"The Church is Right: The Case Against Gay Marriage "

Richard Sherlock

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring 2009)


2 Comments on This Page

First Additional Page of Comments

Second Additional Page of Comments




            On November 4, 2008, three more states joined a growing majority (30 to date) that have amended their constitutions to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. [1] These states have thus made impossible legalizing gay marriage in their states either by courts or legislatures without first amending their constitutions. California instantly became the focus of an intense backlash among supporters of gay marriage, with demonstrations against the LDS Church and LDS members.  Businesses and business owners who supported the amendment were targets for demonstrations and boycotts. In Michigan supporters of gay marriage interrupted an evangelical church service. LDS members were fired or forced to resign once it became known that they had donated funds to support Proposition 8, the amendment. [2] As I write this some members of the American Philosophical Association are circulating a petition to bar Christian institutions that do not hire openly gay faculty members from announcing positions in Jobs for Philosophers, the nationally recognized job list. [3]

            Lost in all of this acrimony are some sobering facts for supporters of gay marriage. California was not the first and will not be the last state to constitutionally prohibit gay marriage. At the same time that California was amending its constitution, Florida and Arizona were also doing so.  Florida’s vote surprised even supporters. Supporters of the amendment were sure they would get a solid majority in the sunshine state but they were unsure of whether they would get the 60% required to amend the constitution. They got 62%. [4] If one looks at the vote in the 30 states that have passed amendments, the overwhelming nature of the opposition to gay marriage becomes clear. Adding all the votes for an amendment to deny gay marriage and all the votes against such an amendment, one finds that nationally 64% of voters in these 30 states have opposed gay marriage. [5] This is a number that ought to cast the claims of the supporters of gay marriage will soon be legal across the nation in a much darker light.

            Furthermore opposition to gay marriage is not limited to groups generally regarded as on the right or far right of the political spectrum. If it were it would not have gained 64% nationally to date. Hispanic Americans and African Americans generally vote for liberal candidates and policies. But 56% of Hispanics and 70% of African Americans voted against gay marriage in California. [6] African Americans simply reject the attempt to equate their struggle for equality with support for gay marriage, much to the dismay of gay marriage advocates.

            Of all the groups that opposed gay marriage in California, the Mormon Church has come in for the harshest, openly hate-filled criticism. The California vote has received the most agonizing responses for several reasons. Polls initially showed that Californians would defeat the attempt to amend their constitution. [7] Gay marriage supporters placed a great deal of hope that large, culturally diverse California would at last turn the tide in their favor and begin the process of normalizing gay marriage nationally. Mormons have been an easy cultural target. The Church officially the amendment and encouraged members to get involved. The Church did not donate tithing funds to the effort but about $200,000 was donated, mostly in-kind support. [8]  The Mormon vote in California would not have come anywhere near to passing the amendment. But funds donated by individual members were helpful in passing Proposition 8. Those who support gay marriage find it hard to attack Hispanic and African American communities, with whom they agree on a range of other issues, with the same vehemence that they attack Mormons and the Church itself who are more politically and culturally outsiders.

            The harshness of this simmering hatred can be seen in miniature in the comments on Utah newspapers’ websites, especially that of the Salt Lake Tribune. On line when a story or letter to the editor appears readers are able to post a comment about it. When stories appeared about the aftermath of the California vote, especially stories about the backlash or about the LDS involvement in pressing for a yes vote on Proposition 8, the comments were harsh and numerous. It was not uncommon for over a hundred comments to be posted within hours.  Most comments were, to use a nicer word than they used, “venomous” about Mormonism, Mormon culture and Mormon opposition to gay marriage.

            These comments and those of the demonstrators quoted in the press are mostly uninformed and intellectually worthless. In what follows I will first respond to claims about the LDS involvement in the Proposition 8 debate. I will then show that the arguments for gay marriage are not sound. Thirdly, I will make two arguments that together are more than sufficient to show that gay relationships should not be granted the title of marriage. Finally, I will respond to the only debate on this topic in the Mormon oriented literature that I know. My conclusion will be that not only the Mormon Church but also many other thoughtful Americans are right. Gay marriage is wrong and its supporters have failed to meet their burden of showing that tens of thousands of years of human history should be overthrown in a historical and evolutionary heartbeat.

            Much of the harsh commentary on the Church’s role in the California vote is directed against the involvement of churches per se in public policy debates like this. Much of the Utah commentary represents a general hostility to the way in which Mormon social conservatism seems to dominate public life in Utah. Critics simply don’t like the way in which Mormons in Utah vote their policy preferences for things like abstinence only sex education in schools, in support of abortion restrictions that might be constitutional, and in support of large families with tax deductions to match.  In an earlier era they were livid that the Mormon Church opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. They want the Salt Lake valley to become Seattle.  Which it won’t do. The fastest growing minority in Utah are Hispanic Catholics, who on these sorts of issues like gay marriage are typically at least as, if not more, conservative than Mormons.

            The position of the critics seems to be that all Churches should stay out of the public square, out of political involvement altogether, or at least out of public debates that do not involve them directly, e.g. a proposal to subject any Church to property tax.  Many make the erroneous claim that this engagement violates, somehow never specified, the American idea of the separation of church and state. [9]

            Carefully thought out, however, this line of argument is nonsense.  Every major movement for social change in America, changes that liberals like these commentators strongly support has been led by ministers, priests, and churches.  Do these writers believe that the anti-slavery movement is suspect because it was led by deeply religious persons and churches?  William Lloyd Garrison, the publisher of the first openly anti-slavery publication in America, was a deeply religious Baptist who wrote passionately out of his Christian faith that slavery was morally wrong and an offense to God. [10]  The same can be said of William Wilberforce, the powerfully evangelical Christian and Member of Parliament who spearheaded the abolition of British involvement in the slave trade. [11] 

            Do liberals believe that the civil rights movement would have been better served if Reverend Martin Luther King had been a philosopher instead of a minister, if Ralph Abernathy had been a humanist instead of a pastor, if Joseph Lowery had been a motivational speaker?  Is the whole movement suspect because the leading organization of the American civil rights movement was the Southern Christian Leadership Council instead of the Southern Secularist Council?  Of course not. Secular liberals cherish the memory of Martin Luther King and know nothing of the fact that his motivation was deeply religious, not philosophical or legal.

            I have told this story this story to hundreds of students and though all of them have heard of Martin Luther King none have ever heard of “the rest of the story.” I tell it here to emphasize that liberals cannot consistently hold that churches and religious leaders should stay out of public policy debates.

            Martin Luther King graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 16. Wanting to be a minister like his father, he went north to study for the protestant ministry at what in the late 1940’s was a prominent theological seminary for mainline protestant churches, Crozier Theological Seminary in suburban Philadelphia. The institution has long since closed and merged with other struggling seminaries of this sort. At Crozier his teachers recognized his abilities and encouraged him to pursue doctoral studies with the goal of teaching one day at a place like Crozier. He matriculated at Boston University School of Theology.  After passing his comprehensive exams and starting on his dissertation, he realized that teaching ministers to be without ever having led a church is about like becoming a law professor without ever having tried a case. [12]

            In the fall of 1954 King, who was ABD at the time, came to Montgomery Alabama as pastor of a large African American church.  So it was that in the fall of 1955 he was in Montgomery when the bus boycott began. The African American community soon turned to a charismatic minister with a prestigious northern education for leadership. But a leader at that time and place, for that cause, was the subject of hate and death threats.  One night in January, 1956, King recounts that he came home late from a meeting. His wife and daughter were already asleep. Just as he was about to fall asleep the phone rang. It was another death threat.  From here on I quote King because a paraphrase cannot do justice.

            “ I hung up but couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

            "I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my pot of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this sate of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands I bowed my head over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘ I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid.  The people are looking to me for leadership and if I stand before them without strength and courage they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

            "At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying “ Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth, and God will be at your side forever’. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” [13]

            Three nights later King’s house was bombed while he was at a meeting. 72 hours earlier, on hearing this he and his family would have fled into the night. Not now.  He now knows the task to which he has been called by “somebody bigger than you and I” in the words of an old Baptist hymn.  This is the real King.  To know him this way is to show the secular separationists that they cannot have it both ways.

            The question to ask liberals who want churches out of public policy debates is simple and fatal for their position. Would the civil rights movement have been better if Martin Luther King had a J.D?  Would the anti-Vietnam war movement been better if it had not had Daniel Berrigan S.J. as a leader?  Is the movement to abolish capital punishment tainted because a leading voice for abolition is the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, backed by the Vatican? [14] Though I have my own views on these issues that I am prepared to defend, my point here is to show liberals that the very positions they endorse are at risk of being considered suspect if they try to hold to their announced position.

            What the Proposition 8 critics are really saying is that the LDS and other churches took the wrong side, not that they spoke out. The critics would have been overjoyed if the LDS Church had supported their position. The critics of the Church believe that they are right to support gay marriage. So let's begin to confront the issues at stake


            Perhaps the most frequently heard claim in public by gays and lesbians and their supporters is that they have no choice in being gay; they were “made this way.” Let me note at the outset that this claim seems to be more strongly made by male homosexuals than lesbians. There is some evidence that this may be due to definitions held respectively by gays and lesbians. [15] Conservatives, in general, hold that highly motivated gays and lesbians can change their orientation, or in the words of some “repaired.” In the final analysis I think this issue is irrelevant to the question at hand. Since it is so frequently asserted, however, I must address it here briefly. [16]

            The claim about “made this way” is often interpreted in genetic terms, i.e. gender attraction is a fixed genetic trait like color blindness.  Claims of a decade ago to have found the “gay gene” were wildly over-hyped but there is a significant genetic basis to same gender attraction. In studies of identical twins reared in different environments, if one twin is gay about half of the time the other will be gay. [17] Of course we must remember that these studies show that only about half of the multiple causes of same gender attraction can be attributed to genetics. There must then be other factors that intervene to produce same gender attraction. But for my purposes here let's admit that biology, while not explaining everything, explains a lot about gender attraction.

            So what? The same sorts of twin studies show that among identical twins reared apart, if one twin is an alcoholic, half of the time his or her twin is an alcoholic. While this may help us have compassion for the difficulties an alcoholic has trying to stay sober, a “made that way” argument similar to that of the gay person does not justify someone being a “practicing alcoholic.” [18]

            What we ask of those genetically predisposed for too much fondness for the bottle is not that they give up the fondness they have. In many cases they may not be able too. What we ask is that they not act on that desire.  In the same way we, as a church, do not ask heterosexuals to give up their deepest desires for intimacy. They mostly cannot. Some may have stronger desires in this regard than others, but almost no one has any such desires. Why should they?  What we ask as a church and should ask as a society is that they do not act on these desires outside of marriage. Why should the situation be any different with gays or lesbians? There is no “gay” exception to the command for chastity. There is no “lesbian “ exception to the rule for self-control of our most powerful passion.

            Unlike many who criticize gay marriage I am perfectly willing to concede that gender preference is highly, though not completely, genetic. It is, I also admit, deeply rooted, persistent, and largely resistant to attempts to change it.  I make these admissions for two reasons. First, I believe that available data overwhelmingly supports these admissions.  Second, and even more crucial, I believe that since no one at this point can be completely sure of the etiology or persistence of same gender attraction, an argument against gay marriage must be sound independently of whatever we might find about causal connections or resistance to change.

            These points can be admitted but they do not, in themselves, constitute any argument for gay marriage.  They do cast doubt on some claims about the possibilities for change and especially on the hopefully discarded notion that marriage is a cure for same gender attraction. They do not, however, constitute an argument that chastity is not the correct option, any more than persistent heterosexual desires are any justification for extramarital sex.


            A number of advocates of gay marriage offer anecdotes or stories of suffering gay people to support their view. Carol Lynn Pearson’s new book No More Strangers is the best of this genre from an LDS source. [19]  Carefully parsed out, however, these stories do not justify the conclusion some think they do. The stories are heart wrenching to be sure. But how many of them actually deal with gay marriage per se?  Few actually, except as gay marriage has come to symbolize larger issues.

            Many of the stories are of gay and lesbian young people rejected by their families because of their orientation. This response from families is wrong. Christ invites all, not just those who are want we want them to be.  But does such regrettable behavior lead to any argument for gay marriage?  No, nor does the fact that some Church members have far to go in developing a loving embrace of gay and lesbian persons, Church members or not.  These members should be admonished. But this too does not lead to an argument for gay marriage.

            To put the matter forthrightly, anecdotes or stories of hardship are not an argument. Painful stories of personal rejection tug at the heartstrings and the behavior of some persons is wrong. The answer, however, is not to alter a principle merely because some are made uncomfortable by it. These sorts of stories could easily be repeated in any number of cases: abortion, addiction, adultery, pre-marital intercourse, etc.  Unless we have legal or ecclesiastical authority, ours is not to sit in judgment of specific cases. Neither should we alter our principles so that some may not feel saddened.

            Some claim that gay persons should not be asked to forego the fulfillment of their deepest desires when those of us who are not gay are not asked to do so. This move to does not work.  Those of us who are not gay are asked to forego sexual intimacy until we are married. The retort is that at least we can pursue marriage, gays can't.  Even if this is granted it is a dangerous move to make. Alone, it will also justify any of the list of “equality” cases I treat below, e.g., “ At least you so-called ‘normal’ people can pursue getting married and having a fulfilling intimate life. I as an over 50 man who only finds fulfillment with 16-17 year old girls am criticized for doing so.”  

            I submit that as Mormons we should reject this whole way of thinking. No judgment whether about political, moral, or even factual matters takes place in a vacuum of “pure reason.” Reason is always reason in a context of background convictions about the place of human beings in a cosmic or ‘theological’ story: pre-life, bodily life and afterlife, i.e. the meaning and purpose of human existence. Nicholas Wolterstorff , emeritus Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale has aptly called these “control beliefs.”  In a deep way I think his work and others show that thought is always done within the ambit of faith. The pre-moderns were right: theology is the queen of the sciences. [20]

            So if we start at this point why should we believe that gays and lesbians, who I admit have an orientation that is highly resistant to change, could never have an intimate life?  Mormon theology is unique at this point. We believe in an embodied, married afterlife in which all of the blessings of God are available, including marriage. Thus I think we need not give in to this final plea:  “ I can’t have what others have and that’s wrong”


            In the aftermath of the California vote much of the public rhetoric of supporters of gay marriage has circled around the concept of equality, or at least civil equality. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted one particularly thoughtless demonstrator giving voice to a bold but, I think, not unrepresentative version of this claim: “ I should be able to marry whoever I want whenever I want to.” [21] This sentiment is pervasive. To deny gays and lesbians the right to marry is to treat them unequally with others; it is to treat them as less than fully human. On the surface this view seems sound.  At the very least it sounds so plausible to liberal ears. As Tocqueville shows, in liberal regimes equality will almost always swamp every other sentiment.  But it is only on the surface that the appeal here lies.

            Let us take the demonstrator at his word and see if his principle is sound. His claim is that he should be able to marry, by the state, whoever he desires, whenever he desires it.  This is a universal claim and we shall so interpret it.  We shall call this UM or universal marriage

            UM  -- An individual has the has the right to marry anyone they want, anytime they want to.

            One immediate counter example presents itself: someone who is already married. Would those who unreflectively support UM agree that UM includes a right to bigamy?  Would they say that UM requires the state to recognize a marriage between a man and two women or a woman and two men? Of course not.  Those who support UM simply do not think that FLDS practices, or worse, polyandry, are either morally acceptable or constitutionally protected.

            So the UM principal now appears to have one crack in it. It must be revised.

            UM1  An individual has a right to get married to anyone they want to, who is not already married, at anytime they wish.

            This version is not as universal as the demonstrator announced. Does it have other cracks?  Suppose a 25 year old man wants to marry a 14 year old girl or that a 25 year old teacher falls in love with a 15 year old student and wants to marry him?  Suppose further that both parties deeply love each other and claim they are acting freely. UM says these marriages should be permitted. Yet most of us, almost surely including those who agree with UM, find this sort of marriage unacceptable and we would not alter our laws to accommodate it. So it appears that UM should be modified again to account for these deep convictions.

            In order to know how to alter UM1 we need to understand why these cases of the 25/13 year old and the 25/15 year old are troubling. One perfectly sound argument is that the junior member of each pair is not old enough to make a considered or reasonable choice for marriage. They are old enough to decide some things for themselves, e.g. do they want to see a classic “chick flick” or a GI Joe movie, but not to make a momentous decision for marriage. Therefore we might revise UM again. 

UM2 The individual has a right to marry anyone who is not already married and who is above the legal age of marriage, i.e. regarded as mature enough to make a decision for marriage

            Each of the two caveats about the age of marriage and bigamy are sound but are they enough? I think it can be seen easily that they are not enough.  In Utah as in many states the legal age of marriage is 16. Suppose then a 55 year old man wants to marry a 16 year old teenager.  Suppose further that they profess deep love for each other. In some polygamous communities “marriages” such as these are not unusual.  Alter the gender or modify the ages and we are still left with an adolescent marrying someone old enough to be their mother or father.

            The marriage may be technically legal but do we find it morally acceptable such that if it was not already legal we should make it so? There are many reasons to doubt. The first set of reasons has to do with the age difference, which strongly suggests that the actual or de facto immaturity of the junior partner casts strong doubt on whether this is a considered choice that we should respect.

            The second set of reasons is deeper. Marriage is about family as I will show below. It has been about children and parents for thousands of years, not about lust.  But can it really be about children when one partner is old enough to be a grandparent, not a mother or father?  We may find it imprudent to alter the age of marriage or to define precisely in law how close in age partners must be to enter into marriage, but we do not need to hold that a relationship between a 50 year old and a 16 year old is truly a marriage.

