with earthly parents in a God-ordained representation of our heavenly origins, and these parents are charged with a sacred duty to honor and love each other and their children and to do their utmost despite personal weaknesses and the vicissitudes of a tempestuous environment to recreate that heavenly home here on Earth.

Not all of us are privileged enough to experience healthy family life as children. Not all of us are blessed enough to be able to participate in families as parents when we are adults. As with all trials, it is a sin to assume that those who miss out on these opportunities do so because of some wickedness on their part (or their parents, or anyone else’s). Some of us receive healthy bodies and minds for this mortal trial. Others do not. In this, there is no shame. Some of us live out our full natural lives in peace. Others are taken much, much too early by violence or accident or disease. In this, there is no shame. Our hope as Mormons is that these mortal inequities and tragedies will find recompense in the eternities where none die, none are sick or infirm, and all have hope of participating in a grand, united, loving family with a perfect Father and Mother at the head.

As Mormons, the family is at the very core of our belief about our origins, the sacred worship we practice here on Earth, and our hoped-for final salvation. There’s a reason that the world knows Mormons as “those weird guys who really care about families.” It’s because that is who we are. To stand for the family, let us start by simply not forgetting who we are and what our message for this world is. When we teach about the Restoration and the Plan of Happiness, perhaps we have already taken the most important step in standing for the family.

81 comments for “Privilege and the Family

  1. Nathaniel, I do love this post.

    …a lot of those who are most dismissive of family and marriage are the best practitioners thereof. … social elites—while continuing to enjoy the benefits of marriage and family themselves—have worked hard to erode the capacity for those less fortunate to do so.

    I’m so looking forward to throwing the term “marriage privilege” around willy nilly in political conversations. I will credit you for the chaos that follows. :)

  2. Nathaniel: These data are interesting and compelling. I understand that 100 years ago that divorce rates were very low, and single moms were limited to widows of war and disease. Therefore we had many families that were technically intact, but probably weren’t functioning well. There used to be many “abandoned” famlies, I understand. So, let me ask this: In this era of high rates of cohabitation and lower rates of marriage is the rate of child abuse, child poverty, child neglect lower or higher? I am certain that measuring across generations is tricky and possibly impossible. I highly believe in the family, and I support social structures such as marriage, family-leave, etc that supports the family. It isn’t clear to me that children of single parent famlies today fare any poorer than children of highly dysfunctional families either today or in the past. I am respectful of those who choose to not have children. Why would we put pressure on someone to do something that they don’t want to do? Especially if it requires a 20 year (or more!) period of total dedication and attention.

  3. By the way, I love your post and hope that we can learn to respond in a way that increases the chances of addressing “marriage privilege” in some productive way.

  4. Alma 31:5 – Exactly. One of the best ways to strengthen and defend the family is for husbands to love their wives and for wives to love their husbands, (Jacob 3:7) but even this truth would remain obscured without the preaching of the word. Fortunately we will soon be privilged to receive an ample dose of the preaching of the word in General Conference, which word is quick and powerful. (Hel. 3:29-30)

  5. As a side note, RJ is one of BCC’s conservative authors. I think you may have missed what she was saying.

  6. NG,

    this is really impressive. I kept coming on to parts that I had my doubts about, but you kept addressing those doubts as the essay went on. Really an impressive piece of work.

    Of course, probably the best piece of pro-family activism we can do is within the walls of our own home. We can achieve better, happier, more abundant families that are built to last. What’s hard is being unapologetic about those successes in public without being bumptious about it.

  7. Thanks for this, Nathaniel. I really didn’t understand Rebecca J’s piece in BCC at all. The institution of marriage is extremely important, as is a family-focused lifestyle for those who have kids. Well, this is true in the developed world. In much of the developing world, especially places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Niger, and Yemen, there needs to be less focus on the tribe, family customs, family honor, and more focus on individual freedoms. The family is arguably a huge social problem there.

    The problem for me is that when I hear ‘defend the family’ from LDS leaders, I often hear it in conjunction with how bad gay marriage is. Then I just tune out. For I think that we defend the family by increasing the likelihood of happy marriages, and that comes not only in the form of legalizing gay marriage, but accepting it as normal. The ‘defend the family’ focus is too often misplaced. Focus it on the things that you are pointing out and I listen.

  8. I loved your post, and appreciate the level of detail into the ambiguity and benefit of social science studies. I think you respectfully answer a lot of the concerns of Rebecca J’s post.

    On a related note: has anyone else noticed an increasing tendency for those of us within the community to explain the “Mormon-lifestyle” in terms that a scientist can appreciate, and less in terms of faith? We practice the word of wisdom, because he live longer (scientifically). We study the scriptures as a family, because it means our kids will be better students. We fast once a month, because of the health benefits (i had a mission companion that explained it this way – no spiritual blessings, just health benefits verified by Mens Health magazine), and now, we support the family, because social science says we should. No wonder we have difficulty believing in a prophet – science hasn’t verified his usefulness yet.

  9. Thanks for this, Nathaniel. I really didn’t understand Rebecca J’s piece in BCC at all. The institution of marriage is extremely important, as is a family-focused lifestyle for those who have kids. Well, this is true in the developed world. In much of the developing world, especially places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Niger, and Yemen, there needs to be less focus on the tribe, family customs, family honor, and more focus on individual freedoms. The family is arguably a huge social problem there.

    The problem for me is that when I hear ‘defend the family’ from LDS leaders, I often hear it in conjunction with how bad gay marriage is. Then I just tune out. For I think that we defend the family by increasing the likelihood of happy marriages, and that comes not only in the form of legalizing gay marriage, but accepting it as normal. The ‘defend the family’ focus is too often misplaced. Focus it on the things that you are pointing out and I listen.

  10. The problem being is the rhetoric of “defending” marriage and its “attackers” are too often framed as one man and one woman/anti-legal marriage.

    For those of us who do care about strengthening the family, we do have two thumbs and don’t care about Saturday night’s rhetoric. Gays aren’t ruinng marriage. Working moms aren’t ruining marriage. Stay at home dads and nontraditional gender roles aren’t ruinng marriage.

    Decreasing Income inequality, expanding access to education and vocational education programs, supporting jail/prison rehab/to work programs, strengthening our mental health care availability and addiction recovery programs, ensuring every child has access to health care coverage, and addressing comprehensive immigration reform are all things that will strengthen the family. But we don’t hear those things from the pulpit.

    So who has two thumbs and doesn’t give a rip about our current “defense” ? This girl.

  11. I am coincidentally reading through Susan Dixon’s The Roman Family this week, where she makes clear that the idea of defending “the Family” and returning to older patterns of life, refusing to innovate from them or discard them, is as old as Rome itself. Augustus had edicts that resemble the Women’s Session rhetoric in structure. It is most similar. It is an ancient concern.

