Same-Sex Marriage: Calling BS on the Religious Freedom Argument

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We all know the game.  It’s called CHEAT in Britain, BULLSHIT in the U.S. (or sometimes, in more restrained circles, I DOUBT IT).  You start with a standard pack of 52 cards.  You deal out all the cards and then take turns discarding–the first player starts by discarding aces, then the second player discards twos, the next player, threes, etc.  Cards are discarded face down and the player announces how many of that particular card they’re laying down.  Players are free to bluff (in fact, that’s the point of the game).  If a player suspects that another player is bluffing, he (or she) blurts out BULLSHIT (or the equivalent) and the discarded cards are exposed.  If the player is caught bluffing, then he picks up the entire discard pile and play resumes.  If the accuser is incorrect, then he (or she) picks up the discard pile.  Play continues until a player discards all of his or her cards (and survives a challenge, if any, on his or her final play).

It’s a fun game.  At least it looks fun in the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (starring Kate Hudson & Matthew McConaughey).  If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s not bad–and there’s  a great scene of a family game of BULLSHIT.

So let’s play the game in another context–the context of the same-sex marriage debate.  I’m going to pick on the Mormon church because I’m Mormon, although this argument has been utilized in various forms by nearly every conservative denomination that opposes same-sex marriage.

The following excerpt is from an address by a Mormon apostle, Russell M. Nelson, to a group of church members in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 10, 2010:

“If civil law were altered to recognize so-called “same-gender” marriage, you as believers in God, and keepers of His commandments, would then be regarded as exceptions to the rule. Your conscientious convictions would then be regarded as discriminatory. If you were a Christian school teacher, you could be charged with bigotry for upholding the Lord’s law of chastity. In truth dear brothers and sisters, if you lose marriage, you also lose freedom of religion. Atheistic moral bedlam and religious repression go hand in hand. At stake is our ability to transmit to the next generation the life-giving and inseparable culture of marriage and the free exercise of religion.”

Here is a link to a more thorough summary: http://newsroom.lds.org/blog/2010/06/apostle-talks-religious-freedom-to-boston-youth.html.

So, let’s play.

First sentence:

If civil law were altered to recognize so-called “same-gender” marriage, you as believers in God, and keepers of His commandments, would then be regarded as exceptions to the rule.

Let’s break this down.  If civil law is changed to accommodate same-sex marriage, then those who hold religious beliefs that differ from civil law will be regarded as “exceptions to the rule.”  All right.  Fair enough.  I’m not sure what he means by “exceptions to the rule,” but I’m guessing that he means that religious folks: 1) may hold views that differ from civil law,  2) that these differences may be obvious to observers, and 3) believers will therefore be viewed as “exceptions” to general norms.  This seems straight forward enough.  I have Jewish friends that are kosher–they are certainly ”exceptions to the general rule.”  Mormons don’t drink coffee (or at least “good” Mormons don’t)–they’re ”exceptions to the general rule.”

It turns out that people believe all sorts of things that aren’t reflected in the civil code.  There are still “whites-only” country clubs (e.g. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8618572).  There are white supremacist groups (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Aryan_Resistance; click here for a list of groups).  There are numerous examples of people and institutions that hold beliefs that do not correspond with the civil code.  There are numerous examples of “exceptions to the rule.”

Back to the main argument–if the civil code is changed to acco­mmo­date same-sex marriage, then the Mormon belief that same-sex marriage is inherently wrong will no longer be reflected in the law, and the Mormon church would, along with numerous other conservative denominations, became ”exceptions to the rule” for continuing to hold such beliefs.  Okay, I think we’re good to this point.  I’m not sure where he’s going, but I think I follow his argument so far.

Next sentence.

Your conscientious convictions would then be regarded as discriminatory.

Hmm.  Okay.  But what’s the point here?  I already think–and so do a lot of other people–that opposing same-sex marriage is discriminatory.  Whether it’s part of the civil code or not doesn’t really matter.  Some people believe that abortion is murder.  Whether or not it’s legal doesn’t change people’s opinions.  I have quite a few friends that believe drinking coffee is sinful.  So what?  The point is the civil code isn’t designed to reflect particular religious beliefs–nor should it be.  I believe that “whites-only” country clubs are an embarrassment and a disgrace–but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be illegal.

I agree that if cultural norms shift to acco­mmo­date same-sex marriage, then those that insist on labeling same-sex relationships as immoral or sinful will be viewed as “discriminatory.”  It’s the same with folks that insist on using the “N” word–it might have been okay 50 years ago in certain company, but it’s not okay today.  So if cultural norms shift and we (Mormons, religious conservatives, etc.) don’t alter our beliefs in lock-step, we risk being labeled “discriminatory.”  But I’m calling BULLSHIT on the connection between changes in civil law and whether or not we are labeled “discriminatory.”  What matters are cultural norms and beliefs–if those shift and we don’t, then we’ll be called “discriminatory.”  Whether or not the law is changed is mostly irrelevant–it’s the shift in cultural norms and beliefs that matters.

