Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Civil unions

One way to think of marriage is as a bundle of rights associated with what it means for two people to be married. What the First Presidency has done is express its support of marriage and for that bundle of rights belonging to a man and a woman. The First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself concerning any specific right. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.”As far as something less than that — as far as relationships that give to some pairs in our society some right but not all of those associated with marriage — as to that, as far as I know, the First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself. There are numbers of different types of partnerships or pairings that may exist in society that aren’t same-gender sexual relationships that provide for some right that we have no objection to. All that said… there may be on occasion some specific rights that we would be concerned about being granted to those in a same-gender relationship. Adoption is one that comes to mind, simply because that is a right which has been historically, doctrinally associated so closely with marriage and family. I cite the example of adoption simply because it has to do with the bearing and the rearing of children. Our teachings, even as expressed most recently in a very complete doctrinal sense in the Family Proclamation by living apostles and prophets, is that children deserve to be reared in a home with a father and a mother.


I would sometimes like to avoid the subject of gay marriage altogether because it gives me a lot of mental pain. But I don't have that option as it is an important issue right now for so many people (both gay and LDS), and it is playing out in elections and public debates all the time. The recent election and the variations in legislative and constitutional proposals across the country brought it all to the forefront for me again.

My inclination is to favor gay marriage and/or civil unions, but to also follow the advice of the church even when it doesn't necessarily make sense to me. But I don't think it's inappropriate to discuss guidance given by the church, and I think it's actually a spiritual necessity to try to understand it. So, wearily, here goes... (again)...

Elder Wickman mentions that "our doctrine simply requires" us to oppose not only gay marriages but civil unions that accomplish an identical purpose. I don't know what doctrine this specifically is. Gay sex is wrong: check. Chastity is good: check. Freedom to choose: check. The balance of doctrine seems to lean toward allowing civil unions, in my mind. I really would appreciate a clarification, but through some unfortunate oversight I wasn't invited to the Public Affairs interview I've quoted.

Adoption is the other sticking point for me. As many have pointed out before, despite the ideal that every child deserves a home with a father and mother, that hasn't happened for many children and allowing an actual care-giver in a real life situation to properly care for a child seems to be a good idea. When a child comes to the Emergency Department with a gay care-giver who is not related, treatment consent cannot be obtained until the legal parent is available (with a few caveats). This can delay treatment and adversely affect the child's health.

I suppose the objection is that recognizing or supporting gay adoption would have the effect of sky-rocketing the number of children being reared by gay partners rather than fathers and mothers--like we're advocating the better of two unfortunate options. Advocate policy that harms a small number of children today to harm fewer children later... or something like that. But, I can certainly understand the incredulity gay advocates confront this with--the data shows no harm to children from being raised with same-gendered parents.

And I suppose that brings us full circle to the appeal to "doctrine." It may not be doctrine because it's in the scriptures, but by virtue of the fact the 1st presidency says it's the best thing to do. It's an appeal to God's authority, and that's the end of the debate.

So much rides on the question: is the church really God's? Are the prophets really speaking for Him? I wish everyone could respect those who answer those questions differently than themselves without throwing around insults and intolerance. But it has been recently and emphatically demonstrated to me that for both believers and non-believers this is prohibitively difficult.

21 comments:

Chris said...

So much rides on the question: is the church really God's? Are the prophets really speaking for Him? I wish everyone could respect those who answer those questions differently than themselves without throwing around insults and intolerance. But it has been recently and emphatically demonstrated to me that for both believers and non-believers this is prohibitively difficult.

If the LDS Church were to simply declare that they will never recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, I'd nod and say, I understand. It would make perfect sense, given the doctrine of the Church and its interpretation by its current leaders. And I would never expect the Church to open its doors to gay people in a way that normalizes homosexuality if they chose not to. If members of the Church don't like that, they are free to leave.

But the LDS Church goes several steps further and attempts to impose its condemnation of same-sex relationships on the rest of us and actively seeks to deny gay people the rights associated with committed partnerships and parenting. It is a profoundly anti-family position to take, and I'll fight the Church tooth and nail, rhetorically and actively, for as long as I'm able.

Does that make me intolerant?

-L- said...

My my estimation, that doesn't make you intolerant in the least. It makes you a principled and conscientious participant in representative government. It's only if you vilify those who disagree with you and categorically attribute their actions to hate and bigotry that I would say one is intolerant.