            How we might modify UM2 to account for this objection is a difficult question but for our purposes we might suggest:

            UM3 An individual has a right to get married to whoever they wish provided that the partner is not: 1) already married, 2) above the legal age of marriage, 3) not very greatly disparate in age.

            Is this the version of UM that we are looking for? A little thought will show us no. Suppose a brother and sister want to get married at 22 and 24 respectively, or suppose that they are adoptees so that genetic closeness is not at issue. In the case of genetic closeness the law rightly steps in. Even in the case of adoptees our moral sense, which Mormons call “the light of Christ,” leads most of us to condemn the practice.

            But if both the genetic and the adoptee cases are found deficient then the reason cannot be simply be the biological concern with genetic closeness. It must be that we have a pre-reflective sense that this is not what marriage is mean to be.  Marriage is not meant to be an extension of the warmth we feel in our families of origin. It is a recreation of this closeness with others not of our kin. So we must alter UM again to account for these cases. Perhaps this is what we are looking for:

            UM4 :  an individual has a right to marry whoever they want provided the partner is not: 1) already married. 2) above the legal age of marriage, 3) not very greatly disparate in age, or  4) a close emotional or genetic relative. 

These caveats are necessary but they are not sufficient.  To show that they are not sufficient consider a final case.

 Suppose  a human being wants to get married to a pet. He wants his marriage license to be made out to a dog, a cat, or a horse. Of course we turn our eyes in revulsion.  If we grant our demonstrator his supposedly simple principle, however, why can he say this is wrong?  Does not “whoever I want “ include an animal like a chimp  After all there is a vast literature of current moment proclaiming that animals are the equivalent of persons. Your dog can talk to you. You just don’t know the language.  Our revulsion at the idea that a man  and his dog can be more than owner and dog shows again the deficiency of the UM principle announced at the beginning. We must modify it again.

            UM 5   An individual has the right to marry whoever they want except: 1) when the other person is already married, 2) when the other person is below the legal age of marriage, 3) when the other person is vastly disparate in age, 4) when the other person is a close genetic or emotional relative, 5) when the other is not a human being.

            It appears that the only case to which the UM principle announced by the demonstrator might even apply is the case of same gender marriage. Yet if we grant the soundness of our sense of wrongness in these other cases I have noted above how can we deny at least the beginning of wisdom in the sense of wrongness in gay marriage, a sense that is pervasive, deeply rooted, and shows no signs of lessening.  Of course we need a deeper analysis, which follows. But if we grant the soundness of our moral sense in the five cases just noted how can liberals who will agree with this sense in these cases reject it in the case of gay marriage unless they have already concluded that gay marriage is acceptable before they have examined the question, a question-begging move if there ever was one.

            On what basis would liberals claim that unease with gay marriages is culturally conditioned bigotry and rejection of under age marriage is not? Does not this very inability to sort out cases even they recognize reflect the incoherence of their principle? They cannot claim that opposition to gay marriage is rare. The facts speak otherwise. They cannot claim that this unease is only a product of conservative white protestants. Black churches are at least as passionate about this issue as any Mormon or evangelical protestant. The Mormons joined the Proposition 8 coalition at the invitation of the Roman Catholics, a church not known for rigid conservatism, e.g., the Vatican formally opposed the Iraq war, opposes capital punishment, and in the United States the Catholic bishops support a Canadian style health care system. [22] Whether these positions are sound is not here an issue. They are not the views of a conservative movement. At a bare minimum we must conclude that supporters of gay marriage cannot just trot out the liberal principle of equality to make their case. They bear a substantial burden to show why the liberal ideal of equality supports their case and not any of the others that I have noted.

            My point is not that approval of gay marriage will lead to any of the other cases I have just noted. Predictions such as this are highly unsound. When those on the other side claim that gays and lesbians will be much sadder and lonelier unless granted gay marriage, they, too, are making unsound predictions.

            My point is not predictive. It is logical. Played out logically, the claim of the demonstrator logically includes all of the cases I have just noted. If they are excluded from his principle then the special pleading becomes clear. He really means that his principle only applies to gay marriage. But the ground on which he can so limit his principle remains a mystery.  Put this a different way. Pastor Rick Warren, who prayed at the inaugural of President Obama, was highly criticized for allegedly saying that gay marriage is the same or similar to incest, adultery and other sorts of “sexual relationships” that most of us find deeply immoral. [23] Many found this connection misguided or worse.  But is this connection actually wrong?  All of these as I have shown are covered by the equality principle so confidently announced by the demonstrator. Moreover the case for gay intimacy, which marriage normalizes, must rest on the complete separation of the fulfillment of erotic desire and the reproductive telos that is the natural justification for intimacy. Those arguing that gay intimacy is completely acceptable must conclude that intimacy can be fully justified by the pleasure it entails and this move will justify intimate relations between the unmarried, the married and the unmarried, the overage and the underage, and even the human and the non-human. This is a logical point, not a sociological point and as a logical point Pastor Warren’s comments were correct.

            There is a foundational problem that lies behind the points I have just made. It is a problem that lies hidden below the surface of much of our public debate on a number of issues, which I am not addressing here and it is central to philosophic project of modernity.  It is view of the human being as ultimately a solitary creature who chooses to enter in to associations with others but whose being is not ultimately relational. When Rousseau announces that “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains” what he means is that freedom from others is natural or good; relationships, the most fundamental of which is the family, are artificial. [24] They do not arise. They must be chosen. Hence, Rousseau has no shame when, in a very tough section in his Confessions, he recounts the incest between him and his “mother.” [25] Furthermore, since political association is not natural, in the Social Contract Rousseau must impose it in an argument that can be and has been a foundation for tyranny. [26]

            Before Rousseau the great contract theorists, especially Locke, saw human beings before government as loners, who must scavenge, steal, and fight for survival against others. No relationship is natural. All, including politics and the family, are artifacts of human ingenuity and desire.  Locke is most well known for his teaching that government is the result of a contract among persons for their mutual safety. Though less well known, his view of marriage is a mirror of his teaching about politics. Since there are no natural relations, marriage must be artifactual, i.e. contractual. [27]

            Earlier than Locke, Milton became the first theorist of  “no fault” divorce on these same grounds. His argument pre-figures and is foundational to much of the modern view of marriage. For Milton marriage was a companionship of equal minds or souls. When your spouse could no longer be engaged in such a “meeting of the minds “ the actual marriage was over and divorce was simply a matter of filing papers with the state. Consider how this results in a perversion of even traditional Christian marriage “ for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” If your spouse gets sick or disabled and you can no longer have a “meeting of the minds,” you can end the relationship without thinking you have made a moral mistake. [28]

            Milton, like Locke, was enamored of the idea that relationships of pure equality were central. When the relationship could not be one of equality, it should be ended. In our time the defining elements of a relationship are freedom and passion. The freedom that allows passion to find its object. Thus, if you are overage and hence presumably free intimacy is justified by the desire of the partners. “If you really love the other person, intimacy is acceptable.” This now pervasive sentiment goes back to the early modern view of relationships as created not given and thus can be created in any fashion the partners desire.

            This foundational idea of relationships also warps our view of the bond between parents and children. If the parent child relationship is a construct, then neither the parent nor the child need be what nature provides. I will only note here the parental side. We are frequently told that what a child needs is a permanent, stable relationship with a caring adult. Though this may be “the truth” it is certainly not “the whole truth” Examine the statement closely. Where the whole truth should say “parents” the statement substitutes “adult” as if parent and caretaker were the same. But this substitution evades the nature of parenthood and the overwhelming data from the social sciences:

1. Parents cannot be fully replaced by just any adults. Of course, having a committed caretaker is better than having none, but nothing can really substitute for parents. [29]

2. With few exceptions two parents are always better than one. Divorcing people often say that they cannot stand living with their spouse anymore and that their children will be better off not being in a home filled with anger and hostility. The second part of this claim, i.e. the children will be better off, is simply not true. [30]

            Both the biblical and classical philosophical traditions reject the modern notion of the family as a contract. Aristotle begins his Politics talking about the family as natural to human beings, but not sufficient for their happiness. Hence, he (Aristotle) must write about politics because the family requires the political community. [31] But the reverse is just as true. The polis requires the family. In the Bible man is never alone.  In Genesis I man and woman are created together. In Genesis II the creation of humanity is sequential but not separated. In Genesis I the first command to Adam and Eve is to have a family. We can also note that the Book of Mormon begins with an account written by a man “born of goodly parents.” [32] If we reject the ill-conceived modern view of a society composed of isolated nomads, we can confidently reject at the deepest level the conclusion that all relationships are equal.  

            Those who argue for gay marriage are not just arguing for a broader acceptance of gays and lesbians. They are not just arguing for including gays and lesbians in our loving embrace as saints. This sort of unconditional love is important and no one denies it.  Supporters of gay marriage, however, ask for a fundamental change in both the meaning and social ecology of marriage. We must ask ourselves whether this sort of change bodes well or ill for our civilization. Let us remember that communities do not make families. Families make communities. Contrary to Hillary Clinton, families make villages, not the other way around. [33] Heterosexual, two-parent families have been the foundation of all civilization for thousands of years. Advocates for gay marriage want us to alter this understanding. Are we wise to do so? 

            Children of either divorce or single parenthood do not do as well as those raised in stable two parent households.  Children of divorce have a host of problems: low self esteem, higher rates of substance abuse and depression. They do less well in school and they have less successful marital lives.  Much the same can be said of children raised by one parent, most often the mother. These are facts that all the optimistic rhetoric about “good” divorces or successful single parenthood cannot obfuscate.

            Two-parent families make the ultimate choice for the future of human civilization. Couples know that many marriages do not work out. Some parents are left with children alone. Fathers abandon wives and children emotionally, physically, financially, or a combination of any of these. Yet young people form families with a great faith that their family will succeed and with a pervasive belief that they will be much happier in doing so.  Everything we know about families suggests that they are right.

            Families also make a faithful decision to have children because they grasp intuitively what a huge amount of data shows: married couples with children have a richer, more joyous, life. If persons are “that they might have joy” then the way to joy is marriage and children.

            Families are where character is formed and virtues taught. As a professor of moral philosophy, I can attest that students do not learn that “ you don’t hit your sister” in a college classroom. You learn that at two or three, hopefully “ at your mother’s knee.”  Families socialize and moralize the young.  They teach them and habituate them to civilization. They nourish the body and form the souls of young people in ways we cannot do without.

            In doing this families display an awesome faith in the future. Children first test the physical stamina of parents, particularly of mothers, with childbirth and infancy. Financial and emotional burdens follow. Though the financial burdens are often overstated by those of an anti child persuasion, they are still substantial. The investment of human parents in time and resources dwarfs that of any other species. Families have been doing this for millennia because they find in children, in a way that empirical science can only partially demonstrate a joy in seeing their children carry on their heritage and civilization from the village to the nation. This is a source of social stability and political soberness that no other institution has ever come close to equaling.

            The social and political goods that come from heterosexual marriage lead to one conclusion. Heterosexual marriage is superior to any other relationship from friendship to any of the other intimate “relationships” I have noted above.  They provide no lasting goods or lesser goods than marriage.

            If heterosexual marriage and children are so superior to any of the any of the relationships I have noted, what about gay marriage? Gay marriage cannot be part of the process of reproducing civilization because by definition gay couples cannot naturally have a next generation. They can only have a next generation unnaturally either with in-vitro fertilization or surrogacy. They could form a family by divorcing and bringing children into a same gendered relationship. This last is surely not a natural way of forming a family.

                  Though gay marriage advocates adopt an equality argument that is highly defective and though they ignore the nature of marriage in pressing their case, let us see what the social science data show us about the nature of same gendered relationships. Though I am not convinced that social science data are the gold standard for understanding human beings, they are important and should be looked at briefly.

            1.Though we read often of unfaithful spouses and of substantial increases in rates of adultery the facts are that 80% of persons are faithful to their marriage vows. [34] This is simply not the case with gay men. One study of gay men in a committed relationship found that the partners had an average of 8 other partners per year. [35] A Canadian study found that only 25% of gays in a committed relationship were monogamous in that year. [36] In another study only 4.5% of males in supposedly committed relationships report monogamy throughout the relationship. [37] In a Dutch study of older homosexuals the “modal range for number of partners ever was 100-500.” [38] A number of other studies could be cited all to the same conclusion: gay relationships overwhelmingly do not have the monogamous quality of heterosexual marriage. 

            2. We may be told that these data are skewed because they represent the oppression of gays who are not allowed to marry. Marriage, it is claimed, would allow gays and lesbians to enter into long term relationships that are committed and monogamous. But facts do not support this sort of hope.  Studies from countries where gay marriage has been legal for almost a decade show that even in liberal environments, supposedly permanent relationships include an average of 8 sexual partners a year. [39]

            3. It often is claimed that gays and lesbians want committed, long term relationships that marriage symbolizes. In the press we are often presented with sympathetic examples of gay or lesbian couples who have been together for years and who want to seal their relationship with marriage. Though sympathetic the cases are hardly representative. Take first an American case of “civil unions,” what some call “marriage lite” that allow all of the rights and privileges of marriage without the title. In Vermont civil unions have been in place since 2000; 79% of gays and lesbians in Vermont have not chosen to be in such a union. [40] In the Netherlands gay marriage has been in effect since 2001, yet only 3% of the gay and lesbian population of the Netherlands has chosen to register their union as a “marriage.” [41]

            4. Children do best in intact heterosexual, two-parent households. This is a fact that can be demonstrated with an enormous amount of data. We know that a core part of the crisis of families in America is children growing up without fathers. Children need fathers. Without them the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development of children is not as good. [42]

            So what about children in gay unions?  One would have expected this subject to have been studied extensively with well designed research, using large sample sizes,  proper control groups, carefully crafted questions and sound methodology. Between 30 and 40% of studies are descriptive or case studies, not well designed random samples. One finds almost exclusively “advocacy” research that supports what the researcher wanted to find, not just expected to find., i.e. gay parenting is not a problem. [43] The sample sizes are often much too small to provide reliable data. Most of the studies of gay parenting include at most a few dozen couples. [44] The methodologies are not the same so the data cannot be aggregated. The samples are often “samples of convenience” collected via advertisements in gay oriented media. [45] Such couples have a vested interest in presenting their childrearing in a positive light.

            Control group problems abound. To compare the outcome of gay parenting with single mothers is rigging the outcome at the front end. [46] Since we already know that the optimal situation for children is found in heterosexual two-parent homes, why not compare these families and children with those of gay couples? But this sort of obvious study is almost never done.  Different methods of data collection abound as well as the proliferation of short term studies. What is needed are long term studies such as Judith Wallerstein’s magisterial 25 year study of the effects of divorce, which destroys the idea that divorce can be good for children. [47] In some cases data is dropped that might conflict with results the researcher wants to find. In one study data was omitted that would have shown a much higher percentage of gay children of gay parents than were actually reported. [48] In another study the fact that 9 of 25 female children of lesbian mothers had lesbian attraction was not seen as surprising, even though lesbians are about 2-3% of the population and 9/25 is well over one- third. [49]

            There is some evidence that gay and lesbian parenting leads to greater than expected same gender attraction in children. [50] Unless gender attraction were completely genetic how could it not? Parental values and behavior influence children in every other area of human experience: political affiliation, religion, educational attainment, dress, alcohol use, entertainment, etc. How could gender attraction not be on this list? Though often ignored, there is evidence that children in gay households do have problems: lower self image, greater anger and defensiveness, more depression and anxiety. [51]

            Thus even on the grounds of modern social science, gay relationships are not the equal of heterosexual marriage either in terms of the desire for such a commitment or the actual practice of monogamous commitment. Furthermore, writers like David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, and Jonathan Rauch who extol gay marriage as a solution to the problem of commitment among gays are trading on wishes and hopes. The facts speak otherwise. [52]

The Nature of Marriage

            When critics of gay marriage claim that the practice is “unnatural,” the liberal illuminati smile the knowing smile of those who think they are smarter that those who Mencken called the “boobocracy.” If you might have trouble finding Afghanistan on a map how can you possibly know the “truth” about gay marriage? In this case, however, the smile is not that of knowledge: it is the grin of confusion, Alfred E Neumann style.

            In the beginning, let us ask how we understand anything in the world at all. Take cars as a common example.  As a first approximation we can say that a car is an object made up of certain materials--it has a material cause: e.g. metal, plastic, fabric, glass, etc.

But household blenders have metal, glass, plastic and perhaps even fabric on the bottom of the legs. Yet blenders are not cars.  Ah, cars have gas engines and blenders do not.  Lawnmowers have gas engines, metal, fabric (for the cord) and plastic but they are not cars.  And so it would go, ad infinitum. Giving a full account of cars is not equivalent to stating all the material cars are made of.

            Perhaps we could understand cars in terms of their efficient causes, i.e. how they are made. This move too will fail. Many things are made in a very similar assembly line process with metal, glass, fabric, plastic, etc.  Airliners are an example. Airliners have gas engines and they have all of the materials just noted. They are made on an assembly line process that is a descendent of the first version of mass production developed by Henry Ford for cars. But airliners are not cars.

            Cars, of course, cannot just be made of wood or glass. Some other materials they must have, especially metal and rubber. But merely giving a complete account of the materials a car is made of does not tell us what a car is.  To understand what a car is we must include two causes or modes of understanding that modern science tries to ignore but cannot without failing in its attempt to give a comprehensive account of the world: the form of objects and the purpose or telos of objects, i.e. the formal and final cause.

