A fundamental aspect of the good news of the gospel is the message of liberty. As President Joseph F. Smith said, “The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of freedom; the gospel of the Son of God is the gospel of liberty.” Men of God, both ancient and modern, have spoken on this issue repeatedly. This book analyzes what liberty is and how it applies to government.
The fight for Proposition 8 was a mess. The effort to uphold heterosexual marriage through law gave the LDS Church a political and cultural black eye. As a result of the political and financial capital exhausted in the unsuccessful effort, and given the continuing trend of increased support for same-sex marriage nationwide, the Church is evidently seeking to employ a new stratagem.
This new tactic is entirely a defensive one. Rather than investing time, money, and talents (in select locations only) to enforce a political definition of marriage that is in harmony with current church doctrine, Latter-day Saints are being asked to voice their views (whatever they may be) and in doing so seek exemptions for the Church.
Mormons in Hawaii, for example, have been asked to fight for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith” including protection for “religious organizations and officials from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities” and protection for “individuals and small businesses from being required to assist in promoting or celebrating same-sex marriages.”
These desired exemptions are defensive measures to counteract developments from New Mexico and elsewhere that punish individuals and businesses for not rendering services supportive of same-sex marriages.
Interestingly, just weeks ago a new effort was announced to promote a constitutional amendment in Utah that would seek something similar to the first exemption listed above. Focusing only on marriage and seeking only to protect churches (and not necessarily religious people at this point in time), the amendment (still being drafted) will say something like this: churches “shall not be required to solemnize, officiate in, or recognize any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its constitutional right of conscience or its free exercise of religion.” Such an amendment would pass overwhelmingly in Utah, and organizers have their eyes on other states in upcoming years as well.
The Church itself published a variety of materials last week about religious freedom, clearly positioning itself for further efforts in this regard. But again, the efforts have become defensive. As society marches on in a direction opposed by the Church, the Church has (at least for now) seen fit to fight for exemptions to the norm, rather than to fight in the trenches for what that norm should be.
I suggest that while playing defense at this point in time is understandable, given the history and current factors relating to fighting for “traditional” marriage, even “playing” at all is ultimately not ideal.
Athletes enjoy and excel at their craft because of stable and agreed upon rules. In contrast, there is nothing stable about the state. Laws and their enforcement are constantly in flux, and the changing tides of a society not grounded on any fixed political principles leads to chaos. It’s like asking a soccer player to score when the spectators keep rushing the field to move the goal.
To the extent that the definition of marriage is subjected to majority control, then the outcome and its consequences become determined through a popularity contest. Mormons should refuse to play this game, recognize that no stable rules exist, take off our jerseys, and walk off the field. In other words, something as sacred as marriage should be wrested from the state and returned to churches and individuals.
When the federal government marshaled its resources to dissolve the LDS Church, confiscate its assets, and incarcerate its leaders, defiant disciples of Christ played defense. Many went into hiding, some submitted to prison sentences, and almost all disagreed with the government’s attempt to define what to most Mormons was God’s definition of (and commandments regarding) marriage.
After flirting with some offensive maneuvers, the Church is back on the defense. Governments around the country—indeed, the world—are once again at odds with God’s covenant people and are attempting to alter definitions and, in some cases, compel behavior that supports these new trends. One can only wonder at what point the Church calls foul and refuses to play along.