BTW, I found this interesting O.S.Card article recently that I liked.

santorio said...

the elder's comments will some day end up in the same dustbin of history in which is found all those general authorities comments about evolution, why blacks couldn't be given the priesthood, the communist roots of the civil rights movement, and so on.

i take seriously comments by g.a.'s and allow them to influence my decisions, but i reserve the right be the final arbiter. it would be easier to travel blindly but that is that not path that i have chosen.

rather than be known as someone who accepted without question every church pronouncement that came my way, i would rather be among those who by expressing objections to wrong practices, deserve credit when those practices change.

Chris said...

It's only if you vilify those who disagree with you and categorically attribute their actions to hate and bigotry that I would say one is intolerant.

Okay. I can agree with that.

But here's the problem, as I see it. You yourself acknowledge that the data, limited though it may be, indicates no harm to children raised by same sex parents, for example. So we can have a discussion that focuses on data and credible anecdotes and can lead us in a certain direction as far as policy goes, but then we invoke the name of God and lurch back the opposite direction. This doesn't seem like a very good way to make public policy in a pluralistic society.

I guess in the end I'm glad I believe in progress (how very Mormon of me!) and I share santorio's faith that one day our children and our children's children will look back at statements like that of Elder Wickman and will be embarrassed by how very out of touch it seems. I wish Elder Wickman and the Church would be content to take care of their flock and not worry about who the rest of us are choosing to build our lives with.

-L- said...

I remember having a family home evening with the mayor of our town when I was a child (his son was one of my playmates). He gave the lesson on how nothing we do in our lives can be said to affect only ourselves. Everything sends out feelers to influence those around us as well. I don't know if that is an idea that is wrapped up in LDS doctrine or not, but it rings true to me. Hence, the idea that religious groups can involve themselves not only in self governance but public policy as well. I've linked before to Elder Oaks' discussion of this.

Although no data has shown a difference between the rearing of children by gay and straight couples, those conclusions have been broadly misinterpreted. There may be endpoints that haven't been measured that are different. There may be a difference that was not statistically significant in the studies in question because of inadequate statistical power. There may be all sorts of methodological problems with the studies (but this may be the least likely of my objections). Ultimately, God knows better than our imperfect scientific models, and there's no reason a religious person shouldn't prefer the information that has come directly from God.

Santorio, I applaud your approach but make no apology for my own. There is specific doctrine about the eternal nature of families in the plan of salvation that persuades me certain pieces of the church's position will never change (as opposed to some of your examples). I don't know whether Elder Wickman's comments are an extension of that or not, but I do know that faith is in some ways by definition "blind," and that it's also the first principle of the gospel. You can't get by without it, and when it's hard to believe something can also be when it's most important. I don't consider the choices I've made or the conclusions I've drawn to be "easy".

Chris said...

Ultimately, God knows better than our imperfect scientific models, and there's no reason a religious person shouldn't prefer the information that has come directly from God.

Which is a horribly frustrating end point for the discussion, and not just for believer vs nonbeliever.

You seem fairly certain to know the mind of God, L, as do many other Latter-day Saints. Of course, this makes sense, as this is the very essence of the unique claims of Mormonism. But, really, are they that unique? Gordon B. Hinckley and his brethren in the leadership of the Church are not the only ones who claim to speak for God and act in his name. How shall we balance the claims of LDS leaders against those of other religious leaders? What makes them qualitatively different? It seems to me that religious people who want their faith to be the primary motivator in informing their policy decisions ought to bring something more to the table than "Because God said so." Because he didn't say so to me!

I hesitate to even engage in this discussion, because it seems doomed to lead to a point of frustration for both of us. If you want to let the leaders of the LDS Church govern the decisions you make for your life and your family, then God speed. I do not. And when their political activity--or that of any religious organization--encroach upon me and my community, I will fight back and I will not take "Because God said so" as an answer that I will accept.

Scot said...

I hesitate to even engage in this discussion, because it seems doomed to lead to a point of frustration for both of us.

Exactly, been here before. I started and decided I best just delete it.

The topic in general is too emotional for me. When people, in their “optimal” families, talk of our “suboptimal” families or how they supernaturally know our children deserve for one of us to be out of their lives and someone else put in, tempers rise quickly, as well as fears.

I can show many categories of families where the data clearly show deficits for children, on average, but for them folks typically do what’s reasonable. They look at the actual family, who may be far more successful than the average. They don’t stop such categories from marriage, as they know that would be hurting families.

