Monday, November 22, 2010

Marriage, Religion and the State : A Mormon history (Part 6)

From 1910 to Present

With Joseph F. Smith’s second manifesto, the Utah LDS church once again accepted monogamy as the only sanctioned marriage system. This marks the first time since the LDS/RLDS schism that the entire Latter-Day Saints movement officially embraced the same stance on marriage.

LDS - The end of Polygamy to champions of traditional marriage

As the LDS church moved away from polygamous marriage, the church became more acceptable to mainstream America and entered a period of rapid growth. Polygamist families continued to live together, but they were no longer seen as the idealized family structure and from the presidency of George Albert Smith (1945 to 1951) all the Mormon prophets have been monogamous. During this period, Mormons soon came to be seen as champions of conservative family values.

In 1980, the LDS church came out with a strong stance against the Equal Rights Amendment, stating that “the Church is firmly committed to equal rights for women, but opposes the proposed Equal Rights Amendment because of its serious moral implications1”. This position has been clarified by Mormon Apostle Dallin H Oaks in stating, “ The Church opposed the ERA because of a prophetic judgment that this would take us in a direction we do not want to go for the law of marriage and divorce.” and “ It would be a deterioration of the law that governed the most essential relationship in life, that is, the relationship of husband and wife to children, and making that a matter of federal law.”2

In 1995, the LDS church released a document called “The Family, A proclamation to the World.” This document, issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles proclaimed that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children3”. The proclamation continued to assign specific parental roles; “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.”

By the late 1990s, the LDS church remained committed to distancing itself from its polygamous past. LDS President Gordon B Hinckley appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live and responding to a question regarding polygamy in Utah, he answered “When our people came west they permitted it on a restricted scale4” Hinckley went on to state that it was a very limited practice, carefully safeguarded. In 1890, that practice was discontinued... That’s 118 years ago. It’s behind us.” Asked by King if he would condemn the practice, President Hinckley responded “I condemn it, yes as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law”. In November, 1998, President Hinckley further clarified “ the practice of plural marriage is .. against the law of God. Even in countries where civil or religious law allows polygamy, the Church teaches that marriage must be monogamous and does not accept into its membership those practicing plural marriage5”

This was a very clear break, defining polygamy as against the law of the LDS church, even in countries where the practice is sanctioned by law. This may be explained through a comment made by Apostle Dallin H Oaks “ As to those people who are still practicing polygamy, I have immense sympathy for them. But I don’t see any common ground of doctrine between them and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because revelation is the bedrock of our faith, we follow the prophet, and sexual morality is very important to us. They don’t follow the prophet, and they engage in relationships that we deem today [to be immoral as] the Lord has defined the law, and as the law has defined criminal conduct6”

The LDS Church also began to define its’ stance with respect to same-sex unions during this same time period. President Hinckley framed the position with “we believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. We believe that marriage may be eternal through exercise of the power of the everlasting priesthood in the house of the Lord.” He then responded to people who considered themselves “so-called gays and lesbians” saying that we should love them as sons and daughters of God. President Hinckley further stated that “We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families7”.

The LDS church became politically active in opposing same-sex marriage in March 1997.8 Working in a coalition with other conservative religious groups, the Mormon Church was instrumental in the success of California’s proposition 8 which repealed same-sex marriage. To coordinate this successful effort, LDS First Presidency sent a letter which was read in all congregations on 29 June, 2008 which stated “ We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.9”. In response to this request, Mormons donated the majority of funds for the campaign and thousands of man hours in volunteer canvasing.10

The LDS reaction to same-sex marriage is primarily based on the belief that monogamous heterosexual marriage is divinely ordained of God. In August 2009, this assertion was clearly made by Apostle M. Russell Ballard “We follow Jesus Christ by adhering to God’s law of marriage, which is marriage between one man and one woman. This commandment has been in place from the very beginning.”11 In response to political efforts to redefine the definition of marriage, Elder Wickman of the Seventy recently argued “ marriage is neither a matter of politics, nor is it a matter of social policy. Marriage is defined by the Lord Himself. It’s the one institution that is ceremoniously performed by priesthood authority in the temple [and] transcends this world. It is of such profound importance… such a core doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the very purpose of the creation of this earth.12”

Apostle Oaks further commented on the LDS position regarding same-sex civil unions stating “What the First Presidency has done is express its support of marriage and for that bundle of rights belonging to a man and a woman. The First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself concerning any specific right. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.13” Elder Oaks continued to explain that traditional marriage will be damaged if same-sex marriages are legalized14

Underlying the LDS position is the belief that homosexual relations are inherently sinful15. Elder Oaks has further expressed concern that political efforts towards same-sex unions will limit the church’s right to speak out against this sin16.

The LDS leadership is currently advocated for a Federal Constitutional amendment that will define marriage in the United States. The need for this amendment as outlined by Elder Oaks “ Law has at least two roles: one is to define and regulate the limits of acceptable behavior. The other is to teach principles for individuals to make individual choices. The law declares unacceptable some things that are simply not enforceable, and there’s no prosecutor who tries to enforce them. We refer to that as the teaching function of the law. The time has come in our society when I see great wisdom and purpose in a United States Constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman. There is nothing in that proposed amendment that requires a criminal prosecution or that directs the attorneys general to go out and round people up, but it declares a principle and it also creates a defensive barrier against those who would alter that traditional definition of marriage”. Reflecting on the irony of how this constitutional amendment would have affected the early Mormons, Elder Oaks added “ The Mormons of the 19th century who practiced plural marriage, male and female, did so because they felt it was a duty put upon them by God. When that duty was lifted, they were directed to conform to the law of the land, which forbad polygamy and which had been held constitutional. When they were told to refrain from plural marriage, there were probably some who were unhappy, but I think the majority were greatly relieved and glad to get back into the mainstream of western civilization, which had been marriage between a man and a woman. In short, if you start with the assumption of continuing revelation, on which this Church is founded, then you can understand that there is no irony in this.”.

The Church and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A moral issue Ensign Mar 1980 insert 1

3 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, Family Guidebook, iv
4 Larry King Live Larry King Live
Gordon Hinckley: Distinguished Religious Leader of the Mormon Aired September 8, 1998 - 9:00 p.m. ET
5 “What are people asking about us?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 72
7 Ensign November 1998, What are People asking about us? President Gordon B Hinckley
8 The Advocate Jan 2009 by James Kirkpatrick
California Prop 8: Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution. to read: Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
10 The Advocate Jan 2009 The New Religious Right by James Kirkpatrick
11 M. Russell Ballard, “Engaging Without Being Defensive,” BYU Commencement Address, 13 August 2009.
12 (accessed Nov. 2010)
13 (accessed Nov 2010)
14 “ There are certain indicia of marriage — certain legal and social consequences and certain legitimacy — which if given to some relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman tend to degrade if not destroy the institution that’s been honored over so many thousands of years.” from
15 Elder Wickman “ There is no such thing in the Lord’s eyes as something called same-gender marriage. Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin. Calling it something else by virtue of some political definition does not change that reality.” ibid from same-gender-attraction
16 “In at least one country where homosexual activists have won major concessions, we have even seen a church pastor threatened with prison for preaching from the pulpit that homosexual behavior is sinful. Given these trends, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must take a stand on doctrine and principle. This is more than a social issue — ultimately it may be a test of our most basic religious freedoms to teach what we know our Father in Heaven wants us to teach”

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