Next sentence:

If you were a Christian school teacher, you could be charged with bigotry for upholding the Lord’s law of chastity.

BULLSHIT.  This has very little to do with the same-sex marriage debate.  Let’s make a short list of the things a “Mormon” school teacher can’t do:

1) Teach kids that they are sinning against God if they have premarital sex,
2) Teach kids that if they masturbate, they are sinning against God,
3) Teach kids that interracial marriage is sinning against God,
4) Teach kids that drinking coffee is sinning against God, etc.

It would be very easy to list 50 things that a “Mormon” school teacher shouldn’t be teaching.  I’ve narrowed this to a “Mormon” school teacher, but the argument is the same for a “Christian” school teacher.  The “Christian” school teacher should not be teaching his or her pupils to worship Jesus, pay tithing, abstain from premarital sex, etc.  The reasons for this are obvious–schools are public institutions and should not be used as a forum for private religious beliefs.  If you’re a Christian, would you want your daughter’s second grade Muslim teacher discussing passages from the Koran in the classroom?

It doesn’t matter whether or not the civil code is changed to acco­mmo­date same-sex marriage, I don’t want my kids’ teachers sharing their personal religious beliefs.  It doesn’t matter whether or not those religious beliefs pertain to premarital sex, masturbation, tithing, coffee, Twinkies, or homosexuality.  It’s inappropriate.

So, right now, today, if you are a “Christian” teacher and you walk into a classroom and tell your pupils that premarital sex is wrong because God says so, you will probably get fired (and you should).  The assertion that if same-sex marriage were legal, this would suddenly change is BULLSHIT.  “Christian” teachers are already prevented (fortunately) from teaching the “Lord’s law of chastity” in the classroom.

Next sentence:

In truth dear brothers and sisters, if you lose marriage, you also lose freedom of religion.

BULLSHIT.  I’m not even sure what this means.  Mormons believe that drinking alcohol is a sin.  There was a time when this was reflected in the civil code (during Prohibition).  When Prohibition ended–i.e. when the civil code was amended to acco­mmo­date the consumption of alcohol–did we lose our freedom of religion?  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations–did white supremacists lose their right to promote their beliefs?  Did “whites-only” country clubs lose their ability to discriminate?  Both white supremacists groups and “whites-only” country clubs are doing just fine (unfortunately).  There are robust freedom of religion (and freedom of association) protections that maintain enough space for private beliefs and practices.  What is being debated in the case of same-sex marriage is ”public” acco­mmo­dation.  We are debating how to make a public institution as fair, open, and as inclusive as public institutions should be.

It is ironic that this address was delivered in Massachusetts.  Here is a quote from a Facebook discussion:  “Marriage equality has been law in Massachusetts for five years now.  Numbers of forced gay weddings in the [Mormon temple in Boston]: Zero. Number of [Mormon] leaders arrested in Massachusetts for preaching church doctrine on homosexuality: Zero.”

The idea that accommodating same-sex marriage in the civil code is going to undermine freedom of religion is a very difficult argument to make–and it has very little, if any, grounding in historical precedent or contemporary reality.  It is an argument designed to scare people–to make them feel personally threatened–so they’ll support particular policies.

Last two sentences:

Atheistic moral bedlam and religious repression go hand in hand.  At stake is our ability to transmit to the next generation the life-giving and inseparable culture of marriage and the free exercise of religion.”

Complete BULLSHIT.  It is discouraging to see these kinds of arguments from a respected church leader–a church leader that I suspect (or at least I hope) knows better.  I’m not sure what “atheistic moral bedlam” is exactly, but it sounds scary.  Is it “atheistic moral bedlam” to give individuals the opportunity to participate in a legally-binding public institution that allows them to commit to mutual support and companionship in loving, long-term relationships?  What I wish would go hand-in-hand (but rarely seems to these days) is the profession of Christian beliefs and the actual practice of the kind of unconditional acceptance, tolerance, and love that Jesus exemplified.

Let’s focus on the last sentence.  In a previous post on same-sex marriage (see http://wisdomlikeastone.com/04/05/seven-dumb-arguments/), I talked about a friend that made a similar argument.  My friend claimed that his freedom to identify same-sex relationships as “unnatural” or “wicked” would be undermined by the legalization of same-sex marriage.  He makes a good point.  After all, his freedom to use terms like “darkie” or “jigaboo” or “spear-chucker” has already been severely constrained by progressive social norms, so taking away his ability to use the term “rump-ranger” in the checkout line at the local grocer may break him. Maybe with a little prayer and fasting, he’ll accept the societal yoke of mutual respect and common decency? There’s always hope, anyway.