            Form is more than how the car was made, what it was made of, or who made it. It is not the same as a blueprint or a picture, though these are closer to the truth. Structure or nature are perhaps the closest words. Cars have a certain structure, i.e. materials put together in a certain way. They are put together in a certain way for a certain end or purpose

            We now come to the most crucial element in giving an account of things, (objects or events), in the world: what they are for, their purpose.  Cars have a form and a purpose and these two and these two alone distinguish cars from airliners that are made by a similar process, have many of the same materials, and move people from one point to another. Form and purpose also distinguish cars from tractors that are also made in the same way, with many of the same materials, and also move along the ground.

            To understand what a car is we must grasp its purpose. So what is the purpose of cars that distinguishes them from planes and tractors, to name two similar but not the same objects?  Once stated directly the purpose of cars becomes obvious. The purpose of cars is driving people from point a to point b.  This true even if not every car is driven or every car owner is required to drive. This purpose alone will distinguish cars from planes and tractors.  The nature of cars is to drive people from one place to another.  Deny this and one denies the obvious. Reject it and one cannot give an account of cars.

            This account of the nature of objects or events could be repeated with any object or event from houses and computers to war and business deals. To understand an iPod one must understand what an iPod is for.  After Bacon, modern science thought that the search for purpose was a waste of time. After Hume, modern science came to believe that the search for purpose was not only wasteful but also impossible. But as we have just seen with a simple example of cars, such limitations do not wipe our eyeglasses clean--they warp our understanding.

            With this as a prelude, let us ask what the nature of marriage is as a prelude to understanding whether gay marriage is truly marriage.  In conducting this inquiry we shall have to refer back to our review of counterfeit relationships that we discussed earlier in the essay.  Those who reject the claim that gay marriage is unnatural believe that if gay sex can be empirically found in animals and if it is so desired by some humans it must be acceptable.  But this is to play right into the hands of modern science.  Merely because something is found among animals does not render it good human behavior.  Same gendered intimacy is found among animals.  But if animal behavior is a model for humans, what about chimpanzees, one of our nearest genetic relatives on the evolutionary tree?  They are murderous to strangers.  This is their way of being.  Should it be held out as a model for human beings?  Of course not, human beings are more than and other than primates, however many genes we share.

            If we limit our inquiry to the ways of modern science we will fail to grasp the most elementary fact.  Humans are not just animals. As humans we have a different nature and a different purpose.  We cannot understand the purpose of cars by pointing to the empirical fact that few are never driven and owners are not required to drive.  In the same way empiricism will not, by itself, answer the question of what the purpose of marriage is.  Remember, the purpose of marriage must distinguish it from the counterfeits already noted.  So let's see what can do this. 

1. The nature of marriage is to provide physical security for the weaker member.  No.  If this is the purpose then the “marriage" of a 50 year old man and a 16 year old girl is a true marriage even if the girl is a daughter or a niece.

2. The purpose of marriage is to satisfy the erotic needs of one or both of the partners. No. If this is the purpose of marriage then cohabiting or a marriage between a man and a dog is equal to heterosexual marriage.

3. Perhaps marriage is to be understood as companionship or love.  No.  On this account a person and a pet could be a marriage, or a brother and a sister.

            If we reject the substitutes we find that the purpose or nature of marriage is to have a family, i.e. raise children.  The first command to humanity in the Bible, to create a family in effect states the nature of a marriage that we can come to know on our own and then find confirmed in scripture.  We know that this is the nature of marriage even though some marriages have no children either by choice or desire.  Though he was no friend of traditional sexual morality and though I think his philosophy, except for logic, was flawed, Bertrand Russell wrote the truth on this point: “The main purpose of marriage is to replenish the human population of the globe.” [53] 

            This is true even though some couples cannot have children and some do not want to.  I can personally attest that not being able to have one's genetic children leaves a gap, though I have the deepest possible love for my children, now grown, that my late wife and I adopted.  Furthermore, though we keep hearing about the increase in voluntarily childless couples in America, the desire for children is nearly universal and the increase in voluntary childlessness, while large in percentage terms, is very small in absolute.  Remember if a state with a population of 10 million has 10 cases of TB and then 20, the increase is 200% but the actual increase is miniscule. 

            Since the purpose of marriage, the purpose that makes marriage precious and valuable is childrearing, we can see why gay marriage does not reflect the purpose of marriage. This conclusion will be troubling to many readers but the fact that a conclusion is troubling is not reason to deny it unless there is some defect in the reasoning leading to the conclusion.  If readers can find a defect I welcome the correction. 

I will be told that on my conclusion couples that freely decide to remain childless are making a mistake.  This is not a conclusion I deny.  Absent some serious health problem they are mistaken.  Furthermore, I will be told that same gendered couples can “have” children either through in vitro fertilization or by surrogacy.  True enough.  The fact that these technologies are available does not mean that gays using either one are right in doing so.  They are not.  As we demonstrated earlier children need two parents, specifically a mother and father to thrive--deliberately bringing a child into the world who will lack either a father or a mother is profoundly wrong.

Civil Unions

            It has been widely argued that if same gendered persons cannot and should not claim the status of marriage they should at least be able to have all the same rights of married couples under the rubric of “civil unions” or as some have called it “marriage lite.” Some have even claimed that the Mormon Church does not oppose civil unions. In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times a prominent opponent of gay marriage, the leading scholar of the disastrous unraveling of families in America, David Blankenhorn, and Jonathan Rauch, perhaps the most intelligent advocate for gay marriage, argue that civil unions are perhaps the best current compromise for a society as deeply divided on gay marriage as ours is, a division that shows no signs of lessening. [54]  Of course, many gays and lesbians reject civil unions as less than full equality, a sort of “back of the bus policy,” i.e. you can ride the bus but you can’t sit where others sit. 

            As always in contested matters, careful attention to definitions is crucial.  There are a number of uncontroversial legal rights that gay couples might have:  inheritance, hospital visitation, medical decision-making when one partner is incapacitated, etc.  It surely would be easier if gay couples could sign one document to cover all of these sorts of legal situations.  Where civil society and law must draw the line is with adoption.  As we have shown above, children in same gendered homes do not do as well as children in homes with a mother and a father. Blankenhorn himself has written one of the seminal books in this regard, calling attention to the crisis of Fatherless America. [55] Why then should we allow gay couples to adopt children, even children of their partners, absent a serious showing that a specific such adoption is in the child’s best interest? If the idea of civil unions is carefully defined to include those rights that do not undermine the uniqueness of marriage or the best interest of children, then they are surely acceptable. But if they are not so limited then they must be rejected. The Mormon Church has not supported civil unions per se. The Church has indicated support for a properly limited concept such as I have indicated. [56]

Mormon Discussion

            Unfortunately, the published debate in Mormon circles on the question of gay marriage is extraordinarily weak. (Note: This is the reason SquareTwo is sponsoring an essay contest for young LDS adults on this topic.)  Opponents of gay marriage make claims for which only weak evidence exists, claims that should be developed are not, and the deepest philosophical questions are not even touched.  Similarly weak arguments are found from those who support gay marriage.  Nevertheless, a hopefully comprehensive article like this aimed for an LDS audience must at least touch upon the existing literature.  For this purpose, I have selected the only actual debate on the topic in the broadly LDS community, that between Randolph Muhlestein and Wayne Schow in the fall 2007 issue of Dialogue. [57]

Though I agree with Muhlestein’s conclusion that gay marriage is wrong and cannot be supported,  his article fails in a number of ways.  First, the article is entitled “The Case Against Gay Marriage” but he starts, as befits his own legal profession, by talking about the legal landscape.  This is generally irrelevant to the question of whether gay marriage is right or wrong.  Next he presents scriptural arguments against gay marriage, which he admits are only persuasive to those who accept the Bible and in his view, though not mine, interpret it literally.  I believe you can receive enormous divine wisdom from the Bible even if you remain uncertain about how literally some passages are to be taken. But quoting the Bible is not an argument.  It is the beginning of a search for wisdom.  Unless we can tie disconnected passages like those he quotes into a much broader and more foundational narrative than Muhlestein does, a serious argument does not result.

            For someone as attached to empirical data as the best way to make an argument his section on “the sociological arguments” was disappointing.  He briefly sites relevant data about the benefits that society gains from intact two-parent heterosexual families and the harm to children from most divorces.  He writes eloquently about the crisis that traditional marriage is in and about disastrous consequences of the sexual revolution.  All of this is true.  Yet when he tries to connect this to the topic of gay marriage the weakness occurs.  He concludes that given the benefits of traditional marriage we should not alter our social meaning to accommodate gay marriage.  I agree. Yet he then writes “how dramatic an effect would the adoption of same sex marriage have on the institution of traditional marriage? Nobody knows.”  For someone as committed to data the admission of ignorance is fatal.  The data are relevant only after you have seen the philosophical weakness of the equality principle and offered a philosophical understanding, bolstered by scripture, of the nature of marriage.  None of this he engages in. 

            Finally Muhlestein has an extensive discussion of whether being gay is an essential quality or a learned behavior.  This makes sense to him because he regards the danger to marriage from gay marriage to be that legalizing gay marriage will lead to an increase in gay couples instead of heterosexual marriage.  As I have argued above this line of thinking is a distraction from foundational issues.  If the argument against gay marriage is correct it will be true no matter what the shifting conclusions of the social and life sciences on the etiology of same gendered attraction declare. 

            Replying to Muhlestein, Wayne Schow first shows the weakness of Muhlestein’s argument.  These are points on which I generally agree.  He then makes his own argument for gay marriage on both practical and “theoretical” grounds neither of which is sound.

            On practical grounds Schow argues that marriage is a stabilizing force in people’s lives and would be so in the gay community.  I have shown above that these claims are highly suspect.  In countries where gay marriage is legal gay couples are hardly flocking to it.  Furthermore monogamy, i.e. stability in a committed relationship, is less than ten percent in many studies of gay men.

            Schow states that the moral reasons for gay marriage, “loom even larger than the practical ones.”  Here he mixes up several claims and none lead to his conclusion.  He rightly criticizes the hate and discrimination directed at some gays but he never shows how hate and discrimination diminish if gays get married.  He also rightly criticizes a tendency in the Church and out of it to encourage gays to enter into marriage as a cure.  This too is wrong. 

            The core of his argument is another variant of the equality argument I analyzed above.  He argues that sexuality is a powerful and noble human passion, perhaps our strongest and our most potentially noble. To refuse the gays the pleasure of intimacy is to treat them as second-class citizens.  It denies them the equal right to happiness which is God-given.  Technically, of course, refusing to endorse gay marriage leads to none of these conclusions.  But the fatal weakness in Schow’s whole argument is his failure to see that his argument for gay marriage will also justify any of the intimate relationships noted above.  He offers no reasons why it will not.  Near the end of his essay Schow asks rhetorically “do we care enough about the well being of our homosexual brothers and sisters to allow them a socially approved supportive structure of love substance and security?” What Schow has not shown and cannot, I believe, show is why his plea cannot be written in this fashion--Do we care enough about the well being of our over -50 brothers who want to marry someone under 20 to allow them a socially approved and supportive structure of love, acceptance and security?


            Gay marriage does not meet the test. The arguments of advocates are either unsound or irrelevant. The equality argument gives license to “marriages” that no one would support. It cannot be salvaged without special pleading. It is based on a view of the human person that is deeply unsound. Marriage itself has a purpose, a telos , and like everything else in the world cannot be completely understood without reference to its telos. Gay marriage cannot have this telos and thus cannot properly and should not legally be called marriage.



[1] New York Times Nov. 6, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[2] Accounts in the following newspapers chronicle the fierce demonstrations: Salt Lake Tribune, November 9, 2008; San Diego Union Tribune,  November 10, 2008; Seattle Times,  November 10, 2008; Sacramento Bee  November 12, 2008; Denver Post, November 12, 2008; San Francisco Chronicle,  November 23, 2008; Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2008; KABC TV  November, 13, 2008; New York Times, November  12, 2008; L.A. Times  November 25, 2008; Catholic Online  November 12, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[3]  Keith Paulisek, “Dueling Petitions at the American Philosophical Association,” First Things , March 5, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[4]  John Goodman, “Will Florida’s Gay Marriage Ban Pass?”  Governing.Com, September 12, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[5]  Lee Benson, “Sore Losers Won't Let Go in California, “ Deseret News,  December 11, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[6]  Nancy Dillon and Larry McShane,  “Florida, California, and Arizona Ban Gay Marriage,”  New York Daily News,  November 6,  2008; ABC News.Com, “The Gay Marriage Vote,”  November 19, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[7]  John Wildermuth, “California Majority Backs Gay Marriage,”  San Francisco Chronicle,  May 28, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[8]  Deseret News,  February 2, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[9]  Globalspin.com/2008/11/07/1299/; Articlesbase.com/politics-articles/prop.-8-and- the-separation-of-church-and-state. [Back to manuscript]

[10]  Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery ( New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1998). [Back to manuscript]

[11] Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery ( San Francisco: Harper One, 2007). [Back to manuscript]

[12] Marshall Frady,  Martin Luther King jr.: A Life ( New York: Penguin Publishers, 2001). [Back to manuscript]

[13] Martin Luther King Jr. , Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (New York: Harper and Row, 1957): 134-135. [Back to manuscript]

[14] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/angel/procon/bishopstate.html . [Back to manuscript]

[15]  I owe this point to Richly Crapo. For some confirmation see Lisa Diamond, Sexual Fluidity ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009). [Back to manuscript]

[16] For this point see. A. Dean Bird,  Homosexuality and the Church of Jesus Christ ( Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 2001); Joseph Nicolosi, Healing Homosexuality ( New York: Jason Aaronson, 1993). [Back to manuscript]

[17] “Homosexuality Due to Genetics and Environment,” Newsmax.Com (June 30, 2008); J. Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard, “ A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation”, Archives of General Psychiatry 48( 1991): 1089—1096. [Back to manuscript]

[18] Daniel Goodwin, “Alcoholism and Genetics: The Sins of the Fathers, “ Archives of General Psychiatry 42(1985): 171-174; A.C. Heath, et.al. “Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Alcohol Dependence in a National Sample Twin Sample,”  Psychological Medicine , 27(1997): 1381-1396; Carol Prescott and Kenneth Kendler “Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Alcohol Abuse and Dependence in a Population Based Sample of Male Twins,”  American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(1999): 34-40. [Back to manuscript]

[19]  Carol Lynn Pearson, No More Strangers ( Walnut Creek, CA.: Pivot Point Books, 2007). [Back to manuscript]

[20] Nicholas Wolterstorff,  Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1984). [Back to manuscript]

[21] Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 15, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[22] All of these positions can be found on the web site of the American Catholic Bishops UCCSB.Org . [Back to manuscript]

[23] On Pastor Warren see Blog.Beliefnet.Com/Stevenwaldman/2008/12/Rick-Warrens-Controversial-Com.html. [Back to manuscript]

[24] Jean Jacques Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, trans. Roger Masters and Judith Masters (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964). [Back to manuscript]

[25] Jean Jacques Rousseau Confessions,  ed.&trans. Christopher Kelly (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth Press, 1995). [Back to manuscript]

[26] Jean Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract, trans. Judith Masters (New York: St. Martins, 1978); Mussolini’s foundational text The Doctrine of Fascism is virtually plagiarized from Rousseau; www.worldfuturefund.org/wfffmaster/reading/germany/Mussolini   [Back to manuscript]

[27] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett  (New York: Mentor, 1963). [Back to manuscript]

[28] See John Milton, “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in The Major Works, eds. Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg ( New York: Oxford, 2008): 182—225. [Back to manuscript]

[29] “Marriage and the Common Good: Ten Principles,”  Princetonprinciples.org; Patrick Fagan, et.al. The Positive Effects of Marriage, online at Heritage.org/research/features/marriage . [Back to manuscript]

[30] Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce ( New York: Hyperion, 2000). [Back to manuscript]

[31] Aristotle, Politics,  trans. Carnes Lord (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). [Back to manuscript]

[32] I Nephi 1;1; Genesis 1: 27; 2: 7, 18. [Back to manuscript]

[33] Jennifer Morse, Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village (Santa Fe: Ruth Institute, 2008). [Back to manuscript]

[34] Michael Widerman, “Extramarital Sex: Prevalence and Correlates,” Journal of Sex Research 34(1997): 170ff.   ; E.O. Lauerman, et.al. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the U.S. ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). [Back to manuscript]

[35] M. Pollak, “Male Homosexuality,”  in P. Aries and A Bejin eds. Western Sexuality: Practice and Precept in Past and Present Time (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985): 40—61. [Back to manuscript]

[36] Ryan Lee, “Gay Couples Likely to Try Non-Monogamy,” Washington Blade (August 22, 2003). The author of the study, Professor Barry Adam, is a Canadian gay activist. [Back to manuscript]

[37] David McWhitter and Andrew Mattison, The Male Couple: How RelationshipsDevelop (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1984); E.O. Lauman et.al. op.cit. [Back to manuscript]

[38] Paul van de Ven et.al. “ A Comparative Demographic and Sexual Profile of Older Homosexually Active Men,” Journal of Sex Research 34(1997): 354. [Back to manuscript]

[39] Gay oriented sources report many sexual partners of gay men. In a survey of gay men reported in the Lambda Report (January, 1998):20 , 40% of gay men report having more than 40 partners. [Back to manuscript]

