A Progressive Mormon Response to the Prop 8 Decision

This letter was composed by a group of progressive Mormons. I like the fact that the authors chose to base their support for the gay community in religious and ethical values, and I also like the fact that the letter does not attack Church leaders. It’s a positive statement of belief that resonates with me. What do you think of it?


Dear Friends,

 As a Mormon I am disappointed by the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Prop 8, which denies same sex couples the right to marry. Nonetheless, the court’s decision provides an opportunity to restate some of my essential religious and democratic values.

 1) As a Mormon I believe the emotional and spiritual growth, the life experience, the nurturing and acceptance we experience as members of strong, loving families is joyous, necessary and an expression of God’s hope for all of us. Yet we live in a society that values some families more than others. I reject the idea that families with same-sex partners are any less vital, any less loving, any less able to nurture their members, any less deserving of recognition or protection than heterosexual families.

2) As a Mormon I am moved by the recognition that both the Mormon and gay communities have experienced the agony of misunderstanding, marginalization, violence, and persecution. Communities that share the pain of common histories and status as “outsiders” have a unique opportunity to come together; to empathize with each other, and to heal one another; to work together for the advancement of inclusive communities, and for the defeat of prejudice for the benefit of us all.

3) As a Mormon, I am lead by the essential Christian idea that the great commandment consists of a full commitment to God and to loving my neighbor as myself. This is not merely a feel-good truism; it establishes the very foundation of Christian ethics that call us into relationship with God and those who are different from ourselves. The way we listen to, engage with, and treat those who are radically different from us is a true test of our commitment to Christ. It’s not enough that we be “tolerant” while living in judgment of and isolation from one another. Christian ethics insists that we allow our lives to be intertwined with the lives of those around us, even those who are radically different.

4) As a Mormon I see ethical dialogue as a way forward in difficult times. This is dialogue that originates from our commitment to community ethics and from a desire for mutual understanding. This is dialogue that seeks to include, to listen, and to guide us in doing our best for those around us. The Mormon community does not benefit when people respond to us based on stereotypes and fear. Nor does it benefit us to respond to other communities in such a way. Fear is never a legitimate basis of action. Dialogue is a tool for putting aside fear and building ethical and democratic communities.

In the short term I know there is a great deal of work to do. As one person I commit myself to dialogue, to community building and to resisting those voices that encourage us to fear one another. The lives and relationships of gay people embody the same dignity, love, respect, understanding, nurturing, and spiritual potential as those of straight people. I acknowledge this and hope that others will too.  


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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49 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    I completely agree with the comments made. We
    should love others as Christ loved and I strive
    daily to be a disciple worthy of bearing His
    name. Though I strongly disagree with same
    sex marriage from a doctrinal standpoint in my
    LDS faith because the Plan of Salvation hinges
    on marriage between one man and one woman to
    bring the spirit children of God to this earth,
    I completely agree that it is our opportunity
    to live side by side with those of other ideas.
    This allows us to understand (if not agree) and
    foster friendships and community based on
    Christlike love and respect. It is never our
    place to judge the decisions and actions of
    another person. For all of us and especially
    those of us who strive to walk the path of
    discipleship, it is our job to love as He loved.

  2. Mark N. says:

    “the Plan of Salvation hinges on marriage between one man and one woman to bring the spirit children of God to this earth”

    … except when God commands otherwise.

  3. Kaimi says:

    I like the statement of general belief and the approach to the issue.

    However, as a law professor, I disagree with the implications of the opening paragraph. The Cal Supreme Court was not making a statement about the broader question of whether gay couples should be allowed to marry, or whether Prop 8 was based on stereotypes, or the value of tolerance, or whatever else. It was not considering any of these broader moral issues. It was ruling on a narrow legal question — was the change a revision or an amendment? That was a procedural challenge to what was, on the face of it, a validly enacted constitutional provision.

    Other arguments about tolerance, morality, and so on relate to future elections (where it is very likely that Prop 8 will be overturned). They don’t relate to today’s court decision. As I’ve told friends again and again, this was not a relitigation of _Marriage Cases_.

  4. djinn says:

    The ruling was on the narrowest possible grounds. To quote (page 37) “Proposition 8 reasonably must be interpreted in a limited fashion as eliminating only the right of same-sex couples to equal access to the designation of marriage, and as not otherwise affecting the constitutional right of those couples to establish an officially recognized family

    As far as I can tell, opposite couples get the sequence of letters M * A * R * R * I * A * G *E, Same sex couples get all the rights that “traditionally” go with the word marriage. So, all that fuss for a string of 8 letters.

  5. Kami,

    I am disappointed you think that. The statement doesn’t comment or reflect on any aspect of the actual case and the authors are well informed regarding the question that the court was deciding.

    The letter merely uses the occasion of the decision to re-articulate values and beliefs. If the letter was in anyway offering legal commentary, implied or otherwise, it would have state so openly. Don’t confuse a statement of belief with legal commentary.

    Since I work on the faith side of the issue of gay marriage I can say with confidence that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done in terms of interfaith dialogue, progressive theology, and finding ways for minority voices within conservative churches to safely express theological views. THAT is what this letter is about. To think otherwise is to confuse the issue.

