Mormonism, Marriage, and the Law

With the news that the State of New York has legalized same-sex marriage, the internets are once again abuzz with talk about equality and rights and tradition and religion.  At the risk of my readership, I will wade into these waters with my own thoughts on the subject.

CAVEAT: I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, yet I am not in any way an official spokesman for that Church.  Anything I post here is my own opinion and not official Church doctrine.

First, when discussing the debate about same-sex marriage, I find it necessary to make a clear distinction between morality and legality.

For me that is the crux of this issue.  I believe in the sanctity of marriage, by which I mean that I believe that being married is a truly sanctifying experience.  Morally, I believe that marriage is an eternal principle which allows men and women, together, to be joined and raise families.  As a Latter-day Saint, I believe in eternal or celestial marriage and that the family, as the fundamental unit of society and God‘s Church, can exist throughout eternity.  Fathers and Mothers, Husbands and Wives, Men and Women together form a family unit and provide for their children.  That is the order which God has ordained.

On the other hand is the legal issue.  What rights or power does the government have, and which powers should the government have?  I, personally, do not believe that the United States Government has the right to grant a set of benefits or privileges to one group of its citizens and deny them to another.  I see nothing about same-sex couples that should allow a government to deny them the right to marry, should they choose.  A government must exist to protect its citizens and to protect their rights, all of them, equally.  It cannot allow one subset of its citizens to marry, and enjoy the benefits associated with marriage, while denying those benefits to another subset of citizens.

That is the quandary I find myself in.  Torn between what I believe about marriage and what is morally right and what I believe about government and what is legally right.

What is the solution?  I don’t know.  Based on what I believe, it seems that the US Government would have to allow any of its citizens who wish to the right and ability to marry.  Or the US Government should not be in the business of marriage at all.  If the Government cannot guarantee a civil marriage to anybody who wishes it, it should not grant civil marriages to anybody at all — that should be left exclusively to churches.  And then churches can decide who they will allow to marry and who they will deny that privilege to.  But it would then be purely a religious matter.   And if someone wants to go form a same-sex marrying church, that is their right, and then that church can marry whomever it wishes.

I just do not know.  This is a very tough issue, a very touchy subject.  We do want to stand up for what we believe is right, but we do not wish to offend any of our brothers or sisters.  I believe that a person has the ability to choose what he wants in this life, but that he will be held responsible and accountable to God for his thoughts, words, and deeds (Mosiah 4:30).  But “this eternal truth is giv’n, that God will force no man to heaven” (Hymn 240).  And if God will force no man to heaven, if God will force no man to be righteous, should the government enact laws that are designed to do just that?

We do have laws restricting pornography and tobacco and alcohol, but that is mostly to protect children, we do not ban them completely.  There are laws that restrict marriage to close relatives, but those laws seem to be mostly to help decrease the likelihood of genetic deformations in the children.  If that is the primary goal, then why not enact laws that prohibit carriers of certain genetic diseases or disorders from marrying?  That would be unthinkable.  But these are the sort of questions you have to start asking when the government starts enacting laws that are mostly moral-based.  How far can the government go, what right does it have to restrict or prohibit behaviour that does not endanger the rights or lives of other citizens?


I don’t know.  What are your thoughts?  Please leave a comment, but please be civil.  I’d like an open and honest discussion of legality and morality, let’s try for that, okay?

21 thoughts on “Mormonism, Marriage, and the Law

  1. In my opinion the government should not grant civil marriages. Civil unions appear to be the correct way for the government to provide tax relief and the other benefits currently enabled by civil Marriage, without the connotation of Marriage. This would allow the church’s the power to maintain the religious (and In my mind traditional) marriage principles for their congregation while maintaining everyone’s rights within the secular world. I think this would solve a good part of most peoples trepidation with regards to same sex marriages.

  2. I also strongly agree that civil marriages should not even exist. Marriage, as we think about it, should be in the hands of churches, who can each decide for themselves what constitutes marriage. At most, the government could continue to offer contractual civil unions with various legal benefits, but such unions should not be restricted.

    Governments often take for themselves powers that their constitutions deny them. They should all pay more attention to their clauses where they say all of their rights derive from the people. If I have no right to deny two people marriage, the government has no such right either. I have the right to deny someone access to my personal goods, or the taking of my life, therefore the government has rights to create laws regarding these things. Keeping this in mind, would keep government smaller, simpler, and less invasive.

  3. While I understand where Keith and Eric are coming from, I have to disagree with all of you about civil marriages. My marriage is not religiously based and I do not believe marriage should have to be. You do not need to be religious to be devoted to someone and want to spend the rest of your life with them. Because of this, I see gay marriage as a legal issue. If the government offers benefits to straight couples, these benefits must also be given to homosexual couples. To do otherwise is unjust.

    1. I think that is my point, the government cannot offer benefits to some couples and deny them to other couples, and marriage is one of those benefits. So, government should either allow marriage to anyone and everyone, or they should not offer marriage to anyone.
      Those wishing to be ‘married’ or joined together in some way could go find a Church to marry them. And there are plenty of churches that are not really religiously based, so I don’t see a problem with unreligious people going to any church they like to be married.

  4. Maybe my biggest problem comes from the fact that historically, marriage licenses only came into being to allow marriages that were against the law to take place anyway. The origin of the marriage license was to allow specific mixed-race marriages to occur even though mixed-race marriages were against the law. Only later was it applied in a general fashion.