[40]  Fred Bayles, “ Vermont’s Gay Civil Unions Mostly Affairs of the Heart,”  USA Today ( January 7. 2004) :1. [Back to manuscript]

[41] CBS News.com/stories/2001/04/01; “Marilyn Gardner, Where Gay Unions are Legal What are the Consequences?”  Christian Science Monitor (November 30, 2003). [Back to manuscript]

[42]  David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America ( San Francisco : Harper Perennial, 1996) ; David Popenoe,  Life Without Father. (New York: Free Press, 1996); K.A. More et.al. , Marriage From a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children. (Washington, D.C.: Child Trends, 2002). [Back to manuscript]

[43] Two reviews document this point extensively. Philip Belcastro  et.al.  “A Review of Data Based Studies Addressing the Effects of Homosexual Parenting on Children’s Sexual and Social Functioning”  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 20(1993) : 105-120: George Rekers and Mark Kilgus, “Studies of Homosexual Parenting: A Critical Review,” Regent University Law Review 14(2002) : 343-375. [Back to manuscript]

[44]  For example see Charlotte Patterson, “Lesbian Mothers and Their Children” Findings From the Bay Area  Families Study,” in Joan Lund and Robert Green eds. Lesbians and Gays in Couples and Families ( New York: Josey-Bass, 1996); Charlotte Patterson and Raymond Chan, “ Gay Fathers and Their Children” in Robert Cabaj and Terry Stein eds. Textbook in Homosexuality and Mental Health ( New York: American Psychiatric Press, 1996). [Back to manuscript]

[45] This point is made by Diana Baumarind, “ Commentary on Sexual Orientation research and Policy Implications” Developmental Psychology 31(1995): 130-136;  Examples are Charlotte Patterson, “ Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers and Their Children,” in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities Over the Lifespan in Anthony Dougilli and Charlotte Patterson eds. ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Leslie Koepke, et.al. “Relationship Quality in a Sample of Lesbian Couples With Children and Child Free Lesbian Couples,”  Family Relations 41(1992): 212- 220; J. Michael Bailey, et.al. “Sexual Orientation of Adult Sons of Gay Fathers,” Developmental Psychology  31(1995): 117--130. [Back to manuscript]

[46] Rekers and Kilgus document that 76% of studies of  gay parenting had no heterosexual control group. [Back to manuscript]

[47]  Work by Wallerstein, Blankenhorn, and others document this point extensively. [Back to manuscript]

[48] Richard Green, et.al.  “Lesbian Mothers and Their Children: A Comparison With Solo Parent Heterosexual Mothers and their Children,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 15(1986): 167--185. [Back to manuscript]

[49] Fiona Tasker and Susan Golombok, “Adults Raised as Children in Lesbian Families,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 65(1995): 203-212. [Back to manuscript]

[50]  For evidence see Fiona Tasker and Susan Golombok, Growing Up in a Lesbian Family (New York: Guilford Press, 1997). [Back to manuscript]

[51] The material is nicely summarized in Lynn Wardle, “The Potential Impact of Homosexual Parenting on Children,” University of Illinois Law Review  I1997): 833-907. [Back to manuscript]

[52]  Jonathan Rauch , Gay Marriage : Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America ( New York: Holt Publishers, 2004); David Brooks, “The Power of Marriage,” New York Times,  November 22, 2003. [Back to manuscript]

[53]  Bertrand Russell, Marriage and Morals ( London: George Allen and Unwin, 1929) : 125. [Back to manuscript]

[54] Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn, New York Times, February 22, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[55] David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America. [Back to manuscript]

[56] See the comments of Elder Whitney Clayton in the Salt Lake Tribune, November 6, 2008. [Back to manuscript]

[57] Ronald Muhlstein, “The Case Against Gay Marriage,”  Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 40:3 (2007): 1-39; Wayne Schow, “ A Case for Same Sex Marriage,” Idem: 40—68. [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Sherlock, Richard (2009) "The Church is Right: The Case Against Gay Marriage," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleSherlockMarriage.html, accessed [give access date].

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 500 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 2 Comments

1) Ben Hertzberg, doctoral student at Duke University, March 2009:

Marriage, Mormonism, and Homosexuality: A Response to Richard Sherlock


            Professor Richard Sherlock’s essay, “The Church is Right: The Case Against Gay Marriage,” is a wide-ranging discussion of the ethical and political issues that surround the gay rights movement’s work to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians. He focuses in particular on that movement’s recent failure to defeat Proposition 8 in California—a failure caused, in no small measure, by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ and its members’ full-throated financial and political backing of the Proposition.  As Sherlock’s aggressive title suggests, his essay is an attempt to justify the Church’s position and involvement.  He does this by arguing that gay marriage is morally wrong.  But he does so in a peculiar way: by means of a broadly Thomistic-Aristotelian natural law argument.  Much of my response will show that this argument does not get Sherlock nearly as far as he thinks it does, and that his argument, by implication, invalidates many marriages, sexual relationships, and sexual practices generally considered by Mormons and others perfectly legitimate, if not good.  But before I get there, I need to respond to Sherlock’s other claims.

            Sherlock opens, to great rhetorical effect, by discussing the unpopularity of gay marriage in many U.S. states and the vitriolic (and deplorable) responses of members of the gay rights community to the LDS Church’s involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign.  As Sherlock knows, none of this is actually an argument for or against gay marriage.  It is rather an appeal to the most visceral emotions the gay marriage debate inspires, a re-stoking of the “us” versus “them” mentality of the Proposition 8 campaign.  Sherlock does himself a disservice with this opening.  He has an argument to make, an argument that deserves to be carefully evaluated, and one that has at least the potential of convincing the as yet undecided (and perhaps even his opponents) to the moral impropriety of gay marriage.  But by opening with such a partisan appeal Sherlock does much to undermine this possibility.  In SquareTwo’s opening manifesto, Sherlock movingly calls for intellectual inquiry characterized by “a deep commitment to Mormonism, its sacred texts and its world picture, to philosophical rigor and, where necessary, empirical sophistication.” [1]  Sherlock’s introduction excites passions that undermine just that sort of inquiry.  It is unfortunate that he included it.

            Sherlock then outlines his own argument.  First, he addresses objections to the LDS Church’s involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign on the grounds of separation of Church and State, second, he criticizes arguments for gay marriage, third, he develops his own argument against gay marriage, and fourth, he briefly addresses the extant (and very limited) Mormon discussion of the topic.  I will respond in roughly the same order, first addressing the question of the role of religion in liberal democracies and then criticizing Sherlock’s argument against gay marriage.  In the process I will outline what I take to be the Mormon argument against gay marriage and compare it with Sherlock’s account.  I will also address the tension between these two approaches, a tension Sherlock ignores.  I will conclude by taking up the political question of gay marriage, a question that I find decisive but has been, as yet, unaddressed in the pages of this journal.

            One warning before going further: this essay is about gay marriage.  The ethical issues surrounding gay marriage cannot be discussed without discussing human sexuality.  I do so frankly in what follows (but not, I hope, insensitively).  I do not apologize for that; indeed, I feel that clarity in my analysis of the issue demands it.  I do, however, want to warn readers about what they can expect in the following.

Gay Marriage, Religion, and Liberalism[2] 

            In response to those who object to the LDS Church’s involvement in the Proposition 8 campaign because it inappropriately mixes Church and State, Sherlock cites the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and other religious leaders who were active in key American political movements.  For Sherlock, these historical facts demonstrate the contradictions inherent in the “liberal” position that churches should stay out of public policy debates.  His argument is as follows: Liberals like the civil rights movement.  Liberals don’t like churches involved in public policy debates.  But the civil rights movement depended on churches involved in public policy debates. Hence, liberals, to be consistent, must give up one of the first two premises.  Now, were the second premise actually determinative of “liberalism,” liberals would indeed be in contradiction.  But Sherlock is attacking a straw man.  There are some liberals who argue that religious arguments and religious reasons should not be invoked in public policy debates.[3]  But making this claim is a far cry from arguing that churches should stay out of public policy debates.  Churches could still be involved; they would simply need to make arguments for their preferred policy positions that are not based on explicitly religious premises (which, incidentally, they do all the time—the LDS Church made plenty of such non-religious arguments against Proposition 8 during the campaign).  But Sherlock ignores two key facts: first, the actual position some liberals defend is a far cry from the “liberal” principle as he formulates it, and second, even this more moderate position is not held by all liberals, nor is it a requirement for any given political theory to be a liberal theory.  Even the most famous liberal political philosopher of our day, John Rawls, agrees that religious arguments have a place in liberal political debate (provided that those arguments can also be supported by compelling “public reasons”).[4]  But more important than Rawls’s position—which he came to only after his work was subjected to considerable criticism—there is an entire collection of liberals and democrats who reject the principle that religious reasons and religious argument have no place in public deliberation.  These thinkers often make this move on explicitly liberal grounds—that such a restriction violates the rights of citizens, for example—or in order to support liberal positions—such as the claim that every human being should be treated with respect. [5]  Perhaps the best example of a liberal who makes such arguments is Nicholas Wolterstorff—a philosopher, I might add, Sherlock cites in his essay.  Wolterstorff is a liberal.  He is a liberal because he feels that liberalism is the political position demanded by his own Reformed Christianity.  Indeed, Wolterstorff’s most recent publication, Justice: Rights and Wrongs[6], works to show that the best argument for liberal beliefs like religious liberty and individual human rights is a theistic one. [7]  So Sherlock profoundly misrepresents liberalism in his essay.

            Such misrepresentation is trendy in political circles on the left and the right. All sorts of reprehensible political positions are tarred with the label “liberalism.”  But this is normally done in a willy-nilly fashion, ignoring what self-described liberals actually have to say about themselves and their political positions.  Sherlock is unfortunately caught up in this trend.  It is simply not the case that any given liberal is committed to the position that religious arguments must be separated from public political discourse, or that Churches should not be involved in public policy debates.  Perhaps Sherlock’s misrepresentation arises because he never actually engages what the most careful and critical contemporary expositors of liberalism have to say about their political positions, choosing instead to reference the vitriol in the comment pages of the Salt Lake Tribune.  Suffice it to say that these comments are neither serious nor thoughtful enough to be dignified by a response, certainly not a response that treats them as representative of liberalism in general.  That is sloppy. [8]  Perhaps Sherlock means to discuss the American political left and uses the term “liberal” to denote that.  This approach suffers from similar problems. [9]  Maybe Sherlock means to make an argument about the constitution—that there are some “liberals” who argue against Church involvement in public policy debate on establishment grounds.  This is still similarly flawed: who makes such arguments?  How do they do so?  Where do they do so?  A helpful and illuminating discussion of the issue of Church involvement in public policy debates and political campaigns simply demands far more than Sherlock gives in this section.

            However, in the context of the debate over gay marriage, the question of whether religious arguments are acceptable in public deliberation or Churches can be involved in politics is a red herring.  And Sherlock realizes this.  Though his language sometimes makes it seem as though resolving this question in favor of the admission of religious reasons or Churches into public policy debate is itself an argument against gay marriage, this is plainly not the case. (Such a claim is a non sequitur; one that not only Sherlock but also Professor Ralph Hancock comes close to in his SquareTwo essay, “When Following the Prophet is Too Easy: Against the Identification of Reason with Progressive Liberalism.”[10] )  That religious arguments are admissible in public deliberation is, of course, only an invitation to make such arguments.  And neither Sherlock nor Hancock takes up this invitation; neither makes a religious argument for or against gay marriage.  Such an argument remains to be made. [11]   And making such an argument does not exhaust the necessary questions.  We must also ask whether we can legitimately or realistically expect others who do not share our religious beliefs to accept our religious argument against (or for) gay marriage, and we must ask whether, given the contemporary political situation, it is a good idea to demand that our preferences on this particular issue be enshrined in law and policy.  These three questions roughly correspond to the outline set out above, and it is now time (finally) to get to the substantive issues at hand.

Gay Marriage and Mormonism

            Though Sherlock spends much time arguing that a public, religious argument about gay marriage should be acceptable, he never actually makes such an argument.  His argument against gay marriage is rather best characterized as a natural law argument in the tradition of the medieval Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas and the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.  This is importantly different from making an argument grounded in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the two are not assimilable to each other, for reasons I will outline below.  The absence of a particularly LDS argument from Sherlock’s essay is ironic, as SquareTwo is, on his own account, designed to be a journal where just such arguments are made.  (To be fair, Sherlock does reference the LDS belief in an “embodied, married afterlife” to argue that homosexuals need not feel that the law of chastity compels them unfairly to a life of celibacy not expected of heterosexuals.  This, though, is not a sustained investigation of LDS scripture, practices, and beliefs.  It is also quite glib.)

            I, unfortunately, will not be able to give a complete treatment of this subject here, either.  But I can offer a short reflection, if only to spur further thought (and begin to fill the gap left by Sherlock’s essay).

            First, (and I want it to be absolutely clear that I am arguing this) I see no possible justification, given the current state of LDS scriptures, beliefs about God and the afterlife, and teachings of Church authorities, for LDS gay marriage.  If the LDS Church were ever to marry gays, it would take a change in our conception of marriage far more profound, even, than the one that came when President Woodruff ended the practice of plural marriage in 1890.  This is not to say, however, that such a change is logically impossible.  Latter-day Saints are committed to continuing revelation and an open canon.  Further revelation could (in theory) come on the question.  But such a change seems highly unlikely.  In the two previous instances of such major doctrinal and policy changes within the LDS Church (ending plural marriage and ordaining black male members to the priesthood), there were clear scriptural precedents for the changes.  This is not the case for gay marriage.

            The reasons why there can be no justification for LDS gay marriage are clear.  Mormons believe in an embodied, male God who is the literal spiritual father of all human beings.  This implies, as Eliza R. Snow rightly observed, that there is also a “Mother there”[12] , a Heavenly Mother who is embodied, female, and the literal spiritual mother of all human beings.  Not just the human mind or spirit, not just the human body, but human sexual differences are in the express image of a corporeal God (understood, at this point, as God and his Spouse joined in eternal marriage).  If we hold with Joseph Smith that God has a body “as tangible as man’s” and that He created human beings in His express image [13] , then it follows that God created human genitalia in the image of Their own genitalia, the male on the model of His, the female on the model of Hers.  Furthermore, our religion compels us (so far as I understand it) to believe that They have intercourse in some way similar to the way we do.  I do not know, of course, just how such intercourse results in the creation of us as their spiritual children.  But without presupposing such intercourse, the belief that each human being “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents” is either farcical or only symbolic. [14]  If symbolic, then Mormons should wonder why that description of God is to be interpreted symbolically while other scriptural references to God’s body are taken quite literally.  The conclusion is clear: Mormons believe in a heterosexual God who has sexual intercourse with his divine, heterosexual eternal companion.

            It should be immediately clear what this belief does to Mormon understandings of gender and sexuality.  It is no surprise that the Brethren teach: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” [15]   It is no wonder that Joseph Smith taught that the highest degree of heavenly glory is reserved for husbands and wives joined together in eternal marriage. [16]   Heterosexual sex, for Mormons, is not just a means of procreation or a pleasurable experience; it is one of the most, if not the most, God-like things any human being can do.  Indeed, perhaps the best reason why Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss was not displayed at BYU’s Museum of Art is not that some Mormons saw it as pornographic, but rather that, given Mormon understandings of God’s sexuality, it is an idol (and idolatrous) in the most literal sense: a graven image of the LDS God, engaged in the very act that, in part, defines their relationship to their children. [17] 

            Homosexuality, and especially the claim of a natural homosexual identity is thus a challenge not just for LDS sexual ethics, but also for the foundational Mormon conception of deity.  It is no wonder, then, that the Church’s General Authorities do not speak of gay and lesbian Mormons but rather church members who “suffer from same-gender attraction.”  As is clear, for Mormons, God is not just male (and female), He is a heterosexual male, eternally sealed to a heterosexual female.  And furthermore, He wishes for His children to grow to become like Him, to live the sort of life that He lives.  The conclusion, then, that homosexual sex is sin, that it prevents people from following God’s will, is, given all that Mormons believe God to have revealed, unavoidable as far as I can see.  There is no possible justification for LDS gay marriage.  It would take a radical reconceptualization of the Gospel that could only be spurred by a highly unlikely new revelation.

           Homosexual Mormons are thus placed in an incredibly difficult position.  They cannot engage in diligent and careful readings of the Bible to argue that biblical injunctions against homosexual sex can be understood as having passed away with the Law of Moses, or as injunctions against male prostitution rather than homosexual sex itself, as Protestant and Catholic Christians can and have. [18]  Homosexual Mormons must work within a set of revealed doctrines that is thoroughly and stridently heterosexual.  Indeed, heterosexuality is written into the very Mormon conception of God.

           But (and here is the absolutely essential qualification) none of the above demands, logically or theologically, that Mormons oppose the State’s performing gay marriages.   Several more argumentative steps are needed before a Mormon can consistently reason from the LDS conception of the divine nature and purpose of heterosexual marriage to the conclusion that members of the LDS Church must demand that states only solemnize heterosexual marriages.  As Hancock rightly observes, Mormons should not “insist that all of our most fundamental beliefs be translated immediately and wholly into public policy.” [19]  Additional arguments must be made, then, to show why this particular fundamental belief should be translated into public policy.  Hancock’s essay did not make such an argument.  Sherlock, however, quite clearly intends his essay to do so: to show not just why there is no justification for LDS gay marriage, but also no justification for the State to perform such marriages.  So now I turn to his argument.

