Flaxen cords

Given the California Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage on Thursday, it might be a good time to remind readers of what the Church’s position is on this issue. If you go to the Church web site, one of the few issues on which the Church has taken a strong public stand is the issue of “same-gender attraction.” If you go to that issue, you will be taken to a Church public affairs interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman. If you read this excellent and inspired interview, you will encounter the following statement:

For openers, marriage is neither a matter of politics, nor is it a matter of social policy. Marriage is defined by the Lord Himself. It’s the one institution that is ceremoniously performed by priesthood authority in the temple [and] transcends this world. It is of such profound importance… such a core doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the very purpose of the creation of this earth. One hardly can get past the first page of Genesis without seeing that very clearly. It is not an institution to be tampered with by mankind, and certainly not to be tampered with by those who are doing so simply for their own purposes. There is no such thing in the Lord’s eyes as something called same-gender marriage. Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin. Calling it something else by virtue of some political definition does not change that reality.

The interview goes on to say the following:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: What of those who might say, “Okay. Latter-day Saints are entitled to believe whatever they like. If you don’t believe in same-gender marriages, then it’s fine for you. But why try to regulate the behavior of other people who have nothing to do with your faith, especially when some nations in Europe have legally sanctioned that kind of marriage? Why not just say, ‘We don’t agree with it doctrinally for our own people’ and leave it at that. Why fight to get a Constitutional amendment [in the United States], for example?

ELDER WICKMAN: We’re not trying to regulate people, but this notion that ‘what happens in your house doesn’t affect what happens in my house’ on the subject of the institution of marriage may be the ultimate sophistry of those advocating same-gender marriage.

Some people promote the idea that there can be two marriages, co-existing side by side, one heterosexual and one homosexual, without any adverse consequences. The hard reality is that, as an institution, marriage like all other institutions can only have one definition without changing the very character of the institution. Hence there can be no coexistence of two marriages. Either there is marriage as it is now defined and as defined by the Lord, or there is what could thus be described as genderless marriage. The latter is abhorrent to God, who, as we’ve been discussing, Himself described what marriage is — between a man and a woman.

A redefinition of that institution, therefore, redefines it for everyone — not just those who are seeking to have a so-called same gender marriage. It also ignores the definition that the Lord Himself has given.

ELDER OAKS: There’s another point that can be made on this. Let’s not forget that for thousands of years the institution of marriage has been between a man and a woman. Until quite recently, in a limited number of countries, there has been no such thing as a marriage between persons of the same gender. Suddenly we are faced with the claim that thousands of years of human experience should be set aside because we should not discriminate in relation to the institution of marriage. When that claim is made, the burden of proving that this step will not undo the wisdom and stability of millennia of experience lies on those who would make the change. Yet the question is asked and the matter is put forward as if those who believe in marriage between a man and a woman have the burden of proving that it should not be extended to some other set of conditions.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: There are those who would say that that might have applied better in the 1950s or earlier than in the 21st century. If you look at several nations in Europe, for example, traditional marriage is so rapidly on the decline that it is no longer the norm. If marriage is evolving, ought we to resist those kind of social changes?

ELDER OAKS: That argument impresses me as something akin to the fact that if we agree that the patient is sick and getting sicker, we should therefore approve a coup de grace. The coup de grace which ends the patient’s life altogether is quite equivalent to the drastic modification in the institution of marriage that would be brought on by same-gender marriage.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: You talked about the harm that could come on society by redefining marriage. What would you say to those people who declare: “I know gay people who are in long-term committed relationships. They’re great people. They love each other. What harm is it going to do my marriage as a heterosexual to allow them that same ‘rite?’

ELDER WICKMAN: Let me say again what I said a moment ago. I believe that that argument is true sophistry, because marriage is a unified institution. Marriage means a committed, legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman. That’s what it means. That’s what it means in the revelations. That’s what it means in the secular law. You cannot have that marriage coexisting institutionally with something else called same-gender marriage. It simply is a definitional impossibility. At such point as you now, as an institution, begin to recognize a legally-sanctioned relationship, a committed relationship between two people of the same gender, you have now redefined the institution to being one of genderless marriage.

As we’ve mentioned in answer to other questions, [genderless marriage] is contrary to God’s law, to revealed Word. Scripture, ancient and modern, could not be clearer on the definition that the Lord and His agents have given to marriage down through the dispensations.

But it has a profound effect in a very secular way on everybody else. What happens in somebody’s house down the street does in very deed have an effect on what happens in my house and how it’s treated. To suggest that in the face of these millennia of history and the revelations of God and the whole human pattern they have the right to redefine the whole institution for everyone is presumptuous in the extreme and terribly wrong-headed.

