13 November 2009

Judge Westermark's Opinion

Okay fasten your seatbelts, this one is kinda long. But you know how lawyers are when they get passionate about something. Especially when they're trapped on a plane with nothing better to do than spin out arguments onto a page.

More than once I've been told I should become a judge. I honestly have no idea why someone would say this. I'm not going to do it though, it'd be more work and less pay. But just for a moment, I will talk like a judge and say, in response to the Salt Lake City Council's passage of an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, that I am taking the matter under advisement. That's judgespeak for "I'm not going to decide right now, I have to reflect on this for a while, so come back later and I'll tell you what I think." That's why I haven't posted anything about it before now. I'm still thinking about it. But I do have some interim thoughts that I haven't seen anywhere else.

I've seen the effusive encomia that the Church is finally "doing the right thing" with its "stunning reversal" of public position. Andrew Sullivan said "good for the Mormons" and wishes more Christian churches would follow their lead--itself a stunning change of direction in commentary. I've seen hostile hooting saying the Church's announcement is all a sham, a smoke screen, opportunistic piggybacking on a vote that was already in the bag, a too little too late attempt to repair the damage done by Prop 8, the attitude that says why should we thank the Church for finally doing what's right. I was honestly surprised that Chris Buttars acquiesced so meekly. And I'm also surprised and offended that the good name of Utah's only United States Supreme Court Justice, George Sutherland, has been desecrated by the frightening bigots at the Sutherland Institute, whose leadership has now confirmed that their individual willingness to follow their church's leadership will cave in to their intense and publicly stated hostility toward God's gay children. I've heard cynical speculation that the Mitt Romney campaign has pressured the church to take a pre-emptive strike against the further damage that will be done by 8: The Mormon Proposition in order to bolster Romney's 2012 presidential candidacy.

Lots of heat there, how much light? So as I said, Judge Westermark will, for the time being, take the matter under advisement, to see if the Church actually walks the talk later on with the Utah state legislature and in the face of the Sutherland Institute's defiance. He is willing to give the benefit of significant doubt, to believe that Church spokesman Mr. Otterson is a decent man who, like many Mormons (probably most) has no overt hostility toward gays and lesbians. I'm sure he and many of them are honestly puzzled by accusations that they are hateful because they oppose anything other than one man/one woman marriage.

Deeda Seeds of the Salt Lake City Council referred to the real "pain and fear" she found prevailing within the LDS church over this issue during discussions that preceded this week's actions. Somehow we have to find ways to reduce that "pain and fear." First step is to understand where the "pain and fear" come from. I think there's a mix of factors.

First, LDS Church history is filled with anti-Mormon bigotry and mistreatment. A persecution complex is thus more deeply engraved into the collective Mormon psyche than the characters were on the gold plates. And even though the Mormons have now reached a position of strength that they can stand up and say "we're not going to take that anymore," the collective hypersensitivity to perceived persecution remains. So when Mormons exercise their political clout and then receive the blowback that everyone in the political arena but them clearly foresees, the lag between that clout and their self-image as a hunted, persecuted minority clearly emerges as they say "What, us? We don't hate anybody, why are you doing this?"

Note to Mormons: You aren't at Haun's Mill anymore. You are a politically potent organization and if you want to play in the big leagues, you had bloody well better expect to be beaten up sometimes. You'd better be able to take what you dish out and more in this roughest of rough games. There's no place for individual or collective naivete here. You picked this fight and, whether you believe it or not, your actions have hurt thousands of people not within your religious jurisdiction who resent your political and legal interference with their personal choices. You'd better recognize that result, whether you intended it or not. You may not hate them individually, but what you have done to them is so hurtful they can't explain it any other way.

Second, Mormons aren't very good at separating church and state when the church has taken a stance on a political issue. Church rules for participation in the religion are fine as long as they prevail only within the church, but when that church starts trying to foist those rules on everyone else outside the church too, there will be problems. Mormons tend to be very patriotic as a principle of their faith, but when asked to choose between church and state they will choose church every time and will try to push church-favored policies into the state, solely for religious reasons. The Church has the right to speak publicly, of course. And those who don't share its beliefs are just as free to fight any effort to push a religiously based definition of marriage into secular law that governs people who want nothing to do with living LDS rules.

Third, Mormons cling furiously to the idea that allowing same-sex marriage will somehow "damage" traditional marriage. This is one I just don't get. Empirical evidence that this just isn't true is piling up every day. Denmark is one of the best examples; the same almost hysterical arguments about the demise of traditional marriage were made there years ago when Denmark adopted marriage equality, but now even conservative Danish clergy are conceding their fears were overblown. Massachusetts' divorce rate among gay couples is far below that of straight couples, and nobody there has noticed a rush of formerly straight people to enter into gay marriages, or any militant army of gay spouses pushing campaigns to restrict or destroy straight marriages.

