The debate over gay marriage continues. Recently New York passed laws to offer same-sex marriage, Rhode Island passed civil unions, and the Proposition 8 mess has yet to be resolved.
Many Latter-day Saints (and other religious people) are caught in a hard place between religious beliefs and participating politically in a pluralistic society. In other words, political persuasions are not always congruent with religious beliefs. Here’s an example from a Latter-day Saint:
“I want us [my family] to learn we love others. Not just those who don’t look like us, but those who don’t believe like us either… So why is this church [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] who’s taught me so much about my Savior [i.e., loving others] asking its members for their time and their money and their votes to deny other people marriage?” (Melanie Selko).
For religious individuals, at least Latter-day Saints, the wrestle is such: On one hand the Church has stated it does not “endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms; allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes; attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to” while it does “reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church” (http://newsroom.lds.org/official-statement/political-neutrality). On the other hand, in regards to Proposition 8, the Church stated, “We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage” (http://newsroom.lds.org/article/california-and-same-sex-marriage). Moreover, it appears some local church leaders take action to ensure political conformity: “speaking out with this video threatened my temple recommend and my calling, and I ultimately chose to take it down to protect my standing in the church” (http://www.dovesandserpents.org/wp/2011/02/first-comes-love-then-comes-marriage/).
Or, as one member of the Church has pointed out (http://signingforsomething.org/blog/), the Church participating in political action with Proposition 8 is in disagreement with Joseph Smith’s declaration that it is “not just to mingle religious influence with civil government” (D&C 134:9) although it is just to “preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world” (D&C 134:12).
Perhaps it boils down to the belief that homosexuality is a sin? But then shouldn’t it be a matter of warning “the righteous” (i.e., members of the Church) against engaging in homosexual conduct (e.g., God Loveth His Children) rather than asking members to donate their time and money “to bind the consciences of men…, control conscience…, [and] suppress the freedom of the soul” (which is prohibited in D&C 134:4). Perhaps it boils down to protecting their right to perform the marriages they want to perform and not perform the marriages they don’t want to perform. However, at least in the case of New York, clergy have legal protections: “no clergy, house of worship or denomination [will] be forced to perform same-sex marriages [in New York]”. In other words, it is legally possible to protect the rights of religious institutions to worship and practice their religion as they see fit while also allowing gay couples the right to practice their own beliefs and follow their own conscience. For more on religious exemptions in New York, see this article. An even more extreme case is Rhode Island, which has passed legislation that “allow[s] religiously affiliated hospitals to deny a civil union spouse’s right to be by their spouse’s side and make medical decisions for them, and… allow[s] religiously affiliated agencies to deny an employee’s right to leave in order to care for their civil union spouse under Rhode Island Family and Medical Leave. (Note: The Human Rights Campaign argues Rhode Island took it too far in regards to allowing clergy and religious institutions to completely disregard legal unions and sidestep laws currently in practice). Moreover, former lawyer John Mattras stated “it is widely understood that no priest, minister, rabbi, imam or other religious leader can be compelled to perform any marriage among any two people under any circumstance. There is zero case law under such a scenario as there is no legal basis to demand that a religious leader perform a marriage.”
As the gay marriage debate continues, I hope we will look to New York rather than to Rhode Island as an example of how to find the right balance between the rights of those who don’t want to perform same-sex marriages and those who do. It is possible to practice your own beliefs (i.e., not be forced to perform marriages you don’t want to perform) and allow others the privilege to practice their own beliefs (i.e., to perform the marriages they wish to perform).