  6. cdk says:

    I understand what you have written, but all your comments presuppose the central issue, which is: Is it moral to have gay sex? If you believe it is, then of course gay marriage should pose no difficulty for you. If you believe it is not, then you oppose gay marriage.

    Our society as a whole considers it immoral to have gay sex, that is why Proposition 8 passed. It seems that society’s values are constantly shifting and eventually society may change and decide that it is moral to have gay sex. I expect Prop 8 to be overturned at that point.

    It is not a case about intolerance or unfairness (since CA domestic partnership laws give all the same benefits as marriage) it is about morality. If you want to allow something you personally feel to be immoral to be given the same title as something you consider sacred then I believe it cheapens and demeans the sacred.

    You may be born with certain homosexual or heterosexual urges, but you can always control your actions.

    We are taught to love the sinner and despise the sin. Rejecting the sin and caring that it not be standardized in society does not mean we do not love the sinner. Many of us have very personal and close relationships with those whose behaviors we do not agree with and we love them very much as is right.

  7. Jana says:

    It is not at all that simple. There are plenty of things that church members believe are wrong that they don’t set out to change for society writ large. For example, have you seen any widespread political effort on behalf of the LDS church to ban coffee or tea or thong underpants?

    It’s one thing that believe that something is morally wrong. It’s another to pass legislation to prevent _anyone_ (incl not-LDS) from engaging in such choices/behaviors.

  8. Alizarincrimson says:

    If it’s the gay sex that’s immoral, why does the Church then state it is in favor of benefits for gay (unmarried) couples?

  9. mb says:

    California and any or all the other states in the union may ultimately decide over the next few decades to legalize same-sex marriage, regardless of the sense of a significant proportion of its citizens that homosexual acts are immoral. It looks to me like that is the way the world is heading, and whichever side of the issue you are on, and however fiercely you fight for the side you choose, it is wise to respect those on the other side, particularly those who, though they think you are dead wrong, are motivated by thoughtful consideration and not hate or fear. And certainly there are many, many, thoughtful, considerate people on both sides of this issue.

    I noticed that the recent Iowa high court opinion which allows same-sex marriage there specifically differentiates between civil and religious marriages, allowing churches the freedom to accept or decline to conduct marriages for couples based upon their sex. I think it is important that churches have that freedom to choose. I also think that it is only because churches became involved in the Iowa same-sex marriage debate that the court remembered to make that important distinction.

    The issue may be a moral one, but it is also one that can directly affect freedom of religious practice if the churches and their members do not make their positions clear. And it looks to me that in Iowa, as in California, they did. In Iowa it has helped their ability to continue to practice their religion without government interference on that issue, regardless of that state’s position on same-sex marriage. And that is important.

  10. cdk says:

    Suppose you are King of California today. When deciding whether to grant gay marriage you might be confronted with competing values. On the one hand, you believe that gay sex is immoral and believe that, when possible, immoral acts should be prohibited. On the other hand you believe in equality; what one citizen enjoys, so should her neighbor. When it comes to gay marriage you are presented with the following situation. Gays are allowed to have gay sex and enter enter unions that have essentially the same rights as traditional marriages. As King, you respect precedent so you do not prohibit gay sex (Lawrence v. Texas). But the issue in your court is whether to grant those unions the term “marriage.” The CA supreme court has given you one compelling reason why you should–to dignify and respect the unions of one segment of society. When you consider your decision you weigh your moral belief (gay sex is immoral) against a law that would essentially do nothing more than dignify and give respect to a practice which you find immoral. Your ultimate decision will rest on whether your commitment to your moral belief outweighs a notion that marital gay sex should be given as much respect and dignity as marital heterosexual sex.

    A citizen performs this balancing act when she votes. Moral beliefs are at their peak in circumstances like statutory rape laws. Sex with a minor is per se rape and therefore prohibited. But in making such a law, we necessarily discriminate against even underage consensual sex. On the other end of the spectrum, moral beliefs are outweighed by notions of equality when it comes to the tax code. While it may be immoral to take greater proportions of a paycheck from the wealthy, it is justified by the equalizing effect of taxes.

    When a Mormon writes that gay marriage is acceptable, it seems as though she is saying equality of respect between gay unions and heterosexual unions outweighs my moral belief that gay sex is wrong. That honoring gay sex by granting it the name of marriage may be wrong, but it is just not wrong enough to prohibit when considering the class of gays who will be denied that particular amount of respect and dignity.

    It is curious that Alizarincrimson suggests that gay sex may not be so immoral. I wonder if a balancing test like the one above lead, in part, to such a conclusion.

  11. Michael says:


    If I may ask you a couple of questions. Is divorce immoral? Is out of wedlock birth immoral?

  12. Fan of CDK says:

    cdf, FTW!!! I love your reasoning.

  13. Jana says:

    cdk said:

    When a Mormon writes that gay marriage is acceptable, it seems as though she is saying equality of respect between gay unions and heterosexual unions outweighs my moral belief that gay sex is wrong.

    Perhaps when a Mormon writes this, it’s because s/he doesn’t hold any beliefs that gay sex is wrong or immoral.