  12. “The first recourse of gay marriage proponents is a set of arguments about equality. This approach redefines marriage (before we even start talking about the gender of the spouses) as primarily a right that exists for the sake of the participating spouses as opposed to a binding contract that exists primarily for the sake of their offspring. Along these lines, for example, prominent members of the gay community are open about challenging conventional marriage norms like monogamy.”

    Nathaniel, I know this argument is commonplace – particulalry in the church’s recent court filings – but do you really believe this tripe? Throughout my entire life, the church has presented marriage a covenant relationship between man/woman, not between parents/children. To crib a common saying, it’s Adam + Eve, not Adam + Kids. Yes, children undoubtedly benefit from their parent’s marriage, but the marriage, and the marriage benefits (including monogamy) firstly and primary benefit the couple.

    Looking at the church’s Gospel Topics definitions of “family” and “marriage,” one would think this is still the church’s view. Marriage is defined as a relationship between the married couple. Childless couples are still married. Heck, under the current Gospel Topic definition for “family,” even a single individual is a family. (Thus, a freshman dorm floor at BYU can be either 0 families or a commune of many families, but it cannot be just 1 family; sorry Friends)

    So I’m wondering why you follow the church’s tact of changing the game for gay couples who want to get married. If we are going to judge how we want to be judged, shouldn’t gay marriages be firstly about Adam + Steve, not Adam + Kids? Or must we always change the goalposts when all our other arguments have prove meritless?

    Honestly, when you got married did you do so primarily to benefit your future offspring? Do you currently view your marriage as primarily about the kids, secondarily about your wife? Assuming you don’t, then why are you unfairly claiming that gay marriage is changing this aspect of marriage?

  13. “Decreasing Income inequality, expanding access to education and vocational education programs, supporting jail/prison rehab/to work programs, strengthening our mental health care availability and addiction recovery programs, ensuring every child has access to health care coverage, and addressing comprehensive immigration reform are all things that will strengthen the family.”

    Programs that expand opportunity certainly have their place. But the social science literature demonstrates that family fragmentation undermines the educational, social, economic, and psychological development of children. Much of the inequality we find in these various categories stems from family instability. Michael Austin has a fantastic insight at BCC on Church programs vs. human connections:

    “The highly correlated nature of both the Church’s organization and its curriculum means that most people in it have a pretty good idea what they are supposed to do in their callings, what they are supposed to teach in their classes, and how they are supposed to interact when they visit each other’s homes.

    The downside of all this organization is that it is entirely possible to confuse categorical relationships for real human connections. One is moderately important to program development; the other is the main reason we exist.

    Home teaching, visiting teaching, fellowshipping, and curricular correlation are valuable programs, but programs aren’t the same thing as relationships. We must be careful not to mistake one for the other—to think that somebody who has been through training has been educated, or that somebody who has been assigned a visiting teacher now has a friend. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the development of meaningful human connections is the belief that, through our institutional attachments, we already have them. It is a simple and ordinary belief, to be sure, which is precisely why it is so terrible.”

    This can apply to various programs we insist are needed to address income inequality, healthcare, etc. All the programs in the world cannot replace (though they can enhance) real human connections.

  14. “Home teaching, visiting teaching, fellowshipping, and curricular correlation are valuable programs, but programs aren’t the same thing as relationships.”

    The modern implementation of home teaching sometimes discourages families with issues from sharing them with the home teacher…

  15. And that social science literature covers various places, including the U.S., Britain, Northern Ireland, and even welfare-heavy Sweden.

  16. “This approach redefines marriage (before we even start talking about the gender of the spouses) as primarily a right that exists for the sake of the participating spouses as opposed to a binding contract that exists primarily for the sake of their offspring.”

    This sounds like you’re smuggling in a pretty idiosyncratic and self-serving definition of whatever marriage was supposed to be before it was “redefined,” especially if you’re going to pin down the 1970s as the time that started taking place.

    Besides that, while I appreciate the role culture plays in creating normative values (although I don’t see the relevance of Douhat’s observations about people “dismissive of family and marriage” in even a left-wing mormon context), If we really want people to get married—or, more accurately, to enjoy the social and economic benefits correlated with marriage—then there really are a broad range of policy options that can be a lot more effective than reestablishing cruel social stigmas and telling folks how swell chastity is. Specifically, I mean ending law enforcement policies that disproportionally criminalize and incarcerate poor men, setting up an extremely robust social safety net that provides stability for poor families (preferably a guaranteed minimum income, although I’m not holding my breath for that), and supporting policies that allow women the flexibility to work and raise children if they choose, like mandatory paid leave.

    Granted, that probably won’t get people lining up to marry by itself (which I agree is a worth goal in its own right), but if your goal is to increase well-being and reduce negative outcomes it’s a decent and much more tangible place to start for my money.

  17. For everyone tauting the tangential things to do to encourage marriage – it sounds like most of the things being suggested are already being done in Europe (universal health care, liberal maternity leave, etc) and they have not resulted in an increase in marriage rates. Do you have stats to show otherwise?

  18. I like your arguments and my opinions about families are validated by the research you’re providing here. The studies you cite seem sound. Your argument feels rational and eloquent. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the talks we’re hearing from Salt Lake are grounded in the same thinking I see on display in this post. In fact, I suspect those sermons are, essentially, warmed over socially conservative rhetoric. And that’s what makes me nervous.

    Also. I’d just like to hear more about Jesus during general conference on Easter weekend. Pretty please.

  19. Dave K, it seems to me that Mormonism is in a unique position to answer your challenge: Yes, we do see marriage as integrally connected to childrearing. We conceive of it as a divine institution modeled on God’s own relationship with a Heavenly Mother. Yet despite the unique doctrine that God is married, when God tells us what his work and glory is, it’s about childrearing. We place great emphasis on the commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth.” And without going into the specifics of the wedding vows, suffice it to say that that responsibility is reiterated and emphasized during our marriage ceremonies. Our greatest hope and aspiration as Mormons is something called exaltation. And what is exaltation? What makes it different from simple salvation? Exaltation involves childrearing.

    Can you seriously say that for Mormons, marriage is primarily about the two adults focused on each other, with childrearing as an afterthought?

  20. “It’s Adam + Eve, not Adam + Kids.”

    Actually. it’s pretty much “Adam & Eve + Kids”, if you follow the scriptures:

    Genesis 1:28 (NASB): “God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”

    Abraham 4:28 – “We will cause them [Adam and Even] to be fruitful and multiply”

    Moses 2:28 – “And I, God, blessed them, and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply”

    It seems pretty clear, in God’s mind, it was Adam and Eve + lots of kids. To call that idea tripe is silly.

