‘Traditional Marriage’: what are we speaking about? An anthropological view

February 12, 2014 | 87 comments
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Amalea 3
A modern Kapsiki groom, leading his bride (first one behind him)
with her friends to the dancing ground

No discussion in present Mormondom tops the issue of same-sex marriage. In the debates the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ is used, especially by people who want to limit marriage to a monogamous heterosexual union. Julie Smith, in her excellent guest blog, has shown that the gender division of providing and nurturing that is usually thought to be an integral part of so-called ‘traditional marriage’, does really not hold, but the notion as such is highly problematic.

First, what is marriage? Like no other academic discipline cultural anthropology has a wide and varied experience with forms marriage throughout the world, and it has developed its understanding of marriage with the findings coming in from different cultures. Just after WW II, at the heyday of a basic field research, the famous field manual ‘Notes and Queries’ could still define marriage as: ‘A union between a man and a woman such that the children born of the woman are recognized as legitimate offspring of both partners’ . This is in fact the old Roman definition, marriage as legitimation of children. The problems with this definition soon became apparent. With polygyny (one husband, more wives – see Mormonism…) this could be still apply, if each of the wives in a separate marriage. Among the Kapsiki in Cameroon, where I did my first anthropological fieldwork, this was clearly the case (the pictures are from that culture). But increasingly, the definition showed itself to be too restricted. In some cultures one woman marries more than one husband, a system called polyandry, which raises the question which of the husbands is the recognized father of the child. In many cultures the notion of legality is problematic, as there may be more than one form of socially recognized cohabitation of spouses, like civil marriages or common law domestic partnerships with varied rights and duties. Also, same-sex unions are not uncommon, in various forms. So, all in all, marriage is a fluid institution; if anything is ‘untraditional’ or ‘unnatural’ it is the rigid dichotomy married – not-married; this is a legal construct.
IMG_2309
Kapsiki women in Cameroon bring a part of the marriage gift

Present-day handbooks in anthropology do not give a definition any longer, but recognize that all societies in the world have a crucial institution in which individuals are tied into a socially recognized union which is considered important in that culture. Defining marriage cross culturally is improductive, better to highlight that it accomplishes a series of functions : 1. Legalize the child; 2. Give exclusive access to the partner’s sexuality 3. Give rights to spouse’s labor; 4. Give rights over spouse’s property; 5. Establish a joint fund for the benefit of the children and for the spouses later in life; 6. Establish relations of affinity with spouse’s kith and kin; 7. Link groups in society into larger networks, i.e. alliances; 8. Generate chains of economic exchange; 9. A proper arena for interpersonal love.

In our western society numbers 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9 hold or may hold. Numbers 6 and 7 are extremely important in small scale societies. In African societies large gift exchange precede marriages, the so-called bride wealth. So nr. 8 is crucial throughout Africa, with marriage defined as a relationship between groups, not just individuals. Our western cultures defines marriage primarily as a relationship between individuals, and do not invest much in alliances and in-laws, and number 8 is mainly important in divorce. Nr. 3 is complicated in our culture.
bruidsprijs aan Ndewuva
My assistant paying a bride wealth to his father-in-law

What does this imply? The first point is that in no culture all functions are relevant. So the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ has little meaning inside one’s own society. Also, marriage is a dynamic institution, constantly changing and adapting, and the various functions shift through time. In the debates one has to read ‘traditional marriage’ as ‘The type of marriage we think that has been dominant in the recent past’. And of course our deep past has shown other types of unions than accepted today: ‘history is a foreign country’. Second, ‘traditional marriage’ has no meaning at all outside one’s own culture; in that setting it would comprise all forms marriage has taken in all cultures and societies, and that is definitely not what the debaters using the term mean. Marriage consists of a bundle of rights and duties that varies with culture and onto which another culture has no business imposing its definition.

So marriage is diverse, varied, hard to define, but it is always present in some form. Also love is always present, but in most of history not very closely linked to marriage. All cultures recognize the flames of love, but most do not define it as a necessary precondition to marriage. In the words of a !Kung bushman women: ‘When two people come together their hearts are on fire and their passion is great. After a while the fire cools and that’s how it stays…’ But the link between romantic love and marriage is on the rise throughout the world, ever since this product of Western culture is spread by media and missionizing.
zakwat rufta
A Kapsiki groom in his full glory

Now the crucial question, marrying with what gender? Heterosexual marriage has been dominant throughout our history and in all cultures, in three forms. Monogamy, our presently exclusive way, forms a recognized type of union in all cultures and societies, but usually not as the only possible option. Others options can be polygyny (one man, more wives) or polyandry (one woman, more husbands), the two forms of polygamy. Each has their own dynamics, polyandry being the rarer variant, mainly occurring in East Asia and the Arctic. Polygyny occurs throughout the world, especially in all of Africa. One marriage type that we never found, in no culture, is a recognized union between several males and several females at the same time; in today’s parlance this is called ‘polyamory’, in anthropology a group marriage. That it does not exist as a socially recognized form of marriage anywhere in the world, is significant, maybe the one and only really ‘traditional’ aspect about marriage.

Among the marital options besides monogamy are also same-sex unions, between males and between females, and these occur in diverse forms. Male same-sex unions, for instance, are found in Native American cultures, as berdache unions, the male homosexual marrying a husband who may already have a female wife. The berdache is considered a third gender, just as a ‘male-hearted’ woman marrying another woman is a fourth one. In African cultures, where homosexuality is usually tabooed, marriages between women are not uncommon. In these so-called women’s marriages a rich childless woman pays the bride wealth for a younger wife, and for the children of the latter, sired by an approved lover or the husband of the older one, she will be the social father. This seems not to be a lesbian relation, just a way of having children or gaining social status.
013
The Kapsiki marriage feast

Viewing this flexibility, it is also clear that homosexual marriages as are developing now in the Western world, are a new phenomenon. In many historical cultures homosexuality found its niche within the total marriage system which was geared at heterosexual mates responsible for a next generation. So much of the present debate stems from the two factors: our system of formal laws attributing definite and exclusive rights and duties to the married state, and the ideology surrounding marriage – only heterosexual, strictly monogamous, based on romantic love. Both factors result in a dichotomous marital state, married or not, and then just between individuals. Children form a crucial part in any cultural definition of marriage, even if never exclusively so. Marriage is a social construct, as are motherhood and fatherhood, and different societies construe it differently. But the fact that it is a social construct does not diminish its importance, mainly because it is the way in which a society reproduces itself.
wouter danst 1999 Kapsiki-2
The present blogger dancing with his Kapsiki
‘father-in’-law’ (a few years ago)

Throughout, one issue must be clear: marriage is a social phenomenon and a social construct, it became a religious one much later. I personally have no doubt that God smiles on marriage, but then He does so in many forms and settings. Religious ceremonies might or might not be part of the union, more often than people realize, they are not. For instance, many African cultures have no wedding rituals; the bride just moving in with the groom is defined as the establishment of their recognized union, thus as a marriage. The absence of ritual in no way detracts from the validity of the marriage, nor from the rights and duties pertaining to the institution. Here the USA is an interesting experiment, as the civil rights to establish a marital union have to a large degree been devolved to denominations, so the ritual of wedding has become quite dominant as a defining part of marriage. Whether this is a successful experiment, is debatable, especially at this moment of history. Anyway, no society has been found without a recognizable system of marriage, and anthropologists doubt whether any society ever will. Marriage is not a threatened institution, in fact this never could be the case. What is threatened is the exclusive definition of marriage as lifelong heterosexual monogamy, or a religious monopoly on defining marriage.

87 Responses to ‘Traditional Marriage’: what are we speaking about? An anthropological view

  1. Jim Cobabe on February 12, 2014 at 9:06 am

    As with any such characterization, to relegate cultural practice to mere “social construct” necessarily dimishes every real significance. Temple marriage through this lens can be represented as yet another peculiar nuance in the panoply of odd customs. But in examination of the traditional marriage issue today, there seems to be much more at stake than cultural anthropology can weigh. A sort of “dark matter,” missing from all the equations.

    It has become so trendy and popular to elevate the classification of deviant behavior to the level of “also present in historic social behavior”. As if the fact of presence endows such practice with the mantle of equal respectability or merit. All appears to be part of the normalization effort, the current struggle to achieve legitimization through legal force – which would make a study for cultural anthropologists in itself, it would seem.

  2. Howard on February 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Interesting article! Thanks for posting it.

    Jim,
    Deviant behavior are actions or behaviors that violate social norms. “Also present in historic social behavior” demonstrates that a given behavior wasn’t always deviant. “Trendy and popular”? Not really, just a logical response with which to contrast and compare.

  3. Nathaniel Givens on February 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

    The idea that marriage is a “social construct” is problematic in a couple of ways.

    First, there’s the potential theological conflict. Genesis clearly states that marriage is ordained of God. You can accept a non-literal account of the Creation and still view marriage as designed of God (in the same sense in which human evolution is compatible with divine design if natural selection is seen as God’s tool), but you can’t accept that marriage is divinely designed if you embrace the view that it’s a social construct. Humans invented marriage, and then God happened to think it was a good idea; this view isn’t compatible with Christian tradition or scripture.

    Second, I find the argument-from-variety extremely over-played. Consider the exceptional examples like polyandry and homosexual marriage. The first, polyandry, is an ancient custom but it is extremely rare and, more importantly generally seen as a deviation from the norm in response to particular circumstances. (In particular, Linda Stone writes that it is a response to strict resource constraints because it leads to lower child-birth and greater support-per-child.) The second, homosexual marriage, is both rare and a recent innovation. Polygyny, by contrast, is quite common but also easy to explain as a variation on the monogamous ideal as (primarily) an abuse of power by male elites. (Importantly for Mormons: it is also not necessarily outside the bounds of traditional marriage, as our doctrine holds that it may be ordained of God in a conditional sense.)

    As another example, this assertion (from the post above) is certainly much too strong:

    What does this imply? The first point is that in no culture all functions are relevant.