ELDER OAKS: Another point to be made about this is made in a question. If a couple who are cohabiting, happy, and committed to one another want to have their relationship called a marriage, why do they want that? Considering what they say they have, why do they want to add to it the legal status of marriage that has been honored and experienced for thousands of years? What is it that is desired by those who advocate same-gender marriage? If that could be articulated on some basis other than discrimination, which is not a very good argument, it would be easier to answer the question that you have asked, and I think it would reveal the soundness of what we’ve already heard.

There are certain indicia of marriage — certain legal and social consequences and certain legitimacy — which if given to some relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman tend to degrade if not destroy the institution that’s been honored over so many thousands of years.

In addition, if people want to legalize a particular relationship, we need to be careful if that kind of relationship has been disapproved for millennia. Suddenly there’s a call to legalize it so they can feel better about themselves. That argument proves a little too much. Suppose a person is making a living in some illegal behavior, but feels uneasy about it. (He may be a professional thief or he may be selling a service that is illegal, or whatever it may be.) Do we go out and legalize his behavior because he’s being discriminated against in his occupational choices or because he doesn’t feel well about what he’s doing and he wants a ‘feel good’ example, or he wants his behavior legitimized in the eyes of society or his family? I think the answer is that we do not legalize behavior for those reasons unless they are very persuasive reasons brought forward to make a change in the current situation.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Would you extend the same argument against same-gender marriage to civil unions or some kind of benefits short of marriage?

ELDER WICKMAN: One way to think of marriage is as a bundle of rights associated with what it means for two people to be married. What the First Presidency has done is express its support of marriage and for that bundle of rights belonging to a man and a woman. The First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself concerning any specific right. It really doesn’t matter what you call it. 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.”

As far as something less than that — as far as relationships that give to some pairs in our society some right but not all of those associated with marriage — as to that, as far as I know, the First Presidency hasn’t expressed itself. There are numbers of different types of partnerships or pairings that may exist in society that aren’t same-gender sexual relationships that provide for some right that we have no objection to. All that said… there may be on occasion some specific rights that we would be concerned about being granted to those in a same-gender relationship. Adoption is one that comes to mind, simply because that is a right which has been historically, doctrinally associated so closely with marriage and family. I cite the example of adoption simply because it has to do with the bearing and the rearing of children. Our teachings, even as expressed most recently in a very complete doctrinal sense in the Family Proclamation by living apostles and prophets, is that children deserve to be reared in a home with a father and a mother.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: On the issue of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage, there are some Latter-day Saints who are opposed to same-gender marriage, but who are not in favor of addressing this through a Constitutional amendment. Why did the Church feel that it had to step in that direction?

ELDER OAKS: Law has at least two roles: one is to define and regulate the limits of acceptable behavior. The other is to teach principles for individuals to make individual choices. The law declares unacceptable some things that are simply not enforceable, and there’s no prosecutor who tries to enforce them. We refer to that as the teaching function of the law. The time has come in our society when I see great wisdom and purpose in a United States Constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman. There is nothing in that proposed amendment that requires a criminal prosecution or that directs the attorneys general to go out and round people up, but it declares a principle and it also creates a defensive barrier against those who would alter that traditional definition of marriage.

There are people who oppose a federal Constitutional amendment because they think that the law of family should be made by the states. I can see a legitimate argument there. I think it’s mistaken, however, because the federal government, through the decisions of life-tenured federal judges, has already taken over that area. This Constitutional amendment is a defensive measure against those who would ignore the will of the states appropriately expressed and require, as a matter of federal law, the recognition of same-gender marriages — or the invalidation of state laws that require that marriage be between a man and a woman. In summary, the First Presidency has come out for an amendment (which may or may not be adopted) in support of the teaching function of the law. Such an amendment would be a very important expression of public policy, which would feed into or should feed into the decisions of judges across the length and breadth of the land.

ELDER WICKMAN: Let me just add to that, if I may. It’s not the Church that has made the issue of marriage a matter of federal law. Those who are vigorously advocating for something called same-gender marriage have essentially put that potato on the fork. They’re the ones who have created a situation whereby the law of the land, one way or the other, is going to address this issue of marriage. This is not a situation where the Church has elected to take the matter into the legal arena or into the political arena. It’s already there.

The fact of the matter is that the best way to assure that a definition of marriage as it now stands continues is to put it into the foundational legal document of the United States. That is in the Constitution. That’s where the battle has taken it. Ultimately that’s where the battle is going to be decided. It’s going to be decided as a matter of federal law one way or the other. Consequently it is not a battleground on such an issue that we Latter-day Saints have chosen, but it has been established and we have little choice but to express our views concerning it, which is really all that the Church has done.

Decisions even for members of the Church as to what they do with respect to this issue must of course rest with each one in their capacity as citizens.