Gay Marriage, the Natural Law, and Mormonism

            Sherlock’s argument against gay marriage has two parts.  In the first part, he works through several important and common beliefs about the definition of marriage, beliefs that he holds rise from our “moral sense.”  One example is the belief that marriage should be between two adult human beings who both consent to the arrangement.  He then claims that the liberal values of consent and equality comport with all such common moral beliefs concerning the definition of marriage except in one crucial case: those liberal values lead to a justification for gay marriage, which does not comport with such common beliefs. [20]  For Sherlock, liberals have no good explanation for why one should trust the moral sensibilities against bestiality or pedophilia but not those against homosexuality—no good reason to hold to the first two and criticize the last.  In the second part, he justifies the common belief against gay marriage by arguing that marriage must be understood by its natural purpose or end, that the only plausible natural purpose of marriage is reproduction (that is, the only purpose that results in a definition that comports with our moral sensibilities), and that gays should thus not be married, by either the LDS Church or the State, because gay unions cannot naturally reproduce.

            I will address Sherlock’s arguments on his own terms.  As he asserts, an argument for the proper definition of marriage is suspect if it results in a conception of marriage that differs significantly from our moral sense of what marriage should be.  (A loving, long-term, consensual sexual relationship between an adult man and an adult woman: plausibly a type of marriage.  An abusive, short-term relationship between an adult and a child: clearly not marriage.)  Hence, on his terms, the liberal definition of marriage as (roughly) a long-term, committed, consensual sexual relationship between two adults (of either gender) is suspect because it differs significantly from a common belief that leads us to condemn same-gender relationships.  Instead, Sherlock would have us understand marriage to be a long-term, committed, consensual sexual relationship between two adults for the purpose of having children naturally.  This gets us out of the liberal definition’s problem, as it clearly draws a boundary that excludes long term, committed, consensual homosexual relationships from the definition of marriage, because homosexual relationships cannot have children naturally.

            But does Sherlock’s definition of marriage pass the test that he claims homosexual marriages fail?  Does it match up properly with our moral sensibilities about what a marriage should be?  Sherlock addresses one immediate objection to his definition: heterosexual couples where one partner (or both) happens to be sterile.  Such relationships seems to lie outside of the proposed definition of a long term, committed, consensual sexual relationship for the purpose of having children naturally, because they cannot have children naturally.  Sherlock asserts that sterile relationships do not undermine his definition of marriage (and discusses his own marriage as an example of such), though he does not really supply an argument for why this is the case.  Still, such an argument is not particularly difficult to make.  When Sherlock and his wife first married, they likely (I’m speculating) did not know that they would not be able to have children.  They then still entered a long term, committed, consensual sexual relationship for the purpose of having children; that purpose was simply frustrated by the contingent physical circumstance of one partner’s sterility.  Such couples are still entering into marriages, even though circumstances beyond their control prevent them from naturally fulfilling the true purpose of their relationship.

            Sherlock is, however, committed to the claim that couples that enter into what seems like marriage (a long term, committed, consensual sexual relationship) but voluntarily remain childless are making a moral error.  Marriage is for the purpose of raising a family, and couples that choose not to fulfill that purpose but who otherwise are physically able should be admonished.  Indeed, they are treating marriage as if it were the type of institution that advocates of gay marriage want it to be: simply a long term, committed, consensual sexual relationship, without the necessary purpose of having children.  Though Sherlock doesn’t spell this out explicitly, the following critique of such a couple’s behavior is implied: they are being selfish hedonists.  Sex is intensely pleasurable and deeply fulfilling, but its proper end is frustrated when it is detached from a reproductive purpose.  Such a couple wants the fun of sex without the necessary sacrifices or responsibilities of rearing children.  (It is worth noting here, that, although Sherlock is not explicit on this point either, his position commits him to a certain sort of sexual ethics.  Not just marriage but sex itself is properly understood as for the purpose of having children.)

            Now, I want to consider a different marriage case, one that Sherlock does not bring up.  It is generally considered acceptable for a husband or wife to remarry (and have sex with his or her new companion) after the death of a spouse.  While many of these marriages may result in children, this is not always the case.  Sometimes, particularly when both partners marry in old age, they plainly do not do so with the intention of having another family.  Do such marriages qualify as marriages according to Sherlock’s definition?  They do not.  They are long term, committed, consensual sexual relationships, but they are not for the purpose of having children.  Nor would anyone that I know condemn these sorts of marriages for this fact.  So in this respect, Sherlock’s definition of marriage does not comport with our moral sense of the matter.  If Sherlock holds to it, he is logically bound to accuse widows and widowers who remarry without the intention of having children of committing a serious moral wrong—indeed, one that is, on his account, not dissimilar from homosexual sex.

            There is one plausible, and uniquely Mormon, avenue open to try to solve this problem for Sherlock.  Marriage, for Mormons, is not just for the purpose of having children on this earth, it is also for the purpose of having eternal increase in the next life.  Second marriages entered into in old age can be considered legitimate and moral, then, by virtue of the eternal increase they may have in the resurrection.  But this depends on a widower being sealed to his second wife.  If he has only married this second wife for time, Sherlock remains logically bound to criticize him.  But Mormons, so far as I know, do not feel that it is a moral wrong for a widow and a widower to marry for time only, to provide each other companionship and love while on this earth and while waiting to rejoin their beloved first spouses beyond the veil.  Indeed, such an arrangement is beneficial because it does not require the wife to undo her sealing to her first husband (and her children!) in order to be sealed to the second.  But according to Sherlock’s definition of marriage, such individuals are committing a profound moral wrong.

            So, just like the liberal view he criticized, Sherlock’s own definition of marriage does not comport to our moral sense of what marriage should be.  True, it does not justify gay marriage, but it does logically demand that we admonish those who marry without the intention or purpose of having children, even if those people are widows or widowers marrying for companionship in their old age.  There are other serious problems with Sherlock’s definition of marriage, but in order to discuss them I will need to elaborate upon his definition.  This elaboration has the virtue of getting Sherlock out of some of the problems I discussed above.  But it also illuminates other, deeper reasons to reject Sherlock’s definition of marriage (and other similar definitions).

            As I briefly noted above, Sherlock’s definition of marriage commits him to a certain sort of sexual ethics.  Just as marriage is for the purpose of having children, sex must also be for the purpose of having children.  Indeed, Sherlock’s definition of marriage is nearly tautological in this respect; he has defined marriage purely in terms of it sexual component.  Why talk about marriage at all, then, and not simply about when sex is morally justified?  Furthermore, what of other essential components of marriage?  Marriage is clearly not just about sex, but also about legal rights, shared property, inheritance, not to mention love and companionship.  Sherlock doesn’t discuss these aspects of marriage in any detail, even though they are also at issue in the political and legal debate over gay marriage.  It is as if Sherlock is using marriage as a convenient euphemism for sex.  If so, then he should discuss sex explicitly.  If not, he should have discussed the nonsexual aspects of marriage as well.  These are of course trickier for an argument against gay marriage to deal with, as it is in areas of shared property, inheritance, and the like that the equality argument for gay marriage has the greatest force.  Perhaps Sherlock means to argue that the only justification for the non-sexual legal aspects of marriage is reproductive sex.  If this is the case, he should have made it clearer.

           There are, however, philosophers and ethicists who make arguments that do explicitly define marriage in terms of morally justifiable sex and argue that the non-sexual legal aspects of marriage are only justifiable as a component of marriage (now defined as a justifiable sexual relationship).  These philosophers call themselves “new natural lawyers,” and it is because of the deep similarities between their views and Sherlock’s that I label his position a natural law view.  The new natural lawyers’ views are worth considering here because they make explicit the sexual ethic that is only implicit in Sherlock’s account.  The also formulate it in a way that avoids the cases that trip up Sherlock.  These thinkers are neo-Thomists (modern followers of Thomas Aquinas) and generally Catholic.  The most famous among them are John Finnis, Germain Grisez, and Robert George.  Exploring the sexual ethic they elaborate does much to suggest how Sherlock could make his view more coherent.  But doing so also sheds light on further weakness in the (now improved) account, more cases where it leads to results that differ significantly from common moral beliefs about sex.  Indeed, I will argue below that this sexual ethic differs significantly from explicit LDS teachings about sex.  Sherlock’s ability, then, to call his particular natural law definition of marriage (and the sexual ethic upon which it depends) a plausible Mormon view is thus questionable.  This is the ignored tension I alluded to above between Sherlock’s religious views and his moral-philosophical position.  I will also argue that the sexual ethic of the new natural lawyers has deeply sexist implications.  This calls into serious question whether or not Mormons (or, indeed, anyone else) should accept Sherlock’s or the improved new natural lawyer’s definition of marriage.  It also undermines their ability to consistently conclude that homosexual sex is a moral wrong.

            For the new natural lawyers, marriage itself (as they define it) is an intrinsic good.  Marriage is also instrumental to the achievement of many other human goods (in other words, people enter marriages for reasons beyond marriage itself), such as the rearing of children, companionship, stability, inheritance, etc., but these instrumental goods do not define marriage.  Rather, marriage is defined as the spiritual, emotional, and physical union of two people, a union that is actualized and symbolically represented by morally justifiable sex, which for the new natural lawyers means sex acts that have reproductive potential, or are of a reproductive type.  Reproductive-type sex is the symbol of intrinsic good of marital union; such acts actualize the unity marriage represents, and in a way that no other (non-reproductive) sex act can.  As a result, reproductive sex acts are an intrinsic good in and of themselves, whether or not they are done with the intention of having children.  Marriage, then, is not defined by love and companionship, or by property rights, or even by the purpose of raising a family.  It is defined as the legal and political institution that represents the true and complete union of two individuals, a union that can only occur between a man and a woman.  For the new natural lawyers, the biological facts of human anatomy themselves testify to this defintion of marriage, as male and female bodies fit together in a natural and uniquely reproductive way. [21] 

            The similarities between Sherlock’s account and that of the new natural lawyers’ are obvious.  They, like Sherlock, wish to define marriage in terms of its purpose and see such a definition as a way of condemning homosexual relationships.  They simply give a different account of marriage’s purpose, one with significant advantages over Sherlock’s.  For example, consider again the question of the widow and widower that are married for time only.  Because Sherlock defines marriage as for purpose of having children naturally, he was logically bound to condemn such couples.  But on the new natural lawyers’ account, so long as such couples have reproductive-type sex only, there is no reason to condemn their behavior or to equate their relationship to that of a homosexual couple’s.  Because marriage is a union represented by reproductive-type sex acts (and not reproduction itself), and because those sex acts are cast as intrinsic goods, the new natural lawyers’ definition can condemn homosexual marriage and homosexual sex acts (which are not of a reproductive type) without condemning reproductive-type sex acts that are undertaken without the intention of having children.

            For Mormons, however, this revision is unhelpful, as it raises other more serious problems, problems that should lead Mormons to reject the new natural lawyers’ view.  For them, reproductive-type sex acts symbolize the marital union, and are the only moral sort of sex acts as a result.  A non-reproductive sex act cannot truly unify a man and a woman, and therefore fails to symbolize or actualize the marital union.  The new natural lawyers thus condemn the practice of all non-reproductive sex acts, even when married couples engage in them.  Indeed, since on their account the use of barriers or other methods to prevent conception (medications, etc.) frustrated the unifying potential of reproductive sex acts; the use of birth control of any type changes those acts from the reproductive-type to the non-reproductive type.  As a result, the new natural lawyers condemn the use of any and all forms of birth control as immoral.  These views are strikingly different from the LDS sexual ethic.  Not only do LDS Church leaders not condemn the use of birth control, they also do not condemn the practice of other non-reproductive sex acts when done within marriage.  Instead, they leave the decision to engage in or forbear from such acts to the decision of married couples, to be made prayerfully and with sensitivity to the feelings of both partners.  Indeed, it is not clear why the physical consummation of a marital union needs to be interpreted in such restrictive terms.  Husbands and wives are united not just by the pure physical act of reproductive-type sex, but also by the pleasure and emotional attachment occasioned by enjoying sex together, however they choose to do so, with or without birth control and whether they engage in reproductive or non-reproductive sex acts.

            Some more clarity here is helpful.  When the new natural lawyers speak of reproductive-type sex, they mean penetrative, vaginal sex.  All other sex acts are condemned as non-reproductive.  This of course includes sodomy, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  But importantly, their condemnation extends to many other sex acts that heterosexual couples regularly perform.  Indeed, anytime ejaculation occurs without vaginal penetration, the sex act is non-reproductive.  This distinction is crucially important below.

            The most damning criticism of the new natural lawyers’ view, however, is that it is deeply sexist.  As above, the relevant ethical question to ask when sexual acts are evaluated morally is whether the act is of the reproductive type or not, which in turn means the fundamental question is where and when (male) ejaculation occurs.  Such an evaluation of human sexual relationships condones sexual acts that are always pleasurable for men but not always so for women.  Further detail is helpful on this point.

            According to the new natural lawyers’ view, the only moral type of sex act is of the reproductive (penetrative) type.  Reproductive-type sex acts are always pleasurable for men; for a sexually healthy man, reproductive-type sex acts will always lead to orgasm.  But this is not the case for women.  Due to important anatomical differences between the sexes, reproductive-type sex acts often do not lead to orgasm for women.  Indeed, it is a sad fact that many women have reproductive-type sex repeatedly (and borne the children that go with it) without ever really enjoying sex and without ever having an orgasm.  In order for sex to be physically pleasurable for these women (in order for them to have an orgasm), they must engage in non-reproductive sex acts, sex acts that the new natural lawyers condemn as immoral.  A real strength of the new natural lawyers’ view is its ability to take into account the anatomical way in which men and women’s bodies fit together.  But it cannot account for the equally fundamental anatomical differences between the sources and nature of male and female sexual pleasure.  What are we to conclude, then?  Is sexual pleasure immoral for women, but moral for men?  What is the natural or ethical purpose of female sexual pleasure, since it does not always arise from the “proper” type of sex act?  Are we (alternatively) to conclude that since a woman’s orgasm is not directly related to reproductive-type sex acts, there are no natural moral standards by which to evaluate female sexuality?  As far as I can see, the new natural lawyers have no answer to these questions.  As presently construed their sexual ethic is deeply sexist.  It is as a result likely to undermine the very good it is intended to promote: stable, long lasting marriage.  Marriages where only the husband but not the wife enjoys sex are unlikely to be happy, stable, or psychologically healthy.  Mormons should reject the new natural lawyers’ views on these grounds. They are sexist, and they are bad for the family.  Those attracted to their ethic have the burden to reformulate it in such a way that is sensitive to female sexuality and (crucially) allows for female sexual pleasure. Whether they can do so and still use the natural law approach to condemn homosexual sex acts (which are also not reproductive) is an open question.

            Some more perspective on the new natural lawyers’ views is helpful here.  Their ethical reflection about sex is conducted within certain fundamental religious and theological presuppositions.  As I mentioned, the new natural lawyers are generally Catholics.  They are therefore explicitly engaged in a tradition of ethical and theological reflection that stretches from them back to Thomas Aquinas and from Aquinas back to Augustine.  This is a tradition that views human sexuality, especially the physical pleasure of sex and female sexuality, with deep suspicion.  On the traditional Catholic account of the Fall, Eve bears the brunt of the blame.  Adam’s unwillingness to leave her, to let her be expelled from the garden alone, is the only act in Eden for which he is culpable.  Eve was the one who really sinned.  From this follows the conclusion that not just merely sexual pleasure but women in general drive men from God.  And sex (or, at least, the intense physical pleasure of sex) is one of many deleterious consequences of Eve’s sin and Adam’s Fall. [22]  The Catholic tradition also depends fundamentally on a thick Trinitarian account of God’s nature as a three-in-one being without body, parts, or passions.  If God is thought of as an unembodied, non-physical being, it is no wonder that the new natural lawyers view sex, which is of course a very embodied, physical experience, with a great deal of suspicion.

            Mormons have no reason to follow the new natural lawyers in their sexist sexual ethic.  Mormons accept not only reproductive sex acts, but also many non-reproductive sex acts when done by married couples.  They accept, indeed, they celebrate the pleasure of sex, along with its associated abilities to express love and emotional fulfillment—for men and women.  And they do so for very good religious reasons.  As elaborated above, Mormons believe in an embodied, male God eternally sealed to an embodied, female Heavenly Mother.  For Mormons, God has sex—quite literally.  Presumably the experience is as pleasurable and emotionally powerful for Them as it is for us.  Mormons therefore have every reason to reject the new natural lawyers’ sexual ethic.

           Let us return to Sherlock’s argument against gay marriage.  Where does it stand now?  Clearly, it no longer goes through.  Sherlock’s ability to condemn gay marriage depends on his account of marriage as a relationship defined by its reproductive aim.  But this definition leads to consequences that violate out moral sensibilities (condemning the marriages of widows and widowers for time).  Even when improved by means of the new natural lawyers’ sexual ethic, definitions of marriage like Sherlock’s are sexist and fundamentally at odds with Mormons’ deep religious beliefs.  The problem here is that without the ability to evaluate marriage based on its reproductive aim, (or to condemn all non-reproductive sex acts) Sherlock and the new natural laywers have no grounds to condemn homosexual sex.  Homosexuals, after all, can enjoy the physical pleasure and emotional fulfillment of sex even though their sex is not for the purpose of having children—just as a remarried widow and widower enjoy the physical pleasure and emotional fulfillment of sex even though their sex is not for the purpose of having children.  And homosexuals engage in non-reproductive sex acts, just as many couples that wish to make sex as fulfilling to the woman as to the man engage in non-reproductive sex acts.