Eh, there I go; I need to find a particular state of mind before I can get into this. Best stop again. But one thing:

“I suppose the objection is that recognizing or supporting gay adoption would have the effect of sky-rocketing the number of children being reared by gay partners rather than fathers and mothers”

Gay’s are not disallowed to adopt by law in only one state, Florida. The only other states with restrictions, I know of, are Utah and Mississippi. But gays adopt in Utah all the time. The deal is they can only do so when they are single; they can’t have two parents. I don’t know if this was the impression you, L, were under, but it’s a common and promoted notion that new “radical” laws are allowing gays to adopt and we need to stop them. No new law is needed to allow the “sky-rocketing” of adoption by same-sex couples.

And again, the states with the highest percentage of gay couple headed households also raising children from the 2000 census are:

Lesbian headed families:
1. Mississippi, at 44 percent
2. Utah and South Dakota, both at 42 percent
3. Texas, at 41 percent

Gay male headed families:
1. South Dakota, at 33 percent
2. Mississippi, at 31 percent
3. Utah and Idaho, both at 30 percent

Maybe the LDS church is secretly working to promote such ;-).

Florida’s Miami-Dade county is the 9th in all of the US counties in the number of such families. So what’s the rational behind the push for restrictions on our families? People seem to just go and make homes and raise children regardless of governmental regulation of families. Why not help instead of legally hobble them?

I fear to get what they want they’ll have to become far more draconian.

What a long comment for what I intended to be only the 1st paragraph… :-)

-L- said...

While I can't guarantee I'll be able to mitigate any hurt feelings, I'll try to be as diplomatic as possible.

Chris, you've said, "It is a profoundly anti-family position to take, and I'll fight the Church tooth and nail, rhetorically and actively, for as long as I'm able." To which I replied that I think this is not intolerant but appropriate and admirable. Of course, that means I believe the same about anyone who is fighting any perceived anti-family position, including members of the church following God or members of other church's following their own beliefs. Just because you believe we are NOT following God doesn't eliminate my right and even my responsibility to pursue the public policy that I believe is best for our society. You've said, "This doesn't seem like a very good way to make public policy in a pluralistic society." But I say this is the ONLY way to make public policy in a pluralistic society.

Scot, my comment about gay couples adopting and possible objections was admittedly grasping at straws. I don't understand what the church thinks would be the adverse effects on society. So I speculate. I hope I wasn't too offensive as I am eager to mention that the pair of twins I've heard about from one gay couple in SLC sound like about the best raised kids society could ever ask for. It's not about specific families being optimal or suboptimal but about probability trends across entire populations. That's a hard distinction when we're all so personally invested here, and I appreciate both your views and your restraint in discussing this topic.

Chris said...

Just because you believe we are NOT following God doesn't eliminate my right and even my responsibility to pursue the public policy that I believe is best for our society.

Of course not, and I've never suggested any such thing. The thing is, L, I don't really care what you believe about God. I don't know if you're following his will or not. It's not my concern until your religious beliefs infringe upon my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.


But I say this is the ONLY way to make public policy in a pluralistic society.

Democracy is the worse form of government--except for all the others.

Look, as I've said before, I've never suggested that people with religious viewpoints shouldn't be allowed to let their faith inform their politics and the policy positions. But when their faith is either a) enshrined into law or b) used to deny rights to others, then we've got a problem. I believe we are teetering very close to that, especially as our understanding of the nature of sexual orientation expands.

And I'll repeat what I said before: I would never advocate forcing Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, Jews or Muslims or anyone else to perform gay marriages or change their doctrines or practices regarding homosexuality. I'll state out of church business. I'd appreciate it if churches would stay out of mine.

-L- said...

Well, indeed I wouldn't find anyone's appeal to God to be persuasive in a public policy debate. That's why I wouldn't present my opinions as such, but rather I would present the rationale and data that support the conclusion I've already reached based on my faith.

I'm not in favor of a theocracy either. And despite the alarm at conservative Christians, I don't think there's much danger of that.

The aim of government should be to balance rights between individuals and society and often that involves restricting freedoms in a way that individuals feel is unfair and infringes on their right to pursue happiness (just ask the patients I see who are convinced their children will get autism from the vaccinations they are required by law to have). Again, that's part of that package deal of democracy.

Chris said...

Again, that's part of that package deal of democracy.