  14. LAO says:

    For those of you Mormons that don’t think gay sex is immoral…Do you view the church’s position on gay marriage as one that will eventually change like our position on blacks holding the priesthood? If you don’t agree with the first presidency’s position on gay marriage, do you still believe the church holds the keys of the priesthood and is the only true church? Do you believe Thomas S. Monson is a prophet but just wrong on this issue? (A part of me thinks that about JS and polygamy.) I understand testimonies can be complex…And I’m not asking these questions to be offensive…The church has just taken such a strong stand on this issue though, how is it that you can believe in the church and the plan of salvation and oppose the church’s stand on same sex marriage? I’d like to understand where you all are coming from.

  15. Jana says:

    You might be surprised by the wide variety of beliefs that church members hold. The more I talk to a variety of Mormons, the more I am surprised at the incredibly wide spectrum of beliefs and practices that I encounter. And as you probably know, part of the allure of Mormonism is that it allows for personal revelation to counter (or even trump) pronouncements from the pulpit.

  16. CDK says:


    Whether a Mormon believes that gay sex is wrong or not is a separate issue from what I am trying to point out. If you don’t believe that gay sex is wrong then you obviously aren’t involved in the balancing act between equality and your moral judgments that I described earlier.

    People complain about legislative morality but don’t understand that there is no way to divide morality from legislative issues. Every piece of legislation is some type of moral judgment.

    Obviously there are people who don’t believe gay sex is wrong. My previous comment tried to point out that there are two competing moralities at the voting booth on this issue. A person should not be considered intolerant or narrow-minded if she votes to uphold her own moral laws. Why would someone vote for a morality that she doesn’t believe in?

    As an addendum, I don’t believe that the church teaches that coffee, tea, or alcohol are immoral habits – only unhealthy ones.

    — To my fan, thanks for your support 🙂

  17. amelia says:

    the church certainly teaches that many many actions are immoral–adultery for instance–without advocating amending state constitutions in order to proscribe them.

    i also find it amusing to reduce this discussion to the question: is it moral to have gay sex? why is it not? who gives a damn what any individual thinks about that question? not me. the point is not whether i think it’s moral for my neighbors to have gay sex or missionary-position sex or anal sex or whatever other kind of sex they want to have. the point is that consenting adults should have the right to enter whatever sexual relationship they desire. and if the state is going to sanction and grant privileges to some, it needs to be willing to grant them to all. regardless of whether i like what my consenting adult neighbors do.

  18. LAO says:

    Amelia…Your venom filled response to the subdiscussion about whether gay relations are moral or not was uncalled for. Especially considering that this is “supposed” to be a blog that brings together people who affiliate themselves with the Mormon church, (whose current political involvement with Prop. 8 I might add, is based on the stance that gay sexual relations are wrong.) I understand that most of you are against the church being involved in Prop. 8 and that’s fine. I haven’t decided how I feel about it…I probably wouldn’t be asking questions here if I completely related to the church’s official position. I do, however, think if you want any of your positions to be respected or understood by more mainstream members, it’s appropriate for outsiders to ask simple questions concerning your basic beliefs about the church and homosexuality. As a sidenote, I mostly read Segullah now because,I find the majority of posts concerning the church here to be overwhelmingly negative. Responses such as yours, Amelia, only add to this opinion. “Progressive” is way to flattering a term to associate with such negativity.

  19. Jana says:

    I think you and I are on the same wavelength here. I am wondering what gay sex even is…does it mean anal sex? Does it mean oral sex? Does it mean any level intimacy between partners of the same sex? What if it doesn’t lead to orgasm–is it still gay sex? I could go on and on about the various questions running through my mind as I ponder this issue. But I can’t help but thinking….why is this so-called gay sex any more immoral than any out-of-wedlock sex?

    Not to be obtuse or coy, but I don’t think Prop 8 is at all about a certain kind of sexual practice, because marriage in the 21st century is not about sex, it’s about having a socially recognized relationship and the rights that go along with it. People are going to have (all kinds of) sex whether they are married or not.

  20. Kelly Ann says:

    Jana, I really like your comment that marriage isn’t about sex, because people are having it whether they are married or not. In the civil world, it is about rights. In the religious world, it is a rite. The problem is that they are interconnected. I think the two should stand separate: everyone go to the courthouse for the legal right, then let the couple go to the church, synagogue, beach, whenever for the religious or non-religious celebration.

    And Douglass, Thank you for approaching this topic differently. This whole thing has also made me commit to dialogue, community building, and resisting fear.

  21. LAO says:

    Jana: I used the term “gay sex” in my comment because you used that term in a comment preceding mine. Prop. 8 certainly is about more than sex…But homosexuality is, simply put, sexual attraction between people of the same sex. It’s interesting to me that every time I have ever asked simple questions here, I always get responses laced with intellectual superiority. I love learning about the intricacies of the church, but only insomuch as that knowledge adds to my ability to answer simple gospel and life questions. I struggle with the church’s involvement in Prop. 8. I love gay people and I love the church. I believe the church loves gay people too, but I don’t necessarily agree with our involvement in Prop. 8. Like the author(s) of the letter above eloquently pointed out, both Mormons and gays know what it’s like to be outsiders. Consequently, some aspects of the church’s involvement in Prop. 8 are unsettling to me. I don’t believe the issue is that black and white though. I previously asked any of you who ardently opposed to Prop. 8 to be so kind to explain your basic feelings about the prophet and the truthfulness of the church. I understand that we don’t have to agree with everything prophets say to believe the church is true. For example, I don’t feel that polygamy was correct, but I DON’T think Joseph Smith was a pervert either. I genuinely feel that he was trying to follow God’s will, and I can therefore, still sustain him as a prophet because I just think he was imperfect and fallible. The general feeling I get from most of you who are so opposed to Prop. 8 is that many of you are on your way out of the church as well. Is this observation correct?