            For Sherlock and the new natural lawyers, this is a deeply disturbing result.  There now appears to be no ground on which to morally criticize long term, committed, consensual homosexual relationships.  But this is not the case for Mormons.  The LDS condemnation of homosexual relationships does not depend on a Sherlock’s analysis of reproduction as the aim of marriage or the new natural lawyer’s condemnation of non-reproductive sex acts.  Instead, as I detailed above, the LDS condemnation is based in the revealed nature of God as an eternally sealed Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and the role that heterosexual sex plays in defining their relationship to each other and to us, their spirit children.  Mormons, therefore, do not need to worry about the problems associated with Sherlock’s view or the new natural lawyers’ sexual ethics.  Indeed, since the natural law argument is flawed in the above ways, and since many conservative Christians rely on it to condemn gay marriage, it seems that Mormons are the only broadly Christian group that actually has a well-developed, theological argument against homosexual sex.  (This, of course, assumes that the biblical debate briefly referenced above is inconclusive, as Mormons often assume biblical debates to be.) [23] 

            But this conclusion returns us to the problem I mentioned after discussing the role of religion in public policy deliberation.  Hancock’s article about gay marriage never made an argument as to why the (unique) Mormon condemnation of homosexual relationships should be enshrined in law and public policy.  Sherlock made such an argument, but Mormons should reject it on the grounds explored above.  We are therefore at an impasse.  Mormons are certain in their condemnation of homosexual relationships, but lack, as yet, an argument as to whether that condemnation is something we should demand our states’ laws and public policy reflect or not.  Should Mormons make such a demand?  I cannot give a certain answer to that question.  Indeed, I do not feel that Mormons have yet adequately or publicly considered the issues surrounding this choice.  I can, however, outline some of the questions that need to be addressed in order to begin to find such an answer.

Mormonism and the Politics of Gay Marriage

            The first necessary step in addressing the question of whether Mormons should demand that their condemnation of homosexual relationships be reflected in their states’ laws and public policies is recognizing the insufficiency of many arguments typically assumed to lead to this sort of conclusion.  First, it is not sufficient to argue that something should be illegal simply because the Gospel teaches that it is sin.  There are many sins that are not and should not be illegal or even discouraged by the state.  For example: it is a sin to worship any god but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. [24]  But Mormons are also explicitly committed to principles of religious tolerance and liberty, principles that demand that each individual have the right to believe or not to believe in God, to worship him or not to worship him. [25] Therefore a law that criminalizes disbelief in or failure to worship God is wrong.  This is one example where having a religious reason to condemn some practice is not sufficient to enshrine that condemnation in law.  There are others: laws that compel church attendance are similarly wrong, even though Mormons consider the failure to attend meetings a sin.  Second, it is not sufficient to argue that something should be illegal simply because we can be fairly certain through the non-religious use of moral philosophy to determine that it is wrong (this is the category, by the way, into which Sherlock and the new natural lawyers’ condemnation of homosexual marriage falls—even though their argument fails).  There are many acts that are immoral in most accounts of moral philosophy that are nevertheless absolutely necessary to the healthy functioning of states.  For example: modern capitalist economies work because they rely not primarily on the virtue of buyers and sellers, but on their selfishness.  Yet selfishness is a moral wrong according to most every moral philosophy. [26]  There are also some moral wrongs that would require such invasive government action to effectively prohibit them that attempting to do so would result in greater wrongs than legally ignoring them (or simply letting churches and other groups preach against them).  Adultery is a plausible example here.  Consider, for a moment, the sort of evidence that would be required to convict a suspect of adultery.  Anything short of an eyewitness who was not involved in the deed itself is unlikely to do the trick.  The effective prohibition of adultery, then, would require strict surveillance of all citizens, infringing on other necessary rights (and likely leading to very many moral wrongs committed by the surveillance agents).  So an argument that appeals purely to either religious reasons or to moral reasons in order to argue that some behavior should be illegal is, by itself, insufficient.  Even if homosexual marriage is wrong religiously and wrong morally, there may still be good reasons for its being legal.

            What sorts of reasons are these?  Another way to ask the same question: what sorts of considerations does one need to address after condemning some practice or behavior (homosexual marriage) religiously and/or morally before one can legitimately come to the conclusion that it should be illegal?  I refer to these sorts of reasons (loosely) as political reasons, or perhaps more accurately, moral reasons that consider political context.  These reasons serve as answers to the following types of questions: what legitimate interests or goods does a given practice or behavior promote?  What interests or goods does it harm?  Whose interests or goods stand to be furthered or harmed?  Does the State have good and legitimate reasons to support the goods furthered rather than protect the goods harmed, or vice versa?  Does the State have good and legitimate reasons to support one or the other of the groups whose interests or goods stand to be benefited or harmed? [27]  As should be immediately clear, getting answers to these types of questions demands a fundamentally different sort of reasoning than that used to get answers to religious or moral questions conducted in abstraction.  Empirical facts and relationships will be comparatively more important—will gay marriage have effect X or not?—as will the interests of the various groups who stand to gain or lose as the result of enacting a certain policy. [28] 

            I cannot conclusively evaluate the political reasons for and against gay marriage here either.  But I will offer some short reflections here, reflections that help to show why the political issue of gay marriage is so complicated for Mormons, to sort through what aspects of legal gay marriage threaten Mormons and what aspects to not, or at least do not as much as many Mormons think they do.

            Many will no doubt feel that in this political terrain the case against gay marriage is as sure as it is within the religious or the moral.  After all, is not gay marriage “changing the definition of the family?”  And as such, does it not fundamentally threaten the goods of family life, goods upon which the stable furtherance of states, indeed, of all civilization, is said to depend?  Do we not risk the psychological and emotional health of children raised in homosexual families?  Do we not risk the psychological, emotional, and spiritual health of our own children, inasmuch as they will have to be raised in a culture that accepts marriages and sexual relationships we deplore?  For Sherlock, as for most Mormons, the answers to these questions seem to be an obvious (and emphatic) yes.  This is, after all, the reason cited most often to keep gay marriage illegal—in order to “protect the family.”  But there are reasons to be skeptical about whether this gut response is correct.  For me, three such reasons are fundamental: the social scientific investigation of homosexual families, the nature of the relationship between the LDS conception of marriage and the State, and finally the interests of (and divisions within) the homosexual community itself on the question of the family.

            First, the social science: Sherlock cites a variety of studies in order to argue that even when given the chance, homosexuals are so much more promiscuous and so much less interested in forming stable families than heterosexuals that they do not take advantage of the marriages or civil unions some states offer to them.  Furthermore, Sherlock alleges, the “best” social science shows that the healthy development of children requires the participation of two parents of different genders.  Homosexual families are unhealthy.  I am not in a position to evaluate the studies Sherlock cites or the conclusions they draw.  I would, however, point out that there is considerable disagreement among social scientists themselves about these issues.  In some cases, for example, homosexual families provide examples of commitment and stability to heterosexual couples who might otherwise reject or avoid marriage. [29]  Furthermore, the intensity with which homosexuals themselves are currently pursuing marital rights undermines Sherlock’s assertion that they are not themselves interested in getting married.   Finally, I doubt the ability of social science to ever come to meaningful conclusions about such a politically charged question.  Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that I doubt the ability of social scientists to evaluate such questions sufficiently objectively.  Even if they could, social science inference itself is fuzzy enough that those who have political reasons to object to the conclusion would be able to throw the results in doubt.  So even if social science could get to the truth of the matter, I am not sure that social scientists would ever know that they had gotten to the truth of the matter.  Hence my scare quotes around Sherlock’s claims about the “best” social science.   Does he mean good social science, or does he mean social science that confirms his moral and religious presuppositions?  (The same concern, by the way, applies to the study I cite—and that is precisely the problem.)  

            So the question of whether gay marriage threatens or supports the goods of family life is unlikely to ever be conclusively resolved through social scientific investigation of it.  There are other reasons, however, to believe that gay marriage is something that Mormons need not fear as much as they presently do.  This is the case for two reasons: first, the unique LDS conception of marriage, and second, the desires motivating the gay marriage movement.  (None of these reasons mean that Mormons have nothing to fear.  I will address what I feel are our legitimate concerns last.)

            The prospect of legal gay marriages should disturb Mormons less than it disturbs conservative Christians.  This is the case because of the difference between the relationship of LDS marriage to the State and the relationship of traditional Christian marriage to the State. This difference gives Mormons resources to deal with a state that marries gays that I believe conservative Christians lack.  Marriage as it is traditionally defined is one of the last legal institutions in which Church and State share roles. If a couple is married in a Baptist Church (or a Mormon temple) the minister or sealer acts on authority delegated to him from the State.  This is the purpose of issuing marriage licenses.  Church and State cooperate in marrying couples.  In a sense, then, marriage is one of the last remnants of the Western, medieval, theocratic partnership of Church and State.  This partnership is reflected in the liturgy of Christian marriage ceremonies: they are large events done in Churches (or sometimes out of doors) and the couple invites their community—they invite the public to witness the occasion.  Now, gay marriage is seen (at least by conservative Christians) as ending that partnership—the State and the Church will no longer work together to marry and support heterosexual couples only.  Mormons, in contrast, have never really worked in tandem with the State on questions of marriage—at least, not to the extent that other Christians have.  This is because the LDS definition of marriage is fundamentally different from the State’s definition and from the traditional Christian definition.  Mormons, of course, marry “for time and all eternity,” not “’till death do you part.”  (And, of course, Mormons once practiced plural marriages, another important difference between both the State and other Christian definitions.)  The State has never been so bold as to even attempt to marry couples in some way that would be binding after death; indeed, the suggestion that it ever could is laughable.  And this difference in definitions of marriage is reflected in the LDS marriage ceremony, just as the definition shared between other Christian Churches and the State is reflected in their liturgies.  Mormons do not seal couples in public.  They instead perform their most important marriages in private, behind the closed doors of the temple.  The explicitly private nature of the Mormon marriage ceremony reflects the distance between the LDS understanding of marriage and the State’s (the public’s) definition of marriage.  Mormons, then, already have more than one hundred years of experience in conducting a form of marriage that is not and cannot truly be ratified by the State.  This is not to say, of course, that the State’s performing gay marriages will not be a radical change for Mormons.  It will be.  But it will be a change that Mormons a more prepared to deal with than many other Christian groups—by virtue of our own private practice of eternal marriage.  We therefore should fear gay marriage less.

            Furthermore, Mormons need not feel as threatened by gay marriage as they typically do because of the desires on the part of homosexuals that the gay marriage movement represents.  The gay community is not monolithic, and not all homosexuals are interested in marriage or family.  Indeed, some homosexuals feel that homosexuality should be understood precisely as a rejection of family life, at least as it has been traditionally understood in the West.  Indeed, insofar as the family represents a powerful and recurring norm in the way Western societies organize and govern human sexuality, homosexuals should, just for that reason, reject it.  Such homosexuals eschew calling themselves “gay” or “lesbian” (because those labels are already too mainstream) in favor of the less acceptable “queer.”  The following is representative of their approach: “Queer is…whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant.  There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers.  It is an identity without an essence.” [30]  For these “Queer Theorists” homosexuality is worthwhile only insofar as it is at odds with whatever society accepts as normal, rational, or legitimate.  From this perspective, the simple fact that so many homosexuals so obviously want the state to legitimate, not just homosexual relationships, but specifically homosexual families—long term, committed relationships often with the purpose of raising children—is already something to be mourned.  These homosexuals have surrendered to the normalizing influence of society and its values; they still want the white picket fence, two children, 1950s vision of proper American life—they just want it as a homosexual couple instead of a heterosexual one.  This is to misunderstand the nature of what it means to be queer, to capitulate to the normal in family life—precisely the area that homosexuals have every reason to reject it.

            Obviously, to be homosexual is not always to be queer in the sense laid out above.  Many homosexuals reject such analysis.  Indeed, they desperately want to be able to enter stable, legal marriages.  Many religious conservatives no doubt wish that more gays were “queers” and less wished to be a part of mainstream society.  This is tragic.  It is a tragedy that religious conservatives are told over and over again to see the desire of gays to have families as a threat rather than an opportunity—or indeed, as a confirmation of some of their deepest beliefs.  That so many homosexuals want to have families is not an attack on the family but rather a sign of its continuing normative strength.  Even though the traditional legal structure of society is against them, even though they cannot naturally reproduce with their partners alone, and even though they face great cultural and political obstacles, homosexuals still desperately want families of their own.  That fact alone indicates how enduringly powerful the norm of family life remains in the 21st Century United States, however many other factors challenge it.

            The tragic irony of the current politics of gay marriage, then, is that it pits the interests of two groups who love the family against each other: homosexuals interested in long-term committed relationships and religious conservatives.  And the clash of these two groups’ interests is real and fundamental.  Indeed, for Mormons it is precisely this clash that causes the greatest concern.  I am confident that it was ultimately this clash that led the Brethren to ask members in California to support Proposition 8, and that it is this clash that represents the real concern legal gay marriage raises for Mormons.

            This clash of interests is not precisely religious or moral (though such issues of course underlie it) but legal and political.  The Brethren were clear in their messages to Saints in California concerning Proposition 8 that failing to amend the California constitution to specify the heterosexual definition of marriage could result in the loss of important religious liberties to the Church and to other similar groups. [31]  And while the campaign rhetoric concerning this issue was greatly exaggerated, there does seem to be some legal warrant to believe that important interests of the Church are at risk. [32]  The reason for this is that once the constitution is amended to demand equal treatment for homosexuals, that demand becomes a consideration that competes with freedoms of speech and religion in interpretation and adjudication.  And as a result, the Church will be more vulnerable to legal challenge on an array of issues than it was before such an amendment occurred.

            This means that there is some warrant to the claim that the current controversy between religious conservatives and homosexuals is a zero-sum game—or at least has some aspects of a zero-sum game.  Given the nature of the law, a solution that respects the interests of both parties may be exceptionally difficult to find.  This is indeed a tragedy.

            What is even more tragic, however, is that some cultural conservatives (as well as some homosexual rights advocates) relish just this clash, this zero-sum battle between homosexuals, their supporters, and religious conservatives.  For these strident culture warriors, there is a deep and unbridgeable moral gap between conservative believers of whatever religion or sect and secularists and their allies within some religious groups.  The gap is so fundamental, they claim, that legal or political solutions will never ultimately solve it.  They frequently cite the civil war and claim that today’s moral gap is just as unbridgeable as the one the separated abolitionists from slaveholders.  Just as our nation could not exist half-slave and half free, they claim, it cannot exist half endorsing gay marriage and half not.  A decision must be made; compromise is not an option. [33]  Conservative religious groups’ concern to protect their religious liberty is often framed explicitly in terms of this cultural battle in which there is no room for compromise.  Consider the claims made: legalizing gay marriage will unavoidably infringe upon religious liberty.  We can have either have religious liberty or we can have gay marriage, but not both.

            Such language by itself does much to undermine any possibility of compromise.  We are told that it is impossible and not to bother.  The implication is that in ten or twenty or fifty years our nation will have chosen, and we will either live in a world dominated by religious conservatives or by secularists.  This vision is particularly tragic for Mormons.  Our gut reaction is to feel more comfortable with religious conservatives.  But as my argument above demonstrates, we have deep, abiding, and unavoidable theological and religious differences with every other conservative religious group, particularly conservative Christians, differences that prevent Mormons from really fitting in with either side in the culture war. [34]  I worry, therefore, that our interests will be deeply and fundamentally harmed no matter which side emerges the victor.  It was not so long ago, after all, that the ancestors of both sides in the current culture war worked to discourage if not destroy Mormonism.  There is an old Korean proverb that sums up our predicament: When whales fight, shrimp are crushed.  This explains why the homosexual community feels they can target Mormons for vitriolic protests with impunity, and this is why Mitt Romney’s religion was constantly brought up in the 2008 Republican primary.  In the U.S. culture war, Mormons are not whales.

            I believe, then, that Mormons have a particular interest in forging some sort of workable compromise between advocates of gay marriage and religious conservatives, some compromise that can diffuse the brewing cultural conflict.  The clash between religious liberty and gay marriage seems to me to be real, and I do not mean to minimize it.  I do mean to argue, though, that Mormons’ interests are most likely to be preserved by facilitating some compromise on the issue rather than wading into one side or the other of the battle.

            It is in developing some workable compromise, then, that I believe the best Mormon minds need to spend more time.  Is there a workable legal solution that can get Churches and homosexuals out of a zero-sum situation and into one in which some acceptable or mutually beneficial compromise can be reached?  What actions do Church members need to take to make such a compromise possible?  What actions should they avoid?  Similarly, given their interests and desires as currently expressed, what goals or actions can the Church and other religious groups legitimately ask the homosexual community to abandon?  What goals or actions of theirs must we accept?  I am encouraged that there are many in the U.S. currently working through just these sorts of questions. [35] 

            I have only one suggestion in this regard, a political and strategic one.   If it is the case that the issue Mormons should be most concerned about is the protection of our religious liberty, then I worry that the Proposition 8 campaign was a mistake.  As the homosexual community’s reaction to our apparent “victory” indicated (deplorable though it was) campaigning against gay marriage alienates the very parties with which we will eventually have to forge some sort of compromise and feeds the flames of the culture warriors who relish continued battle.  It also works to undermine the possibility of such a compromise—a compromise on which I believe our continued flourishing as a religious group importantly and essentially different from traditional, conservative Christianity depends.