  21. Should be “Adam and Eve” (or perhaps “male and female”) in my Abraham verse. Not sure who “Even” is.

  22. Dave K is right. Happy families are most likely to result from happy marriages. Spouses should come first in the marriage, then the kids. There currently are and have been many cultures that place primacy on the kids; who see kids as the main, if not the sole, purpose of marriage (largely to help expand the tribe and generate more income for the family), but it is doubtful that we want to actual mimic these cultures. In Pol Pot’s Kampuchea, people were married randomly, with no consideration for the preference of the individual. In many parts of India, marriages are arranged by the parents, leading to lots of loveless marriages. In Afghanistan and Somalia, women are married young and encouraged, if not coerced, to have as many children as possible. There is no regard for the female’s preference of a mate, female health, or even for the health of the children. For children, it is a veritable survival of the fittest, with infant mortality rates high and malnutrition a common problem. No, the most desirable society is one in which marriage is adult-focused (where you have full freedom to choose your mate and plan your family) first, and then child focused.

  23. Amen to #19 and #20

    Honestly, when you got married did you do so primarily to benefit your future offspring? Do you currently view your marriage as primarily about the kids, secondarily about your wife? Assuming you don’t, then why are you unfairly claiming that gay marriage is changing this aspect of marriage?

    I personally broke off one relationship because of the serious health issues running through the girls family. I liked her, but didn’t want to have those potential struggles with my kids. Now my wife and I have seven kids who are all fantastically healthy. We regularly help support one particular single mother when 1-2 times a month she takes at least one of her kids to the children’s hospital for a 2-7 day stay and we constantly say prayers of gratitude that our children are healthy and we TRULY mean it every time. So in my decision of marriage the benefit to my future offspring WAS more important than the particluar spouse. My spouse is #1 now, but when choosing a spouse my kids actually did come first.

  24. First I think family really should be held in high esteem.

    I do worry about some of your stats though and I’m a little skeptical of Douthat here. For instance your graph with the “Family Explains This” seems dubious due to the correlation not causation. It may be that a lot of the people no longer getting married are those least able to handle the responsibility of marriage. Now that may itself be a vicious cycle of poor family life, poor impulse control, poor education and so forth. How to solve it might be trickier. I’m a bit more skeptical about the marker theory, even if I think that social norms within a sub-community can make a huge difference.

    To wit – the difference between poor active Mormons and the typical person in a poor community. Often there are the same problems but the incidence seems different as are the responses and the ability to move out of that trap. We have to be careful not to be self-congratulatory here. I think we could do much better than we do. Plus often many simply slip through the cracks as inactives who don’t get the attention they otherwise would. i.e. there tends to be an inherent sorting effect going on which also happens with who has successful marriages.

    All that said though I do think there’s more that could be done. Reducing crime and arrests in poor communities is a huge one. It’s not the panacea some think it is simply because the perception that it’s all drug busts is false. Most of the US’ incarceration is of pretty violent offenders. The huge increase in prison populations was primarily due to laws tying gun use to higher sentences and not drugs. (Yeah, I was shocked when I first learned this too) Any reduction in prison populations will inherently entail letting very violent offenders on the streets.

    That said I would like to see a shift to home arrests rather than jail or prison time. It has two effects. First the people can typically still work, helping the community, reducing tax costs, but also setting an example of being caught. It’s one thing when people are out of sight out of mind in prison. It’s an other when they’re beside you having to go home at 6PM with a GPS on their ankle. The problem is that GPS and the like are handled by the parole system which is a locally funded system while prisons are federal and state. Guess where the incentives for prosecutors are? There’s a lot of things within government that have to be changed and often the incentives aren’t obvious until you start working through the economics.

    I’m all for a negative tax too, which is actually a very conservative idea. Especially when tied to having a job. (It came from Milton Friedman) Not all conservatives like it and even most liberals I’ve encountered seem skeptical of it. But I’d love a shift to that from all the weird programs we have now with often conflicting incentives they produce.

    An other systemic change that would benefit families would simply be making sure poor people get birth control. (Sad to say, but if you look at the stats, it’s not college kids becoming pregnant unexpectedly) While I think those who think delaying pregnancy have confused correlation with causation, waiting until people are more mature certainly will help.

    While I’ve slowly been convinced the war on drugs isn’t quite the cause of as many problems as some think, I remain hopeful that easing the war would still have big benefits especially for the poor who seem to be the ones facing most of the violence and arrests. The trick is to kill the markets that disrupt a lot of these areas. While it’s too early to say, I am curious how some of the innovative rethinking in Europe turn out.

  25. Just to add again for emphasis. If you can seriously reduce drug and alcohol use you’d probably have more of an effect on the family than anything else. I have no good answers for how, although I wish alcohol had the same advertising restrictions than cigarettes do. It boggles my mind how people quick to raise gun control after a shooting and crying it’s only a recreation are so loath to make the same connection with alcohol which also primarily recreational.

    If I had a magic wand I’d keep them all legal but available only in some hospital like environment where they have to remain until the effects are worn off. That’d reduce the markets, reduce the romance, and keep drunk or high people from screwing up families.

  26. We Mormons are extremely family oriented. This is well known to all. So it’s odd to hear we should defend the family –as if we might not think the “traditional’ family works well?? I’m happy to share with whomever asks me what my views are on marriage–but no one has ever asked. Most of my associates are LDS and we don’t discuss the “family” because we’re busy with ours and our vew of family is most likely the same. And some of us don’t have a family other than our ward family so all this talk about family to them sounds like banging on one piano key constantly to the neglect of other important keys.
    Am I supposed to find non-members and try to make conversation about families and say I think it works best with one mom and one dad?

  27. Thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful reply to the “What has two thumbs…” piece. Well said!

  28. Have you read Robert Putnam’s new book “Our Kids”? It makes some of these exact points–especially that the salutary presence of “family” is more and more predicated on socioeconomic status–and seeks to tease out the effects of family from community, schools, and so forth. It would bolster your argument significantly.

  29. I think there are two big elephants in the room, and I am surprised,  (but certainly not shocked) that the assumption is that divorce causes the violence in children’s lives, rather than recognizing that oftentimes the violence happens during the time their parents were married and that the divorce is the only way for a parent to reduce the violence in their children’s lives. 

    Let’s also be honest that the focus on intact families, oftentimes keeps LDS families where violence happens together for longer times, so that even more violence is perpetrated on their children and spouses because bishops are told to counsel couples to stay together. The lack of insight into why divorce may be the best option is reinforced because only people with intact marriages will go on to become bishops and stake presidents, the leaders most likely yo be counseling someone contemplating divorce, who assume any marriage should be kept intact.  

    Let’s also be honest that the lack of female leaders, and the ability for women to talk/confess to women exacerbates this problem exponentially. I don’t know how many times people said, both before and after my parents divorced, that they just couldn’t understand why it had happened. When my mother stuck to her basic answer that she had received personal revelation that this was the best way to protect her children, over and over people in our ward and stake just couldn’t understand. Even people I trusted enough to share that I had attempted suicide as a way to get away from the physical and emotional abuse from my father, the response was, “but I have never seen your father do that,” or something like,  “but he’s been in a bishopric and many stake callings, the Lord would never call a man that abused his children to those callings.” 

    The only leaders that reached out to me, as my father spread rumors about me including that I wasn’t raped but had just been a slut, were other women who had been abused. The people who were the most supportive and helpful were those “poor souls” who came from “broken homes.” They had mothers who left their fathers when they realized their children were being abused. 