The argument made in the last sentence is almost identical to the argument made by my friend.  The general idea is that we need to be able to teach our kids that homosexuality is wicked and sinful (regardless of the immediate human cost), otherwise we may not be able to pass down the “inseparable” institutions of marriage and religion.  First, the institutions of marriage and religion aren’t inseparable (in Europe, for example–marriage is a civil institution that is almost entirely divorced from the practice of religion–and it’s doing just fine).  Second, intolerance and discrimination are not essential ingredients for either marriage or religion.  At least I hope not.

Let’s expect better from our religious leaders.  And if we don’t get it, let’s not be afraid to call BULLSHIT.  It’s a fun game, regardless of the context.

About the author

Brent D. Beal is an associate professor of management in the College of Business and Technology at the University of Texas at Tyler. In his spare time, he enjoys debating religious and political issues, reading and writing short stories, playing Scrabble, and hanging out with his wife and their three kids.

37 Comments

  1. Ziff says:

    Great points! I particularly like this one:

    I’m call­ing BULLSHIT on the con­nec­tion between changes in civil law and whether or not we are labeled “dis­crim­i­na­tory.” What mat­ters are cul­tural norms and beliefs–if those shift and we don’t, then we’ll be called “dis­crim­i­na­tory.” Whether or not the law is changed is mostly irrelevant–it’s the shift in cul­tural norms and beliefs that matters.

    I’d never seen it explained quite this way. I think this is an excellent point. The norms shift and what’s labeled as discriminatory shifts, and it doesn’t much matter whether the law follows the norms immediately or not.

    Reply
  2. Amy says:

    O ye of little faith if you do not believe that our prophets and apostles are inspired by God. You have your right to believe what you want, but if you were a “good” Mormon, you wouldn’t be publicly dragging the Church into your lack of prophetic conviction. In our Church, we raise our arms to the square to support our leaders. Did you do this during the last general/stake/ward conference you went to? Are you supporting them with this message now?

    Reply
  3. Derek says:

    Very shrewdly hit all the nail right on the head. I’m so tired of the darkly and unwittingly ironic way religious freedom has been the rationalization for limiting religious freedom.

    Reply
    • Bitherwack says:

      Another juicy bit of irony for you Derek,

      Elder Packer’s opinion about the biological and genetic aspects of homosexuality won’t change reality any more than a vote can “repeal the law of gravity.”

      Fact: Homosexuality is a fact of nature. Yes, Heavenly Father created homosexual people and animals. There is a determinative genetic aspect to homosexuality. Are you being ironic when you use one scientific fact (gravity) to prove another scientific fact (the cause of genes on sexual orientation.)

      So far as I know, there is no “Mormon Gene”. Mormonism is a lifestyle choice.
      Elder Packer isn’t a Mormon (remember, there are no nouns, only adjectives) he only does mormon things.

      I’m concerned that Packer’s talk might be a form of aversion therapy. His gay bashing is making the church less and less palatable.

  4. Theron Stanford says:

    “the kind of uncon­di­tional accep­tance, tol­er­ance, and love that Jesus exemplified.”

    Jesus exemplified no such thing. The New Testament makes that clear.

    Reply
    • fiona64 says:

      Rabbi Yeshua ben Yussef commanded very few things of his followers:

      – Feed the hungry
      – Comfort the afflicted (the ill)
      – Love your neighbor as yourself.

      That last one right there? That’s unconditional acceptance, tolerance and love.

      I’m just sayin’ …

  5. Aaron says:

    Let’s pretend a wedding photographer thinks same-sex marriage is immoral based on religious convictions. A same-sex couple wants to hire the photographer to shoot their commitment ceremony, but the photographer (very politely) says no. The couple sues under antidiscrimination laws and wins.

    This scenario actually happened in New Mexico.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91486340&ft=1&f=1070

    Are you okay with that? I’m not. It might feel great to be flippantly dismissive of the idea that religious freedoms could be overwhelmed in the push for same-sex marriage, but it’s happening. Read the NPR article I linked for multiple examples. In these examples, some limitations on religious rights are justified, but many are not.

    Your argument here amounts to, “Pfft. As if this would ever happen.” The evidence so far already shows that you’re wrong.

    Personally, I think that the desire of same-sex couples to enjoy the rights of marriage is justified. But, I also think that religiously committed people or organizations shouldn’t be required to support it.

    This article explains the issue nicely, including the opportunity to find a middle ground:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/us/23beliefs.html?_r=2

    Also, just because a person considers homosexual sex immoral doesn’t make them equivalent to a racist that throws around words like “jigaboo”. (Hint: A Christian can love the sinner and hate the sin, but he can’t love the black man and hate his “blackness.”) In fact, the way you put it makes you look pretty disingenuous about all of this.

    PS – You can’t honestly believe that the law has no influence on cultural norms. If that were the case, you’re basically saying that Brown v. Board of Education was no big deal culturally.

    Reply
    • fiona64 says:

      Um, Aaron?

      If someone is offering services to the public, they do not get to discriminate. If that photographer only wants to photograph Christian, opposite-sex weddings, he or she should take down his shingle from the public square and only advertise his or her services to his church.