    The list of functions (as a reminder) was:

    1. Legalize the child; 2. Give exclusive access to the partner’s sexuality 3. Give rights to spouse’s labor; 4. Give rights over spouse’s property; 5. Establish a joint fund for the benefit of the children and for the spouses later in life; 6. Establish relations of affinity with spouse’s kith and kin; 7. Link groups in society into larger networks, i.e. alliances; 8. Generate chains of economic exchange; 9. A proper arena for interpersonal love.

    Obviously the relative importance of these differing functions will vary from culture to culture, but all of them play at least some role in (for example) current American notions of marriage.

    In fact, even this piece has to concede that some aspects of marriage are completely and totally universal, such as the total lack (thus far) of group marriages and the fact that some form of marital institution is common to all human societies. Far from the idea that these specific incarnations of marriage are more or less haphazard or randomly created, the clear evidence is of common themes to a universal practice, and especially on the fundamental importance of procreation to the definition of marriage. (Not coincidentally, this aspect is also part of the initial Biblical account.) Traditional marriage could therefore be hazarded as “A social arrangement between men and women to ensure that the right of children to be protected and cared for is maintained.”

    Obviously marriage has been used for many, many other purposes. But the logic here isn’t so simple as “well, it got used for lots of things, so it must have no central purpose.” By contrast, the fact that marriage was employed for so many non-procreative purposes (e.g. forging political and economic alliances for the benefit of adults) is a testament to the afore-mentioned universality and primal importance of the institution. Marriage has been put to many uses not despite but because of it’s enduring universality.

  4. Kaimi Wenger on February 12, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Thanks, Walter, for the excellent recap. It shows several things. When Mormons talk “traditional” we’re mostly reading a 1950′s-era social construct backwards into history. This is a really good explanation of why.

    Nathaniel,

    That’s your read of Genesis? Genesis is, if anything, the best scriptural evidence that there _isn’t_ such a thing as traditional marriage. Marriages in Genesis involve a whole lot of factors that we would consider repulsive today.

  5. European Saint on February 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Thank you, Nathaniel Givens, for this in particular:

    ‘But the logic here isn’t so simple as “well, it got used for lots of things, so it must have no central purpose.” ‘

    To me, this feels like yet another article in a long line of the “it’s all relative; there is nothing so core and central (and True/eternal) that we should be striving to conserve it; change is good; all is well in Zion” strain.

  6. Chris Kimball on February 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for the summary. There’s another review I once saw or heard about and would like to find, describing changes in the concept and pattern of marriage in the United States, and in Western Europe, over the course of the 20th Century. (Maybe I’m imagining it?)

    What I take from this is the following:
    1. “marriage” and “traditional marriage” are not well defined terms, but the meaning has been and is different in different cultures and times, with respect to the configuration of persons, the ceremony, and the functions both legal and social.
    2. Almost everybody who uses the term “marriage” or “traditional marriage” (*except* anthropologists, perhaps) has some qualifier in mind–”1950s-era social construct”, “current American”, “Judeo-Christian 20th Century”, “Biblical”–whether they say so or not.
    3. In a search for core, central, true, eternal, one place we look (but not the only one) is history and culture, to find those things that seem to be respected or honored in all or in a large majority of times and places. With respect to marriage, we can derive from a broad view of history and culture an importance of (some form of) marriage. But we can’t derive much more than that (configuration, ceremony, functions) without privileging some culture at some time (“they/we now/then got it right”). If we want to choose a culture and time we have to look elsewhere to find a reason.

  7. Steve Smith on February 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks so much for this post, Walter. This is terrific stuff. I think I will be referring back to this article many times in the future as I debate marriage, ‘traditional’ marriage, and gay marriage with friends and colleagues.

  8. Rachael on February 12, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I find Ross Douthat’s commentary on “traditional marriage” interesting and relevant here. He argues that defenses of “traditional marriage” “have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal”– instead, “It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.” I think he puts an interesting spin on the idea. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/09/opinion/09douthat.html

  9. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    So, is there an anthropology of a traditional out of wedlock baby?

  10. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Nathaniel,

    You seem to have a pretty literal interpretation of how God ordained marriage. One what precise date do you think the first marriage occurred?

  11. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    On second thought, I’ll relax the constraint for the date. Do you think there was a date of the first marriage, say Adam and Eve? Do you think Neanderthals were married or other varieties of Homo? Did they have social constructs like marriage, but they weren’t real marriages because God didn’t ordain them, or what?

  12. JKC on February 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    My two cents, for what its worth, is that folks often use the term “traditional marriage” because they don’t want to say out loud what they really mean: “marriage that I believe God exclusively approves.” Like many of the arguments against gay marriage, it seems like a way to cloak what is really a religious argument in religiously neutral garb, so as to avoid accusations of “mingl[ing] religious influence with civil government” to borrow the phrase from section 134.

  13. DavidH on February 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Excellent article. I don’t see how saying marriage is a human construct is incompatible with saying it is God’s construct too. If one accepts that in some way God created human beings, then implicitly God created what humans create. That is, God created human beings with drives and hormones and who knows what else such that they naturally form pair bonds, which provides a huge evolutionary advantage to humans in efficiency and effectiveness of raising other humans. Mormonism has celebrated at least two forms of pairbonding as God approved and directed–monogomous and polygynous. In my opinion, Joseph Smith experimented with polyandrous pair bonding (I am agnostic whether they were sexual), but others rejected it, and he did not press the matter. Under current sealing practices, it is possible that the heavens may contain polygynous, polyandrous, and polyamous relationships.

  14. JKC on February 12, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    mtnmarty,

    I should let Nathaniel answer for himself, but as for myself, as one who accepts and takes literally the teaching from the POTF that marriage is ordained of God, and also recognizes as a fact the fact that marriage is a social construct, I reconcile the two as follows:

    Marriage, meaning the act of a husband and wife remaining faithful to one another, and living together as a family, is ordained of God. Marriage, as a public ceremony that creates a new identity recognized by the state, is a social construct, and is one that history shows varies significantly. I’m not entirely convinced that the marriage that is ordained of God even necessarily includes any sort of ritual or ceremony at all. (In saying that, I am not suggesting that it would be legitimate for members of the church today to simply shack up and treat their union as a marriage recognized by the church. The church’s current practice clearly requires a marriage ceremony. Certainly the sealing ordinance is a ceremony, but not all marriages are sealed, and the way the word marriage is used in the proclamation seems to be much broader than referring to sealings as performed in the church and under the priesthood.)

    I admit that I am somewhat influenced by some old catholic teachings on marriage which saw the act of sex itself as the true marriage, and the ritual as only a sort of pre-emptive blessing of that union, hence the notion that the marriage was not “consummated” until sexual union, and that an unconsummated union was voidable by annulment.

    In my view, in other words, it is the act of union itself that is ordained of God–just as all his creations were commanded to multiply in their sphere and element and have joy therein–while the ritual finery and civil effects that have grown up around that union are social constructs (even if they are good, proper, and necessary ones), at least in part.

    I should clarify that my belief that it was primarily the union itself that was ordained of God (not the ritual or the public, civil recognition of it) does not mean that I think these additional innovations are bad or that God disapproves of them. But I am also not convinced that at all times since the creation, God has always required a marriage ritual that looks like the one that we use in western society, and that is blessed with state recognition. The fact that God-ordained union has been added to, innovated, used (and abused) in innumerable ways does not mean that it is not ordained of God, nor that it is a free-for-all where anything goes.

  15. Josh Smith on February 12, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Am I the only one who wants more photos (or even a video) of …

    The present blogger dancing with his Kapsiki
    ‘father-in’-law’

    ?????

  16. Steve Smith on February 12, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Nathaniel, I don’t think that the OP is saying that marriage has no central purpose. I think that it is saying quite the opposite: marriage does have a purpose and all cultures recognize some sort of purpose in marriage, but what the exact purpose is varies across cultures. I would agree that the vast majority of cultures have recognized marriage as between male and female(s) to the extent that we could say that that is traditional. But due to the prevalence of the dowry and the role of the family in marriages, we could say that payment and arrangement are traditional as well. I’m glad those traditions are no longer prevalent in Western society. Tradition isn’t always good or right. Many traditions are worth saving and can be argued to be in line with justice and morality. Other traditions are benign. And then there are other traditions that can be atrocious and harmful to select individuals in society and are in need of modification. Given the fact that science has only recently revealed that at least 2 percent of the human population is gay (so at least 140 million people now), most of whom strongly desire romantic relationships with the same sex and who cause no demonstrable harm to society in doing so. Sometimes we need to let doing what is right and just trump tradition.

    European Saint, I find it rather ironic that the ones who make the strongest appeals to relativism tend to be religionists. When confronted with scientific evidence that proves their claims about history and nature wrong and logically consistent reasoning that immoralizes their claims about morality, many appeal to postmodernistic thinking and claim that science doesn’t actually know what it claims to know (because it supposedly changes all of the time), that it is simply another form of faith (because it supposedly lacks sufficient evidence to support its claims), and that religionists are therefore justified in their claims about history, nature, and morality. In fact this sort of thinking is quite prevalent here on the T&S blog. Read the posts of Ben Huff, Nathaniel Givens, Nate Oman, and others and it seems that there is bit of a current of postmodernistic thinking embedded in their narratives on religion and science.

  17. Hedgehog on February 12, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    There’s the old scottish law forming the basis of the plot for Wilkie Collin’s ‘Man & wife’. A lot of his plots revolve around marriage & legitimacy laws at the time.

  18. Dave on February 12, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Interesting post, Walter. I don’t think the Church is any more interested in cross-cultural comparisons than in historical investigations. It isn’t interested in a cross-cultural view of doctrine or priesthood or marriage any more than it is interested in a historical view of doctrine (which has changed over time), priesthood (which has evolved as well), or marriage (which seems to look different every century).