    One man offered to give me a blessing the Sunday after I left the hospital, and I will never forget how tender and loving his offer was, or the blessing’s message of peace gave me hope. He was so humble in both his initial offer, and his willingness to “invite” me over to spend time with him and his wife, which was issued as a standing invitation. It wasn’t until several months after he gave me the first blessing that he told me about his older sister and her suicide. He was only 12 at the time, and while originally he felt wicked for praying that his mom would divorce his father, he still prays for it. He protected his younger sister, (after realizing that his father had been abusing his older sister) waiting until she graduated from high school before he went on his mission.

    I met his mother twice when she visited, both times she had visible bruises on her face and neck. I was there one night as he offered to let his mother live with him for the rest of her life, so she could get away from her husband and feel safe all the time. Her response was that their 40th anniversary was coming up, and she knew she would be safe at least until then because they were having a party and there would be pictures. 

    Isn’t it possible that defending the family means defending the members of families where abuse is happening, and leaving behind the idea that if my parents hadn’t divorced that nothing bad would have happened?

  30. “Decreasing Income inequality, expanding access to education and vocational education programs, supporting jail/prison rehab/to work programs, strengthening our mental health care availability and addiction recovery programs, ensuring every child has access to health care coverage, and addressing comprehensive immigration reform are all things that will strengthen the family.”

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “strengthen the family.” This seems like a putatively good recipe for strengthening the individuals within a family. But it is less certain to me that all these programs will actually create stronger families. Some maybe, depending on circumstances; a sick kid with no insurance will likely be a stress to the family, for example. But taken as a whole, I’m not sure any of these would have an appreciable effect on husband and wife sticking together to raise children.

  31. It is good to know that Nathaniel and Walker are the only Mormon bloggers who truly care about the poor. They have also already explained everything. The rest of us should really stop posting.

  32. juliathepoet,

    You are absolutely right: we should seek to make a culture that doesn’t perpetuate shame and family secrets. Some leaders are better than others. Someone close to me (whose identity I will not reveal) was molested by their father. He was also abusive to that person’s mother. The mother was actually *encouraged* by local church leaders (both ward and stake) to leave him, which she unfortunately did not. They are still married. So yes: marriage is not a cure all. But statistically speaking, children in a married home do tend to experience less ACEs. *Less*, not zero. The culture of shame within the Church surrounding things like divorce needs to cease if only for the fact that it often brutalizes the least vulnerable.

    Thank you for being so open and honest.

  33. juliathepoet (29) – “Let’s also be honest that the lack of female leaders, and the ability for women to talk/confess to women exacerbates this problem exponentially.”

    This is a stretch. Would having a woman to go to lessen some of these problems? Sure. Would it reduce the “exponential” problem? Not really. There are plenty of female leaders who would give the same exclamations of disbelief, and certainly some men who have had the experience of not being believed over their RS President wife.

    Would female ordination be good? you bet! Would it fix the problems of people not wanting to believe abuse? Almost not at all.

  34. As someone who has been through domestic violence as a Mormon, having another woman to go to for help IS help in an emotional sense, but minimal in a practical sense. For my abuser, (and from what I have come to understand, for most abusers) the idea of male ownership of women is a non-explicit assumption. Only another man could truly protect me from my ex, in his eyes. That is why he tried to hard to discredit my father when we went to a child support/custody hearing. It is also why I fully expect that if I were to ever consider marrying again, I would have to brace myself for the fallout, despite the fact that he’s been married for nearly as long as we’ve been divorced.

    So I agree with Frank: “lack of female leaders” isn’t really a problem in this regard. The problem is lack of empathy and understanding in MALE leaders, which lack justifies other men in their behavior. Increasing empathy and understanding can only happen when women (and others whose “eyes have been opened” regarding abuse) speak up and support each other.

    Nathaniel, thank you so much for this. I don’t know what exposure you’ve had to not having the privilege of “intact family,” but it is clear that you have understanding. I tried to be gentle with my one and only comment on the other post, but I admit that OP stung a little. I have all too many reasons to know exactly why it is vital to fight for the current paradigm of the “traditional family.” I can only read with longing after the loss of my naïveté in this regard. I wish with all my heart I could pen a post like that one. But I can’t, and never will be able to again.

    There is something to be said for encouraging people who bring children into this world to take legal and emotional responsibility for those children. And there is much to be said for looking beyond our own personal experiences when trying to apply the counsel of God’s servants.

  35. To echo Stapley above (#5), you seem to have missed RJ’s point (the portions you quoted were her characteristic extremely dry humor/hyperbole). Here’s her money quote: “I just don’t know. And I don’t care. I have more important things to worry about. Like how I’m supposed to take care of my family. Not the Family. My family, with its individual members and their varied and demanding needs.”

    To echo one of the other commenters above, it is almost inconceivable that the analysis you’ve provided here is what Church leaders at the present moment mean when they urge “defending the Family” in sermons. Instead, they are specifically targeting gay marriage and feminists in what appears to be a political reaction to current events. As to gay marriage, it is very clear from many, many sermons that they are not persuaded by your insightful and probing rhetorical question: “If conservatives are so intent on promoting and strengthening the family because they believe that the two-parent + kids model (“the Family”) is so great for everybody, why aren’t they on the front-lines advocating for gay couples to be able to join their ranks?” To the contrary, they have characterized gay people who wish to have their own marriages (in many cases precisely for the purpose of raising children in families) for the sake of benefiting from a monogamous, stable, societally recognized relationship (which their fellow straight citizens enjoy as a civil right) as having an agenda to “attack” and destroy “traditional” families, which are defined as a marriage of one man and one woman. (But this doesn’t actually seem to be a desire of gay people who wish to get married — there is little to no evidence that they have any kind of agenda to destroy straight people’s families, or The Family as a concept, by wishing to enjoy the same civil right.)

    As to feminists, they are characterized as attacking The Family because of their advocacy for treating men and women equally in society, which given the history of humanity up until this point entails primarily legislation to protect women against discrimination. This is characterized as an attack on the family because inherent in this concept is the idea of trusting women to make decisions for themselves about what is best for them — whether to marry young or wait a little, whether to pursue a career or family and in which order. (Of course, another way of looking at it is that ensuring such equality for women strengthens both society and families.)

  36. Trond-

    You’ve contrasted one implausible and extreme scenario to make another implausible and extreme scenario seem more likely:

    it is almost inconceivable that the analysis you’ve provided here is what Church leaders at the present moment mean when they urge “defending the Family” in sermons. Instead, they are specifically targeting gay marriage and feminists in what appears to be a political reaction to current events.

    I very much doubt that Church leaders rely on social science research and analysis when exhorting the faithful to stand by central tenets of our faith. I think that’s a very strange notion that certainly has no place in my post, and that only serves to make your own cynical approach seem more credible by contrast.

