Although I’m usually able to write a post fairly spontaneously as the thoughts come to me, this is one that I’ve been procrastinating for several weeks because it requires so much thought and tact in order for it to be effective instead of offensive.
Another reason why I’d been procrastinating writing this post is that I know that most of us are sick to death of the Prop 8 debate and wish it would just go away. I sort of dread bringing it up again, I still don’t know exactly where I stand on gay marriage, and I’ve communicated with other Mormons who are in the same boat. The purpose of this post, however, is not to debate whether Prop 8 was right or wrong, but to focus on the future.
Even though I’m thousands of miles away from the drama of Prop 8, I feel very impacted by the whole issue. Lately I’ve been debating with myself about whether I should make a personal statement, a sort of “Prop 8 manifesto” about where I stand on the issue, and post it on my personal network of friends (some of whom are gay) in order to “clear the air,” or just remain silent and hope that it blows over. Perhaps it’s also a way for me to finally find some sort of inner peace in the matter.
First of all, who would my manifesto be directed to? Well, I guess it would be directed at the two groups that I feel like I’m standing in between: my gay friends (as well as gays in general) and the Church that I consider to be my spiritual home. I don’t entirely agree with either side, neither do I entirely disagree with either side. But I’m afraid that both sides may misinterpret my silence as meaning that I’m OK with how things unfolded.
So, here it goes:
To my friends who are gay or supported gay marriage:
First of all, I wish to issue an apology to those of you who have found yourselves to be the victims of true hatred and bigotry. I know that certain members of my faith and other religious persuasions have treated you unkindly, unfairly, and in a way that no Christian person should be able to legitimately justify. I have encountered comments by certain Mormons that make me cringe and I am sometimes ashamed to have to call them fellow members of my church.
I simply ask that you carefully consider how you apply the labels of “bigot” or “hate.” I have seen indications of these words being thrown around as ignorantly and as indiscriminately as those who label gay people as “perverts” or “sinners.”
Please understand that my religion is just as personal to me and as defining of who I am as your sexuality is to you. Although it is true that I am free to leave my religion if I please, physically leaving it would not mean that I would be able to just deny my faith, just as you would not able to deny your attraction towards the same sex. In many ways, I don’t feel that I chose my religion – it chose me, just as I’m sure you probably feel about your sexuality. If you have not experienced what it feels like to have a personal relationship with God, then you cannot understand exactly how it is – just as I cannot understand exactly what it’s like to be gay. In order for you to suggest that I am using my religion as a crutch or an excuse to hate homosexuals is just as unfair as it would be if I were to suggest that you chose to be gay or that you could be heterosexual if you really wanted to.
I wish to be honest. I personally believe that marriage is something that we do not need to redefine. I am perhaps too much of a traditionalist in this regard for those who disagree with me. But it is how I feel and it would quite possibly be enough to affect how I would vote on an issue such as Prop 8. However, I do not regard my personal views as a nullification of yours. I acknowledge that my personal belief is simply that: my personal belief and ideal. I have mine and you have yours.
I have given a great deal of thought to the issue of Prop 8 and I sympathize greatly with both sides. Obviously, I was not eligible to vote on Prop 8, but if I had been, I would most likely have refrained from voting on it. To be honest, YES and NO felt neither entirely right nor entirely wrong to me. I wish that there could have been some middle ground, but there wasn’t. I wish to state for the record that I personally oppose the explicit appeal to support Prop 8 by the leadership of my Church and its involvement in the YES on 8 campaign. I feel that it violated our policy of political neutrality and it troubles me greatly. However, this does not mean that I oppose Mormons campaigning as individuals or voting according to their personal conscience and convictions – even if this means that they voted YES.
I cannot apologize for our right as a church to teach and uphold the values that we believe in. Although I oppose the Church’s involvement in the Prop 8 campaign, I do not oppose our right to uphold the traditional definition of marriage as individuals. Contrary to what you may believe, we are not told to hate homosexuals. Neither do we teach that being homosexual is a choice, even though a few ignorant Mormons may attempt to spread this false belief. If what we teach in our churches translates into an influx of Mormons voting YES on 8, or others propositions like it, then this must be respected as it is how democracy works. People need to be allowed to vote their conscience and for most of us, our conscience is heavily influenced by our individual religious and spiritual experiences — just as your own conscience is heavily influenced by your own unique life experiences and even religious beliefs. You may feel that we defeated gay marriage, but in reality we have probably done nothing more than delay it. Out of respect for the democratic process, you are free to continue to campaign on behalf of your cause and to persuade more people to support gay marriage the next time another such referendum is organized.
