I HAPPENED TO BE visiting a singles ward in California when the First Presidency's letter concerning LDS support of the pro-marriage amendment to the California constitution was read out.
The bishop added comments from the stake president dealing with the rules for talking to the press (not inside the church building). Then he added his own comments, reminding the Saints (but not in these words) that this is not a declaration of war against individuals, but a defense of a vital institution. We should not forget our compassion amid this struggle.
I add my words to his: We are not angry with those whose lives have been shaped by desires that most of us don't feel. Our opposition is to a specific action by a handful of judges, and there are many grounds, moral and spiritual ones among them, for working to undo the damage.
What is the responsibility of the church in regard to matters of public law and government action?
Let's illuminate both sides of the dilemma using only quotes from this year's major party candidates for president:
1. "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason."
2. "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. ... To say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of our morality, much of which is grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition."
This would certainly clarify the difference between candidates, if only both statements had not been made by Barack Obama. On the one hand, "democracy" demands that we not use our faith as a basis for public discussion; on the other hand, it is wrong to expect religious people not to use their faith as a basis for public discussion.
I hope everything is clear for you now.
Obama's apparent confusion is shared by many. But I think Obama is right in both statements.
Statement 2 is correct because we can't help but bring our world view with us into every discussion. To tell orthodox Christians and Jews that they cannot use their religion as the basis of debate is to tell them that they are not citizens and have no voice.
Statement 1 is correct, not as a matter of principle, but as a matter of obvious logic. I might be able to use Mormon doctrines to try to persuade a fellow Mormon, but why in the world should I expect a nonbeliever in Mormonism to pay the slightest attention to an argument based on Mormon scripture or doctrine?
We must frame our discussion in secular terms if we intend to be persuasive. No one outside our faith will listen to us unless we speak in language they understand.
This would lead us to stalemate, if the only argument against "gay marriage" were "God forbids it." Those who don't believe in God, or don't believe God's message is so very clear as that, would remain unpersuaded.
But we Latter-day Saints do not believe that God issues commandments by whim. Instead, we believe that moral as well as natural law is self-existent, and that God himself is bound by law, not because of some limitation on him, but because God can only do what is possible (Alma 42:13, 22, 25).
God's commandments are not whims of his, which we must obey because he's the boss. His commandments are guidelines to help us find happiness, because he knows better than we do what works and does not work toward happiness in this world and in eternity.
"Gay marriage" is not bad because God forbids it. God forbids it because it is harmful for us, as a society and as individuals.
We should be able to frame our arguments in completely secular terms, not as a mere tactic, but because secular evidence and logic are just as firmly in favor of providing a special protected status for permanent heterosexual pairings as our religion is.
I say this knowing that several of my friends have already entered into "gay marriages" and have done so in the firm belief that it will lead them to greater happiness, that they harm no one by doing it and that it is wrong for society to withhold from them what is so freely given to others.
These are good-hearted people. They cannot help having desires that most other people do not have, or lacking desires that might lead to happiness within traditional marriage. They look at our traditional marriage laws and see, as Ellen DeGeneres puts it, "we're being told to sit in the back of the bus."
I don't want to make any statement that would condemn these friends of mine or even hurt their feelings. I believe that they are mistaken in their belief that their "marriage" harms no one.
I believe that they are mistaken in their hope that they will be happier, or our society will be better, because of this court-mandated change in our marriage laws. But I do not doubt either their honesty or their good will. They mean no harm. And neither do I.From time to time over the next few months, I will use this column to address, one by one, my compelling secular arguments in favor of giving permanent heterosexual pairings a monopoly on legally recognized status in all societies.
Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret News. A longer version of this column is available in the Mormon Times section of deseretnews.com. Leave feedback for Card online at nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.