    My own thinking is simply that, as all truths can be unified into a grand whole, it is very likely that as our understanding of human nature and society deepens we may come to understand why the Lord gives us the direction which He does. Our human wisdom will never supplant our need for prophetic guidance. As products of human institutions, scientific research and philosophical paradigms are subject to limits of ignorance and error, the bias of personal and systemic incentives, and the whim of fad. But–in tandem with prophetic guidance–human knowledge can enlighten and edify. It is in that sense in which I relied on the research that my friend Walker has so painstakingly collected.

    As for your characterization of Church leaders’ opposition to gay marriage, I submit that you might be mistaking cynicism for sophistication. It is possible that the leaders concerns are genuine and even well-grounded. I think this is something that even someone who supports gay marriage as a policy could be willing to concede given, for an example, the way that equality- and rights-based rhetoric and arguments constitute a significant change in how we conceive of marriage as an institution.

    From my perspective, it seems that Church leaders have done two things when it comes to teachings on gay marriage and related social topics. First, they have made significant strides in moderating rhetoric that is hurtful or exclusive or in any way compatible with or suggestive of prejudice. Thus, for example, I believe Church leaders no longer bother to make any arguments about whether sexuality is a choice or is innate. They also engage in outreach both to express our love for all children of God, including the LGBTQ community, through a site like or initiatives to protect gays from discrimination. Second, however, they have simultaneously retrenched quite firmly on the fundamental moral teachings of the Church as they relate to sexual morality and the nature of the family.

    It is possible to read the first as mere political expediency and the second as stubborn bigotry, but I believe the better explanation is that the Church is growing and maturing and learning how to separate eternal principles (i.e. the Family) from culture and error (i.e. irrational fear and antipathy of the LGBTQ community.) To an extent, this makes nobody happy. Tradtionalists might prefer the rhetoric that sees gays as scary and threatening. Hopefully, they will learn to follow the prophets and learn love and compassion so that, for example, no vulnerable gay teen is ever rejected by his or her parents or kicked out of their home just because of their sexuality. At the same time, however, liberals would obviously prefer that the Church abandon heteronormativity altogether. Hopefully, they will learn to follow the prophets as well, and appreciate that perhaps there is something eternal in gender dualism and divine in the plan of heterosexual procreation after all.

    In any case, however, I don’t think I misread RJ’s post. The money quote you quoted is pretty much exactly what I was replying too. She thinks we should care about our families instead of the Family. Well: it still means she doesn’t understand (1) why we should care about the Family (that’s why she thinks we should pay heed to our own) and (2) what it means to stand up for the Family. So that’s what I responded to.

    In general, we all have a duty as members of the Church to witness to our neighbors. You can use the corny line and call it “every member a missionary” or you can quote the D&C “Every man who has been warned should warn his neighbor,” but in either case the message is the same: our first priority should always be our own family. But it cannot be our only priority. Our job is to provide a witness for the things we believe, and this is especially true when those beliefs become unpopular.

    I would hope that even Mormons who believe that, on the issues of gay marriage, feminism, etc. the Church is mistaken would at least be able to concede that far from bigotry or fear, it is a sense of duty, devotion, and even love which motivates so many Mormons to speak against the popular consensus on these subjects.

  37. “In any case, gay marriage and divorce are not the core threat facing the family. The much greater threat is the casual dismissal of marriage and the family as unimportant and irrelevant.” I think leaders have been saying this for years. Sure, there has been effort to discourage recognitions of SSM, but it has been part of a larger admonition to protect the basic family unit. I asked for numbers indicating that feel good measures actually increase and strengthen marriage and family. None were cited. All across the world marriage rates are falling, even in countries where progressive reforms are present. C Certainly leaders want us to strengthen our own homes, but they are also trying to get us to see the forrest for the trees.

  38. I think that gay marriage and divorce are seen as symptoms of just what IDIAT mentioned: that marriage is merely an expression of love between two consenting adults. Gay marriage is just the most recent one that is being examined in legislature. I think seeing that as THE hidden message behind “defend the family” misses the point and ignores the history of Church teachings.

    Sure, if marriage is just a publicly legitimizing expression of sexual love between two consenting adults, gay marriage doesn’t threaten my family or the fabric of society I have to operate in.

    If however, marriage is a covenant, meant for the purpose of fulfilling the commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth,” if it has a very specific temporal and eternal purpose, if it is meant as a solemn duty and commitment, then further watering that focus down to the idea that it is a merely a right for personal expression of sexual attraction DOES indeed affect my family personally.

    My ex husband treated me the way he did because he thought of marriage as a public expression of sexual attraction rather than as a solemn covenant to protect me and our future children which would be enforced by God and society. Once I didn’t live up to his expectations, he was justified in neglecting and using force to control me and his children. Sure, that attitude can exist even when society sees marriage as a covenant. Abuse exists no matter what. But at least he wouldn’t have been free to abandon his duties without social consequence.

    It is a highly privileged position which can say “gay marriage doesn’t effect my marriage.” For me, it was indirect: that the paradigm which supports gay marriage also contributed to the end of mine. For some, the relevance is even more obvious as those who have suddenly felt legitimized in their sexual expression abandon their commitments to chase after the Holy Grail of “living true to yourself.”

    It is incredibly short-sighted to think that society’s view of what it means to be married doesn’t effect every aspect of our and our children’s lives. Gay marriage isn’t important to that except as the most recent front of a war that had been fought for decades. That’s the only reason it gets so much screen time.

  39. SSM is often desired by the parents for their children, just like traditional marriage. That is, SS parents want their children (often born within traditional marriages that failed) to be raised with all of the privileges that come from marriage and a legitimate family. In other words, SSM is not simply a “public ligitimization” of sexual love between adults. Like traditional marriage, there is a large focus on children, biologic or adopted. Everything that is said in support of traditional marriage and children could be repeated for SSM and children. That is, unless you wish to de-legitimize adoption. Gay marriage can, therefore, have a positive influence on all marriages, and the institution of marriage. Because it is, like traditional marriage, child-centered.

  40. And that, of course, is why it’s so important to force people to come and photograph the “wedding.” It’s all for the children.

  41. Was it important to sit at the lunch counter in the 60s? Was it for the food?

  42. That’s just it: even under your scenario SSM is a legitimization of a planned family. Marriage by the state ought only be concerned with sexual relations if they can ostensibly produce future citizens as a consequence, or if they harm someone/thing unable to consent.

    The “focus on children” doesn’t really address the key concept, which we’ve lost long ago and of which SSM is merely the newest front.

    Adoption and deliberate medical procedures to create children require a great deal of effort, unlike shacking up or sleeping around. Marriage only really has meaning to society to legitimize a theoretically procreative sexual relationship. It doesn’t take medically invasive government inquiry to determine that two women or two men aren’t going to produce children between the two of them unless they have the money to spend on out-of-the-norm procedures like adoption or IVF.

    That’s even if you take religion out of it (which I don’t see any good reason why we should.)