    So I suppose the question is what do we as Latter-day Saints do with relevant cross-cultural or historical data? One can use it apologetically (appeal to it only when it supports present LDS views). One can use it critically, to criticize LDS views. Or one can use it simply to broaden one’s own personal views and degree of tolerance for diversity in the views of others, as well as gently correcting those who unintentionally misstate facts about the past or present (but don’t expect acknowledgement or gratitude).

  19. Lorian on February 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Love this, Walter. Thank you. And yes, I agree that marriage as a social institution has a number of “central purposes” which are emphasized in varying degrees and combinations depending upon the needs of the particular culture in question.

    Marriage between same-sex couples fulfills many of these central purposes in the same way that marriage between opposite-sex couples fulfills them: Providing for young being nurtured within the family structure; providing for the long-term protection and care of the spouses, themselves; providing a structural framework for understanding what is or is not legitimate sexual expression; providing for ownership of property between spouses or from one spouse to another; allowing a spouse title to the fruits of the other spouse’s labor; allowing the spouses to exist and function as a single economic unit; etc. Any “definition of marriage” which ignores these basic social functions, and the legitimate need families have to access them, is grossly incomplete and inadequate.

  20. Lorian on February 12, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Sorry, meant to subscribe to comments…

  21. Howard on February 12, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Steve Smith wrote:

    I find it rather ironic that the ones who make the strongest appeals to relativism tend to be religionists. When confronted with scientific evidence that proves their claims about history and nature wrong and logically consistent reasoning that immoralizes their claims about morality, many appeal to postmodernistic thinking and claim that science doesn’t actually know what it claims to know (because it supposedly changes all of the time), that it is simply another form of faith (because it supposedly lacks sufficient evidence to support its claims), and that religionists are therefore justified in their claims about history, nature, and morality.

    Excellent summary Steve Smith! This is also true of Jeff G at NCT who makes no apology for it instead completely aware of his position openly promotes it! It’s as if they expect religion to sometime in the near future prove science wrong! Yet as time collects the opposite is obviously taking place as science pulls ahead and away from such folklore. The obvious conclusion is that religion is either false or it’s folklore or it’s mythical, metaphorical or allegoric. When I say mythical I mean no disrespect – see Joseph Campbell. But it takes self confidence in one’s own belief in God and the hereafter to let go the literal mortal and embrace symbolic spiritual. For some it is apparently just too much to imagine so they cling tightly to their childish magical thinking embracing the literal when they could be embracing the supernatural instead via an adult relationship with the divine.

  22. Julie M. Smith on February 12, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    I think one can read the Genesis account as saying that marriage is ordained of God (<–of course, the text itself says nothing about _marriage_ per se, but one can choose to read it that way) and still maintain that there are cultural constructions regarding marriage. In fact, I'd argue that you have to regard the Genesis account as permitting cultural constructions or you have a real problem with Genesis 2:24 unless you think God requires men to live with their wife's extended family . . .

  23. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    JKC,

    Your reconciliation is much easier for me to understand than how marriage is not a social construct.

    I can kind of imagine it if you assume that all of “marriages” that societies have that aren’t “marriages” ordained by God don’t count as “marriages”.

    How can we tell what counts as a marriage that is ordained by God?

  24. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Nathaniel,

    “A social arrangement between men and women to ensure that the right of children to be protected and cared for is maintained.”

    I guess paternity suits and divorce orders are marriages. :)

  25. mtnmarty on February 12, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Nathaniel,

    Legally, slave owners were part of something like group marriage in relation to the children of their slaves. If marriage is mainly about the care of children, then shouldn’t we include all of the ways that children are cared for under the law and societal arrangements?

    We’re all in a kind of giant group marriage relative to orphans and other wards of the state. There are layers and layers to the arrangements for the care of children.

  26. Lorian on February 13, 2014 at 2:14 am

    Nathaniel –

    Traditional marriage could therefore be hazarded as “A social arrangement between men and women to ensure that the right of children to be protected and cared for is maintained.”

    Again, though, this (with the exception of your specification of opposite sexes) *exactly* describes at least one important aspect of my marriage to my wife, in which we ensure the right of our children to be protected and cared for.

    And it *doesn’t* remotely describe the marriage of my (opposite-sex) friends (let’s call them “George” and “Martha”), who, despite being married for many, many years, do not have any children — born to them or adopted — to be protected and cared for, and yet are no less married than any other legally (and religiously, incidentally) married couple.

    It is simply inaccurate and absurd to claim that this is *the* reason-above-all-other-reasons for society to provide civil marriage rights, benefits and protections to couples, or that, *because* of this reason, same-sex couples do not merit full participation in this civil institution.

  27. JKC on February 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

    mtnmarty,

    “I can kind of imagine it if you assume that all of “marriages” that societies have that aren’t “marriages” ordained by God don’t count as “marriages”.”

    I don’t think I fully understand what you are saying here. Is it basically that a marriage that does not match the ideal marriage (the union that is ordained of God) is not a real marriage? To an extent, I guess I would agree with that, but I think it would go beyond just defining what types of parties are eligible to enter into that union. Ultimately, I would think that even a marriage that is orthodox in terms of being hetersoexual and monogamous would also not be a “real marriage” if the spouses are not faithful to one another, living as a family, and perhaps (if physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and practically able) having children. And really, isn’t that the whole point of the teachings surrounding the sealing ordinance, anyway, that only marriages that are “ordained of God” are ultimately eligible to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise?

    But at the same time, I don’t think that a human-construct marriage is necessarily illegitimate because it falls short of the ideal of God-ordained marriage, so to that extent, I would answer your question no.

    Of course, throughout history there have been lots of marriages that don’t come close to this ideal of God-ordained marriage. Does that mean that they don’t count as marriages? I would say yes, perhaps, in an ultimate, eternal sense, but I don’t think that that necessarily renders them illegitimate. (It might, but not necessarily). Put simply, marriages that do not live up to the ideal of God-ordained marriage, but are nevertheless human-construct marriages may still be marriages, legitimate and fully recognized by God as legitimate. Not all such marriages live up to God’ ideal, and not all are ultimately eligible for eternal recognition, but that does not mean that they are not marriages, because God ordained marriage unto man, and it is therefore our prerogative to marry. The fact that we marry imperfectly and even wickedly does not mean that God did not ordain it or that they are not real marriages, it only means that we will ultimately be accountable to him for our use (and abuse) of our birthright.

    “How can we tell what counts as a marriage that is ordained by God?”

    That’s they $64K question isn’t it? I don’t think I have the answer, or at least not all the answer, but, if we are assuming that the concept of God-ordained marriage comes from the Genesis story (and I think that’s where it comes from, right?), that story might give some clues. I don’t see anywhere in Genesis where God says “I hereby ordain marriage unto man.” The closest thing we see is him saying “be fruitful and multiply,” in chapter 1, or him creating Eve and presenting her to Adam in chapter 2, with the commentary that for this reason, a husband is to “cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” So, based on that, I would suggest that some of the elements of God-ordained marriage would include union (including, but perhaps not limited to sexual union) and reproduction). I suppose we could also, if so inclined, make an argument for monogamy as an essential element of God-ordained marriage based on the fact that there was only one Eve.

  28. WalkerW on February 13, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    To go along with Rachael’s NYT article: http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_3_gay_marriage.html

  29. Lorian on February 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    JKC, I think, though, that an important part of the point is that you (in the specific or the generic) can pontificate all day about what you *believe* to be “God-ordained,” and can decide that you do not believe my marriage to be “God-ordained”; but ultimately, *I* know my marriage is God-ordained. And, in addition, in our secular society, there is no need or requirement for *anyone’s* marriage to be proven God-ordained (by *anyone’s* God in particular) in order for it to be valid as a civil contract providing the rights, benefits and protections of civil marriage to a couple and any children they may choose to raise.

    So musing about whether God (as you may happen to understand God) ordains your marriage or my marriage, or both, or neither, is certainly an entertaining intellectual exercise, but it does not provide just cause for denying anyone equal rights and protections and status in society.

  30. JKC on February 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I agree with that, Lorian. I don’t think anything I said would suggest otherwise.

  31. Tim on February 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Yes, okay, “traditional marriage” is a political slogan. So what?

    “Marriage equality” is also a political slogan. The phrase could mean many, many things — equality between spouses in housework and custody disputes, equality of tax treatment for married and unmarried couples, equality of cousin marriage rules from one state to another, equality of visa benefits for spouses of polygamist African immigrants, etc. It’s used specifically for to mean “legalized gay marriage” simply because these are two nice focus group tested words that sound good together. There are plenty of vague political slogans thrown around by both sides (civil rights, family values, freedom of conscience, etc.)

    Every political consultant knows that coining the right slogans is part of the game. We should know that too.

    We wouldn’t write a post saying “People claim to be pro-life, but you know, there are many kinds of life, like the life of the mosquito biting you, the life of the cancer cells killing you…” We would simply understand that “pro-life” is a political slogan and that using the phrase is like wearing a uniform. It lets people know what side you’re on.

    Of course, you can always argue about which side wears sillier uniforms, which may be a perfectly entertaining diversion (and I’m generally in favor of perfectly entertaining diversions…) It seems to me that the pro-gay-marriage side has done a much better job at choosing its slogans, which may partly explain why they are winning. But it’s pretty easy to pick apart the slogans on both sides if you try to pretend that they are meant to be descriptive in any literal sense…

  32. Walter van Beek on February 13, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    The discussion is very interesting and to the point. Nathaniel, who is nicely disagreeing with me, points at the universals in marriage, and the end of my post highlight these. Man-woman unions-in-some-way indeed are universal, which is no mean feat for any institution. Yes, children are crucial, but it is the increasing legislation of marriage in our culture that loosens the bond of marriage with progeny, and puts SSM on the agenda.
    What came out of the discussion is that there is no necessary contradiction between God’s initiative and the cultural construct, I fully agree here. The point is that God’s ordinance – I rather use my expression that God smiles on marriage – does not specify what form the union should take. Of course I read Genesis symbolically, and Julie (22) is right that a literal reading would give a completely different arrangement than ours. We call that uxorilocal marriage, the groom moving in with the bride’s parents, which is what Israel did not do either.
    Tradition (16) indeed is not necessarily a good thing. Finding abhorrent traditions is easy; view the present debates on female escision. Maybe the church will not change but widening our tolerance for alternative forms of a universal institution is a worthy goal. And puncturing political slogans is always productive. Indeed, the the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ threatens to mix religious and political arguments, nr. 12 is correct.
    Answering (9): what out-of-wedlock means depends on the marriage and kinship system of the culture in question. In some cultures the notion does not apply, like when the child is immediately part of its mother’s family, as in matrilineal societies, in others it can be defined as a problem.
    Finally: for more pictures of the dancing blogger, watch the next blogs. But no video’s …

    Walter

  33. Lorian on February 13, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    JKC, sorry if I misunderstood your point.

