28 October 2008

The Cost of a Word

Time to set aside the jokes for a moment and reiterate something very serious.

While I've taken no public position on Proposition 8 pro or con, I have stated that intimidation, personal attacks, vandalism, threats, misrepresentation, myth-mongering, and lies are outrageous and unacceptable from either side.

I have also expressed my particular disappointment with members of the LDS Church who engage in these behaviors because they are supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard. Some outspoken Prop 8 opponents don't pretend to be anything but what they are, and they perform to expectations. But I have been dismayed to see how many Latter-day Saints haven't acted in this campaign according to the principles they allegedly espouse. To whom much [more] is given, much [more] is expected. This is no new phenomenon. But when thousands of families' futures are on the line, one would hope for a little more care and thought and selflessness from those who claim to hold themselves to higher standards.

Now Proposition 8 supporters are on record as engaging in outright extortion and blackmail against its opponents. Feel the love here. It is disgusting and I am ashamed to have any association with a group that would not speak out against such atrocious behavior.

This whole campaign is about nothing more than the definition of a single word. Same-sex couples in California already have all rights of “married” couples under state law (though not under federal law), and the Church is on record as not opposing any of those rights. In short, the Church is willing to take a huge PR hit from protesting efforts to call these relationships what they already are in everything but name. I have yet to figure out why this was the best hill to die on. It seems to me that if the Church cared about substance rather than semantics, it would have actively and consistently opposed domestic partnership laws and benefits wherever they “threatened marriage” all along. Apparently not. Who knows why.

Some Proposition 8 supporters blithely dismiss the tremendous damage already being done to the Church's public image as the inevitable result of “standing up for what's right.” While such persons may see themselves as valiantly enduring hoots and catcalls from the Great and Spacious Building, more reflective minds will also understand that there are far more of God's children out wandering in the mist than are holding onto the iron rod. Those wanderers will ultimately be attracted to and follow what they believe to be good and right and true and helpful for their and others' lives. The Church must attract as many of them as it can, and in doing so it must deal with the realities of the world in which it exists, and the way that world and these people view the Church. It can't survive in prideful isolation. It cannot simply dismiss what the world will think of it in the wake of Proposition 8, as apparently some individual members are willing to. But they are not the ones responsible for administering and expanding the Church.

I recently read a comment to a Salt Lake Tribune article about the divisions and difficulties the Church's pro-Prop 8 stance is causing in California wards. The commenter, a non-LDS Salt Lake resident, said he used to have a live and let live attitude toward the Church, but after seeing it pull out all the stops in California, he had become actively hostile to the Mormons and would from this point on do his best to oppose them in any way he could. Certainly he's not the only one to feel that way. As I said before, I would not want to be a missionary in California right now or in the foreseeable future, no matter which way Proposition 8 goes. Nor do I think I will ever figure out why the Church chose to pick such a huge fight over the meaning of a single word, when the whole substance of what that word means (in California at least) has essentially been accomplished already without Church opposition.

This barn door opened and the horse left a long time ago. Seems a little late to try to lock up, especially at such a cost.


Scott said...

and the Church is on record as not opposing any of those rights

I'm not sure it's as clear-cut as that.

In the past, the Church has encouraged members to support same-sex marriage ballot initiatives that specifically state that civil unions or domestic partnerships may not be given the same or significantly similar legal rights and privileges as marriages. In other words, the Church has actively opposed those rights in the past.

The "interview" with Elders Oaks and Wickman posted on the Church's website in August 2006 says: "If you have some legally sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever label it’s given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and say, “That is not right. That’s not appropriate.”"

So as recently as two years ago, the Church was officially against granting rights to civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Now, the most recent word on the subject (which I believe is what you're referring to) is from The Divine Institution of Marriage:

"The Church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights..."

It's been widely assumed that this is a blanket endorsement of civil union or domestic partnership rights (and in fact the "Yes" campaign doesn't hesitate to mention the entire bundle of rights when they claim that passing Prop 8 won't really take away anyone's rights).

However, the fact that the document highlights a specific list of rights (hospitalization and medical care, fair housing, probate) seems to me to indicate that there probably are rights that the Church does object to (I imagine adoption would be one example).

The parenthetical "already established in CA" also makes me wonder whether the Church would or would not object to the establishment of those rights in other states.

The entire position is riddled with inconsistencies, in my opinion. We're not taking any rights away, because they've already got them (and we don't object to that). We need to defend the traditional family, because children deserve to be raised by a mother and a father (even though the rights that we don't object to allow gay couples, even non-married ones, to adopt kids).

Alan said...

Thanks for the clarification Scott, you are correct. Apologies if I gave the wrong impression. The Church has opposed domestic partnerships in the past, but now is saying it does not object to those in California which you have listed. This was the basis for my remark, which I admit should have been more precise.

You're also correct that the Yes on Prop 8 campaign supported by the Church seems to have done its share to muddle this very issue.

And yes, absolutely there are inconsistencies all over the place. I think this is is one of the key reasons some have difficulty with the idea that supporting Proposition 8 is a divine mandate. If it really were, then why wouldn't the Church have been a lot more consistent about it in the past. Not saying I personally believe that, but I know others see it that way.