    To resolve your issue with the argument, I would say that I agree with all government-given benefits given to straight couples being given to homosexual couples, that said, marriage should not be controlled by government. And for those who prefer non-religiously based marriages they could accept either governmental civil unions (contractually-based, which is all government marriage is anyway) or even go to any organization that cares to unite them in marriage (social clubs, family/tribal organizations, etc.).

    I guess my problem is the idea of any government defining what marriage is.

    1. Civil unions are simply not the same. They were invented to create a “separate but equal” alternative to marriage for same-sex couples. Separate is never equal. If the government rules for a broad definition of marriage that includes both straight and gay couples, then religious organizations have the freedom to choose what is believed to be morally right on their own.

      1. In my alternate version of reality, since what I understand that what I propose would require significant revisions to existing law, civil unions would encompass pretty much exactly what marriages do today. Call it a semantics game, but the point would be to have marriage, something I consider to be divine in origin, not controlled by the state, while all of the legal baggage that has been added to marriage over the years by law continue to be under the guise of the state. Such civil unions would be open to all, and would also be the only government-recognized contract of union between partners (which would include, straight, homosexual, polygamist, etc.).

  5. Or they could even just marry each other without the approval of any other organization, since every person has the ability to make promises to others without any other person infringing on that.

      1. Legal rights would only exist in my hypothetical, revised form of civil union. They would not exist in any form of church, organization, or individual marriage.

  6. As a believing Mormon, how do you reconcile your personal support for same-sex marriage with the fact that the Church, led by a prophet, seer, and revelator, has actively endorsed legal restrictions on same-sex marriage? Do you think President Monson wasn’t acting in accordance with God’s will in this case?

    1. That is what I love most about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no one is expected to blindly follow anything any leader of the Church says. All are granted the opportunity, all are expected to go to Lord in personal prayer and seek a confirmation and personal revelation. In my personal prayers and conversations with God, I feel that marriage is vitally, eternally important and should be between a man and a woman to raise up children and families unto the Lord. Yet, I also feel that tolerance and civility should exist for all of God’s children. I feel there is a clear distinction between God’s law and man’s law. With the Constitution as it is now, I don’t see how the government can deny marriage to same-sex couples.
      As far as what President Monson has said, the Church asked members in California to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.” I still believe that it is right and proper to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as other couples, while still maintaining the sanctity of marriage.
      Maybe this doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but for me it works. There are certain commandments where God has said, “thou shalt not…” but for most of what we do in life, he rather says, “come, talk with me, let us reason together, let me tell you what I want for you personally.” We, each of us, need to develop a personal relationship with God, to know what he would have us do. That is what I believe.

    2. The Church has also supported extensive changes in Salt Lake law to extend the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex civil unions. What the Church wants to protect is the word “marriage” (semantics as I mentioned before) and state to the world what they consider marriage to be. They have consistently posited that they desire the legal rights to be extended to all.

    3. Hold on there. The prophet only actively endorsed prop 8, not every legislation restricting same sex marraiges.

      Also as a side note, i think same sex couples should have all the rights as any hetero couple, except for adopting children; and for that reason alone i dont support gay marraige. Not only do they not have the body parts to create their own children, but also because i have seen firsthand the effects on children that grow up without a mother.

  7. Like many have said, I think marriage is between man and wife. Civil unions are available for homosexuals or others.

    An interesting side I don’t think is explored enough is the degradation of marriage in terms of commitment. I think marriage (or civil unions) should be more strict with regards to ending a contract. People that want to stay together have to make that decision up front. In other words, I think the penalties for breaking the contract should be steeper, which would mitigate much of the issue for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike (morals aside).

    To say “I want to marry because I love so and so” is all fine and grand, but if 6 months down the road things change, that’s something they should have thought about before signing the paperwork.

  8. I’m a mormon and don’t think there is an issue with same-sex marriages, nor do I think there is an issue with supporting them. The Church has said that individuals need to consider issues and support them. There are very few government and/or social issues where the Church demands complete and utter adherence. This is no one of them. In fact, several high profile LDS people are very open about supporting gay marraiges.

    Many (especially quite a few Mormons and Evangelicals) “WANT” it to be only a relgious issue, it isn’t. Since it is a civic issue (it is granted by governments and governments granted marriages provide benefits), it is actually a very simple answer: We should provide the opportunity to all citizens. If anything, it lends more legitimacy to marrigae and to families. Families is really what the Church supports.

    Like dteeps, I don’t speak for the LDS Church, only myself.

    1. All are entitled to opinions, but there are some facts.

      As for the moral side, the LDS Church is extremely clear on its stance. The church, specifically through the leadership acting as spokesmen for the church, has explicitly spoken against marriage between any other than one man and one woman:

      Beyond Prop 8, it has had limited involvement in the legislative side, but has also stated its opposition to the legal allowance of same-sex marriage. One might saw Prop 8 was the straw that broke the camel’s back on its involvement:

      I’m sure the links above are but a few of the many times it’s been said. I believe that the LDS Church is outspoken on its position on both the moral and legal issue.

      That being said, I’d prefer dteeps’ proposition that marriage should instead be a church/religious institution rather than one the government controls.

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