  22. Jana says:

    I’ve told my Prop 8 story on this site before, but since you haven’t heard it, I’ll repeat it for your sake…

    When the church asked us in Cali to campaign from Prop 22 several years ago, I had some misgivings about it but I did so anyways because I felt that it was what I was “supposed to do.” I knocked on doors, I put a sign on my lawn and in my car window, I made hundreds of phone calls. But even as I did this, I felt very confused because my conscience and my heart were telling me that I didn’t believe in this cause, but my ward leaders had told me that it was my responsibility to do so.

    After the election was over I spent a lot of time in prayer and fasting on this matter. And in the end I received a powerful personal revelation that I did not have to support future measures such as Prop 22. At that time my prayers then switched to praying that a similar measure would not be on the ballot again so I (and others who felt like me) would not have to go through this same moral dilemma.

    Of course, then Prop 8 happened. Ugh.

    PS: I only used the term “gay sex” because another commenter did, too.

  23. LAO says:

    Thank you Jana for that response. Maybe I should search the site for similar stories. Much of what I have read here about Prop. 8 has seemed to demonize the church. (I’m not talking about the above letter.) Thanks for sharing. I can relate on some level to how you feel. I wish more people would share such feelings in a positive way at church. I think it would be constructive.

  24. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments on this difficult issue.

    I can’t speak for the other bloggers, but my opinion about the church, prophets, and Prop 8 varies a great deal from day to day.
    Regarding Prop 8 specifically, I do find a lot of similarities between blacks and the priesthood. I understand the line of reasoning cdk uses, and will have to think about it for a while. But, questions like why aren’t we targeting premarital or out-of-wedlock sex as immoral and worthy of constitutional amendments really give me pause.

    What saddens me the most is that while the church has discussed loving the sinner and despising the sin, the general membership has a harder time making that distinction.

    Last week I had dinner with a friend from HS. When I mentioned that I loved the weather in CA, he said, “Well, don’t move there unless you can handle the alternative lifestyles.” I was pretty upset that this was the first thing that came to his mind about CA, and that he was so obviously intolerant of “alternative lifestyles.”
    In my mind, as long as the church holds this hard line against gay marriage (while still acknowledging civil unions), it will be difficult for members to distinguish between the sinner and her sins.

    Good luck to you on understanding and making peace with this issue.

    I hope that you continue to read here, and I appreciate your honest feedback about the tone of the blog.

  25. LAO says:

    Jessawhy: Thank you for your kind response. I too, think there is a big difference between the church’s position on loving the sinner and not the sin, and how members ignorantly refer to the gay community. I’m not sure if homosexual behavior really is a sin but, I hope those of you with testimonies that oppose Prop. 8, will make both of these things clear to those aound you. Those outlooks are helpful to hear.

  26. Little Debbie says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but the current debate in California is not about the legal rights of gay marriage. Legally, gay unions qua domestic partnerships are essentially equal to heterosexual unions (with a couple minor exceptions that could be amended without a change in a definition of marriage.) Discussion about marriage being essentially a bundle of rights is misplaced in the California marriage debate. Domestic Partnerships have the same rights as traditional marriages.

    The “right” that the California Supreme Court claimed was missing in the Domestic Partnership is the dignity and respect afforded traditional marriages. However, the Court was misguided in its attempt to grant gay unions that right. As CDK implied, courts can not grant a union respect and dignity by judicial fiat. We, the people, give respect and dignity to a union. Whether we choose to dignify a union will be based in part by what we think is “morally right.”

    The focus on gay sex is not misplaced. Since gay marriage is not about legal rights but respect, one should ask what is there to be respected about gay marriage. There is the commitment to another person, there is love, there is safety in familial relationships, etc. These aspects also exist in many traditional marriages. What is different between gay unions and heterosexual unions is the sexual practices of the partners. It just so happens that gay marriage, as a rule, is distinguished by a particular sexual practice (if only in one’s sexual desires) which make it easy to single out and publicly praise or condemn as moral or immoral. But other sexual practices in traditional marriages may also be questioned on grounds of immorality. For example, some husbands routinely rape their wives. Such sexual practices may be immoral, but these marriages are harder to identify and discriminate against. If we could identify them, we may be tempted to pass legislation to call them something other than “marriages” if not criminalize them.

    People are having sex without marrying, but few, if any, are lobbying for new laws that grant high school sexual partners the same legal rights as married partners, not to mention legislation that attempts to have us respect the sexual behavior of high school students. Just because sex is only a component of marriage does not make it irrelevant. It would be nice to only consider the finer things of marriages like love, commitment, and safety. But some marriages also come with other undesirable components such as sexual abuse and infidelity to name only two. When we consider gay marriage, we are focusing on one component of the marriage that we can agree or disagree with but cannot eliminate.

