09 August 2009
Past presidents of the Church used to preach that God's children with black skin were inherently inferior and that racially mixed marriages should be punishable by death.
Oops. Glad we corrected those.
Now, the Church's Proclamation on the Family says "gender is an eternal characteristic," something most Mormons take to mean "boys are supposed to be attracted to girls and girls are supposed to be attracted to boys and anything else is wrong and a temporary aberration." Nice and black and white and easy.
But it doesn't say that, folks. First of all, the Proclamation isn't canonized scripture. Conservative orthodox Mormons treat it as if it were, but it's not. There's a process for that which the Proclamation hasn't gone through. So we're free to construe it how we will. And to me, "gender is an eternal characteristic" has nothing to do with homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada.
So apart from the purely theological objections to gay marriage--which have no business as a basis for civil law--I am still scratching my head as to the reasons for the Church's furious opposition to it and to any expression of gay affection (e.g. the recent kerfuffle over the kiss near Temple Square), even in a purely civil law context. Is it just ingrained cultural hostility? The same prejudice and conviction that underlay the Church's opposition to civil rights 40 years ago? The arguments and rhetoric certainly are startlingly similar.
Maybe, though, what really worries The Top Fifteen is people like Lisa Diamond, Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She recently released a book that, while focusing primarily on womens' sexuality, talks in general terms about the whole issue in ways I suspect would make the average Mormon cringe. If she's right, lots of black & white thinking about this subject may have to go out the window. And in a Church which--culturally, at least--strongly prefers everything "by the book," there isn't much tolerance for ambiguity, especially on such a sensitive subject.
Prof. Diamond quoted a 1994 study which said that the majority of Americans surveyed and who confirmed same-sex attraction aren't actually doing anything about it. "They are just going about their lives, having attractions and doing nothing about it at all. That’s the majority of individuals with any aspect of same-sex sexuality. Then you have a group of individuals who engage in same-sex behavior, but don’t identity as gay and don’t even say they are attracted to the same-sex. That’s what they report. That group is half the size. And the smallest group, are those who identify and are also having sex and claiming same-sex attractions. So the prototype in our mind of a gay person who identifies is actually the least representative type. And studies in other countries have found the same thing. It’s a small population. So if you broaden up your categories you realize that there are whole bunch of people who have one aspect of same-sex sexuality that is relevant to their lives, and other aspects that are not. We have no theory at all in the social sciences about what these divergences mean. We’ve been studying everything all wrong." And THAT prospect, I think, could seriously scare some of the Mormon leadership.
Oh no, maybe there's actually a lot more o' them dam homos out there than we thought, Martha! Better start totin' a shotgun to church again jes' in case one o' them looks at us funny!
It also means, as Prof. Diamond goes on to discuss, that sexual identities may actually be more fluid than a lot of people would like to believe. Of course this has the prospect of seriously pissing off agenda-driven people on both ends of the spectrum. It also has the prospect of creating more cognitive dissonance for Mormons who want to cling to the belief that being straight is The Eternal Norm and anything else is just a matter of choice, limited to this life only. I'd be less than honest if I didn't confess to a bit of schadenfreude when I think of Molly Mormon's and Peter Priesthood's discomfort with that idea. Not that most of them will read or care about this research, but still . . .
Bottom line is there's still much we don't know. But the trend seems to be clear: things just aren't as cut & dried as the popular Mormon interpretation of "gender is an eternal characteristic" would like to believe. And after a century of furious declamations about racism being The Word Of The Lord, only to find past generations were totally wrong, why can't we point out that the same rhetoric's being used today to denounce gay marriage, and wonder if the Church isn't taking a second lap round the same track?
More on Prof. Diamond's book here.
Posted by Rob at 1:35 AM