  34. Josh Smith on February 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    “Finally: for more pictures of the dancing blogger, watch the next blogs. But no video’s …”

    Well, I guess we’ll just have to accept what we can get. :-)

  35. Alison Moore Smith on February 13, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Indeed, the the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ threatens to mix religious and political arguments…

    What political notions do NOT mix religious/values arguments?

  36. mtnmarty on February 13, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Alison,

    Border disputes?

  37. mtnmarty on February 13, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    What is the notion of the / in religious/values, do you mean “or” that the words are equivalent and interchangeable?

    If you do think they are interchangeable and that the answer to your question above is “none”. Do you think that it is impossible for a government to not establish a religion because all laws (as a subset of the political) establish values and since values are equivalent to a religion then all laws establish a religion or do you think we can meaningfully distinguish religious values from non-religious values in a way that governments can not establish a religion when they make laws?

  38. Steve Smith on February 14, 2014 at 12:46 am

    Alison, you raise a great point. Technically all political arguments are based on values arguments. But I think what Walter means is that we shouldn’t let the dogma of the prevalent traditional organized religions (i.e. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) inform our politics to the extent that other people’s rights are impinged upon; other people who subscribe to a different religious belief system or who do not want to be held to the beliefs and standards of different organized religions. In the US, the first amendment to the US constitution contains the Establishment Clause, which essentially prohibits the state establishing any religion and protects people’s individual freedoms from organized religion. Gay couples shouldn’t be forced to bear the burden of someone else’s religious beliefs. The state should not be barring them from marriage simply because many organized religions do not find that to be in harmony with their traditional belief systems.

    But this raises the question of what exactly is a religion? Could secularism be considered a religion? Could science? It certainly wouldn’t be an coherent organized religious belief system, but secularism and science are undoubtedly based on a set number of values, like organized religions. Sam Harris makes the case that the fact/value distinction put forth by Scottish philosopher David Hume as well as other 18th/19th century philosophers is actually not a distinction at all. He argues that science is based upon values just like religion. I tend to agree. And I believe that moral philosophy and science have helped humanity discover in some cases (but not all) superior values to the traditional values promoted by longstanding religious organizations. They tend to promote values based on strong evidence and logically consistent reasoning more than values based on tradition alone. One of these superior values is toleration, acceptance, and valuation of gay people and their romantic relationships and consideration of them as equals with straights and straight couples, which I believe is far superior to the rigid intolerance and fear of gay people that has been and is still promoted by many traditional religious establishments.

  39. Walter van Beek on February 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    I agree that polticis and religion both are based upon values, but that does not make them identical. Religion is as hard to define as marriage, but some notion of another reality that cannot be perceived with our senses, will be an essential part of most definitions. I teach anthropology of religion at Tilburg University, Netherlands, and always take pains to make at least an analytical distinction. Other types of definitions, like the value orientation, or the notion of ‘ultimate concern’ work much less. But any definition is a heuristic instrument, not right or wrong, but productive or not. Anyway, there are a lot of political questions which are not religously informed – like border disputes, tax law, trade agreements, just thinking up a few. There are also a lot of religious issues without a political slant, like rituals, divination. My point is that religious notions when used in a political setting are not recognized as religious choices so open for dissent and debate, but function as emotional blunt instruments: who can have something against ‘traditional family’ or ‘family values’, for that matter. As a European I am Always struck by the intensity of mixing politics and religion in the USA. Maybe the Establishment clause (is that correct?), prohibiting Congress to influence religion, should have a corrollary advising religion not to influence politics – too much…
    Walter

    Walter

  40. Lorian on February 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Actually, it does, Walter. What we frequently refer to as the “Establishment Clause” is actually a paired set of clauses known as the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause.” Free Exercise is the one which broadly protects the rights of citizens to worship according to the dictates of their own consciences, whereas Establishment is more about restricting Congress from passing laws instituting a state church, or, by extension, making the beliefs of any particular church into law.

    The passage is as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

  41. Lorian on February 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Sorry — “…respecting *an* establishment of religion…”

  42. JKC on February 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Lorian, No worries. If you misunderstood me, it’s because I didn’t express myself very clearly. I think what I was trying to say is that holding that God ordained marriage doesn’t mean that he defined exactly how it would be done without giving us any freedom. To the contrary, we have the freedom to marry, because he ordained it unto us. Tolkien’s statement that we have the right to create myths, even though that right is often used wickedly, is somewhat parallel:

    “Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their author’s own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials and notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made, and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a maker.”

    The point is, the historical fact that marriage is a human construct does not refute the religious truth that God ordained it unto us to construct it and live it in our feeble human way, and the fact that some marriages may be bad doesn’t mean that we no longer have the right to marry in the way that our conscience tells us is right. And if we can’t agree on what conscience tells us, then we ought not to restrict the freedom to marry of those whose conscience tells them in marry in ways different from the way our conscience tells us to marry.

    I guess all that is a long of way of saying that I fully accept the religious truth that God ordained marriage unto man, and even that he did so a priori while I fully accept the historical truth that marriage is a human construct, because I believe that when God “ordained” marriage, he did not just give us a fully formed ritual with definitions of orthodoxy and regulations of who is eligible. Instead, he ordained marriage unto us by telling us to multiply, to cleave unto one another, and to have joy. It has been a human project to figure out and to regulate how that is done. God may “smile” on some of those regulations, to use Walter’s phrase, but I don’t think that means that he demands that those regulations remain unchanging.

    Maybe that makes my point more clear, or maybe it just muddle it further.

  43. JKC on February 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Walter, in U.S law, there is a fairly robust (albeit somewhat vague and tautological, at the margins) jurisprudence that has grown up around the question of what counts a religion (mostly in the context of figuring out what kinds of activities are protected by the free exercise clause, or by Title VII’s religious accommodation provision, but somewhat less around the question of what government actions are prohibited by the establishment clause. Others probably have a better grasp on it than me, but the basic notion is that it is not necessary to believe in a personal god or gods to be a religion, but it has to be a system of belief that deals with spiritual things that is, in the believer’s own mind, religious.

    Like I said, it’s a little tautological, it suffers a little from “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it”-ism, but I’m not sure that anyone has come up with a better way of making the distinction. I think that analysis would rule out things like “secularism” being a religion, to use Steve Smith’s example above.

    But as to the question underlying Allison’s point (“Why even bother with distinguishing the two, since they are all based on values, anyway?) I think the key difference is that religious values are based on faith in revealed truth, while political values in a democracy (at least those that deserve to be legislated into law) are based on consensus. That consensus may be informed by revealed truth, and it may overlap with revealed truth, but it is law (in a secular democracy, anyway) because it is consensus, not because it is revealed truth. The problem described in section 134, and in Walter’s comment above, arises when folks try to make their values law because they are based on revealed truth instead of because there is consensus on those values.

    As long as there is consensus on revealed truths, the distinction is moot, but when there is no longer consensus as to what is revealed truth (such as with marriage), it becomes a problem to insist that what was formerly consensus remain law because it is revealed truth.

  44. Michael on February 15, 2014 at 12:01 am

    “Religion is as hard to define as marriage, but some notion of another reality that cannot be perceived with our senses, will be an essential part of most definitions”
    I think Joseph Smith would disagree with that notion.

    “As long as there is consensus on revealed truths, the distinction is moot, but when there is no longer consensus as to what is revealed truth (such as with marriage), it becomes a problem to insist that what was formerly consensus remain law because it is revealed truth.”

    I can push even harder on Alison’s point. Who gets to decide whether a belief that someone holds is revealed truth or just a political consensus? One person’s revealed truth is another person’s secular truth and vice versa. At the end of the day, it simply becomes a majority vote on which values we write into law. Whether the values are religiously, secularly, or whimsically grounded, it boils down to a majority vote.

  45. Steve Smith on February 15, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Michael, Walter was saying that what constitutes a religion is hard to define. But most definitions of religion would include a belief system that supports the idea of the existence of a reality beyond our senses. I agree. But I’m not sure how what Joseph Smith said conflicts with what Walter said. I would need more context to understand exactly what JS is saying (what distinction is moot?) in the quote you mentioned. Has there ever been a consensus as to what is revealed truth?

    As for lawmaking and keeping the status quo, majorities don’t necessarily determine that, at least not in the US. Sure, bills aren’t made into laws unless they have a majority vote in the house and senate, aren’t vetoed by the executive, and aren’t ruled unconstitutional by the judiciary. But the Supreme Court made barring interracial marriage unconstitutional (Loving v. Virginia 1967) at a time when the vast majority of the US population, over 75%, was against interracial marriage.