To my friends who are Mormon, supported Prop 8, or who oppose gay marriage:
First of all, you need to understand that my opposition to the Church’s political involvement in the YES on 8 campaign does not automatically make me an apostate. I’ve struggled to understand the reasons why the LDS Church opposes gay civil marriage so adamantly and yet is silent on other “moral issues” that have such a huge impact on society, families and children. I’ve read the official statement from the Church and I’ve read countless arguments from supporters of Prop 8 as to why it was so important that gay marriage not become legal. Many of these “reasons” were not morally-based, but rather founded in the fear of legal implications gay marriage would have on the separation of church and state, our tax exempt status as a church, our right to perform marriages as a church, and how Mormons would be allowed to continue to practice freedom of religion. Most of these have been disputed by lawyers – even Mormon ones – and so these “reasons” appear to me to be at best speculation and at worst pure scare tactics by the YES on 8 side. Supporters of gay marriage have some very compelling reasons for why they believe that gay marriage should be legal and I sympathize with many of them. There is, however, one reason I have not been able to hop on the gay marriage bandwagon: although marriage has evolved over time, it has never been redefined in the sense that it has been between members of the same sex. Gay marriage is still in relative infancy in the few places on earth that it’s legal. We simply don’t know how or whether it will affect the traditional family long term. It may, or it may not, depending on who you believe. Both sides have “evidence” to defend their views.
In an official release, the Church leadership stated:
“Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church and work together for a better society.”
Notice that they said that “members need to be understanding and accepting of each other,” not that “members need to pressure and guilt-trip each other into agreeing with the Church’s official position.” We must remember that although the Church took an official position on Prop 8, an “official position” does not equal “official doctrine.” Although our official doctrine opposes any sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman, many Mormons are able to uphold the Church’s teaching on homosexuality while still opposing a constitutional ban on gay marriage. We also need to remember our history. Although the Church did not take an official stance, many Mormons – including General Authorities at the time – opposed the black civil rights movement in the 1960’s. To say that black civil rights and gay marriage are exactly the same thing is debatable. But to say that there are absolutely no parallels is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Some members during the 1960’s disagreed with Church leadership, the most prominent being George Romney, who was pressured by General Authorities to cease his involvement in the civil rights movement. Romney ignored this pressure and continued to be involved in the movement in a manner that did not jeopardize his membership in the Church. And now that we look back, it’s not difficult to see who was on the right side of history. To be fair, I need to mention that some of those Church leaders who opposed black civil rights later admitted that they were mistaken.
The First Presidency has also stated that:
“The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “
Unfortunately, a few Mormons have mistakingly believed that they fulfilled their “Christian obligations” by critcizing and cutting down homosexuals or members of the Church that sympathize with their cause, instead of by showing “love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “ I believe that these Mormons do not represent the majority, but it saddens me that there were any who participated in such behaviour. Sometimes, an insignificant number of people can do a significant amount of damage.
The Church urged that “(a)s Church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility.”
We need to ask ourselves whether we’ve really approached this issue with the utmost “respect for others” that should be expected of a people that often feels disrespected by the world and even fellow Christians. Have we, as individuals, taken the time to see things — as best we can — from the perspective of those we oppose, in order to have as much “understanding” as we possibly can, or have we quickly dismissed them? Have we been 100% “honest” in the way that we have run the Prop 8 campaign, or have we engaged in exagerration and scare tactics? Have we managed to treat those we disagree with – and even those who persecute and hate us – with “civility,” or do we hold to the “eye for an eye” philosophy?
Prop 8 has been voted on, it passed, and gay marriage was defeated in California, as well as in other states. Whether it’s deserved or not, we are getting the “credit” for the victorious YES on 8 campaign. As Mormons, we perhaps think that we have done our duty and can now relax, when in fact our job is just beginning. Now it’s time for damage control and focusing on building bridges.
Whether we are right or wrong on the issue of gay marriage is really quite irrelevant. Many people are very angry at us and things may get uglier, the persecution more intense, and the temptation to retaliate even stronger.
The question is: what are we going to do about it?