10 September 2009

Does The Marriage Sanitize "The Sin"?

Warning: We're now turning away from light-hearted music and back to a serious topic. Stop now if you're not prepared to wrestle with a thorny issue.

A common LDS objection to marriage equality is that sex between two people of the same gender is ipso facto sinful and a civil marriage doesn't change that. According to this perspective, two men would still be sinning by having sexual relations even if they were "legally and lawfully wedded" (in the words of the Law of Chastity as taught in LDS temples).

I've previously discussed just what constitutes "unchastity" as follows. The LDS temple ceremony describes it as "no sexual relations with anyone other than one's husband or wife to whom one is legally and lawfully married." Since only heterosexual couples are admitted to the temple, naturally this definition conforms to their relationship, so it's not necessarily dispositive as a full description. But my understanding has always been that chastity means "no sex outside marriage." Until recently, marriage was impossible for gay people so gay sex was ipso facto "unchaste" by this definition.

But now gay couples actually can marry in a growing number of places. If the LDS Church nevertheless insists that faithfully monogamous gay couples are still being "unchaste" in their sexual relations with each other even when they're "legally and lawfully wed," then it has created a new definition of chastity that has never been used before, one that is not only marriage-based but gender-based. The Law of Chastity would then be "no sexual relations outside the marriage of a man and a woman, or ever between two people of the same gender under any circumstances."

This would be unprecedented. Some might say "of course it's unprecedented, gay marriage is unprecedented too, and we have never had to consider this issue before." That may be correct, but it begs the question. Just what does unchastity consist of? Is sex between two people of the same gender ipso facto unchaste even when they are in fact legally and lawfully married?

The Church would need a scriptural basis to say that, so in order to answer this question we find ourselves right back at the issue of whether the Bible condemns homosexuality per se. No statement I have ever seen by an LDS leader that condemns homosexuality or gay sex rests on anything but a Biblical basis, since the uniquely LDS scriptural canon says nothing about it. Many statements by past LDS leaders about homosexuality have proven to be flat-out wrong (e.g. "there is no such thing as homosexuality, only homosexual behavior" and "it can be changed"). And solid Biblical scholarship supports the proposition that those few verses popularly believed to condemn homosexuality as sinful do not in fact mean that at all.

We must also consider the wealth of Biblical denunciations of adultery and heterosexual fornication, which far outweigh the scriptural attention given to homosexuality. If proportion is any indication, then God appears to care much more about heterosexual sin and breaches of marriage covenants than He does about homosexuality.

I've previously concluded from all this that unchastity is most defensibly defined as breach of a marital covenant of sexual faithfulness, or indulgence in sex without a marital covenant, and has nothing to do with the genders of the parties involved.

A couple of days ago, chatting with a friend, I quoted a couple of verses from the Doctrine & Covenants (for non-Mormon blog readers, that's one of the books of Mormon scripture in addition to the Bible) almost inadvertently, but realized as I did so that those verses solidly support my thesis that unchastity consists in dishonoring a marriage covenant and is not a function of gender.

Doc. & Cov. 132: 61~2 say "If any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."

Consider the circumstances in these verses. A man has sex with multiple women. He is not married to any of these women. In the eyes of the LDS Church, he is therefore guilty of repeated adulteries, which the Church considers an extremely serious sin.

Now, repeat that exact same fact pattern, a man has sex with multiple women. This time, however, he is married to all of them. This time there is no adultery; in fact, adultery is impossible here. The man "cannot commit adultery" with them and he is "justified" in his relations with each.

What's the difference? The marriage covenant. That's all. The mere existence of that marriage covenant transforms what would otherwise be a serious and excommunicable offense--sex with multiple partners--into something that is completely "justified." In fact, the marital covenant makes it impossible for that same action to be sinful.

This is official LDS doctrine.

The logical conclusion is exactly what I've stated before: it's the existence or absence of a marital covenant that makes sexual relations chaste or unchaste.

If that is true, then how could two men or two women who were "legally and lawfully wedded" to each other still be "unchaste" by having sexual relations within that legal marriage? After all, they "belong to [each other] and to no one else." Why wouldn't they be quite as "justified" as the man who had sex with multiple wives, since all of them were doing so within a marital covenant?