  46. Walter van Beek on February 15, 2014 at 5:47 am

    The discussion supports my point that a spill-over from religious ‘truths’ into politics easily creates problems. Here in the Netherlands we have had the same problem for a long time. The past century saw an intensification of religion in its first half, in which a Protestant majority imposed upon a Roman Catholic minority. The result was a country divided along denominational lines, which could only work through a division of territory, called pillarization. That way each of both Christianities (plural intended) could retain a maximum grip on its people, from the craddle to the grave, with most civic institutions being denominational. This was a success, in a way, as it lead to the most intensely religious period in the history of our country. However, after WW II and especially after the cultural revolution of the 60′and 70′s this system crumbled with surprising speed, resulting in one of the more secular societies in just a few decades. Religion used to colour the major parties, but now these parties have become marginal, leaving the stage for parties whose program is purely political and, consequently, out of reach of religion.
    The USA have gone trough a quite different history of its genesis of the secular state, and religion still is important in both parties, though mainly in the Republican one. (Am I right here?). Both the civil religion and the public space in the USA carry protestant colours.
    So when I see churches trying to impose on legislation as with Prop 8, or the church against SSM, as a Dutchman I get very suspicious. During the Prop 8 days one GA told the assembled stake presidents of Western Europe that they had to campaign against SSM in their countries. His remarks were duly listened to (they knew their way in the church) but afterwards they concluded that none of them would act on it. Not only did the ‘advice’ come much too late – it was already law for years in the Netherlands – it would put the church in a very awkward position in Europe.
    In short, let religion be religion, and politics be politics, and of course the one inspires the other, and values are shared, but let us beware of imposing our definition of the ultimate good on someone else.

  47. Alison Moore Smith on February 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    The discussion supports my point that a spill-over from religious ‘truths’ into politics easily creates problems.

    Of course it creates problems, but was that your point? There are also problems from non-religiously based values being legislated.

    Whether a value is based on an interpretation of what God wants or on what some human brain conjured up doesn’t change that. Everything is still just legislation of values, aka “forcing values down the throats” of those whose values are different. Every law does that and always has.

  48. Mtnmarty on February 15, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    The issue isn’t just who crams what down whose throat it’s whether categorizing things into religious versus non-religious helps make the cramming less painful.

    For religious reasons I support the cramming of a religious non religious legal distinction down the throats of those that would blur it.

  49. Cameron N. on February 15, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Mtnmarty – you mean like Jefferson blurred it by hosting a Baptist get together a short time after his famously quoted ‘wall of separation’ letter was penned?

  50. Steve Smith on February 15, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    “Everything is still just legislation of values, aka ‘forcing values down the throats’ of those whose values are different. Every law does that and always has.”

    OK, I suppose the rule of law in and itself is a value that is forced upon those who hold as a value the rule of person or the rule of whim. The value of protecting individual freedoms to the extent that individuals don’t use their freedoms to impinge upon someone else’s freedoms is imposed on those who believe that privately controlling people is a value.

    There are no facts without values and there are no laws without values. Agreed. But we simply cannot have a society where we can tolerate every last thing that people hold as values. Some values have to be imposed upon others because they are superior values. Suppose a Muslim father in the US wanted impose a very strict penalty on his 18 year-old daughter who refused to wear the headscarf in public by imprisoning his daughter in a secured room in his house until she agreed to wear the headscarf. What should we do in that case? Should we step in to protect the individual freedom of the girl to not be subject to private imprisonment, or should we allow the father to imprison his daughter because that practice is simply an expression of his religious values?

    As for legalizing SSM, you can still hold as a value that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. The LDS church is not forced to marry gays in temple. You are within your rights to privately not regard same-sex couples’ marriages as legitimate. But the imposition of restrictions on the individual freedoms of the six million+ gays in this country by not allowing them to consensually marry a person of the same gender (if this is what some people hold as a value) when it cannot be proven that being gay is abnormal and that legalizing gay marriage causes any demonstrable harm to any other individual or community is unjust. This value of treating gays as unequal is also inferior to the values of protecting individual freedoms and mandating equal treatment of straights and gays before the law.

  51. Steve Smith on February 15, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Cameron, what get together was this and how was this an instance of Thomas Jefferson blurring the lines between church and state in the US?

  52. Mtnmarty on February 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Cameron,

    Well given that Jefferson penned all men are created equal but held( in more ways than one) slaves, I must say his pen was mightier than his sword.

    But my own statement makes the potentially hypocritical distinction between the political and the legal. I said my political preference for a legal distinction between religion and no religion was religiously motivated.

    I don’t have a problem with people advocating for things like NoSSM on religious grounds as long as it meets legal grounds for being a non religious law.

  53. Lorian on February 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Cameron, presidents can *host* whomever they wish at the White House without it constituting a violation of the separation between church and state. There is nothing about the separation of church and state which dictates that a President cannot hold his or her own religious beliefs or practice his/her own religion, or that a President cannot socialize with religious people or play host to representatives of any particular religious sect. What violates the separation of church and state is when congress makes laws which impose the values of one religion upon all citizens, whether or not they share those values, simply upon the basis that the religion in question claims that its deity said that it should be so.

  54. Michael on February 15, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    #45. The “cannot be perceived by our senses” part. I’m saying, Joseph Smith is a preeminent example of someone who literally perceived with his senses this religious realm.

    “But the Supreme Court made barring interracial marriage unconstitutional (Loving v. Virginia 1967) at a time when the vast majority of the US population, over 75%, was against interracial marriage.”
    Yes, and a (extremely large) majority of the people decided that the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t worth amending the constitution over.

  55. Lorian on February 16, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Michael, how about instead of “cannot be perceived by our senses,” we say, “Most people cannot perceive it with their senses, and those who claim to do so cannot present any quantifiable proof that they have perceived it with their senses.”

    As to Loving v. Virginia and not amending the constitution, I suspect the same will most likely be true for same-sex couples and marriage equality.

  56. Alison Moore Smith on February 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Steve Smith #50:

    There are no facts without values and there are no laws without values. Agreed.

    Yup.

    But we simply cannot have a society where we can tolerate every last thing that people hold as values. Some values have to be imposed upon others because they are superior values.

    heh. Sure we do. And how do we determine which values are superior? How do we decided that YOUR values are superior to your hypothetical Muslim father? Is it just by consensus — per the above statement — so that if we get enough of a particular brand of Muslims in the US to vote we must “tolerate” that view?

    I mean, just because some Muslim girl is imprisoned in her house because she won’t wear a headscarf doesn’t mean Mormons can’t still let their daughters roam free with bare heads. You are free to privately not regard headscarf policing as legitimate, but the imposition of restrictions on the individual freedom of the 1 million – 9 million (depending on your source) Muslims in this country is untenable.

    I’ve never stated a position on SSM anywhere, even privately, but I find a lot of both good arguments and nonsense on both sides of the aisle. And pretending that opposing SSM is illegitimate because it’s only based on some silly religious nonsense is, well, nonsense.

  57. Lorian on February 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I mean, just because some Muslim girl is imprisoned in her house because she won’t wear a headscarf doesn’t mean Mormons can’t still let their daughters roam free with bare heads. You are free to privately not regard headscarf policing as legitimate, but the imposition of restrictions on the individual freedom of the 1 million – 9 million (depending on your source) Muslims in this country is untenable.

    Wait! So you’re saying that the Muslim girl, *herself*, is not an individual human being with the right to exercise her freedom as an individual and be free of being imprisoned (or killed) by her male relatives for her refusal to wear hijab? It is only her *father* who should have the right to worship as he pleases, not the girl, herself? The fact that allowing him to imprison her would not force Mormon girls to wear hijab is sufficient for you? Or did I misunderstand something there?

    And pretending that opposing SSM is illegitimate because it’s only based on some silly religious nonsense is, well, nonsense.

    How is opposition to civil marriage by religious individuals based on the concept that their version of God says it’s wrong a justifiable reason for denying another group their civil rights? If the God I believe in said that all Mormons should be deprived of the right to vote, you’ll be okay with that? Because someone’s God said it should be so, is sufficient reason to deprive someone else of a civil right or equal treatment in society?

  58. Michael on February 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    “How is opposition to civil marriage by religious individuals based on the concept that their version of God says it’s wrong a justifiable reason for denying another group their civil rights?”
    Who gets to decide what is justifiable? My point is that we, as a society, essentially vote on which values are better than others. Suppose an atheist group wants to outlaw teaching religion to children because they believe it is tantamount to child abuse. I think that such a law would be wrong and evil, yet the law would not be based upon religious beliefs, it would be a law based upon secularism and atheism. It would still be an incredibly stupid law. Luckily, we’re no where near that point as a society. Therefore, we create laws that represent the values, on the whole, of the society in which the laws are intended to be enforced. Dismissing a law a priori because it happens to coincide with some set of religious beliefs is foolish just as embracing a law for the same reason is foolish. Some values get trumped by more important values and which ones get trumped ultimately comes down to a majority vote on what is moral, and what is good.

  59. Jerry Schmidt on February 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    This digression about values definition really has no place here. If individuals want to argue about values, that’s fine, again, freedom of speech. But, that those originating in the US are even talking about its Constitution are acknowledging by silent consent that values can be defined, separated or categorized, and prioritized. It’s how we’ve agreed to do things in the US, and so is every amendment to the Constitution since.

    Moving past that, I’ve been very impressed by this conversation about same gender marriage. I, myself, feel that there are at least 4 portions to marriage, at least in the US. One is personal, as two individuals commit to sharing a life, property, responsibility, and something fuzzy called love.

    Then there is the social, since individual humans do not exist in a vacuum, not even in the US. Families of these individuals have been making life complicated up to this point, and this decision to commit brings two or more family sides into even greater complication. Religion overlaps this social complication with its own set of expectations, expressed through the individuals, their families, the neighborhoods, directly, and through the religious connections with the state.

    The state has become involved, at least in the US, because there is property or other shared assets or entitlements, and the bureaucracy is expected to honor the material arrangements of the individuals committing. So, to attempt to state my own opinion, the legal question would seem to be moot; gender is not a sufficient criteria for the state to withhold its honoring and protecting the material aspects of a marriage, and sexual relations are really not the business of the state until such relations are being used as a meghod of control or abuse in the marriage.

    The question I ask at this point, what do people in the US, particularly religious groups, fear will happen as a consequence of the state recognition of marriage including same gender individuals?

    I do not mean to leave out people living in cultures outside the US, but I only feel comfortable speaking about the culture I grew up with, and have observed myself.

  60. Lorian on February 16, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Michael, I never suggested that laws should be “it happens to coincide with some set of religious beliefs.” It is fine if laws happen to coincide with religious beliefs (like, “Thou shalt not kill”). The issue is that the law must be based upon something more clearly definable than simply the religious belief.