      You might want to look up the Unruh act.

      BTW, that “Love the sinner and hate the sin” thing? It’s not a Christian quote. It’s from a Hindu of whom you may have hard: Mahatma Gandhi. He also, notably, said, “I love your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so very different from your Christ.”

  6. BD Beal says:

    Amy, one of my points is that we should examine what our religious leaders say and call them on things we don’t agree with. I don’t agree that accommodating same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom. I think that’s a fear-based argument that is counter-productive and used with the intent of emotionally manipulating people into needlessly discriminating. I don’t think that members of the church should reflexively agree with everything church leaders say, particularly when they are expressing their own opinions and views.

    Reply
  7. BD Beal says:

    Theron, looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree–I’ve read the New Testament, and Jesus was a radical in terms of acceptance and tolerance (in contrast to the God of the Old Testament). Jesus was a liberal and a progressive in almost every sense of those words.

    Reply
  8. BD Beal says:

    Aaron, I’ve seen these lists of “incidents” before. As was the case with the Civil Rights movement, there will be some contested domain between the public and private spheres. For example, lunch counters were “forced” to serve black customers. I happen to think that was good for society. In the case of same-sex marriage, there will be similar cases. A business, for example, that markets to the general public may be required to serve individuals regardless of sexual orientation or marriage status–and I don’t have a problem with that. That doesn’t mean the sky is falling or that religious freedom is being abridged–it just means that we are setting some ground rules for behavior in the public sphere. I think society will be better off when people are treated fairly and uniformly regardless of sexual orientation or marriage status.

    Reply
  9. reader Rachel says:

    Great post.

    “If you were a Christian school teacher, you could be charged with bigotry for upholding the Lord’s law of chastity.”

    My thought on reading this was that the proposed change in the law in no way would prevent anyone from living the law of chastity. Wouldn’t the most important part of upholding the “Lord’s law of chastity” be living a personally chaste life?

    Reply
  10. BD Beal says:

    I think the comparison between skin color and sexual orientation is accurate. Most people do not “choose” their sexual orientation (so if God doesn’t want gay people–he should stop making them). We’re going to have to agree to disagree on the idea that you can “love” the individual, but “hate” the sin–you can’t do that, in my opinion, when the “sin” is an essential part of who a person is. What if your parents called you in and told you that they loved you, but then told you that they hated your “heterosexual” tendencies (assuming you are heterosexual)? It just doesn’t work. And I believe there is a rough equivalence between racial discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation–in each case, individuals have no choice about the matter, they just are who they are. Thinking about same-sex attraction as “sin” makes as much sense as thinking about skin color as “sin.” We’ve already been down that path with skin color (i.e. Spencer W. Kimball openly equated light skin with spiritual purity or righteousness, and even commented in conference on how the skin of native americans became lighter after joining the church). Fortunately, we’ve pulled back from the righteousness-equals-light-skin precipice. I’m hoping we do the same with sexual orientation.

    Reply
  11. Kaimi says:

    Aaron,

    The NM photographer case is a red herring in the marriage discussion because *New Mexico is not a same-sex marriage state.*

    Gays cannot marry in New Mexico. What happened in New Mexico is *not* about legal recognition of gay marriage. It’s the NM antidiscrimination law that was at issue in that case.

    Now, one can argue — and it appears that you are arguing — that antidiscrimination laws should be limited or have religious exemptions. That’s a reasonable thing to suggest. Various people have made suggestions along those lines.

    But California’s _Marriage Cases_ decision did not affect those laws. Prop 8 had no legal effect on California’s Unruh law. The two issues — marriage equality and antidiscrimination law — are not the same thing, and are not linked legally. The purported connections between marriage equality and religious oppression are bullshit.

    Otherwise, you’re arguing that New Mexico’s laws on gay marriage are wrong and should be changed. In which case, they’d better adopt marriage equality.

    Reply
  12. Dan G says:

    BD, nice post. You make some excellent points. I will add a small disagreement on this point:

    “Whether or not the law is changed is mostly irrelevant–it’s the shift in cul tural norms and beliefs that matters.”

    I don’t think a change in the law is irrelevant. I think such changes are sometimes necessary to usher in a large-scale shift in cultural norms and beliefs. Civil Rights legislation is a good case in point, as the law was first enacted at a time when polls showed that the general public highly dis-favored it. Opinion had begun to shift before, but it required a law that prevented out-right discrimination to force people to come face-to-face with their fears, and learn they were largely unfounded. This was also key in getting the LDS Church to end its own discriminatory policy regarding the Priesthood Ban, though it admittedly took some years for that to filter down.

    I think the same will happen with same-sex marriage. As more states legalize, and people learn that the sky will not indeed fall as a result, attitudes will change rather quickly. We are already seeing this take place, and it will only accelerate from here.