I think the "it will damage traditional marriage" argument is really just a disguise for "it will make homosexual relationships seem normal and our religion (or cultural bias) can't allow that." In short, once again it comes down to either "God said so" or "that's disgusting." And neither one of those is an acceptable basis for secular public policy in the United States.

Fourth, the homophobia and misinformation spread by generations of Mormon leaders amongst membership trained to accept those leaders' words as inspired is deep and latent. It will take a long time to rinse all that toxin out of Mormon culture. LDS teachings on race up to 1978 provided a convenient cover for horrific racism to flourish in the Church long after it became unacceptable everywhere else. The same pattern is playing out with anti-gay prejudice; homophobic Mormon bigots can still hide behind the Proclamation on the Family as they kick their own gay children out onto the streets on the advice of Church leaders who say such perversions shouldn't be tolerated in LDS homes. Like I said, toxins.

Fifth, Mormon culture stresses certainty, not just belief. We don't hear people in church on the first Sunday of every month say they "think" Joseph Smith was a prophet. And in a church whose whole purpose is to get every single person ever born to the altar of a temple for sealing in a heterosexual marriage, the whole notion of homosexuality can't be explained, it doesn't fit. So it's a threat to the Plan of Salvation. And those who push its acceptance on the church are seen as trying to force the church to embrace something that, in Otteson's words, "does violence" to the core of LDS theology. No wonder Mormons--who always pick church over state when forced to choose--recoil. Hence the "pain and fear" that Deeda Seeds mentioned.

I understand all of this. But my fellow Mormons, you're going to have to face and learn to live with the fact that you have already lost this battle. Marriage equality is here to stay and it will only expand. Its supporters are legion, aren't going away, and there are more of us than many of you want to admit. We don't want to damage your marriages or your families. We just want you to stop trying to foist Mormon religious standards onto people who aren't Mormon and have no interest in living Mormon rules. LDS standards are fine within the church, but you have got to let go of the idea that our religious beliefs give us the right to impose them on everyone else. Civil marriage equality does not threaten your religious or political freedoms. That's what Jesus was talking about when he said render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

The Scriptures also talk about how great truths are often intuitively sensed by children, the simplest among us, while escaping the grown-ups who think themselves wise and sophisticated. When I first explained Proposition 8 to my 10 year old daughter, she thought for a moment and then said "How does two guys getting married hurt someone else's marriage"? She got it, right off. And she's been an ardent marriage equality supporter ever since. She scoffs at the "pain and fear" those older than her seem to experience over this issue. She doesn't share their prejudices so she is equally happy when John loves and marries Jane, when Clarisse loves and marries Laura, and when Daniel loves and marries Michael. She knows intuitively what the Savior said, that love is the greatest of all. And if Mormons really believed the 9th Article of Faith, I think they'd have a lot less "pain and fear" over marriage equality. They'd be content to know that everything is ultimately in God's hands and He will make all things work out for the good of those who trust Him. Who knows, maybe God has more blessings in store for His gay children than today's Mormons can imagine. And maybe civil marriage equality is the first step to learning what those are.


Grant Haws said...

I think that you are completely on target with what's going on in Mormon culture,from the persecution complex to the misunderstanding that if you get involved in politics, you better be ready for someone to push back.

Sean said...

An excellent and on target post. Anything that threatens church doctrine is indeed perceived by the culture as religious terrorism. It is interesting how a faith proclaiming to be based on truth and revelation is threatened by truth from a source outside the faith.

Since I can say the following, no longer being a member... If the church "were true" it would not need to stamp out the lives of the rest God's children that disagree or are perceived as a threat. That which is genuinely true will stand with out being shored up by it's leaders or members holding it together.

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Another thought-out, well-written post that hits the nail on the head. Thanks!

AmbiguouS One said...

"In short, once again it comes down to either "God said so" or "that's disgusting." And neither one of those is an acceptable basis for secular public policy in the United States."

BAM! Give it to 'em Alan! EVERYONE needs to understand that. That statement goes miles, light years. LOVE IT! That's why I believe in a STRICT separation of Church and State.

darkdrearywilderness said...

I like your "you're not at Haun's Mill anymore" paragraph. Church members and the church in general seem to have such a victim mentality, and believe that this gives them special privileges. And yet, when other groups experience victimization and ask for the same privileges everyone else has, they turn a blind eye...

Romulus said...

Thank God someone has a brain out there.