Wendy’s comment in the latest SSM thread provoked an interesting discussion between my wife and I yesterday. Wendy wrote:
Is same-sex kissing a sin? What about same-sex flirting and dating? Can a same-sex couple live together, love each other, come to church holding hands and sit together in the chapel, hold callings and be okay church-wise, as long as they don’t have sex?
This comment relates to the broader issue: What exactly does the law of chastity prohibit?
PART I: Black-letter law; “normal” analysis
Let’s start with the points that everyone agrees on. I’m going to be extra cautious and nail these down, so that when things get strange in Part II, we can be sure that the assertions are based on correct doctrine. So, to start, the law of chastity, as officially defined, is:
No sexual relations except with a spouse to whom you are legally and lawfully married.
The spouse part we understand, but what exactly is a “sexual relation”? Let’s figure this out by calculating some data points. Start off by asking the question:
Is hand-holding a sexual relation?
Now, we know that if it were a sexual relation, and people did it outside of marriage, they would be in violation of the law of chastity, and not worthy to enter the temple. Therefore, we can ask,
Do church leaders prohibit people who are not married to each other, but who hold hands, from retaining a temple recommend?
I can attest to the answer of that one. I held hands with girlfriends (including one who I eventually married), and that act was known to church leaders. I sometimes held hands with girlfriends in church meetings. I was never censured for this or told that I was violating the law of chastity. I was not married to women whose hands I held (at least, not at the time we’re discussing). And I observed that this was commonly accepted and tolerated behavior — other church members routinely did the same. So I think we can safely say:
For purposes of the law of chastity, hand-holding is not a sexual relationship.
Apply the same logic to snuggling, kissing, and even making out (as long as there is no inappropriate touching going on) and the answer is the same. It looks like we can draw a dividing line:
Acts that constitute a “sexual relationship” for purposes of the law of chastity: Sex, oral sex, inappropriate touching — “petting” (does anyone actually use that term anymore?) — including on-top-of-clothes feeling
Acts that are not a sexual relationship: Hugging, kissing, holding hands, snuggling, making out (as long as there is no inappropriate touching).
Still with me so far? All of the above, non-sexual-relationships, must be considered such because single members routinely engage in such behavior without temple recommend removal (which would be necessary if they were violating the law of chastity). Now for the interesting part.
PART II: Unexpected consequences.
The law of chatisty prohibits sexual relations with someone to whom we are not married. Thus, the law of chastity does not prohibit acts that are not sexual relations. This limit on the law of chastity provide some very unusual consequences. Here are two particularly strange ones:
1. A man may kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and make out with another man, without violating the law of chastity. (Ditto for woman-woman relationships).
2. A married man may kiss, hold hands, cuddle, and make out with a woman to whom he is not married, without violating the law of chastity. (Ditto, again for a married woman).
2a. You can even combine (1) and (2), with a married man kissing another man (or woman-woman), and not be in violation of the law of chastity.
Let’s look over these. First, it seems possible that (2) (including 2a), while it would not be a violation of the law of chastity, would be a violation of the marriage covenant. That is itself a serious problem. (What does the marriage covenant entail, anyway?). Also, it would likely be a source of great marital disharmony.
As far as (1), I’m not sure that there are other considerations (such as the marriage covenant) that would serve as a bar to this behavior. So (to answer Wendy’s question), same-sex kissing, handholding, etc., seems to be within church guidelines.
And that was about as far as my conversation with Mardell got. We were both pretty shocked to come to the conclusion that the law of chastity has this much flexibility. But I’m not sure that there’s another way to approach the issue. I suspect, however, that others may have a different view.