    I think Nelson’s comments regarding “exceptions to the rule” reflect those of someone living in a situation where his religious beliefs DO reflect the majority opinion. Maybe the senior LDS leaders should try branching out and living in areas where Mormons are already a distinct minority, in order to realize that one can maintain any religious belief and practice they want to without it being reflected in public law or community norms. I hereby nominate Elder Packer for a townhouse in Berkeley. Perhaps the Church can pour in some of the City Creek returns to gentrify that neighborhood a bit….

    Reply
    • BD Beal says:

      Thanks for the comment. You’re right–the law isn’t irrelevant. I was just trying to make the point that what really matters, in a sense, is what people think–so if changing the law ends up shaping cultural norms, then great (and I think you’re right about how changes in the law can bring this about). I completely agree on putting Elder Packer up in Berkeley–can we specifically designate donations for that? To be fair, though, he seems to have softened up a bit the last couple years (or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention).

  13. Dan G says:

    “I completely agree on putting Elder Packer up in Berkeley–can we specif i cally designate donations for that? To be fair, though, he seems to have softened up a bit the last couple years (or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention)”

    True enough. Elder Bednar, then. He will certainly see enough multiple piercings to realize that an extra pair of danglers are hardly Satan’s call: http://speeches.byu.edu/htmlfiles/Bednar_David_05_2005.html

    Reply
  14. Chris says:

    well said Brent, well said.

    I am a big fan of the card game, especially if you get to yell BULLSHIT really loud. I think I like this game even more in real life, though yelling BULLSHIT in public might be a bit awkward. Nonetheless, you’re calling it like it should be called.

    Reply
  15. Hal says:

    When I first learned how to play the card game as a kid, I really thought it was fun. But when my kids recently reintroduced it to me, it just didn’t seem as much fun as it used to be.

    But other than that, I loved the article.

    Reply
  16. Randy B. says:

    Nice write up. It’s spot on.

    Reply
  17. Aaron says:

    First, BD, I think it’s important to stay on the topic of your original argument. You insist that fear about religious freedom in the face of gay marriage is BS. It isn’t. And the law *absolutely* shapes the cultural treatment of religious belief in this regard. You’ll fare better in promoting gay rights by respecting that rather than ridiculing it.

    I agree with you that there’s a balance between private rights to marriage and private rights to religion. But many advocates of gay marriage don’t see it as a balance. Why should a wedding photographer be required to breach religious beliefs, but asking a gay couple to choose a different photographer is an illegal travesty? **Religious belief isn’t fungible.** When we treat it that way, we justify all other kinds of bigotry.

    —-

    In reply to your replies, you need to be more precise in your language. I never said that same-sex *attraction* is sinful. The LDS church doesn’t say that either. Their official policy is covered thoroughly here:

    http://www.lds.org/topics/pdf/GodLovethHisChildren_04824_000.pdf (PDF link)

    PS – Just because someone doesn’t *think* you love them doesn’t change the fact that you do. God loves plenty of people who think that He hates them.

    Reply
    • BD Beal says:

      Aaron, so what’s wrong with asking blacks to find another lunch counter? Maybe one in their “own” neighborhood? This is a gray area that is still being fought over nearly 50 years after the 1964 Civil Right act (see Rand Paul’s recent comments). Regardless of precisely where this line is drawn, I believe all citizens should have equal access to the marriage institution. We aren’t going to agree on the reality of the threat to “religious freedom.” I believe that expanding marriage to include same-sex couples will have about as much impact on religious freedom as repealing Prohibition (that is, almost none), or about as much impact as it’s had in Massachusetts (that is, almost none).

  18. D. Fletcher says:

    Still unspoken (and perhaps unrealized) is that Mormons and other groups who oppose gay marriage from a religious viewpoint, are primarily opposed to homosexuality, period. Gay activists have focused on the legalization of gay marriage (though in the 70s, perhaps the “centerpiece” of the gay revolution, philosophically, meant that sex could be had with little restriction or commitment) as a way to force the rest of the world to deal with the ongoing fact of gay people. There are many other ways that gays are being discriminated against, and legalized marriage won’t change these things. Mormons don’t want gay marriage because they think that means lots of people (more than now) will choose to be homosexuals. It’s just ridiculous, but that’s really at the heart of this. Legalized gay marriage will not end discrimination toward gay people, but it won’t make for more gay people either.

    Reply
    • Bitherwack says:

      True, D. Fletcher.

      You say, “Legalized gay marriage will not end discrimination toward gay people, but it won’t make for more gay people either.”

      Actually, ironically, If they don’t legalize gay marriage, and make homosexuality more socially acceptable, there will continue to be more closeted gays marrying for cover, and mixing their gay genes into the gene pool. Oddly enough, it should be the most homophobic people to advocate gay marriage as a form of quarantine. The more gay marriages, the more happy relationships, the fewer broken ‘mixed orientation’ couples.

      In other words, it they legalized gay marriage, the result will be that there will be fewer gays.

