Global Constant
Steve Nay's ramblings

In Defense of Marriage: The Supreme Court's Rulings and Their Implications

The Supreme Court ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies some federal benefits to citizens in legal, state-recognized homosexual marriages, is unconstitutional. It also ordered the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the Proposition 8 case it previously ruled on, effectively overturning the ballot initiative and making same-sex marriage legal again in California.

The DOMA decision is perhaps the most important victory so far for proponents of gay marriage, as it removes from the federal government the ability to define marriage and returns that power to the states.1 Its immediate implications will only affect same-sex couples living in (or married by) states that recognize such unions, but it won’t be long before other states follow the precedent.

Belief

As a Mormon, I believe homosexual activity to be morally wrong in the same way as adultery and fornication. But sexual orientation is not a choice, and I have no qualms with anyone being gay or lesbian. Only by acting on these feelings do they move into the realm of moral decision-making. Despite my personal principles, however, I can still support the Supreme Court of the United States or a state government that chooses to recognize same-sex marriages. Here’s why.

I happen to believe that drinking alcohol and smoking are wrong. I don’t do either one. But the government can make those things legal without affecting my beliefs. Society can make them acceptable or even normal without influencing my behavior. Religious people, including Mormons, fought to keep Prohibition early last century. They failed, but that hasn’t impeded their abstinence in the time since. Nothing in their lives changed with the policy, and it’s difficult to prove whether American society is any better or worse as a result.2

Precedent

The civil rights movement occurred in the United States over 50 years ago, and remnants of discrimination still exist in our culture today. Reason eventually triumphed over the bigots who fought equality under the law for all races. The gay marriage movement has many parallels to that dark period of discrimination, and it will hold similar status in history when it succeeds. It’s politically inexpedient to fight it anymore. Even the LDS Church, once a formidable advocate of California’s Proposition 8, has softened its stance in recent years.

In the late 1800s, Mormons were on the other side of a marriage definition battle.3 We wanted the right to practice polygamy but the United States denied it. In 1890, the leaders of the Church issued a manifesto that discontinued polygamy as a matter of Church policy. Only then was Utah allowed to become a state. Having seen both sides of marital discrimination in the government, I would expect more sympathy from my LDS compatriots to this modern-day civil rights debate.

A Social Experiment

I have no problem with any federal or state government recognizing or allowing same-sex marriage. I’m happy for those who will exercise this new right and build loving relationships. I may not agree with the morality of their decision, but I understand it, and their choices will not prevent me from living life the way I think is right. I can share my moral views and encourage others to follow them, but I cannot force them on anyone.

We don’t yet know what effect gay marriage will have on the fabric of society, just as with many similar questions in the past. As Ray Douthat famously wrote in 2012,4 “Same-sex marriage is a social experiment, and like most experiments it will take time to understand its consequences.”5 If society wants to try this experiment, I say good luck.


1: A decision that ought to be celebrated by proponents of limited government, including Republicans who ultimately oppose gay marriage.

2: A similar course of events may play out with some facets of the current “war on drugs”.

3: Jesse Stay does a good job explaining the history and current thinking in the Church about marriage equality, but I don’t share his conclusion.

4: Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church, quoted this essay in the Church’s October 2012 general conference, but he argued a point opposite Douthat, who writes, “a number of studies have suggested that gay parenting may be an exception to this rule [that being raised by a married biological mother and father produces the best developmental outcome], and that the outcomes of children raised by homosexual couples may be identical to children raised by married biological parents.” There simply isn’t enough evidence yet to conclude empirically whether gay marriage is a poor or suitable alternative to traditional marriage. For those who believe the Apostle’s claim to divine revelation (as I do), this question is easier to resolve.

5: While I believe the best outcome for the world at large would be for everyone to adhere to the principles taught by Jesus Christ, that will obviously not happen anytime soon. For now, I think it better for us to respect each other’s beliefs and decisions while seeking the best compromises to let us live in harmony.

Later article
17:05