    We don’t have laws against murder because, “The Bible says murder is a sin.” We have laws against murder because murder is depriving another human being of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When an individual murders another individual, he infringes upon his victim’s rights to live his life.

    All laws which deprive individuals of rights, freedoms or liberties must demonstrate that they are doing so because the exercise of those rights, freedoms or liberties would significantly impact the rights, freedoms or liberties of other members of society, or seriously and demonstrably diminish the well-being of society as a whole (and again, not just because “My deity or holy book said it would happen,” but because there is clear, present, demonstrable harm or serious risk of harm caused by that action — like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, to use an oft-cited example).

  61. Steve Smith on February 17, 2014 at 12:33 am

    Alison (56), how do we determine which values are superior? That’s a good question on which we could write volumes. To answer that concisely I’ll say this. All humans have values, believe in a right and wrong, and believe that justice exists. No human can possibly be neutral and claim that there is no such thing as a just or unjust action. For it is reasonable to think that most human beings would consider someone physically harming them to be an unjust/wrong action. Perhaps there are humans who might think that they deserve physical harm or death at the hand of someone else, but those extremely rare cases, they individual would be considering himself unjust or wrong. Also, all humans believe that some values are superior to others. The small minority of radical Muslims who are behind suicide bombings think that their the value of killing infidels in the name of God is superior to tolerating infidelity. The vast majority of people, however, believe that the value of preserving life and order is superior to whatever so-called ‘values’ Muslim extremist base their violent actions upon. I would say that we determine which values are the best values through logically consistent reasoning combined with evidence that shows which practices best protect and preserve general human freedom and well-being. The idea that we should protect individual freedom to the extent that individuals don’t use their freedom of choice to impinge on another person’s freedoms seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

    My point with the hypothetical Muslim father and daughter is that it is more just for us to protect the freedom of the daughter from being held privately captive by her father than it would be for us to tolerate whatever values the father cited to justify holding his daughter captive. This is because the father’s actions were imposing psychological and social harm upon the daughter for making a decision, removing the headscarf, that did not impose any demonstrable harm on other people. Now suppose some 75% of Americans converted to Islam and that the overwhelming majority of new Muslim converts believed that permitting Muslim women to not wear the headscarf violated their values and that it was a justifiable act for Muslim fathers to threaten to hold their daughters captive if they did not comply. Would it be justifiable, then, for that hypothetical Muslim father to hold his daughter captive? Would it be a violation of religious freedoms if courts ruled that the Muslim father was acting illegally to do that?

    “And pretending that opposing SSM is illegitimate because it’s only based on some silly religious nonsense is, well, nonsense.”

    True, not all opposition to SSM has religious roots, although much of it does. Nonetheless one’s rights to privately oppose SSM should be protected. I privately oppose marriages of 18 year-olds to 80 year-old billionaires (i.e. Anna Nicole Smith). But the courts have to treat people equally before the law. And the value of treating people who cause no demonstrable harm to society (so it is still OK to deny felons the right to vote and to deny blind people driver’s licenses) equally before a legal system that they have say in creating seems logically superior to any sort of value system that would advocate not treating people equally before the law. It cannot be proven that being gay is a psychological disability. Therefore, how are gay romantic relationships inherently inferior to straight ones? Keeping gay couples from marrying, when it cannot be proven what demonstrable harm this causes society, amounts to nothing more than unjustifiable discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation.

  62. Steve Smith on February 17, 2014 at 12:51 am

    “Who gets to decide what is justifiable?”

    “And how do we determine which values are superior? How do we decided that YOUR values are superior to your hypothetical Muslim father?”

    I find the dalliance of many religious folks (I don’t know if Michael is religious, but I figure it is a safe assumption) on this board with moral relativism to be absolutely fascinating. It seems like only a decade ago we would hear more Mormons trying to make a strong case for what was right and wrong and that they were right on moral issues because the scriptures/prophet said so or they would construe some line of logic in tandem with what the scriptures/prophets said to justify their reasoning. But now I hear increasing appeals to “how do you know/decide something is right” as a thinly veiled argument against SSM. How do you know the Taliban’s policy that criminalized women in Afghanistan for not wearing burqas is not right and based on just values?

  63. Alison Moore Smith on February 17, 2014 at 7:16 am

    Lorian:

    Wait! So you’re saying that the Muslim girl, *herself*, is not an individual human being with the right to exercise her freedom as an individual and be free of being imprisoned (or killed) by her male relatives for her refusal to wear hijab? It is only her *father* who should have the right to worship as he pleases, not the girl, herself? The fact that allowing him to imprison her would not force Mormon girls to wear hijab is sufficient for you? Or did I misunderstand something there?

    Yes, you did misunderstand something there. Context.

    How is opposition to civil marriage by religious individuals based on the concept that their version of God says it’s wrong a justifiable reason for denying another group their civil rights?

    How is promotion of civil marriage by non-religious individuals on the concept of “because I feel like it” a justifiable reason for anything?

    Lorian, you seem to be really upset at the idea of God prescribing (or proscribing) something against your desires. At the same time you seem not to realize the only reason any of us have any “inalienable rights” at all is BECAUSE they are “endowed by [our] creator.”

    If you want to remove God from the discourse, fine. But then you have no rights at all. What you get is entirely up to the whim of people in power because there IS no “higher power,” there are only other humans, peers, and one’s desires don’t trump another’s. Are you willing to go along with worldwide popular consensus (or the power of might) with regard to how homosexuals are treated? Or does your stance actually DEPEND on the very godly prescriptions (and proscriptions) you want to deny?

  64. Lorian on February 17, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Alison, please explain how I missed your “context” and in so doing, misrepresented your point. Steve Smith said in #50:

    Suppose a Muslim father in the US wanted impose a very strict penalty on his 18 year-old daughter who refused to wear the headscarf in public by imprisoning his daughter in a secured room in his house until she agreed to wear the headscarf. What should we do in that case? Should we step in to protect the individual freedom of the girl to not be subject to private imprisonment, or should we allow the father to imprison his daughter because that practice is simply an expression of his religious values?</blockquote.
    You replied in #56:

    just because some Muslim girl is imprisoned in her house because she won’t wear a headscarf doesn’t mean Mormons can’t still let their daughters roam free with bare heads. You are free to privately not regard headscarf policing as legitimate, but the imposition of restrictions on the individual freedom of the 1 million – 9 million (depending on your source) Muslims in this country is untenable.

    How does this not equal *you* supporting the idea that Muslim men should have the right to impose hijab upon their female dependents by methods up to and including imprisonment if they are so inclined?

  65. Lorian on February 17, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    Alison, please explain how I missed your “context” and in so doing, misrepresented your point. Steve Smith said in #50:

    Suppose a Muslim father in the US wanted impose a very strict penalty on his 18 year-old daughter who refused to wear the headscarf in public by imprisoning his daughter in a secured room in his house until she agreed to wear the headscarf. What should we do in that case? Should we step in to protect the individual freedom of the girl to not be subject to private imprisonment, or should we allow the father to imprison his daughter because that practice is simply an expression of his religious values?

    You replied in #56:

    just because some Muslim girl is imprisoned in her house because she won’t wear a headscarf doesn’t mean Mormons can’t still let their daughters roam free with bare heads. You are free to privately not regard headscarf policing as legitimate, but the imposition of restrictions on the individual freedom of the 1 million – 9 million (depending on your source) Muslims in this country is untenable.

    How does this not equal *you* supporting the idea that Muslim men should have the right to impose hijab upon their female dependents by methods up to and including imprisonment if they are so inclined?

  66. Lorian on February 17, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    Sorry for the double post — messed up formatting and tried to fix, but messed up worse!

  67. Lorian on February 18, 2014 at 12:05 am

    As for the rest of your post, Alison:

    How is promotion of civil marriage by non-religious individuals on the concept of “because I feel like it” a justifiable reason for anything?

    The concept is not, “Because I feel like it,” but rather, “Because we each have the right to live according to the dictates of our *own* consciences, rather than being bound by someone *else’s* religious beliefs, assuming we cause no harm in the process. You have yet to prove any realistic harm caused by my marriage to my wife; therefore, you have no just cause to restrict our civil rights and freedoms.

    Lorian, you seem to be really upset at the idea of God prescribing (or proscribing) something against your desires.

    Not in the *least*, Alison. I do not *believe* that God has proscribed my love for and union with my wife. I believe that any such proscriptions are entirely of human construct. I believe they consist of you (singular and plural) attempting to impose *your* personal opinions upon me and my life. I do not even remotely believe that God, whom I believe created me as the homosexually-oriented person that I am, does not want me to live in a loving, fulfilling, committed relationship with the woman God prepared to be a part of my life, and I of hers. I absolutely believe we are fulfilling God’s loving plan for our lives. I believe that *you* are attempting to interfere in that plan, based upon *your* misunderstanding of scripture. As such, you have no right to interfere in *my* religious rights and freedoms to live my life according to my own conscience, my own religious beliefs, and my own understanding of God and of God’s will in my life.

    I don’t tell you how to live out your religious beliefs, and you don’t get to dictate to me how to live out mine.

    At the same time you seem not to realize the only reason any of us have any “inalienable rights” at all is BECAUSE they are “endowed by [our] creator.”

    But you don’t get to tell me how to believe in or worship that creator. Your religious beliefs about what that creator wants from me do not trump my own.

    If you want to remove God from the discourse, fine.

    Who is removing God from the discourse? Not me. What I am removing from the discourse is the rules dictated by various religions which have no basis in protection of individual rights and freedoms, but rather in unsupported suppositions about the disputed meanings of ancient texts.

    But then you have no rights at all. What you get is entirely up to the whim of people in power because there IS no “higher power,” there are only other humans, peers, and one’s desires don’t trump another’s. Are you willing to go along with worldwide popular consensus (or the power of might) with regard to how homosexuals are treated? Or does your stance actually DEPEND on the very godly prescriptions (and proscriptions) you want to deny?

