Posted on 16 July 2015 by Lynnette
I’ve read a lot of posts on gay marriage in the last few weeks, and seen a lot of arguments. But I have a question about the subject that I haven’t ever really seen directly addressed. So I’m going to jump into the fray, and ask it. My question is: what, exactly, does the church want non-LDS gay people to do? For members, the requirement is currently either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. Though I find this situation problematic, I want to set it aside, and ask what the church might realistically hope for when it comes to the vast majority of gay people who aren’t LDS.
Here are the options I can come up with:
1) Celibacy. If this is a requirement for Mormons, one might ask, why not for everyone? But I think even the church would realize that this isn’t a realistic requirement for those not of our faith. Many see the rejection of same-sex marriage as imposing our values on others; such a move would be taking that to an extreme.
2) Mixed-orientation marriages. This is an unlikely scenario, given the high failure rate of such marriages, and the fact that gay people who don’t have the religious views of Mormons aren’t really going to be motivated to enter into such marriages. The church has actually come to recognize that this is a problematic prescription even when applied to members; it’s unlikely to be a satisfactory solution for non-members.
3) Go back to an earlier time, when gay people had to remain closeted and homosexuality was much less socially acceptable. In other words, sweep the problem under the rug and hope it goes away. But the tremendous toll this takes upon not only gay people themselves, but also families which include gay parents and spouses, should make this a questionable option.
4) Live the “gay lifestyle.” By this I mean, engage in promiscuous sex and don’t enter into committed relationships. (I’m not seriously saying that this is a fair term, by the way; I’m using it because I think many LDS imagine it as meaning that.) I don’t think the church explicitly wants this, but at least for some, this is equated with homosexuality—if you’re gay, this is inevitably what you do, and that’s one reason why it’s a problem to be gay. This also might arise as the alternative once you assert that marriage is bad for gay people. But given its teachings, I think it would be odd for the church to not have issues with this as the norm.
5) Enter into civil unions. I imagine this would be a common answer, but it raises some questions. For one thing, it leaves a certain group of people as having a second-class status when it comes to their partnerships. Maybe the church doesn’t care about that. But I don’t see how it’s consistent to be in favor of civil unions while rejecting gay marriage when your basic argument is that tolerating homosexual behavior is bad for society. On a practical level, what is it exactly that makes civil unions acceptable when gay marriage is bad? It’s also worth noting that because they are easier to dissolve, civil unions are less likely to lead to committed, enduring relationships. The church may not care whether gay unions have those qualities, but I think on the basis of what is good for society (by their own reckoning), they should. To put it another way, why is it worse for straight couples to live together without marrying, but better for gay couples?
6) Gay marriage. The church, as we all know, is vehemently opposed to this.
But here is my question. Given that it’s unreasonable to expect non-LDS gay people to follow church standards on this, how is gay marriage not the best of the remaining options? It might still be seen as sinful and detrimental to society, but it’s surely the lesser of several evils. It’s more likely to encourage stable relationships—and I think there is widespread agreement that those are preferable for children, and I think arguably better for society as a whole. It also has the advantage of giving all people equal treatment, which I think in general the church doesn’t necessarily see as a bad thing, especially given our own history of being persecuted for socially unacceptable marriage practices.
Another important question is what the church would expect from the many already-existing families in which the spouses are gay. Should they divorce, in the interests of what is best for society? Especially if they have children, this seems a problematic option.
I think one of the problems here is the church currently makes no moral distinction between promiscuous, extra-marital gay sex, and gay sex in the context of a committed relationship. It’s all indiscriminately bad. But I think this position needs to be seriously questioned, if the church is going to make the case that it wants not only what is good for its members, but what is good for society more generally.