Question: How do Mormons believe that legislation regarding the definition of marriage may affect families?

Table of Contents

Question: How do Mormons believe that legislation regarding the definition of marriage may affect families?

Preserving the definition of marriage emphasizes that marriage affects the whole family, rather than just being a celebration of love between two people

Preserving the definition of marriage emphasizes that marriage affects the whole family, rather than just being a celebration of love between two people. This helps people, gay and straight alike, make choices in their lives that will help more of the rising generation be raised by a father and a mother. While the Church supports several basic rights that would be granted to same-sex couples and opposes discrimination, these things along cannot justify a change in the definition of marriage. In some ways, same-sex marriage may in fact increase discrimination against people with same-sex attraction, particularly those in opposite-sex marriages or those seeking psychological care to deal with their attractions in congruence with their faith.

Families are central to Heavenly Father's plan of happiness

Families are central to Heavenly Father's plan of happiness. The Proclamation to the World on the Family states:

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. 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. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

This proclamation teaches that children are entitled to be "reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity". This emphasizes the unique values that only a father and a mother bring to child-raising. This is not to say that children who do not have this blessing, either through death, choice of the parents, or some other circumstances, are inferior or that they do not deserve all the support and protection we can give them. Indeed, it says when children do not have this blessing in their lives, other people should lend support when needed. Many children who are raised in single-parent families, raised by same-sex couples, orphaned, have parents who are absent, abusive or otherwise fail to fulfill their duty as parents, continue to grow up to be happy and successful. By underlining the importance of having a father and a mother, we do not intend to in any way bring disparity to people who are lacking a father or a mother.

This proclamation talks about many important characteristics of good parents, such as the responsibilities to "rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live." It would be a mistake to focus on one aspect of this proclamation, and ignore the other parts. Ultimately, love and compassion are more important anyway. In many cases, families that lack both a father and a mother are able to accomplish more with love and compassion than families that have both a father and a mother. It would be a shame to diminish a families worth based on one characteristic.

Some people argue because having a father and a mother is not the most important attribute in a family, that it should not be promoted at all. Multiple aspects can be important. We can have laws that protect children from abuse and laws that promote marriages between a man and woman.

Some people argue that laws promoting marriage between a man and a woman are targeted towards people with same-sex attraction. While they might have the greatest direct impact, many people who struggle with opposite-sex attraction also have problems respect the right of their children to be raised by a father and a mother.

Purpose of government involvement in marriage

For many people, marriage is about the celebration of the love that two people feel for each other and the public recognition of their commitment to each other. They see the government's role in marriage to simply distributing rights and privileges designed to help them maintain their relationship. If this were the government's only role in marriage, it would make sense that people would get frustrated if some relationships were privileged above others. However, this is not the only reason the government is involved in marriages. The Divine Institution of Marriage says the following about marriage:

Marriage is not primarily a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage and family are vital instruments for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. While governments did not invent marriage, throughout the ages governments of all types have recognized and affirmed marriage as an essential institution in preserving social stability and perpetuating life itself. Hence, regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, married couples in almost every culture have been granted special benefits aimed primarily at sustaining their relationship and promoting the environment in which children are reared. A husband and a wife do not receive these benefits to elevate them above any other two people who may share a residence or social tie, but rather in order to preserve, protect, and defend the all-important institutions of marriage and family.

It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility, but the special status of marriage is nonetheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation, and to the inherent differences between the genders. Co-habitation under any guise or title is not a sufficient reason for defining new forms of marriage.

Marriage is about love, public recognition, and distribution of rights, but it also much more than that. Marriage is one of the best ways that the government has to ensure that the rising generation is being raised in homes with a father and a mother who are committed to each other. Viewing marriage as simply a contract between two people degrades it, and it separates it from the important role of child-rearing.

Many people argue that by defining marriage in such a way that excludes same-sex couples, that they make families headed by same-sex couples into second-class families. Following that logic, wouldn't that make families where one of the parents died, where the parents got divorced, where the parents are cohabiting, where the parents were never married, polygamous families, single people who have not found love, and all other families that are not founded on a marriage into second-class families as well? If marriage is about separating first-class families from second-class families, why would the government be involved in marriage at all?

Nor should the government's involvement in marriage simply be about celebrating when people have found love. The Divine Institution of Marriage states:

Societal recognition of same-sex marriage cannot be justified simply on the grounds that it provides self-fulfillment to its partners, for it is not the purpose of government to provide legal protection to every possible way in which individuals may pursue fulfillment.