  43. Your #43 makes me regret responding.

    If you’re going to bring in unrelated arguments to validate your lack of understanding of my points, than I’m not going to bother discussing it with you. I have no real need to convince someone so wholly unable to look beyond their own perspective.

  44. Your #43 makes me regret responding.

    Yes, please do regret responding. We don’t need to hear such reactionary uninformed drivel as “the paradigm which supports gay marriage also contributed to the end of mine.” It reminds of this video parodying the idea of how gay marriage is ruining straight marriages:

  45. Philliop Cohen wrote another piece reviewing statistics on marriage in The Atlantic. “How To Live in a World Where Marriage is in Decline.” He points out failed efforts to raise marriage rates, but fails to note that such efforts might have been effort if ALL the changes had been passed into law. Finally, he says:

    “So rather than try to redirect the ship of marriage, we have to do what we already know we have to do: reduce the disadvantages accruing to those who aren’t married—or whose parents aren’t married. If we take the longer view we know this is the right approach: In the past two centuries we’ve largely replaced such family functions as food production, healthcare, education, and elder care with a combination of state and market interventions. As a result—even though the results are, to put it mildly, uneven—our collective wellbeing has improved rather than diminished even though families have lost much of their hold on modern life. If the new book by sociologist Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson is to be believed, there is good news for the floundering marriage movement in this approach: Policies to improve the security of poor people and their children also tend to improve the stability of their relationships.
    To any clear-eyed observer it’s obvious that we can’t count on marriage anymore—we can’t build our social welfare system around the assumption that everyone does or should get married if they or their children want to be cared for. That’s what it means when pensions are based on spouse’s earnings, employers don’t provide sick leave or family leave, and when high-quality preschool is unaffordable for most people. So let marriage be truly voluntary, and maybe more people will even end up married. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

    I don’t agree with his solution. Sure, we want to help poor people and their children. But it’s possible the nanny state has led to higher taxes (to provide for food production, healthcare, education and elder care), a stagnant economy across the US and world, etc. There is so much more going on than no fault divorces, SSM, women in the work place, putting off marriage until later years. It seems that as we’ve left an agrarian economy and moved to goods and services, the idea of families as a fundamental unit has become obsolete. There is no stigma with birth out of wedlock, no property law or inheritance penalty with being born out of wedlock. Cohabitation is, for the most part, accepted. Children are to be raised by “the village” or subcontracted out to caregivers. We and our children will have to live in a world where, absent a financial incentive to marry, cohabitation or short term hook up’s will be the norm. That is the kind of world church leaders are trying to get us to prevent.

  46. Well, Steve Smith, I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to realize that your ad hominem wasn’t even well-aimed, since I didn’t say “gay marriage destroyed my marriage,” but that “the paradigm that supports gay marriage also supported the destruction of mine.”

    Someone of your intellect surely has the capacity to comprehend the difference. And I mean that almost entirely without sarcasm, since I do consider you rather intelligent. Forgive the minor remaining sarcasm, which only comes of mild frustration at wasting time trying to understand and accept others’ perspectives and experiences with so little reciprocity.

    At any rate, it’s time for me to cede the field. I’m sorry for my part so far in letting Nathaniel’s very good post devolve into this waste of time, and I don’t intend to compound the problem any further.

  47. A thought for those who think marriages without the potential to produce children aren’t marriages (which I sincerely think is a valid stance to take): do you think Brother Russell Nelson’s and Brother Dallin Oaks’s marriages should be valid? Both are currently on their second marriages, which were started in both cases long after their wives were capable of having children. If that’s the criteria, then aren’t their marriages as morally abhorrent as gay ones? Is Brother Dallin being hypocritical for opposing the exact same kind of marriage he himself has entered into? If not, why?

    Just something to think about.

  48. The “exact same kind of marriage”? It doesn’t take much thinking to conclude that your statement is utter nonsense.

  49. So a comment that directly attacks another poster, who very clearly and intelligently expressed their opinion, and using the phrase “uninformed drivel” is perfectly valid here and passes without comment? Unacceptable. Also, a very poor argument, since it simply calls names and in no way intelligently rebuts anything. And attaching a youtube parody, if anything, actually weakens the point. This illustrates perfectly why it’s so difficult to actually carry on a rational conversation on this topic.

  50. #49 – It isn’t that marriage is solely for procreation. Nor is it solely for raising children. Otherwise, we’d all be getting divorces as the last child leaves home. And a side note – I think Elders Nelson and Oaks were sealed to wives number two, and hence were commanded to replenish the earth — to the best of their ability. Obviously there isn’t much ability for a women to get bear children at their ages. So, why do two older people (even non-members) get married past child bearing years? Social acceptability of their cohabitation. I believe more and more older non-member couples are choosing to cohabitate as the social stigma decreases. Anyway, my take on the push for SSM is that it’s all about moral and social acceptance. All the other reasons can be satisfied with a power of attorney, will and legislation. I’ve noticed that even in those states that set up civil unions to give same sex couples the same rights and benefits as heterosexual married couples, it still wasn’t good enough. They “have” to have their relationship defined as marriage because the term gives it moral validity. That’s what this whole fight is about.

  51. J Town, I never attacked the poster, just a very, very poorly phrased idea, which was so bad that it is not worth anyone’s time to seriously discuss.

  52. SilverRain: My comment, #43, was not intended to be a response to your post. Although I might disagree with your conclusions, I do not disprect you and certainly not your experiences.

    My comment, #43 was aimed at #42 just above it. I read that post as “snarky” as it appeared to suggest that wanting to photograph a wedding is somehow shallow, selfish, or inconsistent with the higher ideals associated with marriage. I was trying to point out that sitting at the lunch counter wasn’t about getting food, but about being allowed to take a meal and be shown respect as a member of society. In the same way, I believe (I’m not gay so I can’t be sure) that SS couples want cakes and photographers because they want to be shown respect as members of society. It is important and desirable because it is public, just as sitting at the counter was important because it was public. Again, no disrepect meant to you.

  53. mirrorrorrim (49) – “A thought for those who think marriages without the potential to produce children aren’t marriages (which I sincerely think is a valid stance to take): ”

    Wow, I didn’t know anyone who thinks this is a valid stance, even those against SSM. I’d thought it was just something for those for SSM to throw out as something those against SSM “must” believe.

  54. History is funny. Progressives in the 1960’s and 1970’s took the position that marriage was an outdated social tradition, a mode of coupling that had outlived its usefulness. Now, progressives are saying marriage is such an important social construct that we should allow same sex couples the privilege of formal married. Strange, indeed.

  55. Mark B, I’m sorry you think my comment was utter nonsense—I was completely serious.

    IDIAT, I agree that the debate is first and foremost about gaining societal acceptance. But what nondiscriminatory criteria could society use to accept Brother Dallin’s and Brother Russell’s current marriages, but not a same-sex couple’s? And the even more important question is, even if a legal distinction could be found, is it ethical to do so?