    Query whether gay couples can already express their commitment and love to each other through legally formed domestic partnerships. Defining marriage to allow for gay unions is less about gays than it is for the non-gay. It is a call for the non-gay to treat gay unions the same as traditional marriage. We must ask ourselves why we should respect gay marriage. Does love justify all sexual behavior? Does commitment, security, or family relationships?

    I cannot presume to settle any question of morality for any person. As members of the LDS church, Mormons should have some resources available to help them in settling their personal questions. I don’t know if there is a moral difference between extra-marital sex and gay sex as far as the church is concerned. I can imagine many in the church would be happy if sex were treated less about satisfying sexual urges than as a sacred practice meant to bind families. The fact is, gay marriage lends itself to easy critique especially since its advocates forcefully preach that gay marital sex is morally good.

    **Note**I don’t think it is necessary to delineate various sexual acts and their corresponding moral values. Whether you achieve orgasm or not during sex seems mostly irrelevant to the broader questions posed by the original post.

  27. Its disappointing to see how many of the comments here reduce the issue to one of physical acts. I don’t think that anyone talking about heterosexual relationships, families or marriages would be so crude or intentionally reductive. When we discuss heterosexual relationships we discuss the characteristics and potentials of the relationships. We discuss, spiritual, emotional and material commitment we discuss the trust, love, and nurturing potential of the relationships. Getting to know people in same sex relationships, and families is to acknowledge the great potential of these relationships.

    Further, progressive Mormons, need to keep working to articulate our values and theological vision. Does the language of the OP help advance that cause? How can we best articulate our beliefs and commitments to the rest of the Mormon community?

    The fact of the matter is that here in CA and in other places the religious debate and civil struggles over gay families, relationships and marriages are going to remain common for at least the next several years. So how are we going to handle this, spiritually, personally, and in terms of our time and means? What did we learn from Prop. 8? One thing I learned is that many of us talked openly and asked potent questions here on the blogs but remained silent at Church when the issue was raised. I now see my own Sunday silence as a real problem, because I let ideological and dogmatic voices, poorly informed voices, and even some mean spirited voices claim exclusive rights to describe the Mormon perspective. So we need to discuss it, we need to be able to talk about homophobia, and how the Church acts as an institution. We need to discuss the theological priorities of contemporary Mormonism and we need to discuss how to live through significant disagreements within the community. One can not count all the accusations of apostasy, disloyalty, spiritual misguidance and so on leveled by members of the Church who have ideological litmus tests for what it means to be a faithful Mormon.

    Its right and necessary to counter ideological Mormonism with bold articulations of Mormon theology that arise out of the very best of the Hebrew and Christian traditions.

  28. Little Debbie says:

    When we describe homosexual relationships at the level of generality where spiritual, emotional and material commitment, trust, love, and the great nurturing potential of these relationships are the essential factors, we have generalized too much and overlook those aspects that make gay marriage meaningfully different than traditional marriage. If we describe marriage at this level of generality I fail to see why other marriages may not also fall into this category, i.e. plural marriage, marriage between a father and his daughter/son, marriage between brother and sister, sister and sister, etc. Some narrowing of our discourse is necessary otherwise we will merely talk about those things that many of us discuss every Sunday (love, spiritual growth, security, etc.) and miss the opportunity to make meaningful conclusions regarding whether there are real differences between gay unions and heterosexual unions. We would not generalize war as a geo-political event and then attempt to compare it to peace generalized as a geo-political event. Likewise, we should resist marriage platitudes when we discuss whether there are meaningful differences between heterosexual and homosexual unions.

    Whether gay sex is right or wrong is probably a question of degree for many people. In the church, some hold that sin is sin any way you look at it. Some hold that there are always exceptions to the rule. And some agree with the notion that God will justify a committing a little sin. The gay marriage debate for Mormons should address two questions: (1) whether gay sex is sinful and (2) whether or not gay sex is justified by gay marriage’s other praiseworthy values (love, commitment, spiritual growth, etc.). Mormons should, at the very least, confront those two questions in order to discuss the legitimacy and value of gay marriage. So frequently the debate centers around notions that are certainly important to gay marriage, but that are also common to many relationships that are not even marital.

    As far as speaking the progressive Mormon’s mind in church concerning gay marriage: If the progressive Mormon describes gay marriage at the generality that Douglas would have us, I believe congregations across the world discuss the virtues of gay marriage every Sunday. Mormons will undoubtedly hear comments about marriage as a means to facilitate love and spiritual growth in families in their Sunday Schools this Sunday. If you would like to speak a progressive Mormon’s view, then you may have better luck starting at the natural conclusion of your view–that gay sex is not so sinful so as to condemn those institutions that would dignify it.