    You have a very warped understanding of how our rights and freedoms in this society are determined, Alison. We don’t have individual liberties because your religion or my religion says so, but because we have agreed as a society that each individual is entitled to his/her own understanding of how life should be lived, and has the right to live that life and exercise those liberties and freedoms up to the point where his/her free exercise of those rights would infringe upon another citizens rights, liberties and freedoms. That means, you don’t get to proscribe my liberties because you consider them “sinful.” I don’t get to proscribe *your* liberties because I consider them “sinful.” My church doesn’t get to tell you how to live, and your church doesn’t get to tell me how to live. I don’t get to deny you civil rights because I disagree with what your church teaches, and you don’t get to deny me civil rights because you disagree with what my church teaches.

  68. Alison Moore Smith on February 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    How does this not equal *you* supporting the idea that Muslim men should have the right to impose hijab upon their female dependents by methods up to and including imprisonment if they are so inclined?

    It’s called analogy. I used the words of Steve (to whom I was responding) in #50 and turned them to a different topic. As I said right before that quote:

    And how do we determine which values are superior? How do we decided that YOUR values are superior to your hypothetical Muslim father? Is it just by consensus — per the above statement — so that if we get enough of a particular brand of Muslims in the US to vote we must “tolerate” that view?

    If we’re just going on consensus, then there are an awful lot of Muslims who will do things you might not like so much.

    The concept is not, “Because I feel like it,” but rather, “Because we each have the right to live according to the dictates of our *own* consciences, rather than being bound by someone *else’s* religious beliefs, assuming we cause no harm in the process.

    Define “harm.” What if John’s conscience compels him to live in an environment as sin-free as possible and he deems homosexual behavior as sinful?

    Again, I assume you’re pro-life, right? Because ripping a baby into pieces into a sink kind of sounds like “harm” from my crazy perspective.

    You have yet to prove any realistic harm caused by my marriage to my wife; therefore, you have no just cause to restrict our civil rights and freedoms.

    First, I haven’t remotely attempted to show any harm (realistic or otherwise) caused by gay marriage. Second, it wouldn’t matter what perceived harm anyone presented, you’d simply disregard it as untrue, unrealistic, or unreasonable.

    You have a very clear agenda promoting SSM and other homosexual issues. You’re not just some random truth-seeker looking to discuss issues philosophically.

    Not in the *least*, Alison. I do not *believe* that God has proscribed my love for and union with my wife. I believe that any such proscriptions are entirely of human construct.

    What does it matter what you believe? If what Mormons believe (as an institution) is disregarded as so much silly homophobia, then what you believe is just as meaningless. You don’t have moral authority to declare God’s truth.

    I believe that *you* are attempting to interfere in that plan, based upon *your* misunderstanding of scripture.

    Really? OK, so what is my understanding of scripture and how is it mistaken? (Hint: since I’ve never taken a position either way, I think you’re going to have a hard time with that one, but go ahead and give it your best shot.)

    I don’t tell you how to live out your religious beliefs, and you don’t get to dictate to me how to live out mine.

    I dare say just about everything you post on T&S is dictating to others how to live out their religious beliefs, Lorian. Including telling me that I don’t get to dictate things to you. Hello???

    Your religious beliefs about what that creator wants from me do not trump my own.

    Like I said, all laws trump the beliefs of those who disagree. And generally speaking all laws disagree with someone or they wouldn’t be needed in the first place. So someone’s beliefs are going to trump someone else’s here. Let’s not pretend otherwise. (And, while we’re at it, let’s not pretend you know what my beliefs are on that issue. You don’t.)

    SSM is no different. You only have “individual rights and freedoms” because there is a specific concept of God that offers them. That same God — believe it or not — has something to say about other stuff as well.

    You want to talk about the “unsupported suppositions about the disputed meanings of ancient texts”? Well where in the ancient texts is there a claim to the right to marry someone of your own gender?

    You have a very warped understanding of how our rights and freedoms in this society are determined, Alison.

    The ad hominem was bound to come up.

    That means, you don’t get to proscribe my liberties because you consider them “sinful.” I don’t get to proscribe *your* liberties because I consider them “sinful.”

    That’s what ALL laws do, whether we use the term “sinful” or “wrong” or “harmful.” They are all just behavioral judgments determining what is best from particular value sets.

    SSM should require the same scrutiny all such impositions on liberty do. No more, no less.

  69. Steve Smith on February 19, 2014 at 3:09 am

    Alison, many of your thoughts in comment 68 are incoherent. You’re generally not addressing the issues that Lorian brings up. Lorian is simply saying that according to the US constitution (which is based on values that I hope that we can all uphold), you have no right to force her and her spouse to bear the burden of your religious beliefs about what God is, what God says, and who has the moral authority to declare God’s truth and thus deprive her the right to marry the person of her choosing who has also consented to marrying her simply because you think that God said so. She asked you to establish what harm to you or anyone else is being caused by her marrying someone of the same sex. You haven’t shown that any harm is being done, therefore you have no just cause to try to keep her from marrying. Your mention of abortion is a red herring. You seem to be abiding by the principle of ‘when you can’t come up with evidence to support your arguments, just obfuscate.’

  70. Lorian on February 19, 2014 at 3:22 am

    Thanks for stating my points so much more concisely, Steve. I appreciate it. Especially since it seems that my post in response to Alison’s #68 was removed.

  71. Alison Moore Smith on February 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Steve and/or Lorian, if you’d like to point out the specific incoherency, please do.

    you have no right to force her and her spouse to bear the burden of your religious beliefs about what God is, what God says, and who has the moral authority to declare God’s truth and thus deprive her the right to marry the person of her choosing who has also consented to marrying her simply because you think that God said so.

    Except that you’ll note I actually said nothing about my religious beliefs or what I think God says. It’s interesting to me that this is always the go to card.

    She asked you to establish what harm to you or anyone else is being caused by her marrying someone of the same sex.

    No, she didn’t. She told me I was unable. I pointed out that I hadn’t tried.

    You haven’t shown that any harm is being done, therefore you have no just cause to try to keep her from marrying.

    Again, I haven’t tried to do so here or anywhere else. That hasn’t been my point because, if you actually read what I wrote, you might notice I’m not actually trying to stop her (or anyone else) from getting married. Rather I’m pointing out that arguments on both sides are pretty incoherent and inconsistent.

    Your mention of abortion is a red herring.

    Not at all. If our standard of what is acceptable and legal is something like “do what your conscience says (i.e. “what I feel like doing”) UNLESS it causes harm” then I assume everyone who supports that will be violently opposed to abortion.

    And I also assume (per above) that we really, REALLY need to define “harm.”

    You seem to be abiding by the principle of ‘when you can’t come up with evidence to support your arguments, just obfuscate.’

    What exactly IS my argument, Steve? What exactly am I fighting for — other than for those who take firm stands to make a logical case?

    Lorian, I just checked and there is no comment from you in moderation or trash that I can see.

  72. Lorian on February 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Well, I posted one yesterday, and it showed on the screen, and now it is gone. And I’m simply too tired to attempt to recreate it.

  73. Lorian on February 19, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    I must say, though, that I get really annoyed when folks argue a blue streak for days against marriage equality for gay people, and then say things like, “Well, I’ve never actually said I supported or opposed gay marriage, so you can’t hold that against me!” If you supported marriage equality for same-sex couples, Alison, you wouldn’t be spending hours of every day for days on end composing extended diatribes of all of the reasons you believe it is legitimate to oppose it. Any more than you’d be spending hours a day composing apologetics for slavery or antimiscegenation. It wouldn’t be a fruitful use of your time.

    You support marriage equality or oppose it. Being coy about it is just kind of pointless, as far as I can see. And please don’t tell me you don’t have strong feelings either way. The volume of your arguments says otherwise.

  74. Walter van Beek on February 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Religions, such as mine – I am LDS – operate as denominations on a religious market; the fact that we can have free ‘stalls’ on that market is considered a great good, and I agree. That free space of the religious market is guaranteed by law, in our cases (US and the Netherlands) based upon a democratic system which not only holds religious freedom paramount, but makes it possible in practice as well. This means that religions operate in a public space which in itself is not religious, but secular and has to be secular. Religious space is per definition multivocal, diverse and contradictory, or if there is only one religion, hegemonic and exclusive. So there have to be laws that define the religious market place, and thus set limits to what religions can do, externally as well as internally. Of course, these values are hard to define and even harder to superimpose on each other, but the notion that religions can be completely autonomous in their behavior, denies the right of a nation-state to exist and thus the very legitimacy of the religions themselves.

    Walter

  75. Steve Smith on February 21, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Alison, you’re either for gay marriage or you’re opposed to it. There is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. The neutrality you claim is absolutely fake. This little game you play by claiming not to have an opinion on the issue but just opinions about the opinions is disingenuous and childish. Of course you’re against gay marriage. Stop trying to deny something that is as obvious as the sun is bright. Having a discussion with you on this topic is much like trying to have a discussion with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist about 9/11 (which I have had before). Instead of making an assertion as to who is behind 9/11, the conspiracy theorist simply hunts for anomalies in the commonly accepted well-evidenced explanation and incessantly demands evidence of the obvious (i.e. how do you know that planes hit the twin towers, etc.) all the while disingenuously claiming neutrality. There is a point in discussions in which the very asking of questions, such as the ones that you are asking (how do you know what harm is, how do you know which values are superior, etc.), reveals someone’s position on an issue. You ask me to tell you what your position is. I’ll tell one of your positions. You make loud assertions about God saying this and that (i.e. “That same God — believe it or not — has something to say about other stuff as well”), how do you know that God exists and isn’t just an invention of human beings? For that matter, how do you know we don’t live the matrix and that life is simply an illusion? Give me a break.

  76. mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

    “you’re either for gay marriage or you’re opposed to it. There is no middle ground.”

    That’s simplistic and extremist.

