You’re Reading the Wrong Book: The Reasons Why the LDS Church Changed Its Same Sex Marriage Policy
This post is going to explore the possible reasons for the change in the LDS Church policies regarding same-sex couples. Without full disclosure, it is difficult to know the reasons why an action is taken. After considering the context, certain inferences can be drawn as to why changes were made. This post will go through the position taken by the church and the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to protect same-sex couples as a discrete and insular minority.
A valid place to start is why make the same-sex relationship changes now? This is not exactly virgin territory. In 2000, the Netherlands was the first country to legalize same sex-marriage. Many other countries adopted same-sex marriage, including Canada in 2005, and the church did not make major changes to their policies. The Church did not take any action in those countries or at least that we know about. With that being said, the Church provides answers to the most basic questions in their own words if we are willing to listen.
On November 6, 2015, the LDS Church posted an interview with Elder Christofferson with the purpose of providing a “better understand[ing of] the context and purpose of the changes” in the handbook in regards to same-sex couples. He went on to say, this change is “a statement to remove any question or doubt that may exist” as to how the church views same-sex marriage. “It’s a matter of being clear.”
WHO NEEDS CLARITY?
Who needs clarity? After reading the 1995 document called “The Family: A Proclamation To The World,” there can be little confusion as to the church’s position. The LBGTQ community was able to detect the church’s position with subtle hints such as “Marriage between man and woman is essential” or “we…solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” For a normal person, the issues were clearly defined.
If not the church members or same-sex couples, who does the Church need to be clear for? Lawmakers, attorneys and Judges who use the Constitution and caselaw as their standard of truth.
Elder Chrisofferson went on to say: “With the Supreme Court’s decision in the United States, there was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the Church and the law of the Land and how we respond to that.” With the change in the law of the United States, the Church was affected in ways that most people, including me, cannot wrap them minds around.
WHY DO WE NEED TO BE CLEAR?
Why do they need to be clear? If the Church does not have a this kind of policy, then it may appear the treatment of same-sex couples is out of animus or dislike and not a religious belief. So the Church made changes to the handbook to create a new category of apostasy involving same-sex couples. The Church made a policy to not proselyte to their children.
READING THE WRONG BOOKS
When people analyze this issue, too often the focus is on scriptures. These are the wrong books. Instead, to understand you need to read case law, statutes and understand how they interact with the United States Constitution.
When Elder Christofferson says the Church must “respond” to the change in the law regarding same sex couples, they responded with making changes to the Handbook.
RELIGIOUS CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS
The conflict with Church teachings and the recognition of same-sex marriage is so diametrically opposed that it should be called a “religious constitutional crisis.” This term is a conflict between the constitution and a religious organization that is so great that it threatens to cause a breakdown of the organization’s beliefs or structure.
If this was a boring interview, it is because you didn’t understand the ramifications. The interview provided context as to why it took an even stronger position against same-sex marriage by denying their children access to the LDS church. As will be explained in a later post, this is the execution of an aggressive legal strategy to operate in a way to qualify for a soon-to-be if not already created “religious exception” under state and federal law.
In order to avoid this religious constitutional crisis, the LDS Church over hauled its same sex policies including how to treat innocent children. Let there be no mistake, this change was not for the benefit of the children. If it was, the Church would have implemented this policy prior to the Supreme Court stepping into the same-sex issues. Once the class was respected by the Law, the Church had to follow suit in some way. This direction was made based upon legal advice which was more concerned with preserving property than people.
A wise professional told me that when an action is taken that seems unreasonable, behind that action is someone who believes there is a reason good enough to take the risk. At this point, the shock value has worn off a bit. Lets re-characterize the policy and see if it reminds us of why this is a difficult proposition.
Imagine reading the following headline:
“Church places children of same-sex couples on government altar for spiritual sacrifice to obtain Government benefits.”
Though this sounds like The Onion, it is a fair way to characterize what the Church’s legal position. I am not saying that do be dramatic or get people excited. This is what the Church actually did. The Church said if we give up on providing a way to salvation for a certain class of persons – i.e. same-sex relationship children – can we keep our benefits? Please.
My point is, the Church must believe that whatever harm that flows from this choice is worth it. The Church makes the point that this will help same-sex couple families by not creating discord. Though on the surface, this argument has some merit, the reasoning is faulty. The policy singles out same-sex couples with long term relationships and/or marriages. If you live with a LBGTQ parent, who is not in a committed same-sex relationship, the Church allows this person to decide whether their child can join the church.
This is the beginning of a series of difficult post legalized same-sex marriage faith choices. The Church publicly uses the phrase “fairness to all,” even in this interview, as a way to describe this approach that includes an absolute bar to proselyting or allowing children of same-sex parents into the church. This is not a scriptural maneuver; this is a legal maneuver with a religious basis. The Church created a policy where same-sex couples are respected to such a degree that the Church takes away their agency as to their childs participation in the LDS Church. In a religious context, this is a resurrection of the outlawed doctrine of separate but equal.
Instead feeling like a loving policy it feels more like Child Protective Services.
Those who watched Elder Christofferson, may wonder if we watched the same interview. Click on this link to see the Church’s public positions, including court documents, that demonstrate the Church’s belief in the religious constitutional crisis. The fallout of the religious constitutional crisis will include the risk of losing, at a minimum, school accreditation for the different iterations of BYU and LDS Business College and the tax exempt status for the entire church. If the church loses its tax exempt status, billions of tithing dollars would be paid in tax annually. That is billions with a B.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S STRATEGY?
What is the Church’s strategy to fight the religious constitutional crisis? The legal strategy is to take a stronger position against same-sex marriage.
That is not a misprint. Re-read if you need.
Said another way, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage is a protected class under the constitution. This will apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. In order for the Church to retain government benefits, a government agency will have to codify a religious exception that allows for the Church to discriminate against same-sex marriages. Then that religious exception will need to survive close judicial scrutiny. This process will apply to accreditation, tax exempt status, property taxes and many other issues on both the state and federal level.
A good example of a religious exception is found in Utah. A counter point occurred in New Jersey. These are not apples to apples comparisons. Don’t expect a smooth narrative. This is a crisis after all.
At this point, we don’t have a lot of judicial direction as to how the same-sex marriage protection is going to work. This means that the policies of the church are not in final draft. It is also difficult to understand why all of the legal maneuvering is happening. The Church is gearing up for a legal battle to retain its beliefs and retain government benefits. We can only hope and pray that the church is through sacrificing innocent children to meets its religious constitutional crisis. God help us all.