    Frank Pellett, this argument about potential for procreation was raised when Proposition 8 (or maybe the Defense of Marriage Act, I can’t remember which) was defended before the Supreme Court. So, while I don’t know how many people do or don’t believe it, it was a point that was raised by pro-hetero-exclusive-marriage advocates. Silver Rain’s arguments in this thread also seemed geared toward that rationale, from what I understood of them.

  56. Then I am afraid that you’ll have to add “exact” and “same” next to “marriage” in the list of words you simply don’t understand.

  57. We’ll just have to agree to disagree, Mark B. I’m sad we have nothing in common that we can talk about over this matter; it seems our respective understandings are just too different. Hopefully some time we can another topic to have a dialogue about.

    A thought more directly about the original post:

    I can’t speak for Rebecca J, but when I read her post (which I’ll admit, I wasn’t that big a fan of), I didn’t judgmentally categorize her as someone blind to her privilege. I think that’s wrong: none of us know her heart, and few (if any) of us here even know her personally. I don’t like to label people I disagree with; I think her words should speak for themselves, independent of how good or bad or wise or blind the speaker may be, which none but she and God really know.

    The message I got from Rebecca J was that she doesn’t care about “the family,” which she perceives as a meaningless archetypical straw-damsel-in-distress in need of constant rescue. Instead she cares about her family, which is tangible, practical, immediate, and real. I think that is a side that Nathaniel Givens’s original post misses, but that for me was key to what Rebecca J was saying. In other words, what good does it do to fight for an abstraction, when there are real, breathing, living families all around us to know and love and care about.

    For Rebecca J, this was her own family, but she could have just as easily made the point with someone else’s family she knows, loves, and helps to save.

    A tragic statistic I learned that has stuck with me is that the majority of women who choose to commit abortions have one or more children. In other words, for most women, abortion was not the first alternative—they only turned to it after first giving birth and doing their best with at least a first child. To me, that sends a very strong message that we as a society are not doing enough to lighten the way for mothers drowning over their responsibilities. Not that single mothers are the only women who struggle, but I do know it can be very difficult for many who claim that title. Instead of donating to a political institution defending “the family,” why not give $100 or $500 to a family where a mother is doing her best to raise one or more children without a spouse or partner. I promise it will do far more immediate good than any political donation will.

    It is a conservative credo that if people took care of one another individually, government support would be unneeded. Let’s take care of each other. Let’s devote our time to individuals and families with names and faces who are in need of our assistance, and less time to unseen, unfeeling ideals.

    At least how I feel. Sorry in advance if I have offended anyone.

  58. mirrorrorrim (58) – I can’t say I’m terribly surprised it was used as an argument in the Prop 8 case. With all the media and societal pressure, it seemed only a few fanatics with really poor arguments and argumentative skills were left to fight for it. No one else wanted to touch such a career ending case.

    It’s a poor argument simply for the reasons you bring up; it makes procreation the measure for legitimacy, leaving out many instances where procreation doesn’t happen or is impossible. The better course of argument is that two-gender marriage, even when no progeny is produced, is in that it provides an example of the advantages of joining together two disparate genders, male and female. Marriage is the bringing together of the greatest difference one person can have with another, creating something more than the sum of its parts. That this doesn’t always happen is immaterial. The intent in marriage is always to be a part of something greater than you can be with your own with your view of the world limited as it is by your gender. (Yes, this can lead to an argument that gender should be completely immaterial to everything, but that’s a topic for another day.)

    Two gender marriage is better for children to grow up in as it affords them the opportunity to learn how to interact with those of each gender. Are there many ways this can be messed up, even by well meaning people? Absolutely! There are abusive marriages, families without an adult of one gender or the other, families where one or the other parent is gone for long periods of time, etc., etc., etc.. All of these, however, would be better off in a -good- marriage than in the state they are currently in.

    I think I’ll leave it there, for now. Thanks for discussing this more; it’s inspired to me to further examine my beliefs on this.

  59. Frank – I don’t agree that difference in gender is “the greatest difference one person can have with another” and I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone use that particular phrase – “greatest difference.” If we’re looking for marriages with big differences, why aren’t Mormons encouraged to marry atheists or Hindus? Why aren’t Mormon leaders prioritizing mixed-race marriage, mixed-national origin marriages, etc.?

    In my experience, two opposite-gender people who share the same socio-economic status, race, and national origin often have way more in common than two same-gender people who differ across those same factors.

    I do agree that marriage can be a vehicle for growth as two different people work out the inevitable frictions of sharing space, paying bills, and preparing for the future (and the not-inevitable challenges of parenting children). The idea that two people of the same gender don’t have enough difference to provide enough opportunity for growth/compassion/stretch has never made sense to me.

  60. Two gender marriage is better for children to grow up in

    Not according to a whole range of studies which show that there was either 1) no significant difference in children raised by gay couples and those raised by straights and 2) that in some cases children raised by gay couples were actually more likely to achieve and less prone to behavioral problems:

  61. Yeah, not really interested in playing dueling studies. Try to find a grouping that has a wide range of expectations and results, otherwise you’re as useless as a collection by Fox News.

  62. AuntM (62) – the goal isn’t to find the greatest difference. You’re probably not heard it before cause it isn’t the best wording for it for the world at large, as your rebuttal shows.

    If you’re going to focus on Mormons, then everything else, religion, race, national origin, is temporary, leaving gender as the only difference. Since we believe that gender is eternal, then having couples with this difference makes sense.

    At this point there tends to be a lot of “but is such a part of me, how could it be temporary?”. Before we were born we probably said much the same things. How will we deal with reconciling two lifetimes so vastly different in experience? What effect will they have on the next lifetime? We’ve only two things that are permanent. Gender, which separates us and is used to making bonded pairs is one, humanity, which brings us together in a common existence, is the other.

    And, for the inevitable intersex objection, I don’t envy them their trials. I have my own life long disabilities that I can’t even envision being without. Most everyone does. I do know, however, that all will be healed through Christ. Thank goodness.

  63. Frank (65) – I never learned that my gender and my humanity are the only attributes that are permanent in me. Is that a common teaching in your experience?

    Are you implying that two women are the same and two men are the same as far as eternity goes because they don’t differ in gender and they are both human?

  64. not really interested in playing dueling studies

    I think what you mean to say is that you’re not interested in a serious discussion, just defending traditional at all costs. How about you find me a study that has a grouping that has a wide range of expectations and results (one that meets your supposed high standards of scholarship, which I deeply suspect you don’t actually have when it comes to studies that confirm your beliefs) that supports your proposition that children raised by gay couples are worse off than those raised by straights. Or is that just what your intuition tells you?

  65. AuntM(66) – Nope, not implying. Straight saying. As for it being a common teaching, how many teachings do we get about our eternal existence? We get eternal humanity, eternal gender, and eternal family (but only for some, which is a weird way to have eternal family). We’ve a lot of vague ideas of what we’ll be doing, from strumming harps to planet building, but it’s only those three that really get taught.

    Hey look, Steve Smith, serious discussion!