  29. amelia says:

    i didn’t realize saying damn constituted venom. or was it my reference to anal sex?

    look. i’m being blunt. and i’ll tell you why. because when i, as a fairly strong believer, attempted to quietly and personally disagree with the church’s official stance on prop. 8 i experienced behavior that i classify as spiritual battery. at the hands not only of strangers and fell ward members, but also my own family. so i’m done pussyfooting around this issue. if others can be abusive, the least i can be is direct and to the point.

    how do i resolve the question of my disagreeing with prop. 8 and the church’s stance on it while believing in prophetic leadership? by recognizing that the leaders of the church are human beings, subject to cultural and social prejudices just like the rest of us. by recognizing that no matter how hard he tries, god cannot communicate with those who are unwilling to hear. yes. you read that right. i think the leaders of the church are dead wrong on this issue. no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

    i don’t frankly give a damn what they decide about what marriages the church will sanction. they already preclude the vast majority of the populace from marrying according to mormon rites, anyway. plus, if you happen to choose to marry a non-mormon and have a bishop marry you, it’s likely your marriage ceremony will come across feeling more like a pity party than a celebration. so the church discriminates about who and how it marries. i’m fine with that. what i’m not fine with is trying to extend that discrimination to society as a whole.

    i’m also not fine with the coercive tactics that were used to make members of the church get on the prop. 8 bandwagon. and i’m especially not fine with the self-righteous outrage that, after such coercive tactics were used and millions of dollars were raised by mormons, mormons manifested at the idea that the opposition would protest at their holy sites.

    if you have a problem with my venom, i apologize. but i have a problem with a church teaching that agency is its central tenet and then coercing its members into behaving in ways they wouldn’t otherwise behave. i have a problem with a church insisting that its morality should apply to the whole world. and i have a real problem with everyone assuming they know god’s will.

  30. Caroline says:

    LAO, I appreciate your honest and thoughtful questions about disagreeing with Prop 8. I loved Jessawhy’s response to you about that. For what it’s worth, I do think of it like the blacks and the priesthood issue. I see nothing wrong with members in the 60’s and 70’s who strongly disagreed with the Church’s policy on not ordaining black people (or on discouraging inter-racial marriage, or on making negative statements about civil rights legislation, etc.) These members’ understanding of Christ’s gospel was simply leading them to a place where some Church leaders were not ready to go yet. And I think it’s also important to remember, with compassion, that institutional change is very hard and very slow. Many many GA’s in the 60’s and 70’s wanted change, but they needed unanimity, which was hard to come by.

    I think of Prop 8 in the same way. It seems to me like there should be space for members of conscience to disagree with the Church’s political positions, based on their own understanding of Christ’s gospel. And I think a person can still believe in the prophetic calling of our leaders, while disagreeing about Prop 8. Like Amelia mentioned, I think it’s helpful to recognize that we all as humans are constrained by our own cultural contexts, and it’s up to us as Mormons to listen to our conscience/The Spirit and decide when our leaders are inspired.

    I am actually hopeful about our Church leaders’ attitudes toward homosexuality. A couple of decades ago, they were telling gay men to marry women and that they’d then get over it. They were telling gay people that homosexuality was a choice. I think the rhetoric has definitely changed for the better over the last few years, with leaders admitting that they don’t know whether it’s a choice or not, and with affirming that having homosexual inclinations is not a sin.

    Prop 8, unfortunately, has set us Mormons back a bit and plunged us into some unfortunate rhetoric, but this too will pass. And it will pass state by state as gay marriage slowly sweeps across the country. I see it as inevitable. I also think it’s inevitable that Church leaders’ and members’ attitudes about it will change with time.

  31. Caroline says:

    And I should add… I really appreciate the language of the letter posted above. I wholeheartedly agree that we need civil dialogue on the topic and recognition that principled people can fall on either side of this debate. The letter does a good job of outlining those Christ-centered principles that lead some people to an anti-prop 8 stance.

  32. CDK says:

    The difference between blacks and the priesthood and with homosexuality is that one is a race, a state of being, and the other is a behavior.

    I don’t disagree that many people are born with homosexual desires but in my opinion it is the their chosen behavior, the homosexual act that actually makes them homosexuals.

    Further, it is also believable that homosexuals and heterosexuals have control to some extent over what their sexual desires will be, as in the case of sexual fetishes.

    If feels that much of this discussion focuses on a state of being. Can we not take responsibilities for our actions as well? This means being willing to admit that there is a choice to engage in homosexual behavior. It is a stronger position to admit you don’t have a problem with homosexuality if you also admit that you (and they) are choosing to act in a particular manner.

  33. Little Debbie,

    Your comments provide examples of the ideological Mormonism that I mentioned in my previous comment. To be clear, in this context the term ideological is intended to be pejorative, signaling the the subordination of religion or theology to an ideological program that is defined by a number of characteristics including the interpretation of individuals as subjects. The seeking of a stable relationship to power and state apparatuses, and attempts at totalizing descriptions that always already anticipate what is encountered in lived experience / social interactions.

    1)”If we describe marriage at this level of generality I fail to see why other marriages may not also fall into this category, i.e. plural marriage, marriage between a father and his daughter/son, marriage between brother and sister, sister and sister, etc.”

    The comparison of same sex marriage with incestuous relations (as well as bestiality, etc) is common but its also extremely misguided and essentially indented to degrade same sex relationships. Its a bit difficult to fathom how one really “fails to see” the difference between incest and the relationship of a same sex couple. Nonetheless we should be immune to the attempts to derail a theological consideration through this kind of comparison.