  19. Troy M. says:

    Brent,

    I have read a few of your posts and though I disagree, at least, in part with a number of the points you make, I do appreciate the academic and candid manner in which you address such significant and divisive topics. I believe that civil discourse such as this is critical for the individuals jumping on both bandwagons to educate themselves on the actual issues and to learn to participate in a meaningful way in the debate. I do have to say though that calling the words of an apostle “BS”, while very effective within the scope of the post, detracts from the overall effectiveness of the piece from a rhetorical standpoint, as it will likely immediately alienate the vast majority of the potential audience that needs to read and understand your valid points. As a result, the majority of people who read and actually think this all the way through will probably be people who already mostly agree with you. In other words, you will be left preaching to the choir, which doesn’t move anything along in the debate.

    That being said, I wanted to address a few of the issues you raise here. First, with regard to your problems with Elder Nelson’s statement that if the law changes “Your con­sci­en­tious con­vic­tions would then be regarded as discriminatory”, I think that you’ve only identified half of the effect of that statement. You allege that “Whether or not the law is changed is mostly irrelevant–it’s the shift in cul­tural norms and beliefs that matters.” While you are correct that the change in norms and beliefs is what determines both the law and whether you are labeled as “discriminatory”, you are missing the fact that when progressive societal norms enact or change laws regarding any religion related issue, there is the very real possibility of civil and/or criminal liability for exercising religious beliefs. One need look no further for an example of this problem than the Mormons’ own history of polygamy. Regardless of whether is was proper to abolish the practice under the law or whether the practice was ever moral or justifiable in the first place (that’s another debate), the bottom line was that society deemed that exercise of religion unacceptable and it was then criminalized.

    You have seized upon Elder Nelson’s example of a school teacher being charged with bigotry or discrimination, which I agree is not a good example. The examples you cited from Facebook that no Mormon Temple has been forced to perform gay marriage and no church leader has been arrested for teaching anti-homosexual doctrine are duly noted. However, the obvious response to that is simply that there have been no mandates or penalties YET. As we have both acknowledged, laws change based on societal norms and the possibility that mandates and penalties could be enacted does exist. It’s the continuing evolution of societal norms regarding homosexual marriage and the possibility of new laws that worry church leaders about the future and cause them to oppose the change from the start. However, there are already a number of contexts which exist now in which exercising your religious beliefs regarding gay marriage could lead to an individual being charged under the law for discrimination (e.g. not offering married housing to a married gay couple, refusing to marry a gay couple, etc.) Being simply labeled “discriminatory” under societal norms is one thing but being labeled discriminatory under the law is another when it could get you some jail time, cost you your job or cause you to incur serious fines. I am not debating one way or the other whether those penalties are correct in the examples listed. I am simply pointing out that being labeled discriminatory in such contexts can be an effective restriction on the exercise of religion as Elder Nelson suggested. So again he is not completely spitting out BS here.

    I can see why you take issue with the vague and overarching generalizations that “if you lose mar­riage, you also lose free­dom of religion” and that “Atheistic moral bedlam and religious repression go hand in hand”. However, if you break those phrases down into the plain meaning of their component parts and the resulting implications, I don’t think you can legitimately claim they are BS. Criminalizing the exercise of certain religious beliefs is a repression of religious freedom is the simplest sense. That type of repression is inevitable when a society begins to ignore its prior religious belief system and converts to a system that constantly changes toward demanding, under penalty of law, the acceptance of the practices it once deemed immoral.

    Your analogies to the change in laws regarding prohibition and segregation are helpful illustrations in the discussion but are not exactly on point to the gay marriage debate for several reasons. First, although you’re correct that banning segregation did not destroy the right to have discriminatory views, segregation was not really a religious or moral issue, if it ever was at all. Segregation was not a commandment and had no direct relationship with the formation and perpetuation of the family unit that is at the heart of most religious institutions and God’s “Plan” (which admittedly differs depending on who you ask, but for most, still has marriage between man and woman as the central component). As a result, even if banning Segregation created the possibilities of civil and criminal liability for violating the ban, it did not criminalize and, thus, repress any exercise of religion.

    The change in the prohibition law is basically the same. Very few religions deem the normal consumption of alcohol as immoral. The Mormon religion is one of the few religions with an absolute bar on alcohol consumption. Even then, the consumption or prohibition of alcohol is similar to segregation in that it is not central to the formation and perpetuation of the family unit that is at the heart of most religious institutions and God’s “Plan”. However, ignoring that fact, the truth remains that when the law changed to allow others to sell, buy, and consume as much alcohol as they want, there was no penalty for those who exercised their beliefs to refuse to drink alcohol or to refuse to offer alcohol at their businesses.

