Revising the Libertarian Understanding of Marriage

I think that many Latter-day Saint libertarians have fundamentally misunderstood marriage. As a libertarian this refers to me — I once thought of marriage as a civil contract, and I once supported the position that the government should remove itself completely from marriage. This is the way libertarians have often thought about the issue:


We should take all of the legal benefits and obligations of marriage (survivorship, duty to fidelity, duty of care and support, autonomy in family affairs, etc.) and unbundle them from the idea of “marriage.” Marriage would then be a solely religious commitment that has no legal consequences or implications whatsoever (any more than baptism does). Couples who marry could privately contract with each other (via a civil union) for the legal entitlements that marriage usually entails. Judges could not enforce any such obligations unless the partners explicitly consented to them by contract. Such civil unions or private contracts would be available to anyone who so wanted to commit themselves, be they man and woman, man and man, sisters, roommates, best friends, etc.


At least, that was the general idea. I bought into it for a long while. Not anymore. Continue reading

The Law of Chastity Is Not Changing

Note: In this article, I’m not talking about any specific political measure, on which there is always room for some disagreement. I’m talking about the law of chastity, which holds that sexual activity is only appropriate between a man and a woman, lawfully married as husband and wife.

In the aftermath of this past General Conference, I’m surprised that I’m still hearing members argue that Church’s doctrine regarding chastity is wrong, and that it will eventually change to accommodate same-sex relationships. Here, for example, are two  actual quotes from various places on the internet: “I don’t feel the spirit about what Elder Oaks says,” and “I feel peaceful when I say Oaks is wrong.” Someone else posted on their Facebook page, “Oaks fail.” Another has written an entire response to Elder Oaks’ talk, suggesting that his talk — and the Church’s doctrine on sexuality — is hurtful and probably wrong. Another self-proclaimed active Latter-day Saint has posted this online. Still others have pulled out the Church’s statement: “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.” They have used this statement as evidence that we can just dismiss Elder Oaks’ teachings about the law of chastity as a personal, well-considered opinion, but not officially binding on members of the Church. Continue reading

Responding to Heresy and Apostasy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about diversity. We believe that we can celebrate diversity, and that there is room in this Church for everyone. And we mean that when we say it. President Uchtdorf, for two conferences in a row, has talked about the importance of diversity in the Church. He highlighted the fact that we need everyone, no matter their differences. I love his remarks and think that he is absolutely, one-hundred percent right.

As wonderful as diversity is, I think that we sometimes misuse President Uchtdorf’s remarks in ways that he did not intend. President Uchtdorf, for example, was certainly not saying that the Church should celebrate all diversities in opinion and belief amongst its members. This past General Conference, for example, made it quite clear that Latter-day Saints should not and indeed cannot condone same-sex relationships as moral. Yet I’ve seen bloggers use President Uchtdorf’s remarks as if they somehow vindicated those who clearly contradict established Church teachings in just these sorts of ways. That is, I’ve seen people act as if President Uchtdorf just signed off on their errant views on sexuality. This is just one example. Continue reading

Monastic vs. Pragmatic Doctrines and Practices

There is a distinction I often hear people make between pragmatic and monastic doctrines and practices. I was introduced to the distinction by a frequent commenter on this site, and I have seen it elsewhere since.

The Distinction

Pragmatic doctrines and practices are those that we think we ought to believe and enact in civil affairs and community traditions, as well as our private worship. Example: most of us would see honesty as a pragmatic doctrine. Our government, community traditions, and civil affairs should be guided and informed by basic principles of honesty. We think this holds true regardless of the religious persuasion of all participants. We are genuinely bothered when our neighbors lie or deceive others, regardless of religious differences. This makes honesty a pragmatic doctrine.

Monastic doctrines and practices are those that we personally believe and adhere to, but make no pretension of holding others to. Some of us see the Word of Wisdom as a monastic doctrine. While society generally sees social drinking, coffee, tea, etc., as acceptable behaviors, we don’t. But few Latter-day Saints today would ever insist that community traditions mold themselves to these values — we see living the Word of Wisdom as a private decision based on personal and unique religious beliefs. We hardly raise an eyebrow when we see our neighbor drinking coffee on their front porch. This makes the Word of Wisdom (or, at lest, parts of it) a monastic doctrine. “Live and let live” is the de facto motto of monastic religious practices. We choose our own way, and can sincerely believe in it, but we aren’t bothered when the traditions of the community we live in differ from our beliefs. Continue reading

Why I Support Traditional Marriage

The ongoing conversation about same-sex marriage has largely adopted the rhetoric of the civil rights movement. Those who oppose same-sex marriage are denying basic human rights to same-sex couples. Those who oppose same-sex marriage are not just wrong, their views are illegitimate and should not even be admitted into the conversation, on par with the racism of prior generations.

I think the tone of the discussion fails to capture what this is really about, though. This is not a matter of rights — it is a matter of definition. I support traditional marriage because I believe the family — with a father and a mother — is the fundamental unit of society. I believe that the rise in divorce, fatherless (or motherless) children, and single parents has contributed to a whole swathe of social ills, including an expansion of government social programs. This is not meant to be demeaning to hardworking single parents out there — they are doing the best they can in a hard situation. And I believe that divorce is sometimes justified. But I believe that children, on the whole, thrive best when they live in an intact home with their biological father and mother. And I believe that the number of divorces and broken families will continue to rise if we adopt same-sex marriage as the policy of the state.

You may initially dismiss this as fearmongering. But please be patient, and allow me to explain. Continue reading