    2) “The gay marriage debate for Mormons should address two questions: (1) whether gay sex is sinful and (2) whether or not gay sex is justified by gay marriage’s other praiseworthy values.”

    These are by no means the questions we should be addressing. There isn’t an ethical or theological basis for doing so. Granted there are institutional (hence ideological) reasons for these questions, when means they are exactly the kinds of questions we should be questioning. The paternalism in such questions is obvious but more to the point, the idea that we need to be assessing and questioning the physical intimacy of same sex couples and their relationships is to engage in what Craig Owen called “the indignity of speaking for the other.” This is a good phrase because it points to the willingness of people who have no experience with or understanding of another human being’s experience or ontological status to nonetheless, describe, define and judge that experience/status. In the case of same sex relationships there is then the added step of attempting to created law based on one’s judgement of the other. I hope that to at least some readers the arrogance and ideology involved in doing this will be obvious.

    The primary issue for anyone with a serious engagement with the Hebrew and Christian traditions should be focused on how we tread those who are radically different. How do we perceive and use difference? What kind of assertions do we make in the face of difference? Is difference something to be feared? Is difference to be the bases of social structures? Obviously for many in the church fear is the first reaction to the presence of the other in the social sphere. But there is no theological imperative for allowing fear to be the basis of action or the limit of our engagement. On the other hand there are theological reasons to see fear as something to be expressed, and then surpassed. Rather than making the debate about the other, we should make the debate about ourselves and our community. The question is not “should gay people be allowed equal rights, or dignity in the civic sphere?” the question is “What are we afraid of and why are we responding to the other the way we are?”

  34. Hollis Henry says:

    Finally! A rational response from a Mormon who gets it. Wooohooo!

  35. Jana says:

    CDK: Race is not a “state of being”…it has been shown by many scholars to be a completely mutable social categorization (Armand Mauss, for example, is an LDS scholar who has addressed this issue at length). FWIW, I see sexual inclination and desire as having similar mutability. A person is neither “heterosexual” nor “homosexual”, but rather, they have characteristics or behaviors that place them on a spectrum of sexual proclivities.

    (PS: for more info on Mauss and to find his writings, see this wikipedia entry

  36. mfranti says:

    amelia, i like your bluntness.

    well, now that i’ve seen how the you guys operate, i’m gonna go back into my hole and sulk for a while.

    thanks all. good discussion.

  37. D'Arcy says:

    I like bluntness. I think if more of us were open to listening to our own hearts (instead of constant guidance about EVERYTHING) then we would rationally see that equality should be reached. That’s the kind of God I believe in..one who wants equality for ALL his/her children.

  38. D'Arcy says:

    I like bluntness. I think if more of us were open to listening to our own hearts (instead of constant guidance about EVERYTHING) then we would rationally see that equality should be reached. That’s the kind of God I believe in..one who wants equality for ALL his/her children.

  39. D'Arcy says:

    I like bluntness. I think if more of us were open to listening to our own hearts (instead of constant guidance about EVERYTHING) then we would rationally see that equality should be reached. That’s the kind of God I believe in..one who wants equality for ALL his/her children.

  40. D'Arcy says:

    I like bluntness. I think if more of us were open to listening to our own hearts (instead of constant guidance about EVERYTHING) then we would rationally see that equality should be reached. That’s the kind of God I believe in..one who wants equality for ALL his/her children.

  41. Little Debbie says:

    Responses to Douglas’s post:
    1. Sorry I only compared gay marriage with incestuous marriages. Using your test for marriage (love, commitment, security, etc.) I should have also included traditional marriages between Catholics, Mormon temple marriages, and Civil Marriages. My point was that requiring love, commitment, etc. to be the essential factors of a marriage over generalizes the issue when we attempt to find reasons for and against gay marriage.

    2. “These are by no means the questions we should be addressing. There isn’t an ethical or theological basis for doing so.”–You addressed the first question in your response. I understand you to mean that there is no ethical or theological basis for determining whether gay sex is a sin. If there are no ethical or theological bases for making such a determination, then gay sex is not a sin because ethics and theology inform us what sin is. That makes the second question easy to answer and the tone of your response indicates that you have already answered it. If gay sex is not a sin, then it is justified by the virtues of gay marriage.

    “In the case of same sex relationships there is then the added step of attempting to created law based on one’s judgement of the other. I hope that to at least some readers the arrogance and ideology involved in doing this will be obvious.”–I hope that some readers will realize that we do this every time we make a law. In fact, that is what law is–the means by which we judge “the other”. We judge “the other” when we make laws that will punish “the other;” when she steals, kills, and defames. True, some do this arrogantly but this need not be the case.
    Classifying homosexuals as “the other” blurs their similarities with heterosexuals and creates an artificial “institution” where none exists. Heterosexual women can feel deep love for other women. Heterosexual women can commit themselves to relationships with other women. Heterosexual women also know unrequited love. They also feel sexual urges and can choose to express those urges in sex or refrain. Religions, including LDS gospel, teach empathy, compassion, and love. It is an aim of religion to bring people to attempt to describe the experiences of others, and when necessary, make judgments to be used in one’s personal spiritual growth. By classifying homosexuals as “the other” one forecloses the opportunity to empathize with someone who feels same sex attraction (which, by the way, probably feels a lot like opposite sex attraction). I think describing gays as “the other” engenders towards concerning homosexuals–since they act in a way that I can not understand (because I only feel sexual attraction to those opposite to me), they must be beyond understanding (this is not a personal attack directed at Douglas, only generic analysis). Having empathy might teach us that gays are not “the other” but “another” brother or sister who has their set of challenges and temptations just as we do, just as Christ did.