Fortunately, in democracies we've seen a continuous march toward greater freedom. We shall overcome.

Scot said...

"It's not about specific families being optimal or suboptimal but about probability trends across entire populations."

I have to disagree. To me, that seems like the public reason, the PC reason created and disseminated by think tanks or something :-). I watched that reason tested with others over the years and that one came out near the top; it resonated best in the heat of this debate and some variant of it was put in many of the commercials I saw. Most people just like to be implied into the optimal parents category; can’t blame them.

But it’s not the real answer; it can’t be. Again, I can point out many categories of people, couples that have children with statistically significant deficits, some pretty serious, some life threatening. Such is simply not there for gay parents. I don’t want to mention them in particular, as I’d fear inadvertently disparaging them as we are, unfairly and by bias. Judging the individual by the average may be efficient, but it’s wrong. In such cases most people know it’s wrong, and no one would ever try to stop such couples from marriage.

Also, there are so many children in need of adoption single people are allowed to do it all the time. In Utah, single gays can do it, but not couples. Yet no one is out there trying to stop single parents from adopting (thank goodness). I doubt it’s your position that one person on average raises a child as well asn two. So, why no push to stop them from adoption? If it’s just that they are given less priority, then why no similar model for gays, even if some average difference was shown?

Rebecca said...

I had a professor in college tell us that you can't argue with faith. There is no logic in faith (as much as a lot of people try to make it seem logical), so you will never win in an argument based on faith. The other person will simply say "That is what I believe because I think it's God's will," and there really isn't anything you can say to that. There just isn't. So my totally unsolicited two cents is that this entire discussion is fruitless and - yeah, I'll say it - stupid. We all know the arguments on both sides. There might be tiny snippets of info we weren't aware of, but is that going to change anyone's mind?

"Oh, but we're having an intellectual debate!" Yeah, right. This looks suspiciously like a "Look how big my logic is" pissing contest.

Chris said...

I had a professor in college tell us that you can't argue with faith. There is no logic in faith (as much as a lot of people try to make it seem logical), so you will never win in an argument based on faith. The other person will simply say "That is what I believe because I think it's God's will," and there really isn't anything you can say to that.

Rebecca, you're right in one sense. But as long as people use their faith to inform decisions about how I can live my life, I have no choice but to try.

Many people of faith will also argue that all of us ultimately have faith in something that guides us, so we are all acting on faith.

Chris said...

Scot wrote: I have to disagree.

So do I. I have yet to encounter an argument against same-sex marriage that doesn't begin with a religious or moral objection to homosexuality. I think Scot is right. Talk of trends and probabilities across populations is primarily used as a tool of political communication, not careful policy analysis.

L admitted that this is his approach as well when he wrote: "...I wouldn't find anyone's appeal to God to be persuasive in a public policy debate. That's why I wouldn't present my opinions as such, but rather I would present the rationale and data that support the conclusion I've already reached based on my faith."

Religious faith that homosexuality is wrong/sinful/morally unacceptable is the starting point, not data or projected trends across populations.

-L- said...

No diabolical think tank disseminating going on here, Scot, it's just the thoughts coming out of my own brain.

Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but it's hard to convey that when most people see no adverse effects. A single person smoking is less likely to get lung cancer than they are to never get lung cancer. By a lot. But biostatistically speaking, the behavior of an entire population of smokers results in huge loss of life--lots of cancers. So, we make public policy decisions like excise taxes and regulated advertising--hotly contested measures in their own rite--based on the enormous public health benefits that come therefrom. This, of course, makes for a lot of really angry victimized smokers. But it also saves lives and benefits society. This is my explanation of public health vs. individual health, not asserting evidence for risks associated with gay parents or marriage. We've already made the rounds regarding evidence (the lack thereof vs. the inconclusive nature of science) for gay marriage and parenting and it ends where I've already explained--each person free to come to the conclusion they believe to be true based on the evidence they find persuasive (including scientific evidence, personal social experiences, and perhaps supernatural evidence). That's free society for you.

Chris: Religious faith that homosexuality is wrong/sinful/morally unacceptable is the starting point, not data or projected trends across populations.

Yes, for me, anyway. That isn't necessarily the case for all people of faith who object to gay marriages though. And despite where the starting point is, I believe that correctly executed studies measuring certain endpoints would indeed demonstrate differences between gay and straight parents across populations. So despite my religiously informed position and the fact that I think Scot is a pretty darn great parent, I still believe the secularly and independently best public policy is the one the church recommends.