  77. Lorian on February 21, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I understand what Steve is saying (I believe), because it’s pretty much what I said upthread. I think it is possible for someone to not have a particular opinion about marriage equality because they feel uninformed, don’t think they know anyone who is gay, and just simply perceive themselves as not being in a position to form an opinion on the subject.

    This, however, clearly does not apply to Alison, who clearly *does* have information (of a sort) and very clearly exhibits an opinion by the ideas which she puts forth and defends so vigorously. It’s not so much that she *couldn’t* not have an opinion, as that she blatantly *does* have an opinion, whether she is willing to admit to it or not. If she didn’t have an opinion, she wouldn’t be here day after day defending it so vigorously.

  78. mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Lorian,

    One could also be more concerned with expanding the role of religion in politics in a way that made one’s opinion on SSM in play.

    For example, I am strongly of the opinion that SSM should be independent of whether there is any such thing as gays or lesbians. I don’t want rules about behavior to depend on some measurement of an inborn status. The whole point of equality is to get away from different laws for people of a different status.

    This makes all anti-discrimination laws inherently problematic. The law can only prohibit it by recognizing it as a status.

  79. Lorian on February 21, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Yes, Marty, that’s true, but that would still be simply a motivation for one’s opinion on marriage equality. One still *would* have an opinion on marriage equality.

    Beyond that, though, your post above suggests to me a misconception of how nondiscrimination laws function. Nondiscrimination laws do not protect individuals because of their minority status or deny protection to people who are members of the majority. They are based, not on whether one is a member of the discriminated group, but upon the general category of characteristic upon which the discrimination is based.

    So, we do not have laws in this country which forbid discrimination against black people or people of African descent. We have laws which ban discrimination based upon *race* or *ethnicity*. These laws protect white Europeans, Asians from Thailand, and Hispanic or Latino people (white, brown or black) whose extraction is from South American, Central America or North America. It is just as illegal to discriminate against a 5th generation American of Swedish extraction who has alabaster skin, blue eyes and white-blond hair on the basis of race or ethnicity as it is to discriminate against a black person born in South Africa or a black person born in Louisiana on the basis of race or ethnicity.

    Laws which protect from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation don’t just protect gay people from being discriminated against by religious people who hold a bias against GLBT people. They also protect heterosexual people from discrimination by gay people. Laws which protect from sex discrimination protect women AND men. Laws which protect from religious discrimination protect Jews, Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, etc.

    So this isn’t about writing individual minority groups into our laws as permanently protected “special groups.” It’s about protecting *all* of us from ever being discriminated against on the basis of either innate characteristics which we cannot change, or our protected religious liberty to worship (or not) as we please.

  80. Steve Smith on February 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    OK mtnmarty, I suppose it is possible that someone may not know enough about the issue or really care too much about it to not have a formulated opinion. There are also those who choose to not openly express any opinion on the matter. But in today’s political climate, most all educated adults have an opinion about gay marriage, and it falls along the lines of for or against.

    But what Alison is doing seems to be a new strategy for the opponents for gay marriage: pretend neutrality and force gay marriage proponents to bear the burden of explanation of why we should have gay marriage. Many opponents of gay marriage know that they don’t have a rational argument against gay marriage, so they just hang out on the sidelines and take potshots at arguments in favor of legalizing gay marriage (and only those arguments), with the main aim of painting gay marriage proponents as agenda-pushers who jump to conclusions and can’t produce enough evidence to justify changing the status quo. They seek to paint proponents of gay marriage as having opinions rooted in nothing but a set of values that is akin to the set of values that opponents of gay marriage have, just different. And that therefore the religious folks who oppose gay marriage are perfectly justified, because the argument for gay marriage is values-based (which it is, she’s right about that), and so the argument against it. The point that she refuses to accept is that some values are clearly superior to others. Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of the rule of jurisprudent, which is the foundation of the system of government in Iran, is most certainly values-based. But the fact that the system of government denies Iranian citizens freedom of conscience makes it an inferior value to systems of government that allow freedom of conscience. At some point, no one can possibly be values-neutral.

    But alas, Alison keeps insisting that she is on the issue of gay marriage:

    “I’ve never stated a position on SSM anywhere, even privately, but I find a lot of both good arguments and nonsense on both sides of the aisle. And pretending that opposing SSM is illegitimate because it’s only based on some silly religious nonsense is, well, nonsense.”

    This statement by Alison, that she has ‘never’ stated, even privately, a position on gay marriage, is extremely hard to believe. I simply cannot imagine her saying this ten years ago, when the overwhelming majority of LDS people were unquestioningly against gay marriage (and definitely not neutral about it). I know at that time that I was quite strongly against gay marriage. What’s funny is that in the last sentence Alison validates the arguments against gay marriage as if they make sense, but doesn’t dare say how lest she undermine her rather disingenuous supposedly values-neutral strategy.

  81. mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Lorian and Steve,

    Oddly, your arguments have mainly convinced me that you both do want to prohibit Alison’s way of being in a way that proves her point that laws are just force.

    I’m not disagreeing with your arguments just stating the you are both examples of power in motion attempting to influence the world. You are not in search of truth, you are trying to hold your ground and make converts if possible.

    Unfortunately Alison, I think your way of describing and exposing power loses power for your side.

  82. Steve Smith on February 21, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    mtnmarty, yes all laws are based on values and force people to do things, but I think that is sort of stating the obvious. In lawless societies, people force other people to do things, often arbitrarily. Laws in the US force my employer to honor a contract with me and pay me for work that I do. Other laws in the US force people to not persecute me for being LDS. My point is that some laws are just and others are unjust. Laws that ban gays from marrying are unjust and laws that protect the rights of gays to marry are just. The most just societies govern by rule of law for the purpose of maximizing the freedoms and well-being of individuals with minimal cost to the well-being of others and to the environment. They determine how to accomplish this through a process of trial and error, invoking moral philosophy and science, and learning along the way. Yes, that is a message that I preach and wish to convert others, including Alison, to.

  83. Lorian on February 21, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are accusing me of, marty. Maybe I’m just having a slow day, but I’m not wielding any particular “power,” nor have I claimed to be “in search of” any particular truth.

    I am, however, as I always do, *speaking* the truth, and the truth is that same sex couples are being denied equal treatment as citizens of this country; that conservatives have latched onto a recycled (conservatives used the same argument against desegregation and legal recognition of interracial marriages) argument: that legislating equal treatment for gays and lesbians by banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation = “violating” religious people’s “right” to discriminate against them in the provision of employment, housing and public accommodations, and that this somehow has *any* bearing whatsoever on whether gay people should be allowed marriage equality (which it does not — since non-discrimination ordinances and laws exist separate and distinct from laws governing marriage equality.

    And sure, I’d love to make converts from those who currently see gays and lesbians as undeserving of equal treatment, either in civil marriage or in basic civil rights legislation (housing/employment/public-accommodations), but I don’t recall ever making any secret of that fact, either. I have no ulterior agendas here, and I never said I was in this discussion for the sake of philosophical musing. I’m here to protect my kids’ basic rights and freedoms and to try to make sure that my wife and I don’t have to continue facing discrimination through the latter halves of our lives, as we did throughout the first halves.

  84. mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I’m not accusing either of you of anything. I’m interested in Alison’s “equalizing” all laws to power. I was thinking it was a big mistake for religious people to talk as if all laws are just force but now I’m not so sure it matters.

    I’m interested in how contested our sense of justice is right now. It may have always been contested but many people on both sides of the polarization are saying its more polarized now than before. I’m just stating that even if you are right, its not the justice of the law that is making it law, its the power of people who want it whether its just or not.

    The right to legislate on matters of sexuality is sufficiently fundamental to many people that they may sacrifice traditional freedoms if those freedoms produce a result sufficiently strong to violate their consciences.

    For these people you could think of it like a mathematical proof by reduction. If freedom of religion produces gay marriage then that just shows that freedom of religion is not a good principle.

    So, Steve what do you have in a society where you have small majorities and small majorities that have very, very different understandings of justice? I don’t think it is that helpful to the rule of law to reach for all you can get politically based on one’s own idea of justice without a pretty large consensus. Balance of power legality are better than simple democracy for this. Its part of why constitutional changes require super majorities. But what we have now is that we can’t agree on the meaning of words. Equality, harm, cruel and unusual, discrimination, religion, freedom, justice, privacy and a 5-4 majority of Supreme court justices now have extreme power to change the meaning of laws based on the meaning of words. I’m not arguing for strict construction here, I’m saying that right now, in our society the rule of law is in a very real sense impossible because we don’t agree on the meaning of words, so we have a rule of judges, not a rule of law. Or at a minimum the half-life of a law having a meaning is getting shorter and shorter.

    So, Steve, what do you propose to do with the significant number of “unjust” who don’t see justice and injustice the way you do. Preach, punish or compromise?

  85. Lorian on February 21, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    You can’t compromise when it comes to denying a discriminated minority civil rights at the whim of the majority. Issues of prejudice and discrimination have nearly always come down to a decision of the courts. That’s why we *have* a judiciary and a balance of powers, rather than being a pure democracy or a republic without a supreme judiciary with authority to revoke unjust laws.

  86. Mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Lorian,

    I don’t think the courts have always led at all. The courts upheld slavery, property requirements for the vote, sterilization of the retarded, immigration limits by country, and on and on and on.

  87. Lorian on February 21, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    I’m not saying the courts have always been right, marty. They’ve certainly made errors. And there are notable cases in which the legislature *has* made the right choice, such as the 14th and 19th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    However, to balance those examples, we have Brown v. BOE, Loving v. Virginia, Meyer v. Nebraska, Missouri ex el Gaines v. Canada, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., Griggs v. Duke Power Co., Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, and many others.

    The problem is that public referendums are notoriously swayed by intense public prejudice, and legislatures are not far behind in expressing the public’s disapproval of minorities. The courts, while also subject to such influences to one degree or another, still are generally at least somewhat more open to considering the preservation and protection of individual constitutional rights and liberties in a more rational context.

    There are injustices even still, sure, but over time, the arc of history, in MLK, Jr.’s words, “bends towards justice.”

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