Thursday, November 6, 2008

One Mormon's view on gay marriage

Below is a very personal post of the kind that I don't intend to make a lot of. Truth be told, I wouldn't post this one, except that I don't hear many others making these points. It is a personal set of feelings and assertions sadly devoid of citation. This is not because I'm lazy but because I'm exhausted. My health situation remains very poor, and to properly cite my claims would take a couple of weeks and all my daytime energy. For the same reason, you may find me quite reticent when it comes to replying to comments. It isn't because I don't care or don't believe in discussion, but because I've got to ration my reserves. I've got a novel due, a baby to bring into the world, and a crippling sleep disorder.

While I'm glad the election's over and am happy with the outcome - specifically because voters turned out in record numbers to cast their ballots - I do now feel depressed about the fate of Prop 8. Not because I'm about to go rogue and break with my church on the fundamental issue, but because I feel that this deserves to be a Pyrrhic victory. Yes, those who oppose gay marriage won. I don't like the way this happened. The Church was featured prominently in this fight. Now, there is a practical reason why we Saints really aren't primarily to blame; we don't outnumber gays in this country. There are roughly 6 million of us in the US, give or take, which would put us at 2% of the population. Gays, according to the last statistic I saw, were 8% of the California population. So, the LDS Church on its own did not decide the vote. We were part of a broad coalition that was well organized to acheive this end. But we are getting a lot of attention, and I think it's deserved. I think we really ought to take a good hard look at ourselves as we move forward on this issue. Here are some points that come to my mind:

We should be better informed about what homosexuality is. I'll just say it, I'm sick and tired of the ignorance and misinformation about homosexuality that I see passed around the Church membership. Common rumors include that homosexuality is the result of too much sexual experimentation. Homosexuality is a choice made by "confused" heterosexuals. Homosexuality is a result of gender confusion. All I can say to this is that the gay rights movement has been active since the 1950's. Make use of the information available. Learn something about sexual minorities. Learn what a homosexual is versus a bisexual versus a transvestite versus a transgendered person versus a sex-crazed lunatic who is probably mentally ill rather than a sexual minority. They aren't the same and often don't overlap, and for pity's sake, how can you not know this stuff?

When I was a kid, gays were dying in droves of this disease called AIDS. When I was in law school, a kid named Matthew Shepard had his funeral picketed and his picture superimposed over the flames of hell on a website. There was no way I could just sit by and know about these things without investigating the phenomenon behind them. People suffering, it makes me want to know who they are and what's going on. From this curiosity I learned much of what I still know about homosexuality, before my first friend came out of the closet to me, before I learned that one of my extended family members was gay, before I worked with any gay colleagues, I already had a grasp of the basics. My first real life experience with a real life gay person made me go, "Oh, huh, okay; I guess you weren't hitting on me then." And I moved on an we stayed friends. It didn't shatter my world. I already knew I had to be prepared; meeting a gay person was inevitable. In fact, I was honored that the person felt comfortable enough to tell me. It isn't easy. Many who know me are under the misconception that I grew up with a close gay friend. Well it's a partial misconception. Yes, one of my close friends in middle school/high school was gay. I did not know until we were 28 years old. He stayed in the closet while we were teens. I did not learn much of what I know about homosexuality from him, and I'm glad I studied up beforehand. I was neither surprised nor unsurprised to find out, though I did finally feel okay about not going to Homecoming with him.

We also need to understand that homosexuality strikes at random throughout society. Devout LDS families give birth to and raise people who feel same gender attraction. If for no other reason, we need to know what this phenomenon is so that we can respond to it intelligently when this occurs. More than once I've talked to Church members who honestly seem to think that if they teach their children the gospel and send them to Seminary, they couldn't possibly go gay. I'm pregnant with my first child. S/he could be gay. It has nothing to do with my parenting ability and everything to do with the random lottery of how our genes are put together. Thus, when I think of who I might be opposing on the gay marriage issue, I always remember that it could be someone very close to me whom I love more than I can say. Understanding homosexuality means being able to put a personal face on it.

We should therefore understand what we are asking of the homosexual community, and know our own history. Roughly a hundred and fifty years ago, our Church was asked by God to practice another form of alternative marriage, polygamy. This was difficult, even devastating for those called to take another wife into the family. Brigham Young himself said it made him "desire the grave" and that he felt jealous of corpses he saw in coffins for some time after the teaching was handed down. It's not hard to see why they struggled. I'd have a pretty hard time with this myself should I be called on to practice it (I'm not anticipating that I will). Many members of the Church have personal family journals handed down over the generations documenting this difficult transition to polygamy, and then what was, for some, an equally difficult transition away from it when the practice was discontinued in 1890.

