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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