I have incurred many debts while writing this commentary.  I am grateful to the editorial board of SquareTwo for giving me the chance to respond to Professor Sherlock, and to Professor Sherlock himself, whose essay provided an excellent impetus for my own thinking about gay marriage.  I also owe special thanks to Amelia Hertzberg and James Bourke for reading, commenting on, and discussing the paper with me.  Finally, a felicitous recent phone conversation with Thomas Butler helped me greatly.

[1] See http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleSherlockManifesto.html Accessed February 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[2] Please note: by “liberalism” I am referring to political theories that argue for limited government, respect for human rights, and freedom of speech and religion.  This is the historically accurate use of the term.  I am not talking about the political left in the United States, even though it is also sometimes called “liberal.” [Back to manuscript]

[3] Richard Rorty and Robert Audi are two examples, though there are others.  See Rorty’s “Religion as Conversation-Stopper” Common Knowledge 3:1 (Spring 1994): 1-6; Audi’s Religious Commitment and Secular Reason New York: Cambridge University Press (2000). [Back to manuscript]

[4] John Rawls “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” The University of Chicago Law Review 64:3 (Summer 1997): 765-807. [Back to manuscript]

[5] Some liberals and democrats who fit this description: Jeffrey Stout, Democracy and Tradition, Princeton: Princeton University Press (2004); Christopher Eberle, Religious Convictions in Liberal Politics, New York: Cambridge University Press (2002); Michael Perry, Religion in Politics: Constitutional and Moral Perspectives, New York: Oxford University Press (1999); William Galston, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice, New York: Cambridge University Press (2002); John Tomasi, Liberalism Beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory, Princeton: Princeton University press (2001).  For an excellent summary of the debate about religious reasons in liberal political deliberations, see Christopher Eberle and Terence Cuneo’s “Religion and Political Theory” entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-politics/ Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[6] The book was published last year by Princeton University Press.  Also note the discussions of it currently on going at the Social Science Research Council’s religion and politics blog, the Immanent Frame, http://www.ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame/, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[7] It is also worth noting that Wolterstorff himself is a supporter of a new think tank called ThirdWay (http://www.thirdway.org; see his statement at http://www.thirdway.org/data /product/file/180/Come_Let_Us_Reason_Together_Supporting_Statements.pdf) that is specifically devoted to finding ways to discuss liberal and progressive political ideals effectively with religious citizens.  ThirdWay is also committed to furthering the inclusion and recognition of the homosexual rights. [Back to manuscript]

[8] Other aspects of Sherlock’s discussion of liberalism are similarly sloppy.  His claim, for example, that early modern forerunners of liberalism like John Locke are committed to an unencumbered, anthropological individualism is too hasty.  The fact of the matter is that Locke, at least, was quite aware that his state of nature is not historical or anthropological truth.  Rather, it is part of an ethical argument about the original (or ground), extent, and end of legitimate political power.  See Ruth Grant, “Locke's Political Anthropology and Lockean Individualism," Journal of Politics 50:1 (February 1988): 42-63 for a careful discussion of these issues.  Based on Sherlock’s claims about Rousseau, Locke, and Milton, it seems that he rejects not just the entire liberal tradition (one of the traditions, incidentally, out of which the U.S.’s founding documents arise) but also all of modern political thought.  I am interested to know how far Sherlock is willing to pursue this rejection.  Does he reject the conclusions of modern science and medicine?  Does he reject democracy?  What political system would he put in its place?  Is he a monarchist?  An advocate of aristocracy? Theocracy? [Back to manuscript]

[9] Today, many in the American left, especially those who call themselves “radical democrats,” explicitly repudiate the idea of secularism and the liberal politics that go with it.  They welcome the involvement of religious groups in politics as well as the insights theology might bring to political theory.  See, for example, William E. Connolly, Why I am not a Secularist, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (1999); Romand Coles, Beyond Gated Politics: Reflections for the Possibility of Democracy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2005), especially chapter 1, “Tragedy’s Tragedy: Political Liberalism and its Others.” [Back to manuscript]

[10] See http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHancockProp8.html, Accessed February 26, 2009.  If, as Hancock rightly observes, Mormons should not “insist that all of our most fundamental beliefs be translated immediately and wholly into public policy” the relevant questions are as follows:  1) what are Mormon’s most fundamental beliefs concerning the question of legalizing gay marriage, and 2) should we or should we not demand that those beliefs be translated in public policy?  Hancock’s essay answers neither question, and hence is not itself an argument for or against the legalization of gay marriage. [Back to manuscript]

[11] Mormons should be aware, in this context, that admitting religious arguments into public deliberation is a two-edged sword.  It also allows for the admission of religious arguments for gay marriage, such as those that might be made by the Society of Friends, the Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ and others. [Back to manuscript]

[12] See her hymn “Oh My Father,” Hymn # 292 in the current hymnal, also available at http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,4650-1,00.html, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[13] D&C 130:22; Ether 3:15-16, Moses 6:8-9. [Back to manuscript]

[14] From The Family: A Proclamation to the World, see http://www.lds.org/library/ display/0,4945,161-1-11-1,00.html, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[15] ibid. [Back to manuscript]

[16] See D&C 131:2. [Back to manuscript]

[17] See “Y. Excludes 4 Rodin Sculptures, Citing ‘Lack of Dignity,’ not nudity,” Deseret Morning News October 27, 1997; available at http://archive.deseretnews.com/archive/591344/Y-excludes-4-Rodin-sculptures-citing-lack-of-dignityapos-not-nudity.html, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[18] See Brent Pickett, “Homosexuality” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/, accessed March 11 2009. It is worth noting that, with the exception of the brief, polemical Newsweek article by Elder Bruce D. Porter that Hancock cites (n 12 in his article, op. cit.) I know of no Mormons who have written about the exegetical debates concerning Biblical discussions of homosexuality.  This is not my area of expertise, but I would love to see SquareTwo publish work discussing these issues (or to have someone point me to such work). [Back to manuscript]

[19] Op. cit. (note 10 above). [Back to manuscript]

[20] Sherlock loads a lot of rhetorical and argumentative force into his claims that “we” have common moral beliefs against gay marriage.  To who does this “we” refer?  Mormons?  Then why not explain the uniquely Mormon grounds for such beliefs?  Americans in general?  But if that is the case, then why is gay marriage a controversial political issue?  It seems that there must be some sizable contingent of the population that has no such belief, or else it would not be controversial.  Furthermore, what would happen to Sherlock’s argument if, in 20 years, such moral beliefs changed?  Sherlock would be better off making the justificatory method of his argument clear.  When and why should we trust our moral senses?  And what are we to do when there is no moral consensus about a given ethical issue, as seems to be the case concerning gay marriage? [Back to manuscript]

[21] The following are two recent, thorough expressions of the new natural lawyers’ views: Patrick Lee and Robert George, Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, New York: Cambridge University Press (2008); Robert George “Law and Moral Purpose” First Things (January 2008), available at http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6101, accessed March 19, 2009.  Also see John Finnis, “Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy 9 (November 1995): 11-40, and Robert George, In Defense of Natural Law, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1999). [Back to manuscript]

[22] See Augustine, The City of God, Book 14 Chapters 16, 23-25. [Back to manuscript]

[23] See Joseph Smith History verse 12: “The teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” [Back to manuscript]

[24] See Exodus 20:2. [Back to manuscript]

[25] See Articles of Faith 11, D&C 134, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 29, “Living in Peace and Harmony with Others” especially the final section.  Available at http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=da135f74db46c010VgnVCM1000004d8262 0aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=1b28b00367c45110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1&contentLocale=0, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[26] This point is of course fundamental to Adam Smith’s account in The Wealth of Nations.  See also Bernard de Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees and Machiavelli’s The Prince on this general point. [Back to manuscript]

[27] To reiterate: neither Hancock’s nor Sherlock’s essay addresses these questions.  Sherlock writes baldly, “What we ask as a church and should ask as a society is that they [homosexuals] do not act on these desires outside of marriage” without ever addressing whether or not the Church and society might need to adduce different reasons to get to that conclusion.  He never justifies the conjunction of church and society.  Hancock, on the other hand, writes that making gay marriage illegal is consistent with “the most sober and sophisticated political judgment” (op. cit.) without specifying how such judgment leads him to the conclusion that gay marriage is not just wrong but should be illegal. [Back to manuscript]

[28] I do not mean to say that these questions cannot be answered in terms of moral analysis.  Moral philosophy clearly has much to say about legitimate human goods and interests.  I do mean to say that such analysis cannot be abstracted from the political context to which it seeks to make moral recommendations.  A religious argument or moral argument that simply says since X is wrong it should be illegal ignores the political context.  Answering the questions I delineate here helps to avoid that problem. [Back to manuscript]

[29] See, for example, William N. Eskridge, Jr. and Darren R. Spedale, Gay Marriage: For Better or for Worse? What We’ve Learned from the Evidence. New York: Oxford University Press (2006).  Eskridge and Spedale’s study is especially relevant, since it is based on data gathered from Scandinavian countries, some of which have had civil union-type institutions set up since 1989.  They therefore can test the effects of recognized gay unions on the family far more thoroughly than can studies based purely on U.S. data, since such institutions are far newer here.  They conclude that legally recognizing gay unions does not harm heterosexual families and indeed may serve to strengthen them.  The wikipedia article on gay marriage also has helpful information on this topic, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_marriage, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[30] See Halperin, David M., Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, New York: Oxford University Press (1995), cited in Brent Pickett, “Homosexuality” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, At http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/homosexuality/, accessed March 11 2009. The work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault is, as Halperin’s title indicates, fundamental to this approach. [Back to manuscript]

[31] See the second video posted at the following location: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php /2008/10/preserving-marriage-media/, Accessed March 16, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[32] See Peter Steinfels “Will Same-Sex Marriage Collide with Religious Liberty?” The New York Times June 10, 2006, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/10/us/10beliefs. html?_r=1&emc=eta1, accessed March 16, 2009; Rod Dreher, “Why Prop 8 was Pyrrhic Victory for Conservatives,” The Dallas Morning News, November 14, 2008, available at http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-dreher_16 edi.State.Edition1.2a6f40b.htmland, accessed Fenraury 28, 2009; and Nathan Oman, “Why Conservatives Should Support Same-Sex Marriage Legislation,” available at http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2008/11/why-conservatives-should-support-same-sex-marriage-legislation/, accessed February 28, 2009.  Some other resources on this topic: Thomas M. Messner, “Same Sex Marriage and the Threat to Religious Liberty,” published by the Heritage Foundation and available at their website, www.heritage.org, accessed March 19, 2009; Maggie Gallagher, “Banned in Boston: The Coming Conflict between Same-sex marriage and religious liberty,” The Weekly Standard 11:13 (May 15, 2006), at http://www.weeklystandard .com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=12191&R=160CF22934, accessed March 19, 2009. [Back to manuscript]

[33] See, for example, the following two of Robert George’s First Things articles: “Law and Moral Purpose” (op. cit.) and “Public Morality, Public Reason,” (November 2006) available at http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5344&var_recherche =Habermas, accessed February 26, 2009.  There are of course homosexual rights advocates who would willingly agree in this assessment of the choice facing the nation. [Back to manuscript]

[34] Consider Fredrick Gedicks’ nice article on this point: “’No Man’s Land’: The Place of Latter-day Saints in the Culture War” BYU Studies 38:3 (1999): 145-162. [Back to manuscript]

[35] I find the following quite encouraging on this front: David Blankenhorm and Jonathan Rauch, “A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage” The New York Times February 21, 2009, available at http://www.nytimes.com /2009/02/22/opinion/22rauch.html?_r=5, accessed March 19, 2009, as well as the Brookings’ Institute’s recent conference “Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: A Reconciliation,” which occurred while I wrote this response, March 13, 2009.  A transcript is available at www.brookings.edu. Also note the interesting possibility of privatizing marriage completely, see David Boaz, “Privatize Marriage,” Slate Magazine Online, posted April 25, 1997, available at http://slate.msn.com/id/2440/, accessed March 16, 2009; Michael Kinsley, “Abolish Marriage: Let’s Really Get the Government out of our Bedrooms,” Slate Magazine Online, posted July 2, 2003, available at http://slate.msn.com/id/2085127/, accessed March 16, 2009; Stephanie Coontz, “Taking Marriage Private” The New York Times November 26, 2007, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/opinion/26coontz.html?scp=1&sq =privatize%20marriage&st=cse, accessed March 16, 2009 [Back to manuscript]


2) What is at Stake? A Reply to Ben Hertzberg by Ralph C. Hancock

Benjamin Hertzberg’s “Marriage, Mormonism, and Homosexuality” is a conscientious and insightful reply to Richard Sherlock; it also raises, sometimes directly, some worthwhile questions regarding my earlier intervention on this topic here at SquareTwo. I welcome the opportunity to address Mr. Hertzberg’s arguments and hope thereby further to clarify what I regard as the mighty stakes, for Latter-day Saints and for everyone, of the debate surrounding same-sex marriage.

Hertzberg presents himself throughout his response as the cool, deliberate reasoner proposing to counter the “great rhetorical effect” of Sherlock’s appeal to “the most visceral emotions,” an appeal that “excites passions that undermine” the intellectual inquiry necessary constructively to clarify the issue at hand. This inquiry includes a consideration of the ethical and theological status of homosexuality and of same-sex marriage, but its conclusion depends decisively on judgments concerning “empirical facts and relationships,” such as likely effects of gay marriage on the interests of various groups. Mr. Hertzberg believes his insight into the political facts on the ground opens up the possibility of an essential and “mutually beneficial compromise” that would allow us to put aside the overheated rhetoric he claims to find in Sherlock’s article. He skillfully situates himself as the clear-thinking moderate who can show us the way through a minefield of emotional extremisms to a solution satisfactory to all reasonable parties.

Such a way, if available, is devoutly to be wished for. But every moderate compromise, every agreement to disagree, depends upon some foundation (explicit or not) of agreement, and it is open to question whether such a foundation any longer exists. Not all issues are negotiable; some are indeed “zero-sum.” Sometimes, alas, politics does come down to “us versus them,” and when it does, whoever chooses -- by pursuing, with the best of intentions and equipped with what would be in normal times the finest political sophistication, some non-existent middle ground -- not to be with us, is against us.

Hertzberg and Richard Sherlock have different views of liberalism. It is true that Sherlock relies mainly on the familiar journalistic face of secular liberalism to represent that movement as antagonistic to the involvement of churches in public policy debates. Hertzberg, for his part, is admirably conversant in a much more nuanced and high-brow conversation among academic liberal theorists, some of whom are willing, in their notable magnanimity, to allow churches to participate in such debates as long as they make non-religious arguments. The great John Rawls himself, after all, allowed religious arguments in “liberal political debate” as long as they were superfluous, that is, as long as they were “supported by compelling ‘public reasons’” – that is, arguments that were coextensive with his liberalism. And there are even a few self-described “liberal” professors, including one cited by Sherlock himself, who actually welcome explicitly religious arguments … for liberalism!

Let us grant that Sherlock’s argument might benefit from an engagement with “what the most careful and critical contemporary expositors of liberalism have to say.” Pending such an engagement, let me propose for the reader’s consideration the proposition that liberalism is today essentially what it has been for the last three centuries, only more so. The essential thrust of this liberalism has always been that there is no divine or natural support for human obligations or bonds, no ground of morality in Divine command or in the nature of the human soul. This is the implication of the classic teaching of a “state of nature,” understood radically. Having shed the nuance and prudence of John Locke’s exquisitely calibrated rhetoric and the Victorian uplift of John Stuart Mill’s hymns to individual self-expression – not to mention the American Founding’s embedding of a liberal political teaching in a consensual, broadly Protestant moral framework -- , liberalism now presents itself plainly to the world in the non-negotiable demand that all “life-style” choices be considered equally valid and legally recognized as such. This is why the “liberals” Richard Sherlock reads in the Salt Lake Tribune, like the protestors who felt justified in intimidating the “bigots” who supported Proposition 8 in California, are sincerely outraged and morally indignant that anyone should dare argue that a certain “lifestyle” – heterosexual marriage – deserves legal recognition (and the attendant privileged social and moral status) that places it above other ways of life. This radical moral individualism (which of course does not exclude the promotion of increasing state power on behalf of the common physical needs or the liberated choices of humanity) is the vital core of contemporary liberalism, whatever the vagaries of academic liberal theory. In my earlier essay in these pages I called it “liberationism,” and it runs deep and wide in our society. Academic liberal theorists, even those who regard themselves as more communitarian or democratic than liberal, almost always accept the fundamental premise of modern individualism, and accept the liberationist consequences with varying degrees of caution or enthusiasm.

The first and most important stage in any argument against same-sex marriage is an argument that exposes this liberationism, the radical result of liberal theory’s outgrowing the moral environment which long moderated it. Once this extreme liberalism is shown to be, not some neutral or simply “rational” position but a distinctive and eminently questionable moral outlook, then reasonable claims about the intrinsic goodness and social utility of traditional marital norms can be voiced in the public square. Such voices are still clearly a majority, but they are at present intimidated by the intellectual prestige of a specious liberal rationality and neutrality. Mr. Hertzberg rightly points out that in my early essay I seemed merely to call for a reasoned defense of traditional marriage and not to offer it. But the first order of business is to expose the clay feet of the reigning “intellectual” norm, and this is the task to which I had hoped to contribute. To understand that reason does not equal liberation – the burden of my earlier piece -- is more than half the battle in my view. Still, let the substantive reasoning begin, I say, but without conceding the rational high ground to the liberationists. And let me suggest at the outset that, while we’re awaiting the outcome of our reasoning, it would seem to make sense to stick with the norm buttressed by age-old custom and still favored by a great majority of Americans, including, apparently, our liberal president.