By granting the status of marriage to a man and a woman who are in a committed relationship and willing to be married, it places value on the relationship, not on the people. These relationships are the only relationships that can raise the next generation to have a father and a mother. Many married people may chose not to have kids, but that doesn't change the fact that an opposite-sex marriage is the best guarantee that a child has to be raised in a stable home with a father and a mother. The government grants this special recognition because it hopes to promote the kind of families that will be the best for children. Marriage is a contract with the government. It signifies to the world that if children should enter into such a relationship, they will be raised by a father and a mother who honor their marital vows. If they break their vows, they risk hefty fines. Alimony costs can go up to $2500 per month or 20% of the obligor's average monthly gross income.

The government has a direct interest in making sure the next generation of citizens are being raised by a father and a mother. Elder Oaks explains:

"We believe that we must contend for the kind of mortal families that provide the best conditions for the development and happiness of children—all children...

"There are many political, legal, and social pressures for changes that confuse gender, deemphasize the importance of marriage or change its definition, or homogenize the differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness.[1]

The legal definition does not impose morality or take away rights, but it does effect how things are discussed in official settings, taught in schools, and ultimately viewed in the public. While people are free to form their families in any way they choose, many are looking for the best way to form their families. By understanding that having both a father and a mother makes a difference for children, many people will chose to form families in a way that would give that benefit to their children. However, the way things are going, few people think about the effects on their kids when they engage in sexual activity. They view it as a personal choice, and kids are simply the byproduct.

Effects on children

Social science research is clear that children are best served when they live with married parents who are also their biologic parents. [1] Blended families, step-parents, foster parents, and others who reach out to children are to be applauded. However, it is important that society encourage and foster the parenting arrangement which best serves children.

Gay marriage and parenting of necessity involves a child living with at least one care-giver (and possibly two) that is not their biologic parent. Encouraging this as a "new normal" may not be in the best interests of children.

Effects on people with opposite-sex attraction

Over the last several years, society has seen a change in the purpose of marriage. The Divine Institution of Marriage gives the following description:

Our modern era has seen traditional marriage and family – defined as a husband and wife with children in an intact marriage – come increasingly under assault. Sexual morality has declined and infidelity has increased. Since 1960, the proportion of children born out of wedlock has soared from 5.3 percent to 38.5 percent (2006). Divorce has become much more common and accepted, with the United States having one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Since 1973, abortion has taken the lives of over 45 million innocents. At the same time, entertainment standards continue to plummet, and pornography has become a scourge afflicting and addicting many victims. Gender differences increasingly are dismissed as trivial, irrelevant, or transient, thus undermining God’s purpose in creating both men and women.

All of this has been happening before same-sex marriage was ever legalized. Same-sex marriage cannot be blamed for these changes. Marriage has been gradually changing in our culture for a long time.[2] However, same-sex marriage is the first time that the government has ever endorsed this new definition of marriage. Just because society is going in a direction that we disagree with, doesn't mean we should encourage such a change.

Legalizing same-sex marriage reenforces the idea that marriage is simply a choice two people make in isolation, and loses sight of the original purpose of marriage, to protect society's most vulnerable.

If people see marriage as simply a celebration of their love, people may wonder why they need the government to solemnize their love. They may wait longer to get married, or not get married at all. If their love wanes, they may be less inclined to put effort into the marriage, since it no longer is serving the purpose of celebrating love. If marriage officially loses all connection to child bearing, less people will associate their sexual actions with having children. They may be more willing to bring children into the world without worrying about getting married first. More and more children will be simply the byproduct of whatever sexual relationships suit the parent's fancy.

Straight people will also be heirs of the notion that sexual appetites are essential aspects of who you are to be embraced without constraint. Overcoming the natural man will be seen as repressive rather than liberating. This will play out in other aspects of their lives as well.

Effects on people with same-sex attraction

LDS Family Services estimates that between 4 and 5 members of each ward has same-sex attraction, and about half of them are married (usually in the temple) with children. [3] How same-sex marriage affects gay members of the Church is an important consideration. It is also important to consider how same-sex marriage affects gay people outside of the Church. The Straight Spouse Network, there are approximately 2 million opposite-sex marriages in the United States where one of the partners has same-sex attraction. The US Census estimates there 646,464 committed same-sex couples in the US.[4] On top of that, there are many people with same-sex attraction who are celibate or who are having sexual relationships without commitment. The definition of marriage has many direct and indirect repercussions for gay people.

