Last Sunday, our Stake President came for a visit. In Sacrament meeting he encouraged all adults possible to meet for the first fifteen minutes of Sunday school so he could make an announcement. So, needless to say, I was anxious to see what he would have to say.
So, here it goes: he announced that the church was taking a stand in favor for a proposition that will be on the Arizona state ballot this November involving adding an Arizona state constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The Stake President was careful to say that our church does not usually get involved in political issues, but with this issue there was a compelling reason for it. He didn't spend time making the case, but just encouraged people to study up on the issue and to get behind the proposition. He did carefully caution that we should be loving and tolerant (I'm paraphrasing) to all people, but that this amendment was needed to protect the family. He vaguely referenced some data he studied regarding the consequences of the legalization in other states and in other countries.
There was a similar proposition in 2006 which actually went further than this one, removing some number of benefits from unmarried couples, gay or straight, which went too far for too many people and was defeated.
In regards to the data referenced by our Stake President, I'm not sure what it was, but this post seemed to make a pretty compelling summary of some of the most poignant consequences. The case is not so much that legalizing homosexual marriage destroys heterosexual families, which argument seems hard to defend, but that, depending how the law is applied, can infringe upon the rights of religions to worship how they please.
I don't have my mind wrapped around this issue completely yet, but definitely marriage is something where religious views and legal definitions are very tightly coupled. In our church, one of the most important laws is the law of chastity, where sexual relations are confined between a couple legally and lawfully married. So a religious commandment is tied directly to a legal definition.
And that's significant when you consider some of the examples sited in the article:
Example One: The Methodist church loses their tax exempt status for a worship space they owned where a lesbian couple wanted to get married but were refused to do so by the Methodist church. The couple sued and the state ruled in favor for the lesbian couple.
"Yeshiva University was ordered to allow same-sex couples in its dormitory for married couples. A Lutheran school has been sued for expelling two lesbian students. Catholic Charities abandoned adoptions services in Massachusetts after it was told to place children with same-sex couples. A psychologist in Mississippi who refused to counsel a lesbian couple lost her case and a doctor who refused to provide in vitro fertilization to a lesbian in California is likely to lose his case before the California Supreme Court."
A Christian photographer who refused to photograph a lesbian wedding is sued and loses because of discrimination.
Now, how does Barack Obama's position relate to this? Well, he said it quite nicely in his acceptance speech, thus:
We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.
That simple phrase in bold aligns quite nicely with my own views. I have also heard Obama state that he is against the legalization of homosexual marriage but for legal provisions for those couples to receive many if not all of the same legal benefits that married couples receive.
I don't believe this statement is a capitulation one bit, but fits in perfectly with my religious leaders assessment that we should protect the traditional definition of marriage, while at the same time we need to be compassionate and loving to everyone.
I realize that a many gay couples would take extreme offense to this compromise, that to not enjoy the same marital status as a heterosexual couple would be considered extremely prejudicial. I also know that many if not most people use these sorts of statutes and propositions and amendments to justify hateful and hurtful feelings to groups of people they don't know at all. Also, I know the Republican party has used this issue as well as abortion to manipulate their base for votes, even as they drive our government straight into the ground.
I hope those Mormon voters of Arizona, even as they will vote yes for this proposition, will also remember that Barack Obama more so than the Republican party, more so than especially the likes of Sarah Palin (McCain voted against a recent attempt to amend the US Constitution to ban homosexual marriage) believe in and understand the deep feelings of both sides of this very divisive issue.
The middle ground (and the right ground) is compassion, constraint, and respect, knowing that there are differences on homosexual marriage and that surely we all can agree that our gay friends and neighbors should be able to live lives free of discrimination. But also, that same homosexual community should also respect the fact that there are many people with legitimate and deeply held religious convictions about marriage, sexuality, and family that may preclude the inclusion of homosexual relationships. That our laws should respect and protect someone against discrimination, but at the same time, respect and honor a person's right to worship and behave according to their own faith.
The interesting thing about this issue and abortion is that they both involve our ability to produce children. And that reproduction has both deeply held religious connotations and legal consequences. A society simply cannot separate the two cleanly in a way that is satisfying for everyone.
On abortion, when does life exist, or to put the matter more succinctly, when does the fetus have a soul? Or more legally, when does the fetus become a baby with rights to life and liberty?
On homosexual marriage, I think many of our marriage laws involve the recognition that strong societies have to be made up of strong families, where the majority of children are brought into the world and loved and raised by the same parents that share their DNA.
So for many religions, the case for marriage and family is not meant to be an anti-gay statement, merely a pro-family one.
But the bottom line is that religious freedom and individual civil liberties are both involved, and that it is Barack Obama who has most eloquently expressed and seems to believe the important balance that must be gained on both sides of this divisive issue.