Ah, some might say, but the man in the scripture is still having sex with women, not men. Response: doesn't matter. The principle is that a marriage covenant "sanitizes" what would otherwise be the sin of unchastity.

Doesn't matter, some might say, it can only do that if the parties are of opposite gender. Response: show me the scriptural basis for that belief. Well, it's those pesky Biblical verses which, as I said before, arguably do not condemn homosexuality after all in the way many people assume. We are still left with the principle that a marriage covenant can render both sinless and "justified" behavior which would otherwise be sinful.

Note that this principle is not confined to LDS temple marriages. So if a government decides to enact laws allowing gay couples to marry, and a gay couple then marries under those laws, and LDS scripture says adultery is impossible between two people who "belong to" each other by virtue of a marriage recognized by law, and the LDS Church believes in "obeying, honoring and sustaining the law," then how could the LDS Church still claim that sexual expression within that legal, lawful same-sex marriage nevertheless remains sinful?

Comments welcomed.


Crisco said...

The one point of Church practice you didn't mention is that the Church frowns upon marriage outside the temple. It's almost like like the Church considers it a quasi-sin, which is evidenced by the year waiting period to be sealed following the civil marriage. That seems to make some sense for a couple engaging in sexual relations prior to marriage, but I believe this policy applies to a couple who refrained but married by a justice of the peace instead of in the temple. I'm not sure exactly how that plays out in your analysis. Maybe this is a trangression, and not a sin, so a gay couple would always be transgressing the laws of God if they married. But then again, a couple can go to the temple after a year. Maybe a civil marriage slowly makes sex okay whereas the temple makes it immediately okay.
Actually, you are probably right that the Church considers this type of sexual sin to be gender based and not based on marital status at all.

Abelard Enigma said...

the Church frowns upon marriage outside the temple. It's almost like like the Church considers it a quasi-sin

I think that may have been true in the past - but I don't agree that it is true anymore. The current practice is to frown on long engagements - even if it means having to wait to go to the temple.

I've witnessed on multiple occasions church leaders counseling young couples to get married as soon as possible. In some cases, if they had just waited 2 or 3 months they could have gone to the temple - instead they had to wait another year. I once expressed surprise about a particular couple as this is opposite of what I was counseled when I was young and considering marriage (wait until you can go to the temple) - and the bishop flat out told me that he thought it best to eliminate the temptation to engage in sex before marriage.

I find this interesting as it suggests the brethren are acknowledging that people are going to have sex regardless of what they say about the matter - so we need to get them into a situation where sex is OK. Except, of course, if you're gay - then you're expected to live a life of celibacy.

The Wife said...

I don't think what Crisco said is 100% true about the wait time between a civil marriage and a temple marriage. I think if a couple simply doesn't feel "ready" for a temple marriage, but no serious sin has been committed, then I don't think they still have to wait a year. Am I wrong? Here's an example: In France, it is tradition to have a civil ceremony first at the town hall. It is customary to then have a second religious ceremony in a church, or in this case, the temple, even though by law they are already married. Some couples choose to wait a bit of time between the two ceremonies.

As for gay marriage, I wonder what this debate will look like 50 years from now. As for gay temple marriages, I don't see that one changing anytime soon. Maybe one day after we're all dead. I predict that as time goes on, people will come to see gay marriage as just two committed people in a loving relationship, and that they too deserve the rights and benefits that hetero marriages have. I think it will take some time, but I think more and more church members will begin to think this way. I guess I just need a crystal ball to see if I'm right or not. I wish I knew now! I'm impatient like that.

Scott said...

@TheWife: You and Crisco are both right.

In the US, where ecclesiastical leaders are also given authority by the government to perform civilly-binding marriage ceremonies, the Church imposes a one-year waiting period on those who choose to marry outside the temple.

In (nearly?) every other country, where ecclesiastical leaders have no civil/legal authority, an engaged couple must go to a magistrate or justice of the peace to be civilly married, and the Church allows them to immediately follow that civil ceremony with a temple sealing, with no waiting period at all.