Effects on marriages where one spouse has same-sex attraction

While the Church opposes lying in order to get married or using marriage as therapy, many people with same-sex attraction do develop attractions for their spouse and are open with them. Many of these marriages are happy and fulfilling. (See Mormonism and gender issues/Same-sex attraction/Marriage) Even those who entered their marriage in less than desirable circumstances, but still want to make their marriage work, deserve all of the support possible.

While no one should be forced to enter a marriage of any kind, it is entirely another matter to attack someone else's marriage. In order to strengthen their case in legalizing same-sex marriage, many have attacked opposite-sex marriage without any supporting evidence. The Iowa Supreme Court, for example, ruled that "marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual". They determined that gay people cannot "fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship" in an opposite-sex marriage and that entering into such a marriage would "negate the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class - their sexual orientation."

While many gay people have failed to find fulfillment in an opposite-sex marriage, others have. FAIR has done several podcasts interviewing these people and their spouses. While many gay people define themselves in terms contrary to an opposite-sex marriage, other gay people have incorporated that into their identity. It is very detrimental for the Supreme Courts to impose identities on gay people that go against their lifestyle choices.

The California Supreme Court even went so far as to call being in a same-sex relationship, their "true identity". The California Supreme Court said, for gay people, their "choice of a life partner will, by definition, be a person of the same sex." They later said the desire for a life partner of the same sex is "immutable" and that desire is in fact, their "true identity".

Judge Walker, who overturned Prop 8, backed this up and concluded "Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals."

While people with same-sex attraction should feel free to pursue whatever relationship they want, they should not be expected to form same-sex relationships in order to find fulfillment or be true to themselves. Everyone should feel free to find their own paths. In saying that the marriages of people with same-sex attraction are not fulfilling, are unappealing, are not following their true identities and are not valid options, these courts are denying the reality of a fulfilling marriage that many people live with. While it would be unwise to say anyone can form a fulfilling marriage, gay or straight, it is equally naive to say no one can achieve happiness through marriage.

If people in an opposite-sex marriage come to believe it is impossible for them to fully embrace who they are and find fulfillment in an opposite-sex marriage, it may have a negative impact on their relationship. They may have less hope and be more willing to give up. This is particularly critical as they are coming to terms with their sexuality and readjusting their expectations of marriage. One study has shown that two-thirds of men leave their spouse when they come out as gay. There is a lot of societal pressure that teaches that the only natural reaction to coming out is to leave your spouse, and the rhetoric around same-sex marriage only reenforces that. Those who did try to stay in their marriage seemed to have success rates on par with other couples, but fewer people may be willing to put the effort to make their marriage successful if they come to believe it is impossible.

Even if they do try to make things work, fewer people would be willing to give them support. Research has shown that having a supportive environment is one aspect that predicts success for these types of marriages.[5] That support will be harder to find as more people believe that their marriages are impossible. The San Francisco Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists issued a statement that they "denounce psychotherapeutic treatments that seek to alter a person's sexual orientation or mode of gender expression" and that instead "therapeutic treatments should be aimed at helping clients come to terms with their sexual orientation". [6] The reasoning they give is to support same-sex marriage. Many people in San Francisco who are in opposite-sex marriage will not feel that therapy meant to support a gay identity would be beneficial to them. Since that is the only option available to them, they may not be able to get the care they need. Supporting same-sex marriage at the expense of access to psychological care for those in opposite-sex marriage is just one tangible evidence of how same-sex marriage harms opposite-sex marriage.

For many gay people, same-sex marriage works in direct opposition to same-sex marriages. Without support for opposite-sex marriage, more people will leave their marriages in favor of same-sex marriages. Many of these families involve children. Many children who would otherwise be raised by a father and a mother, will lose that privilege and instead be raised without a father or without a mother. Dr. Gary Gates, research fellow at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and an expert on census data involving gay and lesbian households, estimates that "only 6 percent of same-sex parents have an adopted child, and a sizable number appear to be living in some kind of step-family arrangement, in which parents come out later and have children from an earlier heterosexual marriage or relationship,"[7] According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, "most children of same-sex couples are biological children of one of the parents". (This does not include donor insemination.) [8] This does not include children who stayed with the straight parent.

As mentioned earlier, having both a father and a mother is not the most important thing. There are other factors that are much more important. It may be that the previous marriages were abusive, or otherwise undesirable for the raising of the children. It may be that the new situation is better for the children. While there are a few occasions where divorce is warranted, the number of divorces is too high, especially if the cause of these divorces is a lack of support and misinformation about realistic possibilities. Several studies show that in general children do best being raised by their biological father and mother. Too many children are being deprived of having both a father and a mother so that one of their parents can pursue a same-sex marriage.