Now we believe that God has asked us to oppose gay marriage. I'd rather be asked to again practice polygamy, or more to the point at hand, to give up my marriage and go celibate, and I dearly love my husband. Why? Well, this is what we're asking gays to do, and I'd rather endure the pain of following a hard commandment than ask other people to while I live in the relative security of my traditional marriage and family. It breaks my heart to have to take this position knowing how it will hurt my gay friends, and I am quite willing to hear their anger, frustration, profanity filled rants, etc. on the subject. I completely understand if they think I've got lunatic, believing that I should do this thing when it will hurt them so profoundly. I will follow this directive, but there's no way on Earth I'm going to rest easy about it. To do so, for me, is downright unChristian. It truly bothers me how many members of the Church shrug nonchalantly while carrying this out. To me this is commandment similar to being asked to cross the plains to unknown Utah. People died on that trek. Many didn't understand how this would help the Church; it seemed like suicide. In the end of the day it saved us, but it was a struggle and ought to have been. Sometimes God asks hard things, like putting our children in a situation where they might starve or freeze to death or dashing the dreams of our friends and family. We can be faithful and still find the task hard. In fact, sometimes I think it belittles us to find the task easy.

We should never use lies to further our agenda. Here is where I think that Church members have really misbehaved. For the record, legalization of gay marriage would not abrogate our First Amendment rights to continue our teachings. It would not lead directly to the disincorporation of our Church. It would not require us to solemnize gay marriages in our temples. Seriously... no one's forced us to solemnize second marriages by already sealed women in our temples or put a stop to us sealing men to multiple women in serially monogomous marriages. There's no precedent for the claim that gay marriage would be any different.

Also, gays are not responsible for the deterioration of the institution of marriage. This claim is outrageous. You can't blame a group for trashing a club when they've never even been inside said club, never been given membership. Heterosexuals are to blame there, and as a Church we work to shore up the institution and practice it according to what we believe is correct. But if there's anyone we want to take to task over the current status of marriage, let's restrict our criticism to those who have a legal right to it. A related argument is that if we let gays get married, than "anyone can get married." Um... we blew through that threshold ages ago. Heterosexuals marry for a plethora of dishonest reasons, for citizenship rights, to share health benefits, to please the parents. Banning gay marriage doesn't protect us from this. One of the ironies of the gay marriage debate is that those gays who want marriage represent one of the more conservative wings of their movement. They believe that marriage is important and meaningful. They want monogamous commitment. They want a stable, two parent household for their children. In fact, we've got quite a bit in common with them and they're being dead honest when they say that they believe they're working to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

What exactly gay marriage would do to the fabric of society is very difficult to say. We can look at other countries that legalized it, but there are different legal regimes and cultural factors clouding some of the data there. Honestly, I do not believe that we know. We'd be in uncharted territory. When I don't know something, I believe in saying that I don't know.

We should remember our place on the fringes of society. Just a little over a century ago, we members of the Church were persecuted for our alternative marriage practices and our unusual doctrines. When we take the offensive against other groups, we need to do it with humility. We need to not repeat the mistakes and tactics that were used against us, because if we aren't careful, we'll look like the ultimate hypocrites. In fact, I think we already do. I believe that we look like people who hold to our hearts our own tortured past, then use what societal legitimacy we've gained to be overbearing, insensitive, and offensive towards others who don't share our coveted societal legitimacy. That's shameful. Aren't we supposed to be great historians and genealogists? If we feel unfairly targeted in our opposition of gay marriage, well I just have to say that I think it's absolutely fair. We of all people should know better. I am not angry at anyone who holds us to this higher standard. We should rise to it.

So, because I feel that members of the Church often did preach from a place of ignorace, hypocrisy, and dishonesty, I'm not proud of Prop 8's passage. I'm not proud of us. I think what we were asked to do was a lot harder than what we actually did. Our hypocrisy ought to come back to bite us. I hope for our own good that it does, and if my state ever faces a gay marriage amendment, I hope we do our job right. That is to state our position clearly, compassionately, and with full understanding that it will be questioned, attacked, and that our fundamental answer that "this is what God wants" is not going to be widely believed. We should strive to accurately understand the legal ramifications and not blow them out of proportion. We should be willing to not only endure, but actually listen to our opposition and be able to say, honestly, that we regret the pain that our position causes them. We should not be overbearing; we should bend over backwards to appear anything but. We should not let this task be easy for us.

Is it possible to still win on the issue? Christ, when he sat down with a Samaritan woman at the well told her that he knew she had been married five times and was currently living as an adulteress. He told her that her religion was wrong and that "salvation is of the Jews", the Jews being an ethnic group who exercised vile prejudice against the Samaritans. He said all of this in a way that caused the woman to listen, and to run to her village to bring back others to hear his teachings. Until we too can say a hard thing in a way that doesn't undermine our expression of sincere love, sympathy, and desire for unity, we're never going to really be able to carry out God's work on the Earth. Yes it's hard. Impossible seeming. Anyone familiar with scripture and history shouldn't be surprised. This is the task we've been set, and I fear that as a cultural group, we took some dangerous shortcuts this time around that may in the long term erode any "progress" we feel we've made.

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