As far as I can tell, there's no doctrinal reason for the difference. The implication is that those in the US who might choose a civil ceremony for whatever reason (perhaps they want non-recommend-holding family to be able to observe the ceremony?) are for some reason "unworthy" of a temple sealing simply by virtue of the fact that they declined the opportunity, and so they need to wait a year to "prove" their "worthiness". This is never actually stated as an official position or doctrine, but there's no other reasonable reason for requiring the one-year wait.

Anonymous said...

I have long agreed with the text of this post. The wording in the temple endowment says that people are to have no sexual relations except to their spouses, to whom they are legally and lawfully wedded. The endowment says nothing about their spouse needing to be a member of the opposite sex.

If a state grants gay marriage, and two gays marry, then, by the wording of the endowment, they are NOT violating the law of chastity. As I understand it, the law of chastity, i.e. having sexual relations, is made valid though the acceptance of the law validating that relationship, i.e. the lawful marriage of such people.

I could NOT agree with this post any more. It is well written and argued perfectly.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

And, to "the wife": in the United States, if a couple marries outside of the temple, they have to wait a year BEFORE being able to marry in the temple.

In foreign countries where the law stipulates people be married by the government first before they can enter into religious marriage ceremonies, that is what happens. Those couples then can go immediately to the temple to be married. The protocl is different in those countries- they are following the laws of the land- the Church allows them to be married in the temples withouth the need to wait a year because they are simply following the mandates of their countries, as in the UK, and other places.

As for Crisco's remarks, I think the Church has ALWAYS encouraged people to marry, in or outside of the temple, rather than having said people engaging in sexual relations OUTSIDE the marriage covenant.

And, people's opinions on this subject are widely varied. Years ago, after coming out to a "friend", she said, "Your family would much rather have you marry a non-member man outside of the temple than for you to be gay." Yep. May well be the case. Only, it is NOT going to happen. :) So sorry, tried marriage to a man. IT is NOT going to happen again.

David Baker-@DB389 said...

This is exactly what I feel and I am grateful for the D&C ref. to back it up. I think that the Church and its members has this stigma that all gays sleep around, that it is just a fact of nature. If you are Gay you are promiscuous (from now on referred to as a "whore").
Now while sadly in this life this is often true, it isn't always. Many guys I have known have remained faithful to the LDS standards for years after coming out.
I had this discussion with two lovely evangelical christian members of the Tea Party whom I told I was a Gay Mormon. I told them that there was a difference from the "San Francisco"lifestyle of a whore and abstinence before marriage. They couldn't quite wrap their heads around it (or a lot of my political discussion either so that is ok). In order to help them understand I had them follow this thought experiment.

Imagine that you have found someone that you have fallen in love with, someone whom you want to commit your love, life, and heart to. But all your life you have been told that you can't. You have been trained by society, religion and an overbearing mother that it is impossible for you to get this marriage. And that you have been told by your friends, (the Gay Whores) that you don't need commitment.
What would your reaction be? True you might become one of the 1% who commit to each other out of rebellion like Romeo and Juliet, but the vast amount of people will simply (and sadly) fall in line with the policy and be whores.
Now imagine you grew up instead in a society where marriage, secure monogamous life-time (or eternal) partnerships are desired. (ironically not to hard for a kid who grew up singing "I long to see the temple" and "families can be together forever"). How would that change your goals, your beliefs, your desire regarding commitment vs. Whoredom?
If Marriage is withheld it is likely that many will choose not to pursue it. If marriage is put on a pedestal as something to strive for, to save yourself for then isn't it more likely that more people will do so?
Today I was called Anti-Family by a member of the Church who doesn't even know that I am gay. She called me this simply because I was anti-Tea Party. Little does she know that I am a firm advocate in marriage (granted I just moved to the most single city in America and could have two straight dates lined up if I wanted them lol).
When I first came out I felt as if I had to choose between being gay or the church. Once I started following the Prop 8 debates I realized that I could have a marriage, a complete devotion and commitment to someone that I loved and was attracted to. This gave me hope for a possibility through my dilemma that I had not had before. It literally gave me the hope and will to live, truly live and no longer desire a bus to hit me while walking down the street. But it didn't give me hope for Sex, it gave me hope for completeness in a world that I always seemed out of place with.
I think that the fact that the entire church, both leaders and members, still see homosexuality as whoredom allows them to condemn us and not change. In order to change that concept and prove Elder Nelson wrong, I believe that we need to stay in the church and work for positive change from within. I have seen it with my bishop who started out two years ago with very little knowledge of homosexuality to me being able to tell him my full plan of living abstinent (from sex) and active in the church until I find a husband and that after that even if I/we are excommunicated that I will continue to be an active member in the ward community, both at sacrament meeting and in service throughout the ward. After I told him this he seemed to accept it as a logical and plausible scenario that would be best for me.
*So I wasn't expecting this to become a full post, but I guess it did... sorry Alan!
PS I believe it was Spencer W. Kimball who said over the pulpit that he would rather have his son get married civilly rather than have sex outside of marriage.

