Mormon Church: Not so fast, gays. We still stand for “traditional” marriage

Social conservatism’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality has been…colorful, to say the least. From Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the case, which read more like a Twitter rant than a legal document, to Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz calling for the abolishment or restructuring of the court itself, the Religious Right has spent much of the last six days flipping rhetorical and theological tables. They’re mad as hell, and they can’t figure out how to take it.

But it isn’t all yelling and screaming. In a quietly-released letter to its followers on Monday, posted on its website, the Mormon Church demonstrated that it is completely unfazed by Friday’s ruling:

Consistent with our fundamental beliefs, Church officers will not employ their ecclesiastical authority to perform marriages between two people of the same sex, and the Church does not permit its meetinghouses or other properties to be used for ceremonies, receptions, or other activities associated with same‐sex marriages. Nevertheless, all visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there.

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

In the spirit of religious freedom, I was actually with them all the way up until the used the words “traditional family.” If your religious organization doesn’t want to perform same-sex weddings, that’s a shame. But as long as those couples can get marriage licenses and enjoy the same secular rights as everyone else, it isn’t this atheist’s place to say how a religious organization handles their religious ceremonies. I wouldn’t tell an Orthodox Jewish rabbi to marry non-Jews in their synagogues; I won’t tell Mormons to marry people they consider to be living in sin if they don’t want to, although LGBT Mormons would be well-advised to take that into account before deciding to stay in the Church after they have their secular wedding.

Mormons Salt Lake Temple via Shutterstock

Mormons’ Salt Lake Temple, via Shutterstock

And given the Church’s history of open hostility toward the LGBT community, bankrolling campaigns to deny them the freedom to marry and encouraging their followers to organize against LGBT rights wherever they can, I think it’s more than generous to say that they can keep their exclusionary practices as long as they keep them to themselves.

But let’s get one thing clear: The Mormon Church is the last organization that gets to lecture anyone about “traditional” marriage. This is a religious organization that organized marriages between one man and many women in the not-so-distant past. What’s more, Church leaders only had the “revelation” that polygamy was wrong after the United States outlawed the practice and threatened to confiscate their land if they continued engaging in it.

In other words, for all of the Mormon Church’s complaints about the federal government “redefining” marriage in 2015, the federal government redefined marriage for the Mormons in the late 1800s. And you’d be hard-pressed to find Church leaders today who would go on the record saying that they’re still sore over the last redefinition. They’ve gone as far as to excommunicate would-be Mormons who adopt what could arguably be referred to as practicing the more “traditional” form of Mormon marriage.

But in order to thread the needle and explain past Mormons’ polygamous personal lives, the Mormon Church has actually adopted an unique definition of marriage: One man and one women, unless God says so. From their website:

In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood. In 1890, President Wilford Woodruff received a revelation that the leaders of the Church should cease teaching the practice of plural marriage.

The Lord’s law of marriage is monogamy unless he commands otherwise to help establish the House of Israel.

If you have a revelation in which God commands you to marry three women — or three men, for that matter — you’ve got to listen, even if it makes you feel icky inside. On divine command theory, that makes sense in the same way that killing your son because God told you to makes sense, which is to say that it doesn’t.

Perhaps in a few years, after same-sex marriage becomes as normal and accepted as interracial marriage, Church leaders will have another revelation. Maybe God will speak to them and give them the convenient news that they don’t have to alienate the majority of Americans and a growing subset of their own church who think that marriage is between two people who love each other. Maybe they will invoke the “unless he commands otherwise” clause in their definition of marriage to drag themselves, begrudgingly, into the 21st Century.

I wouldn’t hold your breath.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Outspoken1

    ‘Thousands?’ Credible data please

  • JT

    Since Mormons only relatively recently revised their view that dark skin was a sign of divine disfavor or that blacks should not be priests, it’s laughable that they should talk about their traditions as if they had some special claim to morality. Moreover, a religion that is less than 200 years old doesn’t have much of a tradition at all. As for “traditional marriage”, Mormons practiced polygamy officially until 1890, and only gave it up because it was an obstacle to their gaining statehood for Utah. Then, magically, “the prophet” had a revelation from on high that polygamy should no longer be practiced, and within a few years, Utah became a state. So “tradition” doesn’t mean much in Mormonism or its history. Perhaps the “prophet” only needs to read the tea leaves and have another revelation on the subject of same sex marriage.