This is not an insignificant number of people. Homosexual men account for 3.0% of all divorced men and homosexual women account for 6.2% of all divorced women.[9] The Family Pride Coalition estimates that 20% of gay men and 40% of lesbian women are currently in an opposite-sex marriage, and 50% of gay men and 75% of lesbians have ever had children with an opposite-sex partner.[10]

Many of these families are wonderful families who are doing their best for their children. We include these statistics to show that this is not an isolated phenomenon. While the church teaches that children have a right to be raised by a father and a mother, the church also teaches that parents must love their children, be faithful to each other, teach their children to be kind and honest, and many other things. It would be a shame to judge a whole family based on one characteristic. However, that does not mean that the one characteristic has no value. We still believe that fathers are important, and bring a unique value that cannot be simply replaced by a second mother. Likewise, we believe that mothers are important, and bring a unique value that cannot be replaced by a second father. While we feel it is important to recognize the distinct values of fathers and mothers, there are obviously many people who are orphaned, raised by single parents, by same-sex parents, or even abusive parents who turn out to be wonderful human beings.

Effect on rights

In many places in the world, same-sex couples lack the basic rights and privileges to protect their families. For example, in many places it is legal to discriminate against a family because one family member experiences same-sex attraction. In many places it would be legal to fire someone simply because they have same-sex attractions. It would be difficult to provide your family with stability if you had difficulty finding a place to live or a job because of something outside your control. The Church opposes such discrimination and has supported legislation specifically to protect families based on sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, with those increased rights for same-sex couples, often comes fewer religious freedoms. The needs for same-sex couples to protect their families must be balanced with the basic protections for religious freedoms and thoughts. There is no reason why these two concepts need to conflict, but all too often they do.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples in many jurisdictions would be a quick and easy vehicle to distribute many rights that same-sex couples need to protect their families. (There are some exceptions, where granting same-sex marriage did not grant the accompanying rights.) While the Church does not oppose the rights traditionally reserved for married couples, the Church views marriage as much more than the distribution of rights. If gay rights activists focused on obtaining rights, rather than redefining marriage, they would not have as much opposition from the Church.

Effects on discrimination

Many supporters of a redefinition of marriage argue that by redefining marriage so that committed same-sex relationships were equivalent to committed opposite-sex relationships, it would normalize same-sex relationships and remove some of the stigma surrounding the attractions that give rise to such relationships. People with same-sex attraction do indeed face a great deal of discrimination, both those who follow the law of chastity as well as those who do not. President Hinckley had this admonishment::

"I emphasize this, I wish to say that our opposition to attempts to legalize same-sex marriage should never be interpreted as justification for hatred, intolerance, or abuse of those who profess homosexual tendencies, either individually or as a group."

While the Church would like to see less stigma around same-sex attraction, redefining marriage is not the way to do it. It may have several negative side effects.

First, it can create a backlash effect, where people feel that same-sex marriage is being pushed upon them, and they fight back. In their zeal to protect marriage, they may resort to unChristian stereotypes and commentary. Some of them have sought to add to the burdens of gay people, rather than carry their burdens as we are commanded of Christ. Unfortunately, many of these people come from within the Church. We admonish these members to follow Christ more fully, and speak out against bullying and unkindness towards people with same-sex attraction, including those acting upon it. It is unfortunate that divisive issues such as the definition of marriage seems to bring out the worse in human nature. To be fair, many opponents to the traditional definition have also spoken ill of supporters.

When marriage is not redefined, many people may come to the wrong conclusion that it is because society values people with same-sex attraction less than other people, rather than a sincere desire to preserve the definition of marriage. It is dangerous to tie the measure of a person's worth to a legal definition. The Church teaches all worth of all souls is great in the eyes of the Lord.

Another downside is that it further associates same-sex attractions with same-sex relationships. The Church has emphasized the importance in distinguishing between feelings and actions, which is backed up by survey data. Blurring these lines perpetuates the stereotype that people with same-sex attractions desire gay sex. This stereotype may actually add to the discrimination that gay members face who desire to follow the law of chastity instead of having gay sex. Some people may think just because they are gay that they desire gay sex, and other people may think if they do not desire gay sex, it is because they are not being true to themselves. As mentioned earlier, this stereotype may also hurt opposite-sex marriages where one of the partners experiences same-sex attraction.

Normalizing same-sex relationships may reduce the stigma of same-sex attraction, but it can also cause a backlash effect against gay people, blur the distinction between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior, and perpetuate false stereotypes of gay people that adversely affects many faithful gay members of the Church.


Notes

  1. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (2012), 158.