  66. Frank (68) – I agree with you about having lots of teachings about eternal gender and eternal families. I agree with you about teachings about eternal humanity if “humanity” is basically your word for “children of God.”

    I don’t think the *absence* of other things “that really get taught” means that that we know that gender and humanity are the *only* things that are permanent about us. I was taught that we don’t know that much about the afterlife, that we cannot even fully conceive of it in our mortal minds. I was taught about the thrill of continuing revelation, that there are many great things not yet revealed. Assuming that we already know that *only* our gender and our humanity are eternal in us because that’s all we’ve heard so far seems incredibly arrogant to me.

    My individuality was also celebrated, and I was taught that God knows me individually (i.e., knows me apart from other girls/women). What is *it* that Heavenly Parents see when they knowing they are knowing me vs. my mother or my friend? And how can whatever that is *not* be eternal is some way?

  67. That should be: What is *it* that Heavenly Parents see when they are knowing me vs. my mother or my friend?

  68. AuntM (69) – that’s the trouble – we don’t know what part of us even could be eternal, or even what we’d want to be eternal. There is so much of us that changes as we get older. I think it’s kind of lucky we only have the two absolutes of eternal gender and eternal families.

    Absolutely individuality is celebrated, but only up to a point. We can’t decide to no longer be human. If eternal gender is true, we can try to be the other gender, but will ultimately be returned to whichever one is true. I can’t think of anything else that is endemic to who we are, collectively. Yep, probably is arrogant, but thankfully it’s yet another part that I can change. Thanks for the discussion.

  69. Frank (71) – I appreciate how direct and civil you have been in our discussion. I also wish to note that I completely disagree with you.

    I think families with at least one responsible, caring adult and with a supportive community are “better for children to grow up in” regardless of the gender of the adult(s).

    I think society should support same sex marriages and opposite sex marriages as society benefits from the social stability provided by family formation (even if the families have no offspring).

    I think gender, if it is eternal, is not as limited and clear-cut as we sometimes describe it in the here and now.

    I think if God is God, then God can distinguish between me and every other woman and thus all women are not the same in eternity. Ditto for men.

    Thank you for the discussion.

  70. Frank, it seems you and Aunt M and Steve Smith have thoroughly analyzed the pros and cons of your approach, and I don’t think I have anything beneficial to add that hasn’t been raised and discussed, except maybe this:

    I do not think there is any doctrine that says gender is unchangeable or eternal. I think that’s a valid viewpoint a Latter-day Saint can take, but I think it comes from a person’s own understanding, not established doctrine.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, though—I know the scriptures pretty well, but I do not know them perfectly. And I definitely do not know all interpretations of them: it’s quite possible you have read a certain book of scripture to say something that is different than what I got out of it.

    With that said, I know colloquially this is frequently stated as known doctrine. There just isn’t any basis for it, as far as I know in anything I would consider doctrine. Some members do accept any statement ever given by a General Authority to be doctrine; if that is your definition, then there may very well be such statements. While I disagree with that definition, I can respect it.

  71. I’m kind of surprised (and kind of not) at no thought to the Proclamation on the Family. I know some react to any mention of it as “it’s not cannon”, but considering all the attention it has been given by all the leaders since, I think it’s close enough for now. To wit:

    Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose

    I an so grateful for the discussion, even if we don’t agree. I’m of the opinion that if you only listen to those you agree with you have no chance to grow and learn.

  72. Frank, I don’t consider The Family: A Proclamation to the World to be scripture, for many reasons, one of which is that President Thomas Monson has never mentioned it in a general conference talk since he became the prophet, who is the one person authorized to speak for God to the entire church at this time. Other individual church leaders may talk about it, but to me, it means something that the prophet himself has not. Some counsel is eternal, and some is limited to a particular time and place. I feel The Family was limited to President Gordon Hinckley’s time as prophet, at least until President Thomas feels it is appropriate for him to re-invoke it, which may or may not ever happen. I feel what the current prophet is saying to the whole church is more important than what previous prophets said to the people during their administrations.

    But I understand others view the matter differently.

    Regardless, in this case it doesn’t matter either way, because The Family says, “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Even if that is true (and I think it quite probably is), what the The Family is saying is that gender is essential, not unchanging, and the latter does not necessarily follow the former. When I read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, I am inspired by the societal reversals Jesus outlines that will happen in the kingdom of God. Why couldn’t gender be one of those reversals?

    I’m not saying it is or isn’t either way: I think the scriptures are silent on that point, and it’s a matter for each person to ask for herself or himself, if he or she feels it is important. But the scriptures are so full of promises of valleys being turned into mountains and mountains into valleys that I don’t think we should dismiss the possibility out of hand. We should also remember that at at least two instances, Jesus’s body looked so different after his resurrection that his closest disciples could no longer recognize him. It seems clear that physically, resurrected bodies don’t have the same unchangeable restrictions our current bodies have.

    Again, I’m just saying that there isn’t doctrine one way or the other. This idea isn’t necessarily true; it just isn’t necessarily false, either, and I feel it is a mistake to think that we know more than we really do.

  73. Why couldn’t gender be one of those reversals?
    Then you’d have to decide which is lesser, which is certainly not something I’m willing to do.

  74. I don’t see how that follows at all. Sometimes, reversals can happen just to give people greater experience and empathy. Better or worse doesn’t come into it at all—you are creating an inequality where one doesn’t exist. Remember that to God, all are alike—he doesn’t think women are greater than men, masters better than slaves, one race or culture superior to another, the poor better than the rich—those are all classifications we as people invent.

    Valleys are useful; mountains are useful. Sometimes God finds it worthwhile to make a valley a mountain, or a mountain a valley. Christ is Lord of all, but God found it useful to make him Servant of all, in order to bring about salvation. Jesus was no less in God’s eyes while on earth than when in heaven—you would be no less in God’s eyes if He made you female out of your present male.

    That lesson alone might make such a reversal useful for many of us, female and make alike.

    But again, that’s not doctrine—just a possibility.

  75. For gender and parenthood, see the aptly-titled volume ‘Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives’ (Columbia University Press, 2013).

  76. I really like this post because it uses good social science and plays in the space of evidence rather than ideology. I hope to see continued expansion and reliance on good social science in our discussions of families and the causes and consequence for their stability (instability). However, a warning to those looking for full vindication of current Mormon rhetoric and claims – doing so really is, in many ways, an indictment of the both the emphasis and many of the claims of LDS leaders on the family. For example. the research on the outcomes of strict gender roles does not generally support the conclusion that they are important or even particularly effective in helping families. The emerging evidence on the impact of stable gay marriages on the outcome of children etc. appears very positive toward including them in this stabilizing structure. So kudos for a reality based approach, lets just remind ourselves not to be too…uh…selective about employing it.

  77. Bias goes both ways in studies, and ‘equal partnership’ is as much a part of family rhetoric as anything else, so I don’t think there is much that would surprise anyone about these studies. Social science is quite soft at any rate, but the natural tendency of all soft sciences is to seek more concreteness.

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