Hertzberg does us the service of spelling out an LDS argument against LDS homosexual marriage, something that Prof. Sherlock (somewhat) and I (altogether) have neglected, focused as we are on the public dimension of the question. I am glad to learn that Mr. Hertzberg sees “no possible justification … for LDS gay marriage,” and have nothing to add to his doctrinal review on this point. And of course he is right that one cannot simply transfer the religious argument wholesale to the realm of public policy. It seems to me, though, that Mr. Hertzberg risks the opposite error; he seems to proceed as if our LDS understanding could be separated completely from our political arguments, as if our sensibilities and experiences informed by religious teachings could be neatly bracketed and thus held apart from our public concerns. I think that such an insulation is impossible, and that our search for common ground among non-LDS must never cease to draw upon and to reflect back on our deepest lived convictions. For example, the eternal significance of sexual difference (what we in public discourse now politely call “gender”), if it is true, is not a truth that can be confined to some narrowly “religious” sector of our lives. If we experience it as true, then our actual, “natural” experience informs and gives substance to the very religious doctrine that guides us toward and helps articulate this experience. And if this experience is a real human experience, then there are ways in which it is shareable, at least to some degree, with people who do not and are not likely to share our complete doctrinal framework. And so such an experience of the goodness and richness of the difference between man and woman is eligible in principle to be the basis of reasoning together in public about marriage and family.

This of course is very different from saying that we should bring a specific and distinctive LDS teaching into public debate and expect or demand that others accept it because we know it has been revealed. The revelation that helps to clarify and order our own experience may not be persuasive or even adequately intelligible to fellow citizens who have not accepted the authority of that teaching. But the human goods which we see in the light of that revelation, since they are good, can be expressed in ways that do not depend upon that direct light. This does not mean, I hasten to add, that such goods can be asserted as apodictic truths to which all moral and rational beings must immediately assent. I do not believe that such knock-down truths are available in the political realm – that’s why they call it “politics”: it involves a multitude of people, all of whom who see through a glass darkly (some inevitably more clearly than others, but all through glasses to some degree tinted by their various particular experiences and interests), putting forth arguments in an attempt to arrive at a common though still imperfect vision, or common enough to serve the necessary purpose of determining law and policy. The main burden of my previous argument in these pages was to dispel the illusion that there is some “rational” and “secular” argument based on an incontrovertible and thus neutral truth immune to the tinting of partisan claims and that would dispense with the need for politics. The most dangerous partisans today are those who believe they are not partisans but simply “rational.”

Among liberal theorists, this rationalistic illusion often takes the form of claiming access to some neutral touchstone capable of distinguishing between arguments that are legitimate in public debates and those that are not. I believe some arguments are not appropriate for public debate, but I do not believe there is some neutral touchstone for sorting legitimate from illegitimate claims. Thus, to return to the issues at hand, if someone wants to argue that our country will be a better country, that our people overall will be better and happier if homosexuals are allowed to be married, let them so argue. But don’t ask me, in considering such an argument, to set aside at the outset opinions I might have, opinions rooted in my experience and therefore not unrelated to my beliefs, concerning what makes people better and happier.

For example, then: it is my opinion, based on my experiences, beliefs, and studies, that human beings need an authoritative norm to govern sexuality, and that heterosexual marriage provides the norm best suited to bring personal happiness and to provide for the care and upbringing of children. (I grant at the outset that some people – people fit for heterosexual marriage, most notably -- will fare better than others under the norms I favor, but that is true of any set of norms.) Some aspects of this opinion are more or less subject to empirical support or refutation, but at its core this view is bound up with an understanding of what makes life good or at least prevents it from being very bad, an understanding that for me is in turn bound up but not simply reducible to distinctive religious beliefs. Many people who disagree with some of my religious beliefs will agree with a large part of my understanding of the goodness of life and of what threatens it. If a critical mass of Americans can no longer (because of their own beliefs and experience) be persuaded to accept any significant implications of my understanding, then I will not persuade them (absent the more remote possibility of a fundamental change in their beliefs and experiences). Liberals often try to block the debate at this point and argue from a fait accompli: we are now such a “pluralistic” society that no one can persuade anyone of anything concerning what ways of life and social forms are more likely to bring about goodness and happiness; therefore you are not allowed to try, your arguments are declared illegitimate in advance. There are two problems with this argument: first, obviously, there is no need for it if morally substantive arguments of one kind or another really have no chance. And second, the outcome of disqualifying such substantive arguments will not be the neutralization of the public realm, for one view or another of human existence will tend to prevail.

I hope it is clear, then, that I do not aspire in these short essays definitively to settle all questions concerning marital and sexual norms in our society. My first purpose is simply to liberate what I regard as wholesome opinions grounded in real experience from the restrictions that a certain elite opinion would impose under cover of a specious liberal claim of neutrality. While I’m at it, I try to helper other LDS mediate between their religious beliefs and their political participation, and thus to the development of substantive arguments in favor of traditional heterosexual marriage.

Mr. Hertzberg devotes many interesting pages to criticizing Sherlock’s apparent affinity for or borrowing from the teachings of the Catholic natural law tradition on marriage and family. He believes Sherlock ties marriage and sex too closely to the procreation and education of children. Mr. Hertzberg thinks this linkage runs afoul of our moral intuition that approves without reserve of marriages in which procreation is not a possibility. He points out that the non-procreative aims of marital sex – “pleasure, emotional connection, expression of love, etc.” – are not rendered immoral by their separation from the purpose of reproduction. Mr. Hertzberg traces Sherlock’s depreciation of these non-procreative goods to the influence of a Catholic understanding of God “as an unembodied, non-physical being.”

But whose position is more aligned with the human body in its givenness as either male or female and with the manifest natural directedness of sex towards reproduction? To recognize the centrality of children to the fullest meaning of marriage, to the paradigmatic case, by no means implies condemnation of marriages that do not directly serve this purpose. Childless marriages can be understood as an homage to this paradigm in a way that same-sex “marriage” clearly cannot.

To associate marriage with children today is necessarily to raise the question of new and advancing technologies that more and more promise or threaten to separate reproduction from the sexual act. It seems clearly to be a blessing, one of the many resulting from modern scientific research, that couples who would have remained childless a generation ago now have means to conceive. This of course opens up the possibility that such technology might be used to help lesbian couples bear children. But the fact that one step along a technological path is beneficial is no guarantee that the same will be true of all subsequent steps in directions opened up by technology. For example, parents will increasingly be presented with the option, not to only to have a child in cases where nature alone would not have produced one, but to choose characteristics of that child. This often means choosing not to bear a child considered defective (Down’s syndrome, for example). For many the benefits of technologies that allow for such choices may seem straightforward enough in the case of selecting against diseases and manifest abnormalities, but it is not hard to foresee a day when ordinary imperfections (shortness, baldness) might be redefined as disorders.

I will not attempt here to suggest where a line might be drawn between technologies that supplement and facilitate familiar goods (such as the conception of a child with mother and father) and those that dangerously transform our relations to nature and to other human beings. At some point along the path of technology, we cross a threshold that separates a world in which a child (even, or especially a “defective” child) is a unique gift, a miracle, and a sacred obligation, to a world in which a child is a designer product subject to the preferences of its authors. This issue presents us with a case of what might be called the comprehensive second-order choice that we confront as a society: will we view human existence as unfolding within a real (even if elusive and subject to interpretation) and authoritative moral order, or will we view human beings as masters and possessors of nature, including their own natures? Does meaningful choice depend upon the presupposition of a meaningful moral order, or must real, authentic choice be understood as an autonomy that is, at least in principle, boundless?

There is no reason not to credit the sincerity of some homosexual couples (or single mothers, for that matter) who plead that they merely want to participate in the same joys of children and family life that traditional couples have enjoyed. But the question is whether opportunities can be extended to such persons without tipping the scales of our common life decisively towards a liberationist resolution of the second-order choice I have outlined. There is no reason to assume that the normative order that governs the economy of sexual desire, that channels passions and affections so as to create stable families, is infinitely malleable. Empirical studies of the fitness of homosexual couples for raising children ought to be conducted or at least interpreted with this overarching question in mind.

I hold no brief for an Augustinian view of sexuality, but in reacting against a view he perceives as such Mr. Hertzberg is led to celebrate the pleasures of sex in a way that insists on their separation from the natural teleology of procreation. (In doing so, allow me to observe, he draws on a fuller acquaintance with LDS teachings on celestial relations and terrestrial permissions than I can claim access to.) Against this now all-too-common understanding of eros let me venture a most earthy proposition, as far from ascetic as can be: that there is nothing, finally, as sexy as making babies, nothing as stirring, as transporting as participation in the miracle of creation of human life – or, allow me to add, as imagining that one might be participating in such a momentous event, and if not that, then at least as emulating and honoring the gestures of such a primordial miracle. Thus Diotima, in Plato’s dialogue on love, the Symposium, can find no more pregnant a human experience upon which to model the transports of philosophic contemplation than that of “begetting in the beautiful” – not just rubbing up against the beautiful, or fondling or being fondled by the beautiful, but begetting in. (And here I suppose I must mention that I know very well that this very dialogue shows an attitude that is at least very tolerant of bodily forms of eros that deviate from the procreative. All the more striking, I say, that the idea of begetting should occupy such a central place in the argument.) Thus, when a frenzied groupie shouts out to the guitar hero who is the object of her passion: “I want to have your babies,” she is – not very wisely, of course – expressing something much more deeply, naturally erotic than the therapeutic, recreational and comparatively ascetic “safe sex” that marks the limit of the imagination of our respectable popular and media culture, where coupling is good fun and at most open-ended “commitment” among friends or friendly acquaintances, with no momentous consequence. Now, embed the overpowering natural wonder of making babies within a transcendent story of generation and covenant that encompasses eternities and binds together multitudes of divine beings redeemed by infinite sacrifice, and I think you have good reason to associate the deepest meaning of sexuality with the possibility of procreation. This linkage is not intended exclude the good of the emotionally binding power of sexual relations between husband and wife, but only to emphasize the larger context of these relations. There would not be male and female, ordered towards each other as parts of a larger whole, if not for the purpose of procreation. The pleasure and companionship associated with sex are goods, but our need for or interest in pleasure and companionship would never have produced the unique goods or the normative social practice of marriage. And the meaning of marriage cannot be recomposed at our will from these fragments of the larger whole.

My business here is not to attempt to draw some line defining what sexual activities ought to be permitted, but simply to evoke a richer meaning of sexuality than the now commonplace one upon which Mr. Hertzberg draws. Of course reproduction, as he points out, is not “the only aim for which people have sex,” but I hold that in the act of begetting we in fact find the highest and deepest meaning of sexuality, the normative meaning, and that others should be understood in its light and in that sense subordinated to it. Mr. Hertzberg holds that “Sherlock’s ability to condemn gay marriage depends on his account of marriage as a relationship defined by its reproductive aim.” Well, please, would there ever have been a thing called marriage if not for its “reproductive aim” and consequences? Would there be such a practice as “marriage” for older couples to emulate if there had not first been the possibility of reproduction? If Hertzberg’s account of “marriage as a relationship” leads him to be unable to distinguish normative marital sex from the inventions of “gay” couples, then it might be time for him to reconsider his understanding of the marital relationship.

Indeed, it is the liberationist view of sexuality, to which Mr. Hertzberg unfortunately inclines, much more than the natural law understanding to which he objects, that attempts to liberate desire from the natural ground of eros, from the natural wonder of male/female difference and complementarity. Mr. Hertzberg is allowing himself to make common cause with the celebration of “polymorphous perversity” proclaimed by the Nietzschean Marxism of the 1960s counterculture (Marcuse and all that), a new hedonistic asceticism, a willful counter-spirituality that seeks to liberate pleasure from all natural limits and forms. The last stage in this liberation, the last thrill in the progressive emancipation of pleasure from nature, the thrill sought by the “Queer Theorists” discussed further on by Hertzberg, can only lie in the sheer negation of given goods, goods not generated from the autonomy of the self.

We grant it is possible that Prof. Sherlock’s views are too close to Aquinas. But it is much more than possible that the world – the contemporary liberationist world – is too much with us.

In the last stage of his argument Mr. Hertzberg enters into specifically political reasoning, a “fundamentally different sort of reasoning” that he wishes to distinguish more clearly than Prof. Sherlock from religious or theological argument. Such reasoning involves a cool assessment, involving “empirical facts and relationships” of those “interests or goods” with which “the State” is legitimately concerned. Hertzberg’s understanding of such empirical facts and legitimate interests leads him to differ with Sherlock’s affirmative “gut response” to the central question whether same-sex marriage would, by “changing the definition of the family” inevitably harm the essential goods of family life and therefore of the political community and indeed civilization as a whole. Setting aside (perhaps a little too conveniently) the social science data relevant to this big question as inconclusive, Mr. Hertzberg rests his case almost entirely on his own gut conviction there is nothing to be lost by letting those homosexuals who desire marriage join in. Why not change the definition of marriage in order to include more people?

Hertzberg is at pains to distinguish the marriage-friendly homosexuals from those who embrace the name “queer” and who openly set themselves against “whatever society accepts as normal, rational, or legitimate.” Of course the distinction is a real one, and it is natural that we should feel more solicitude for and kinship with the former group. But in fact the Queer position is the more consistent and revelatory of the choice we face. To change the definition of marriage in order to make it more “inclusive” would clearly be to stretch beyond its breaking point a moral and social fabric that is already thin and stressed. Such a stretching, such a contortion could not help but reinforce the already rampant sense that marriage is just one lifestyle among others (one that might as well be “legal,” like the rest, as Mr. Hertzberg himself argues). But marriage that is just one “lifestyle choice” among others is not marriage. This is what the “queers” see clearly but that the compromising moderates have a professional interest in suppressing: if choice is sovereign, marriage is finished. A ranking of a certain way of life above others – the way connected with the procreation and education of children – and therefore the exclusion of the practice of those who reject this ranking, is inherent in the meaning of marriage. The queers are right: society will have authoritative norms and practices, or “choice” itself will increasingly become the dominant norm. And then one day the would-be moderates will wake up and discover that the most important choices are no longer open to them, or to their children. And “choice,” I am ready to predict, will prove a harsher sovereign than any traditional social regime.

Hertzberg is right, of course, that it would not be prudent or constructive to attempt to apply all religious and moral convictions directly as legal and political norms. But, as our Church Authorities have recently found a new occasion to remind us, some moral questions are of such fundamental social importance that they cannot be left unanswered in the political realm. In such cases, what appears to be a readiness to leave a question publicly unanswered, a posture of neutrality, in fact or in effect represents a very definite answer. For years now (at least since the rise of no-fault divorce, for example) the implicit ethical ground of our marriage and family regime has been suspended between two fundamentally opposed understandings. On the one hand, there is the traditional understanding of marriage as an institution grounded in nature and supported by law and policy for the maintenance of cultural practices essential to the civilized perpetuation of the species. On the other hand, there is the view of marriage as a contract between rights-bearing individuals for their own private purposes, whatever these may be. Mr. Hertzberg does not regard same-sex marriage as a radical change of regime because he has already accepted and in fact takes for granted the authority of the regime in which everything is a matter of individual rights. Like Sherlock, I have not. However one assesses the sincerity of those homosexuals who claim to want not to overturn but only to take part in traditional marriage (Hertzberg strikes me as quite credulous on this point), my gut – my rationally informed moral and political intuition -- tells me that the effectual truth of this claim can only be a further strengthening, indeed a decisive and catastrophic strengthening of the regime of purely individual rights, what I call the liberationist regime, against the regime grounded in the view that up until now we have shared with all previous societies: the understanding that there must be some goods – and the child-centered family conspicuous among such goods – whose authority trumps the supposed right of the individual to define his or her own existence.

Hertzberg attempts to achieve a certain political sophistication by separating neatly his political from religious views, thus allowing cool empiricism to govern the realm of political judgment. But in fact the result of this scrupulousness in preventing his religion from leaking into his politics has been to allow his politics -- his fundamental if not, perhaps, fully deliberate, sympathy with the rights-based or liberationist view of human existence – to color his “religious” understanding of sexuality. It is from this position that he beckons us to a “mutually beneficial compromise” with those homosexuals he believes “love the family.” But to follow Mr. Hertzberg into such a “compromise” would be to have a hand in dealing a death-blow to what is perhaps the last significant rampart against the project of transforming society on the basis of the liberationist dream. (And I do not share Mr. Hertzberg ‘s confidence that the completion of this regime-change could never impinge on religious “rights” we now take for granted, such as that to teach that homosexuality is wrong.) This is a dream that can only end in disaster, because it is based on the untrue assumption that humanity can sustain itself, individually or collectively, without reference to something above it.

The confusion I observe in the thinking of the rising generation (a confusion of course inherited from the more advanced thinking of the prior generation) regarding the meaning of “rights” and their limits, a confusion clearly shared by many of the rising generation of LDS, inclines me to believe that we may well, alas, have to learn the hard way, some very hard way, that this assumption is untrue. This may be all but inevitable now, barring divine intervention – a possibility to which we must be open, and which would not exclude any efforts we can contribute. Considered from a purely human standpoint, the cause may already be lost. Still, even at the probable cost of being taken to be an unsophisticated reactionary (well, not so harsh a fate, all things considered), I refuse to be complicit in this disastrous experiment. Same-sex “marriage”? Maybe, but not if I can help it.


***Additional Comments have been posted to a second page; please click here