  • Butch1

    Exactly so and with a smile that has several rows of teeth behind them.

  • Butch1

    Perhaps you should visit Salt Lake City sometime. Church, temple, whatever . . .

  • Butch1

    They tossed out the other “gospels” that were not canonized. Some of them didn’t quite agree with each other. ;-)

  • AdmNaismith

    Fuck the Mormon Church & their stupid ‘revelations’, and they can stick this proclamation up their collective asses.
    After what they did in CA over Prop 8, they should be made to pay their godsdamned taxes and then be run out of town on a rail. Fuck them.

    Really, just fuck them.

  • Fireblazes

    I guess I keep hoping. I am more fearful of the bigots with lots of money. In this age of billionaires, it is my suspicion that some rich fucker is looking for a incremental residuals gain on all of this hate and bigotry.

  • Thom Allen

    The “restored” gospel? So the original gospels, written about Jesus’ teachings, were flawed?

  • I fear the calm, rational-sounding bigots far more than the raving ones.

  • Take your trolling elsewhere.

  • wmforr

    And each day thousands are traveling to Iraq to serve the restored Caliphate. We are supposed to applaud?

  • Bill Fitzgerald

    And still each day thousands are gaining a testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  • AlaynaJPrice
  • Bill Fitzgerald

    Did not know Mormon had a church and have never seen a sign saying such.

  • Fireblazes

    I certainly agree with what you say about the California prop 8. I was only giving them credit where credit is due on a very specific current event. I am glad they endorsed a lawful response to the issue of legalized marriage. Not an insane stamp your feet evangelical way. As to their money and influence, they can do what they want with it, just like we try to influence voter’s response to issues in other places. That being said, all churches should pay taxes. So should professional sports for that matter.

  • mark_in_toronto

    So, a bunch of bigots who believe in fairy tales are defining tradition, acceptance and morality?
    Sounds familiar and I will never be “with them.”

  • The Mormon Church put forth as its belief that knowing gay people exist and have families is an inherent danger to children. They also have the official position that being gay is a choice. Both of these positions are contrary to researched facts and are also slanderous and bigoted.

    This isn’t a difference of opinion or simply a set of beliefs. An innocuous set of beliefs is believing Heaven is on a planet named Kolob and that religious revelations were delivered to a guy who looked into a hat with some stones in it. If they want to tell their fellow Mormon believers that they think being gay is morally wrong and not something people are born with, that’s up to them.

    My problem with the Mormons is they collected their money from their followers all over America and internationally and used that money to influence non-Mormon Californian voters in a secular law matter, namely whether same-sex marriage there in 2008 would remain legal. (An act, by the way, that should have caused them to be stripped of their tax exempt status.) Not content to live their own lives according to their own beliefs, they sought to push their beliefs — not facts, but erroneous beliefs — about gay people into the laws affecting everyone, Mormon and non-Mormon alike.

    This is further about their hypocrisy in trying to insist there’s never been any type of legal marriage other than hetero and monogamous when their own church taught for decades that marriage was between one man and as many wives as he cared to collect.

    I actually don’t care what they believe. I object to what they do with those beliefs.

  • I heard from the frothing wingnut contingent that getting gay married is mandatory now.

  • emjayay

    Blackmore was challenged by God’s command, but he obeyed it.

  • emjayay

    Plus the marriage being arranged. And women being a distant second class in general to begin with. Like, oh I dunno, in the US primarily Ultra Orthodox Jews, and more elsewhere but increasingly here, conservative Muslims.

  • Fireblazes

    At least it is a reasoned response, it’s not like they are calling for our death, like many other extremely conservative Christians. I give them props for being honest and straight-forward. Do I agree with their stance, no, but it is “their” beliefs being put forward here. We are no more righteous to expect all to agree with our beliefs than they are in the same situation.

  • Indigo

    Where? Where? (the men, that is)

  • Indigo

    Is it far?

  • Indigo

    We have entire academic disciplines in the humanities, world culture, and even philosophy and religion to rewrite. Not to mention some clarifications about art history.

  • Indigo

    Thick cut or thin?

  • Got that right. The assertion that there has never been anything but monogamous heterosexual marriage for all of human history, universally practiced by ALL cultures until recently, is a bald faced lie.