    I understand your disagreement with Elder Nelson’s statement “At stake is our abil­ity to trans­mit to the next gen­er­a­tion the life-giving and insep­a­ra­ble cul­ture of mar­riage and the free exer­cise of religion.” Based on your friend’s comments, you again draw the analogy between racism and the moral stance on gay marriage, claiming that not being able to claim the practice is immoral is akin to not being able to use racial epithets. However, as I noted above, racism and the moral stance on gay marriage in the context of this debate are not the same. You claim that mar­riage and the free exer­cise of religion are not inseparable and point to Europe’s successful treatment of marriage as mostly a civil institution as evidence that they are not inseparable and that, in fact, civil marriage and religious marriage can co-exist. However, I believe you have missed Elder Nelson’s point and perspective.

    I believe Elder Nelson’s point is that the culture of marriage and the exercise of religion were originally meant by God to be inseparable like a work of art. It’s not that you can’t actually physically separate the piece or that when separated, the pieces of the original can’t stand alone in a different way such as creating a bust from the David statue or ripping off just a section of the Sistine chapel. The problem according to Elder Nelson is that the original was in the eyes of its admirers a masterpiece of God that was meant by him to be inseparable. Chopping the pieces of the masterpiece up and using parts to make a knockoff that is the inverse of the original and treating them as the same masterpiece is an insult to the original artist, the work itself, and those who admired it. Additionally, not being able to have the work as a whole means it cannot be passed on as such to the next generation as God as intended. The original will forever be viewed and treated differently.

    In the end, whether the culture of marriage and religion was a masterpiece of God which shouldn’t separated, even if it is logistically possible and a portion of society demands it, is a faith based question that remains subject to debate. I don’t believe the parties on both sides of the debate will ever agree on this premise, as the premise cannot be rebutted for most believers unless God comes down himself and says so. Since God hasn’t done so, I don’t believe it is a valid rebuttal of Elder Nelson’s faith based premise to simply say it’s BS in light of the practices of those who don’t share that premise.

    So in keeping with the scope of your post, I believe you have some but not all of the cards you claim and I call BS. So please pick up the discard pile and let’s keep playing.

    Reply
  20. BD Beal says:

    Troy, thanks for the thoughtful post. I’m picking up the discard pile right now (smile).

    Reply
  21. Aaron says:

    @ BD. Eating lunch has nothing to do with being black, white, or green. Plus, the ability to buy and eat food is pretty fundamental. (Remember, the LDS church *publicly supported* anti-discrimination employment laws in SLC barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.)

    The commitment ceremony of a gay couple, solemnizing their relationship, has *everything* to do with the couple’s relationship and the photographer’s religious beliefs. Having one’s ceremony shot by a photographer is hardly fundamental to a person’s well being. The photographer in this case was essentially punished for making the couple feel bad.

    Does this case conclusively dismantle the argument for gay marriage? Of course not. It just illustrates my point that legalizing gay marriage should require us thoughtfully consider and balance the rights of religious faith. I still think your article’s premise is flawed.

    Reply
    • BD Beal says:

      I was comparing the plight of a restaurant owner during the civil rights movement and the photographer. There were, no doubt, restaurant owners that were motivated by what they believed was God’s desire that the races remain separate. We as a society stepped in and stipulated that that kind of discrimination wasn’t going to be allowed, regardless of what folks believed God wanted them to do. For me it is exactly the same with same-sex marriage. Personally, it doesn’t bother me if we step in and say that if you run a business and you market your services to the general public, then you can’t discriminate based on skin color or sexual orientation or what you think about same sex marriage, etc. That seems reasonable to me.

      It is interesting to note that this case doesn’t have anything to do with same-sex marriage really–it was addressed using anti-discrimination laws already on the books (New Mexico doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, yet).

    • BD Beal says:

      Take a look at Troy’s response (it’s pretty lengthy, but I suspect you’ll agree with most of it).

  22. Kaimi says:

    The Maine statute (which the usual coalition of religious org’s opposed) contained explicit protections for religions built into it. It states explicitly that,

    “This Part does not authorize any court or other state
    or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission to compel, prevent or interfere in any way
    with any religious institution’s religious doctrine, policy, teaching or solemnization of marriage within
    that particular religious faith’s tradition as guaranteed by the Maine Constitution, Article 1, Section 3 or
    the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. A person authorized to join persons in marriage
    and who fails or refuses to join persons in marriage is not subject to any fine or other penalty for such
    failure or refusal.”

    The same folks still made the religious objections.

    The religious freedom claims are a smoke screen, because it’s impolite to say “I don’t like gay people” in public.

    Reply
    • BD Beal says:

      Kaimi, excellent post. After reading through the different responses here and thinking about things for a day or so, it really seems to me that the main sticking point here is that society is moving in the direction of accepting homosexuality (and it’s about time–given that homosexuality has been a natural part of human existence for at least 2000 years) and there is a contingent of folks (mostly, religious folks) that are upset about it. Religion, as an institution, isn’t in any danger–but religious folks won’t been able to demonize homosexuality in the public sphere anymore (and that appears to be upsetting). So is religious freedom going to be abridged? Yes, to the degree that religions will have to keep their homosexuality-is-evil stance to themselves (and confined to the private sphere), but that’s the way it should be, at least in my opinion.

