Tuesday, February 17, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 1: Introduction

OK boys and girls, I'm starting a new 6-part series on Tuesdays. If you have no interest in religious issues, don't worry—it's only one day a week.

The aftermath of California’s passage of Proposition 8 has drawn the battle lines between the LDS church and the gay community. The last few months have been rough for those of us who find themselves in the intersection of these two worlds. Sometimes it is hard to believe that a reconciliation could be possible. While the bad feelings on both sides ensure that reconciliation will not happen any time soon, some would argue that a reconciliation is impossible because of LDS doctrine itself. In the following posts, I will address that issue, and argue that the LDS doctrine does not preclude the possibility of a future change of official policy regarding same-sex relationships.

Opponents of Church acceptance of homosexuality generally bring five basic arguments into play: homosexuality is “just wrong,” the scriptures condemn homosexuality; homosexual relationships violate the law of chastity; homosexual relationships are incompatible with the plan of salvation; and the brethren have not recognized and have actively campaigned against homosexual relationships. The first three arguments are weak from an LDS standpoint, but the latter two arguments engage the very foundations of Church doctrine. Plumbing the depths of these latter two arguments, while leading to no definitive answers about a place for homosexuals in the Church, exposes some play in the joints that would allow accommodation of committed same-sex couples within the LDS community if the Church were inclined to do so.


Charlie said...

Having thought about this for a while, I cannot help but arrive at the conclusion that the homosexual problematic in the LDS church has to do with power and money (the former precedes the latter in this context, I believe). LDS doctrine is founded upon prescriptive gender roles and a contradictory balance of power between the sexes: men ("worthy priesthood holders") get to exercise "righteous dominion" and lead the family (as well as the church), while women get to be the receptacle of this righteous dominion, their power being interpreted strictly as reproductive. The argument created here is that without the life-giving power of women, human existence would not be possible. Men: you get the priesthood. Women: you get a uterus (and more face-time with your children, remembering to mold them within the confines established by priesthood authority). What this illusory balance of power fails to consider is that human existence is also impossible without the life-giving power of men: a realization that would lead us to a far-from-balanced power paradigm. Men: you get a penis AND the priesthood. Women: you still get a uterus. Follow the priesthood in righteousness.

This may seem like a digression or an unwarranted attack on Mormonism, but it’s impossible to talk about the homosexual contradiction within LDS doctrine without also taking into consideration the contradiction created by its self-proclaimed “natural” balance of power between the sexes. This power model is unquestionably considered by followers to be natural, and thus, to have been inherited from a divine power (and certainly not constructed by men for the perpetuation of a system that benefits certain men). It is from this deified ground that arguments are made against equality for women and against equality for homosexuals. They believe the most basic requirements for the perpetuation of the human species (and therefore, God’s natural order) would be compromised if women were allowed/distracted by any power other than her reproductive power. The natural(ized) order would also be compromised if homosexual relationships were granted equal legal recognition. This is obviously illogical, since regardless of her material power, a woman will continue to have a uterus, and regardless of the legal status of a homosexual’s relationship, heterosexuals will continue to exist and reproduce (as they always have).

This then brings us to the enormous taboo imposed upon Mormon thought by its own Puritanical/Calvinist roots when it comes to the topic of human sexuality and the more historically-recent (and logically-flawed) notion that homosexuality is somehow inherently more lustful, immoral, or perverted than heterosexuality (or that homosexuals are somehow more promiscuous or “impure” in their sexual impulses than heterosexuals). Considering homosexuals as equals (and consequently, their feelings and relationships as equal) would disrupt the naturalized/deified binary prescription of gender roles and consequently provoke an entire re-thinking of the power paradigm upon which the LDS hierarchy is based. This is partially why they have raised millions upon millions of dollars to slow down progress on the equality front.

The other reason for this, as I have mentioned, is money. We all witnessed the Prop 8 propaganda that erroneously claimed that churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages if Prop 8 failed to pass, or that churches would be forced to change their doctrine regarding homosexuality. They even cited previous legal battles in progressive New England states. When these court cases are actually examined, however (instead of superficially exploited for sensationalist effect), it is easily evident that religious freedom was never in question or infringed upon. The real issue was tax-exempt status. The question at hand is not “Do you have the right to preach discrimination against homosexuals?” or “Do you have the right to refuse to marry a same-sex couple?” Those rights have always been and continue to be firmly intact. The question is “Do you have the right to receive tax-exempt status as an institution that is open to the public when you refuse services to 10% of the public?” That 10% of the American public (gay America, that is) pays taxes. What could be more un-American than taxation without representation?

This is precisely why BYU changed its racial policies in the 1970s: it received tax-exempt status, but discriminated against tax-paying citizens on the basis of race. It had recently been established that race was an unlawful basis for discrimination in the public (tax-paying) sector. BYU could have continued its racist ways: it just would’ve lost its tax-exempt status. Similarly, the LDS church is afraid it may lose its tax-exempt status (and have to literally pay for its discriminatory beliefs in the form of taxes) if it is established that sexual orientation is an unlawful basis for discrimination in the public (tax-paying) sector. They would like to create the illusion that gay rights activists are stomping on their religious freedoms, but that is simply not the case. It is, in the end, about money (but not entirely).

What I’m getting at is that when it comes to whether the LDS church will ever accept gay people, I agree with you that there are several points within LDS doctrine itself that would support an internal movement for equality (or at least for political neutrality/non-involvement on the subject): the Golden Rule, the 11th Article of Faith, pre-existence theology that characterizes forced morality as analogous to Satan’s plan, etc. I do not believe, however, that such a movement will ever be possible. The infallibility of the institutional hierarchy and the illusory balance of power (and its binary prescription of gender roles) have been effectively naturalized (and thus deified) within the Mormon psyche. Accepting gay people and their relationships within the LDS church would require a rethinking of the power paradigm upon which the church (and others) was founded. This ideological threat is further exacerbated by the financial issue of tax-exempt status. Consequently, I am quite pessimistic about any changes on Temple Square (or wherever LDS church headquarters is), but can only hope that my LDS friends and family will see my pursuit of happiness as legitimate and non-threatening, and that they will begin a counterdiscourse within LDS society to help balance the sometimes hateful, usually fearful rhetoric.

Charlie said...

I should add to that last line: "sometimes hateful, usually fearful rhetoric when it comes to 'the gays.'" I did not mean by any means to insinuate that rhetoric in general within LDS society is characteristically hateful or fearful.