Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LDS Doctrine and Same-Sex Couples, part 5: Exploring the Possibilities

The widow’s problem is just one illustration of how little the Church claims to know about the architecture of the celestial society. The incongruence of current monogamous marriage practices with the plural marriages of the 19th century, not to mention Joseph Smith’s short-lived introduction of polyandry in Nauvoo, suggest that the plan of salvation as we understand it is too vague to conclusively foreclose the accommodation of homosexuality by the Church.

In fact, there is even an argument to be made in favor of eternal same-sex couples. While the assumption is that homosexuality is a temporary condition, this seems to contradict the LDS belief that “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there . . . ,” (D&C 130:2) and “that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.” (Alma 34:34) The doctrine of eternal intelligence posits that there is a part of each of us that has always existed, an essential personality that is co-eternal with even God. The idea that homosexuality is a temporary affliction of the body rather than a part of the essence of personality conflicts with the experience of many gays and lesbians. It also fundamentally denies part of Mormon theology—that sexual desire is not a vice, but rather an eternal part of God’s plan. LDS scholar Wayne Schow explains:

Sexuality . . . is more than just the power of procreation . . . . [O]ur sexuality is self-expressive, a dynamic assertion of personal identity; it is a “fingerprint” of personal force . . . . More than simple gratification of all of our physical senses, sexual union can unify body, mind, and spirit . . . . To ignore this aspect of sexuality is to give up a rich and integrative dimension of personal wholeness. A life without sexual realization is not a complete life, however good it otherwise may be.1

This question ultimately cannot be resolved in this life, but if homosexuality is part of eternal personality, then speculating about the will of God for these children in the eternities would be appropriate.

The basic objection to having two men or two women as an eternal coupling was the lack of fecundity that such a coupling would imply—how would such a pairing be able to produce worlds without number? The flaw in this argument lies with its central assumption—that spirit children are created sexually. There is no reason to believe this case beyond conventional wisdom, and thinking of the implications of the argument reveals the absurdity of applying traditional notions of mortal reproduction to the production of spirits. A woman would have to be pregnant constantly in order create the spirits necessary to populate planets. The process sounds more akin to a colony of bees than an equal partnership between husband and wife. The absurdity of this position is also shown by taking it to its logical extreme, as Joseph Fielding Smith did. Based on his understanding of eternal increase, he deduced that those assigned to less than the highest degree of glory would be resurrected without genitalia.

But the argument’s assumptions can be revealed one level further—there is no reason to believe that spirit production occurs at all. While some statements by general authorities suggest this to be the case, there is support for the idea that spirits are co-eternal with God, implying that the process of becoming spirit children of our heavenly parents did not require spiritual birth but rather adoption. This could be done as easily by a same-sex pair as by an opposite-sex couple, nullifying the logic of restricting eternal marriage to opposite-sex couples. This model has powerful support with the sealing doctrine, which teaches that families are not created by blood but rather by priesthood authority. (D&C 132:7)

The sealing of same-sex couples would not be unprecedented, either. While the current conception of the sealing ordinance is limited to monogamous marriage and sealing parents to children, earlier sealings included polygamous marriages, sealing to prominent Mormon families, and friendship sealings. If the Church were to recognize same-sex orientation as a part of eternal identity rather than a temporal affliction, these earlier sealing practices would allow for the introduction of new uses of the sealing power.

Another argument that can be raised against eternal same-sex marriage is the complementary nature of man and woman. The Proclamation on the Family states that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” However, the document does not explain the reasoning behind this statement, and so we are left with little guidance to discover just what it is about gender that is essential (beyond the biological arguments above), and even less to say that both a man and a woman are essential for an eternal marriage. We must be careful not to extend the logic of current marriage relationships into the eternities. Marriage as we know it, and the gender roles that go along with it, has more rooting in the Industrial Revolution than in the eternities. To hold up this version of the marriage relationship as the ideal form of marriage ignores history and remakes God in our image.

In conclusion, the argument against same-sex relationships from the standpoint of the Plan of Salvation can only be valid if there is something within a temporal homosexual relationship that would block an eternal opposite-sex marriage. The only explanation for this is if there were something inherently disordered and sinful with any homosexual relationship, even a committed, legally sanctioned, faithful, and monogamous relationship. While most faiths would depend on the word of scripture or natural law to determine sinfulness, the LDS faith relies on the word of living prophets to declare the will of God to its adherents. I will deal with that argument in the next post.

  1. Wayne Schow, Sexual Morality Revisited, DIALOGUE, Fall 2004, at 114, 121.

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