    Now I will attempt an answer at your question since you indirectly answered mine: “What are we afraid of and why are we responding to the other the way we are?”
    Some Mormons fear that gay marriage dignifies a practice they believe is immoral and against the commandments of God. They believe that, left unchecked and unopposed, society will teach people to believe in principles antithetical to God’s plan which will subsequently result in the loss of many brothers and sisters–whom they love, respect, and dignify. I don’t claim this is THE Mormon fear, but it seems reasonable that it is one. The other being a fear of beards.

    How do Mormons treat “the other?” First, by realizing that they are no more “the other” than the Mormon’s own siblings, friends, spouses, bishops, etc. Gay people are not a separate species to which the laws of God do not apply. Gay people are not past feeling pain when we refuse to understand and empathize with them. Gay people need to be treated just as good Mormons treat themselves–with love and respect but an understanding that they can make mistakes, repent and be better. All Mormons have temptations that they deal with for many years, but all Mormons can find peace in the knowledge that life is still good and Christ has made it such.

  42. CDK says:


    Of course race is a SOCIALLY mutable, that is a completely different issue. Maus’ ideas are about socialization and unrelated.

    When I look out my window and see a black, latino, asian person on the street I SEE a black, latino, or asian person. I may invite him in for lemonade and come to find out that he is socially more “white” (or persian in my case) than me.

    Wherever you fit socially does not change your race – your race is what you are born with. It seems improbable that church leaders were interviewing black church members in the 70s to determine how socially white they were to see if they could receive the priesthood.

    Definitely sexuality is a mutable category – that is why I argue so strongly about personal choice.

  43. Mike says:

    I think the dialogue as been great thus far. I just wanted to add one more thread.

    As progressive Mormons I feel like it would also be fruitful to seek a way forward. Even though I’m no ‘legal eagle’ I’d like to share my thoughts on one potential compromise. (There are undoubtedly thousands more; compromises without end.)

    My solution is two fold:
    1.) Abolish the state’s right to marry. Instead the state would hold exclusive rights to administer civil unions to all: gay, straight, bi-sexual, etc… This is done in many Latin American countries for example.
    2.) Abolish the churches’ right to “legally and lawfully” wed. Instead the churches would simply reserve the right to administer the holy sacrament of marriage to whomever they please — i.e. the Universalist Church might decide to marry gays while the LDS Church might not, etc…

    If you want legal rights go to city hall. If you want legitimacy go to the proper church. This is just a thought from a progressive Mormon layperson, so go easy on me.

  44. amelia says:

    mike, when you say:

    “If you want legal rights go to city hall. If you want legitimacy go to the proper church. ”

    you capture the essence of the disagreement. it may have been inadvertent on your part, but you imply that somehow legitimacy goes with marriage. which is precisely why i’m okay with your solution only if civil marriage is marriage, not just union. one name for all marriages. whether a church sanctions the marriage through its sacred rites can be up to the church, but i think the civil government should marry both straight and homosexual couples. and i deliberately use the word marry because all of those couples should be granted equal legitimacy in the eyes of our society, regardless of what any particular church teaches.

  45. Caroline says:

    I’m actually ok with Mike’s suggestion. So long as gay and straight people have equal access to whatever status/privileges the government grants through these unions, I’d be pretty satisfied.

  46. amelia says:

    so you’re okay with the status quo in california, caroline? because essentially domestic partnership grants gay couples the same rights as married couples.

    i for one am not okay with the status quo. it’s separate but equal. which is inherently wrong. and it’s vital to me that all gay couples have access to the institution we call marriage. unless they do, they’re still discriminated against, even if they have the same legal rights.

  47. Mike says:

    Those are good points Amelia. Perhaps I should have worded the last paragraph a little more carefully.

    In response: I think that IF the state represents society as a whole THEN by abolishing the state’s right to marry all unions would therefore become legitimate in the eyes of the state and therefore society as a whole because all unions in the eyes of the state are the same. (That was a mouth full 😉

  48. Caroline says:

    Amy, I think gay couples should have EXACTLY the same status and rights as straight couples. And if straight couples can only have civil unions from the state, then I’m more ok with gay couples only having that as well. It’s about equality to me. In my ideal world, I would just open up state sponsored marriage to gay and straight, but I think getting the state out of the marriage business all together is a viable compromise.

  49. Caroline says:

    So to answer your question, Amy, as you know, I am in no way in favor of the status quo in CA. What we have now is indeed separate but equal (other than the fact that gay couples cannot access privileges from the federal gov’t that straight couples can get). But if we take away marriage for straight people then you just have equal. And those couples, gay and straight, that want the idea of marriage attached to their union could easily find an institution to give that status to them.

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