  • 2karmanot

    “sacrifices must be made.” In that case I’ll have a toasted Spam sandwich with melted Velveeta. Yummmm :-)

  • Yeah… they’re always smiling as they stick the knives in your back.

    I will never forgive them for the barrage of “gays are dangerous for children to learn they even exist” commercials the Mormon Church paid to run in the weeks before the Prop H8 vote.

  • You’re right, that’s a very good post from Amanda.

  • nicho

    The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree.

    Really, this is why Mormons from all over the country sent money to interfere in California’s political process and take away civil rights from LGBT people? Mormons — liars, hypocrites, and bigots.

  • nicho

    Down at city hall getting same-sex marriage licenses.

  • Amanda Marcotte did a great job of breaking that down the other day: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/gay-marriage-scotus-ross-douthat-oppression-vs-love

  • BlueIdaho

    I dreamed they all got on a space ship to kolob.

  • That’s the awesome thing about ‘revelations’: You can assert an appeal to ultimate irrefutable authority, and not have to prove a word of it.

    God just revealed to me I simply must have a BLT sandwich for lunch today. With a home-canned pickle. Anything less is blasphemy.

  • Because there is in many people a desire to own the equivalent of slaves and to wield unlimited power over them.

    You ask ’em about their definitions of ‘traditional’ marriages and families and you’ll nearly always find they want the womenfolk at home, perpetually preggers, and doing whatever the patriarch tells them.

  • 2karmanot

    Must be a slow morning. Where are the Mormbots?

  • 2karmanot

    Amen—-pardon the pun.

  • Indigo

    The word “traditional” has been twisted into meaning what anti-human rights social activists want it to mean. We can reclaim the traditional legitimacy of same sex relationships by reaching into pre-Christian Western literature, spirituality, and practices to point out that same sex relationships were not only common, they were regularly celebrated in the Classical Humanist Tradition. The obfuscation (!) of nearly 2,000 years of Christian-sponsored deceit has generated about that topic can be shoveled aside at last. Our humanities scholars have that task ahead of them.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The cults are beginning to sweat a bit about their long history of bigotry. Now if we could just get Democrats and Republicans to do the same and pass ENDA or a CERA. ENDA or legislation like it has been around for over 40 years and in all that time the Democrats and Republicans have refused to pass it, confirming their status as parties dominated by bigots and those who pander to bigots.

    Even better, we need a robust federal CERA, Civil Equal Rights Amendment covering public access, employment and housing for ourselves, people of color, women, trade unionists and immigrant and imported workers that makes it easy to sue and win and provides harsh penalties for offenders.

  • The_Fixer

    In fact, “traditional marriage” hasn’t needed any help in providing
    cover for religionists who wanted to subjugate multiple wives.

    You certainly said a mouthful in that one sentence. Considering that “traditional marriage”, as defined in the Bible, involved multiple wives (don’t forget the concubines!), then yes, it provides more than enough cover for religionists who wanted to subjugate multiple wives.

    What is it about some men who think that women are best when they are considered an object subject to property rights?

  • Hue-Man

    From last week: “The leader of a Mormon breakaway sect in southeastern British Columbia
    has lost a bid to derail the province’s recurrent attempts to convict
    him of polygamy.”

    “Blackmore is formally accused of having 24 marriages, though the court heard after that indictment was filed against him that he married 25 women between 1975 and 2001.” http://www.vancouversun.com/news/government+shopped+prosecutor+polygamist+case+lawyer+says/11166436/story.html

    His older brother was charged with “unlawfully removing a child from Canada for sexual purposes” – allegedly he supplied underage girls to sect members in the U.S.

    Throughout the marriage equality debate, the gay-haters have claimed that marriage equality will lead to polygamy, incest, man-dog marriages, etc. In fact, “traditional marriage” hasn’t needed any help in providing cover for religionists who wanted to subjugate multiple wives.

  • goulo

    Good article!

    And what a wacky quote from the Mormon’s article:
    “The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham
    Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they
    obeyed it.”

    Ha! This makes me think of Brer Rabbit-esque false protesting. “Oh, no, PLEASE God, don’t ‘challenge’ me with the terrible burden of having not just one but SEVERAL wives, all of them subservient to me as their husband and master, with me ‘challenged’ to have sex with several women instead of only one!”

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