  23. D. Fletcher says:

    “The reli­gious free­dom claims are a smoke screen, because it’s impo­lite to say “I don’t like gay peo­ple” in public.”

    I wish I was this succinct in my comment.

    Reply
  24. Caroline says:

    Well done, BD. Excellent points.

    I was wondering if perhaps Elder Nelson meant “teacher in a Christian (private) school”? It seems to me like it would make more sense for him to get up in arms with the idea of not being allowed to express ideas about immorality in that setting.

    Reply
  25. Dominique says:

    Elder Oaks…

    In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you and I call you to repentance.

    Reply
    • BD Beal says:

      Hmm. The last comment caused me to reflect a bit. Here is the usual pattern:

      1) A GA or a prophet says something questionable (or something that should be questioned),
      2) The GA or prophet isn’t challenged,
      3) 30 years later (substitute a different time frame if you like), after the Church has changed course, if the statement is brought up, then members go out of their way to distance the Church from the statement by saying things like “well, he was just stating his own opinion” or “it wasn’t official Church doctrine,” etc.

      Here’s an example,

      1) Various GAs publically state and/or write that blacks aren’t worthy of the priesthood because they were less valiant in the preexistence,
      2) The Church changes it’s position on blacks and the priesthood,
      3) 30 years later, Church members (and GAs, etc.) start referring to the entire idea of blacks being less valiant in the preexistence as “myth”–I believe the Elder Holland has actually used this word.

      I say let’s cut this cycle short and do everyone a favor. When a GA or a prophet says something that should be challenged, then let’s challenge it. It might save the Church a lot of embarrassment. For example, when Spencer W. Kimball starting going on about how the skin of Native Americans became lighter after they joined the Church, there should have been a chorus of voices yelling “bullshit” (maybe that would have made the Church look a little better in the long run.

  26. BHG says:

    I have really enjoyed reading your post, and find it very strange that “Aaron” is having such a fit about this…It is your blog, your post, your opinion, and your right to say whatever the hell you would like to…That man really does have a limited understanding of both sides of the subject! He knows quite a bit about his side, but is unwilling to admit that you have much validity, most likely because he feels like it would be religiously traitorous to say anything different. The Mormon church, which I grew up in, is wrong. They are ABSOLUTELY wrong about homosexuality, and the term “Same-Sex-Attraction” they use like a disease. The Mormon religion really is a great church, and do many wonderful things, but they are an institution that was started by, is ran by, and is made of men and women. Thus it is prone to error. Here is the problem, many people feel like they HAVE to believe what is told to them, and don’t question much of what they hear. No amount of nice things the Mormon Church may do will make up for what so many gays want, that being acceptance, understanding, and marriage. My happy ending, that I have contrived, does not have a civic union, or a commitment ceremony in it. It has marriage. How after all the Hollywood depictions of marriages = Happy endings can anyone want anything different? Arrrgggg, this has turned into a sentimental rant, so I will say goodbye, and thank you.

    Reply
  27. William Wilson says:

    Mr Beal,

    wonderful article. One thing I would like to note is that it is unfortunate that most modern Christians cannot read Greek or Hebrew. If they could read at least Greek, they would know that the word homosexual is first not Greek and second that Paul never used the term for male-male consensual homosexual relationships in his writings. The verses where homosexual is used in the English translation if read in context with knowledge of the culture refer to forced sex in a slavery context.

    Also, if you look carefully at just the words and actions of Jesus, he never condemned homosexuality. In fact, he helped an individual, who if knowledge of Greek and the culture is known, was in a homosexual relationship.

    We all know from Sunday School the story of the Centurion who comes to Jesus asking that his “servant” be healed. The term this Centurion uses is translated typically as servant in English.

    “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” (Matthew 8:6 NIV)

    The word in Greek translated into English is pais. This term may mean son or boy, servant, or a special type of servant – a male lover. At this time in history Men would often buy a male slave as a lover. This may seem bad in our modern minds but at that time it was a respected practice among some cultures including Roman. And Jesus would have known of this practice.

    When talking of other slaves the Centurion uses the standard term doulos. In Luke’s account the servant was the Centurion’s “entimos doulos” or honored slave. So it was not a son. And in Matthew where the Centurion directly talks to Jesus he uses the term pais in talking of his servant.

    Even Dr R. Gagnon, noted antigay Evangelic scholar noted the following:

    “boy” (pais) could be used of any junior partner in a homosexual relationship, even one who was fullgrown.” Dr. Robert Gagnon, The Bible And Homosexual Practice, p. 163, footnote 6.

    Can you imagine a Roman officer stooping to speaking with a Jewish Rabbi who he knew should denounce gay relationships? And what did Jesus say? He said he would come and heal him. There was no denouncing the “sin.” Jesus did not discriminate. And if Jesus did not discriminate, why should we?

    Reply

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