Daniel said...

As usual, this is a remarkably reasoned argument that frankly should be reviewed by the Brethren. I see too much emotionally charged reaction on both sides of the fence instead of careful consideration. This argument shows careful consideration.

I think one of the biggest unspoken reason the church opposes gay marriage in the civic sphere is because it doesn't know how to proselytize the civily married gay. If missionaries knock on the door of a fornicating homosexual, they can call him to repentence and he can ultimately get baptized and become eligible for heaven. If he rejects the invitation, it's his choice (and fault). But if the missionaries knock on the door of a married gay couple, they can't baptize them unless they get divorced, and the church knows it can't go around telling people to get divorced.

Ultimately, I believe that the Church will have to align itself with civil marriage. It's just the most logical thing to do, and it's what has been done in the past (the switch to monogamy). It will be a big change, though. No wonder they're so scared. No wonder they're not carefully considering the options and asking God what to do. If they can prevent gay marriage from being recognized in the civil sphere (or delay it), they don't have to consider the big scary change. It's the gut reaction safest thing to do.

Abelard Enigma said...

they can't baptize them [gay couples] unless they get divorced, and the church knows it can't go around telling people to get divorced.

That's an interesting perspective I hadn't considered before. But, that day is already here in other countries. I wonder how they handle this situation in countries where gay marriage is legal?

Steven B said...

The church can make whatever rules it sees fit. It is not so much "whether marriage sanitizes the sin," but will the church leaders sanitize the sin. Hence, we have observed a moving target regarding temple-vs-civil marriage and the need for a waiting period. If we are looking at scripture or ritual texts do determine morality we are looking in the wrong place.

Notions of morality are derived from a millennia of combined social customs and changing religious beliefs. LDS doctrine is a combination of the theological innovations and inspiration of Joseph Smith together with the baggage inherited from the Bible, in all it's wonder, weirdness and shocking inhumanity. Combine that with the evolving social customs of North America and you have Mormonism.

So when it comes to marriage and family law we have a long history where the human race developed a sense of morality which varied from culture to culture. It is understandable in patriarchal societies that strict rules developed regarding ownership of property, wives, slaves and children, and the need to verify linage. So it is not surprising that the Biblical legal codes contained regulations touching on sex and marriage. These Biblical legal codes were not entirely dispensed from on High, but are collections of laws derived from the peoples of the fertile crescent and adapted and expanded from the Biblical peoples.

So when we ask "what is sin" we need to filter through all of the cultural and historical baggage that helped inform our present concept of what is wrong and right. I sense that Joseph Smith did just that with respect to marital and family relations. He asked "what if ten women were given to a man . . . ," and tried to sift through all the cultural taboos that have developed over the millennia, and ask what is truly sinful? I suspect his experiments with polygamy and polyandry were an example of Joseph pushing the envelope and seeking to uncover what is essentially moral and immoral.

And so here we are with a new situation. Gay people are fundamentally different in their sexuality. What is an appropriate morality for gays? Do the cultural taboos apply the same? Do we worry about pregnancy and paternity questions? What is appropriate intimacy for two men? Where does sublime, spiritual bonding end and sinful "behavior" begin? If we sift through all the notions about sexual behavior developed throughout the ages in society, in scriptural writings and in modern theological development, what is a paradigm of morality for gays, lesbians, the transgendered and the intersexed?