Now, Scot, whether divorce is a bigger problem or single parents or [insert horrible social issue here], it doesn't change the fact that gay marriage needs to be given consideration. NOW. As soon as there are referendums on the ballot to disallow singles from adopting I'll be giving it careful consideration. As soon as the First Presidency advocates a policy position based on The Proclamation on the Family in some other arena, I'll be there thinking about and probably writing about it too. If the inclination strikes me in the mean time, maybe I'll think about those things before then.

Lest you think I'm a dispassionate tyrant (and that this discussion is only for show, Rebecca), I absolutely do wrestle with this. I see all sorts of rhetorical similarities to propaganda and historical examples of oppressed minorities. And perhaps owing only to your collective courtesy (but unnecessarily), nobody has contrasted my situation with gay parents. Despite statistical claims that marriages like mine result in divorce and all the associated trauma for children (across populations, of course!), I vehemently claim my individual right to marry and raise children as I see fit. I'm not unaware, is all I'm saying.

But I still fully and, umm, ardently believe the church to be led by God. That you can never argue with a religious principle based on faith is not categorically true. My faith is subject to review and evidence just like everything else, and I approach it with logic (and I know what logic is).

Thanks for all the comments.

Chris said...

I still believe the secularly and independently best public policy is the one the church recommends.

I take you at your word, but it has struck me before that you only believe it to be the best public policy because it is the LDS Church recommending it.

That you can never argue with a religious principle based on faith is not categorically true. My faith is subject to review and evidence just like everything else, and I approach it with logic (and I know what logic is).

Would you be willing to elaborate on this? The arguing with a religious principle based on faith seems to me to be primarily about how to interpret God's will, but it still comes down to "That's what God says." I don't know how you can debate an issue when one side invokes God's will. The discussion is over at that point.

-L- said...

If it's okay with you, I'll make that a subject for another post. ;-) Sounds long.

Chris said...

Sure

Scot said...

“This is my explanation of public health vs. individual health, not asserting evidence for risks associated with gay parents or marriage.”

I understand that, even in this topic that loves misunderstanding.

First, I don’t think you part of some nefarious organization and certainly you could have come to the same conclusion on the best argument on your own, but, on the large scale, this is a think take product. It was tested among other options, judged, adds were changed and the talking points disseminated without much subtlety; I watched it happen here as pretty clearly. It’s just easy for people to enjoy being in the optimal category, and to feel pity for other’s children, who “deserve” parents more like them.

The “but on average” sooths some but I hope you can see why it’s still an insult and threat. After all, my family is not being treated according to its actions; we’re treated according to our sex and the supposed average actions of people like us.

As soon as there are referendums on the ballot to disallow singles from adopting I'll be giving it careful consideration.

But that’s my point. You’ll not see referendums on the ballot forbidding, say, two people carrying cf genes from marriage, or other people in certain other biological, social, etc. categories from marriage. Even though we can show in undisputed data they on average produce children with very real deficits; on average they go against public health more than the average union. I could show you many such “suboptimal” parents by such definition, and that argument would be far stronger against their unions than it is against gay couples, but it’d still be weak enough for near no one to consider it in public policy.

For a simple example, Caucasian children have had higher odds of dying between the ages of 1 and 4 than Asian children for over a decade. The leading cause of death for such children is accident. Even if Caucasians were in the minority and Asians in the majority no one would be keeping Caucasians from marriage or adoption, despite their obvious lack of care for their children’s lives ;-).

I absolutely do wrestle with this.

I know. I have to have some reason to still like ya. :-p

Mary said...

I think that it impossible to empirically determine whether or not having gay parents harms a child. There are too many variables. The way a child is raised by his or her parents depends on the nature of those parents but it also depends on how culturally acceptable it is to have parents who are gay. If everyone in the community shuns the child because of the sexual orientation of his or her parents then the union harms the child but certainly not because the parents were terrible.

When it comes to the morality of Gay marriage itself I think that the passage about Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis can be interpreted two ways. One can either argue God doesn't like homosexuality or he disapproves of rape. Either way both would have been destructive to the ancient family society. Homosexuality prevents having more children, which is necessary for the continuation of the race and rape breaks social ties of trust within a community.

I think that allowing gay couples to adopt children is practically more sensible than allowing them to live without parents at all. Morals should make practical sense. Otherwise they are useless in guiding lives.