Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 4: Chastity and Eternal Marriage

Part four of the continuing series... click for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Another argument against homosexual relationships is based on the principle of chastity. A pamphlet produced by the Church, True to the Faith, explains the law of chastity thusly: "You must not have any sexual relations before you are legally married. When you are married, you must be completely faithful to your husband or wife."

The principle is construed into an argument against same-sex marriage like so: Sex outside of marriage is immoral, and marriage is only between a man and a woman, so homosexual sex is against the law of chastity. However, the argument is circular; homosexual sex is immoral because marriage is between a man and a woman, and marriage is between a man and a woman because same-sex relations are immoral.

One can argue that chastity encompasses more than just a prohibition on extramarital sexual relations, but homosexual relations of any sort. However, the authority supporting this conclusion is not found within the law of chastity itself, but rather from the doctrine of eternal marriage.

The Latter-day Saint view of chastity is based on the idea that sexual activity is a dimension of the power of God given to humans, and so misuse of this power is blasphemy. The basis for this idea is the belief in eternal marriage. Doctrine and Covenants section 132 explains: "[I]f a man marry a wife by my word . . . , it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection . . . and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths . . . . Then shall they be gods . . . , and the angels are subject unto them."

The doctrine of eternal marriage is a dilemma for gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints. As Armand Mauss explains, "Marriage between the sexes, and the expectation of procreation here and hereafter, seem to lie at the very foundation of the doctrinal complex called the 'Plan of Salvation.'"1 There are three options for a gay or lesbian saint, none of which conforms to the ideal standard laid out in LDS doctrine: choose to marry a person of the opposite sex, choose to stay celibate, or enter into a relationship with a same-sex partner. I will look at these options in turn.

Until recently, the option favored by the Church was for gay and lesbian saints to sublimate their natural urges and marry someone of the opposite sex. The logic of this position was based on the idea that there was no such thing as inborn or ingrained homosexuality. President Spencer W. Kimball was an advocate of this practice, encouraging homosexuals to "force [themselves] to return to normal pursuits and interests and actions and friendships with the opposite sex."2 This position was reinforced by the idea that sexual gratification was base and therefore not essential to a good marriage and the belief that only through marriage can men and women achieve eternal life.

This approach has been less than successful, however. A high percentage of mixed-orientation relationships fail, with disastrous consequences for both partners and the children involved. The homosexual partner in these relationships finds that the homosexual urges that the marriage was supposed to "cure" do not go away, and so that partner falls into despair. This despair often leads to risky and self-destructive behaviors like unsafe extramarital sexual practices, drug use, and even attempted suicide. Meanwhile, the straight partner is disappointed by the gay partner’s lack of desire for sexual intimacy, and worries that this condition is somehow his or her fault for not being attractive enough. Because of the lack of success in mixed-orientation marriages, they are no longer promoted as a general rule. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated the Church’s policy: "Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices . . . ."3

The new preferred policy among Church leaders for dealing with homosexuals is celibacy. President Hinckley’s comments illustrate this new approach:

Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married.4

This approach certainly has support from the early Christian tradition, which viewed sexual urges as another bodily desire to be overcome, and championed celibacy as a way of becoming closer to God. However, this tradition does not square with LDS doctrine regarding celibacy. Early Church revelations are hostile and dismissive of celibacy as a "holy" choice: "[W]hoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation . . . ." (D&C 49:15-17). Bruce R. McConkie reiterates the traditional LDS view, saying that "[m]any who practice celibacy do so out of an excessive religious devotion . . . . In reality they are forsaking some of the most important purposes of their creation for a man-made, uninspired system . . . . [T]he principle of not marrying is not the doctrine of the Church . . . ."5

Marriage is viewed not only as a necessary stamp on a saint’s passport required for entry into the Celestial Kingdom, it also is viewed as a key to happiness and spiritual progression in this life. The General Handbook of Instructions states that "[m]arried couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife." Therefore, while current LDS doctrine allows for the hope of marriage in the next life in exigent circumstances, those who are not married in this life forfeit the extra happiness and spiritual growth that such a relationship can give in this life.

Single saints are also at a disadvantage within the Church community. The fact that there is no tradition of celibacy in the Church creates the implicit perception among other members of the congregation of single saints' spiritual deficiency. The unmarried Latter-day Saints (especially those beyond college-age years) often feel like they exist in a doctrinal limbo, and going to meetings becomes progressively harder as these saints are treated with pity or suspicion, or perhaps both. They are constantly asked "why aren’t you dating anyone" by well meaning saints hoping to show support, yet who serve as an unneeded reminder of something painful to many.

Hostility toward celibacy as an alternative lifestyle, along with the belief that a just God will allow us opportunities that we were denied in this life and that things will work themselves out in the eternities creates doctrinal space for same-sex marriage as a viable alternative to celibacy in this life. The Church’s policy toward widows is instructive. A woman, past her childbearing years, whose husband has died is not required nor encouraged to remain celibate for the rest of her life. She may remarry, and this is counted as a good thing even though the marriage itself is for this life only and not an eternal marriage. The church encourages this behavior because it holds that marriage, even for this life, even without the chance of offspring, is still good.

The same logic could extend to same-sex couples. Even though the union is not procreative, and even though the union is not eternal, it would still be a chance for the persons involved to enter into a mutually strengthening relationship where there is a unique opportunity to feel love and happiness. If it is true that homosexuality is a condition that will only exist in this life and that there is an opportunity for an opposite-sex marriage in the hereafter, then there is no eternal difference between a temporal same-sex marriage and celibacy. There would be a temporal difference, but it seems to be a positive difference rather than a negative difference.

  1. Armand Mauss, On “Defense of Marriage”: A Reply to Quinn, DIALOGUE, Fall 2000, at 53, 57.
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, Reverence and Morality, ENSIGN, May 1987, at 47.
  4. Gordon B. Hinckley, Why We Do Some of the Things We Do, ENSIGN, Nov. 1999, at 52.
  5. BRUCE R. MCCONKIE, MORMON DOCTRINE 119–20 (2d ed., 1966).


Blake said...

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Erin said...

i've never thought about your last point (about widows marrying compared to homosexual relationships). interesting.

i agree with you that neither scripture nor past revelation nor natural law nor chastity really stands in the way of the LDS church changing its position on homosexuality. i think, though, that fundamental church doctrine about the plan of salvation, gender being an eternal identity, etc., makes such a change hard for me to fathom. (incidentally, i also think if the church were to change its position on homosexuality, it would need to think hard about giving women the priesthood) ... so anyway, i'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say.

Nate W. said...

Erin, I totally agree with you. I think that absent the idea of complementary gender roles, there is no real justification left for withholding priesthood from women. However, even if you view this only from a pragmatic perspective, I think the marriage of same-sex couples necessitates giving women the priesthood. The idea of having a complete two-parent family without a priesthood would fundamentally alter the concept of priesthood in the LDS Church. I think that you wouldn't get to same-sex marriage without giving women the priesthood first.

Charlie said...

Great point(s)! I've always rejected the naturalized, procreative argument against same-sex marriage. If marriage should only be allowed to couples who can reproduce, my mom (who is LDS and beyond her child-bearing years) should not have been allowed to marry a second and a third time.