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The emphasis that has been placed in this conversation on traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been consistent throughout. Do you see any irony in the fact that the Church is so publicly outspoken on this issue, when in the minds of so many people in the United States and around the world the Church is known for once supporting a very untraditional marriage arrangement — that is, polygamy?

ELDER OAKS: I see irony in that if one views it without the belief that we affirm in divine revelation. The 19th century Mormons, including some of my ancestors, were not eager to practice plural marriage. They followed the example of Brigham Young, who expressed his profound negative feelings when he first had this principle revealed to him. The Mormons of the 19th century who practiced plural marriage, male and female, did so because they felt it was a duty put upon them by God.

When that duty was lifted, they were directed to conform to the law of the land, which forbad polygamy and which had been held constitutional. When they were told to refrain from plural marriage, there were probably some who were unhappy, but I think the majority were greatly relieved and glad to get back into the mainstream of western civilization, which had been marriage between a man and a woman. In short, if you start with the assumption of continuing revelation, on which this Church is founded, then you can understand that there is no irony in this. But if you don’t start with that assumption, you see a profound irony.

This is an excellent time for Church members to re-read this entire interview and remind themselves why it is the Church has been so inspired on this issue.

And while they’re at it, they may want to re-read 2 Nephi 26:22 and Isaiah 5:20.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

20 thoughts on “Flaxen cords

  1. I prefer Dallin Oaks’ 1984 statement, regarding what would later become the official political (wide?) stance of the LDS church:

    “There is an irony inherent in the Church’s taking a public position opposing homosexual marriages… The leading United States Supreme Court authority for the proposition that marriage means a relationship between a man and a woman is Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878). In that case, in which the United States Supreme Court sustained the validity of the anti-polygamy laws, the Court defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. The court’s stress in that case was on one. The modern relevance of the Reynolds opinion is in its reference to marriage as being between a man and a woman. The irony would arise if the Church used as an argument for the illegality of homosexual marriages the precedent formerly used against the Church to establish the illegality of polygamous marriages” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals,” 7 August 1984).

    “Irony,” indeed.

  2. BTW, Geoff, is there a reason you chose not to post all that pretty language in the Oaks/Wickman mock interview, where Oaks counselled LDS parents of gay children to socially ostracize their childrens’ partners?

  3. While I understand the church stance and agree on their strong oppostition to same-sex marriage, surely it is imperitive that we appeal to reason when debating such matters. We cannot say simply that God proscribed such laws supporting the family to the world. We need to use reason. Can we not find logical arguments as to why marriage in the traditional sense is good for the state? Can we argue how same-sex marriage would hurt communitites? I do not believe God is like Zeus and hands out commandments on a whim. Surely if marriage and family are so important, then there is a reason, a reason we can explain to the rest of the world without bringing God into it.

  4. Nick, two reasons: length and the fact that this post has to do specifically with the California gay marriage decision and the Church’s response, not your individual crusade to make current Church leaders look bad. I encourage everybody to read the entire interview in its entirety. Here is the discussion you are referring to (again, I would encourage everybody to read it in its entirety):

    “PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Both of you have mentioned the issue of compassion and this feeling about needing to be compassionate. Let’s fast-forward the scenario that we used earlier, and assume it’s a couple of years later. My conversations with my son, all our efforts to love our son and keep him in the Church have failed to address what he sees as the central issue — that he can’t help his feelings. He’s now told us that he’s moving out of the home. He plans to live with a gay friend. He’s adamant about it. What should be the proper response of a Latter-day Saint parent in that situation?

    ELDER OAKS: It seems to me that a Latter-day Saint parent has a responsibility in love and gentleness to affirm the teaching of the Lord through His prophets that the course of action he is about to embark upon is sinful. While affirming our continued love for him, and affirming that the family continues to have its arms open to him, I think it would be well to review with him something like the following, which is a statement of the First Presidency in 1991: “The Lord’s law of moral conduct is abstinence outside of lawful marriage and fidelity within marriage. Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife, appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage. Any other sexual conduct, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior is sinful. Those who persist in such practices or influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline.”

    My first responsibility as a father is to make sure that he understands that, and then to say to him, “My son, if you choose to deliberately engage in this kind of behavior, you’re still my son. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to reach out and cleanse you if you are repentant and give up your sinful behavior, but I urge you not to embark on that path because repentance is not easy. You’re embarking on a course of action that will weaken you in your ability to repent. It will cloud your perceptions of what is important in life. Finally, it may drag you down so far that you can’t come back. Don’t go that way. But if you choose to go that way, we will always try to help you and get you back on the path of growth.

    ELDER WICKMAN: One way to read the Book of Mormon is as a book of encounters between fathers and sons. Some of those encounters were very positive and reinforcing on the part of the father of a son. Some were occasions where a father had to tell his son or his sons that the path that they were following was incorrect before the Lord. With all, it needs to be done in the spirit of love and welcoming that, as Elder Oaks mentioned, ‘You’re always my son.’ There’s an old maxim which is really true for every parent and that is, ‘You haven’t failed until you quit trying.’ I think that means both in terms of taking appropriate opportunities to teach one’s children the right way, but at all times making sure they know that over all things you’ll love them.

    PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’

    ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.

    I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

    There are so many different circumstances, it’s impossible to give one answer that fits all.

    ELDER WICKMAN: It’s hard to imagine a more difficult circumstance for a parent to face than that one. It is a case by case determination. The only thing that I would add to what Elder Oaks has just said is that I think it’s important as a parent to avoid a potential trap arising out of one’s anguish over this situation.

    I refer to a shift from defending the Lord’s way to defending the errant child’s lifestyle, both with him and with others. It really is true the Lord’s way is to love the sinner while condemning the sin. That is to say we continue to open our homes and our hearts and our arms to our children, but that need not be with approval of their lifestyle. Neither does it mean we need to be constantly telling them that their lifestyle is inappropriate. An even bigger error is now to become defensive of the child, because that neither helps the child nor helps the parent. That course of action, which experience teaches, is almost certainly to lead both away from the Lord’s way.”

  5. Geoff,

    I’m surprised you opened that Oaks-Wickman can of worms again. I don’t pretend to understand homosexuality, but I try to be open minded about it. That Oaks-Wickman thing was a major step backward for us. It was so bad I couldn’t finish the thing. Ceratinly not something that will survive the test of time. We really need a retirement tradition for apostles so the church isn’t always embarrassingly three generations behind the times.

  6. Geoff, I have no “crusade to make LDS church leaders look bad.” If Oaks’ own words make him look bad, he did that. I certainly didn’t.

  7. Mmiles, there are a myriad of reasons to oppose same-sex marriage, and I have posted probably a dozen times over the years giving many of them. The interview with Elders Oaks and Wickman give some of the arguments. Hopefully we all will be hearing those arguments again in the coming weeks and months. That is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is simply to point out the Church’s position on the issue, which is sometimes distorted by opponents of the Church and supporters of gay marriage.

  8. Geoff,
    So if you are simply pointing out church position, then what kind of comments are you looking for?
    I do not see specific logical arguments in favor of traditional marriage over same-sex marriage. I see only vagueness and “God said so…” I also think this kind of interview warranted nothing else. But in the future, we better get specific.

  9. Regarding the prowess and performance of the 1st Presidency and Apostles in leading the LDS Church, I believe this over any critical bystander.
    link

    As the least of those who have been sustained by you to witness the guidance of this Church firsthand, I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. I bear personal witness of how thoroughly good they are, of how hard they work, and how humbly they live. It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world, and it shines from these proceedings.

  10. mmiles,
    FWIW, I have talked about some of my personal concerns on my blog. One of my most serious concerns regards religious rights that could be affected. I have read some people’s comments that they think this won’t affect the Church at all, and I think they could end up being really wrong. Imagine if speaking out against homosexuality becomes a crime? (In Canada, this has already happened at some level.)

    I also think this can influence parental rights (e.g., what they can control or have input about regarding what their children are taught and exposed to). Problems have already arisen with this issue as well, in more than one state.

    I’m also concerned about children’s rights. We hear often of the rights of adults, but this kind of thing in a very real way uses children as guinea pigs. There are simply not enough convincing or long-term-enough studies to support the notion that there is “no risk” in having children raised in same-sex homes. Sure, there are lots of less-than-ideal situations out there, but that shouldn’t mean that we include another ‘different than the traditional’ scenario and assume that it won’t matter.

    Let me be clear. I don’t doubt that there are many gay couples out there who could be loving and kind parents. But I still believe that from a completely logical standpoint, this is all too new for anyone to be able to make assertions that putting children in same-sex-relationship homes won’t have any costs.

    And from a spiritual perspective, I’m compelled by the statement that “children are entitled to be born” into a home where a dad and mom are married and committed. Obviously, our society falls short in many regards there, but that doesn’t change the fact that children often suffer for the sake of adults’ ‘rights’ and choices that are often focused only on themselves and are made with little consideration for the children.

    As a general comment, I am always a bit surprised when I read discussions on the ‘nacle and people somehow think that a decision to allow gay marriage is only about letting a few people have their chance to be married, with no affect on anyone else. There is no question in my mind that there will be ramifications that reach into many facets of our lives — such as religion, family life and policy, rights debates and legislation, politics, school cultures, and morality…and who knows what else. All of these things can have a significant impact on our society as a whole.

  11. m&m–
    I could agree with you, and let’s just say I do. But I want concrete arguments that leave religion out of it? Possible? I’ll look at your blog and see what you have to say.

  12. SteveEM, I don’t think the Oaks/Wickman thing is a step back at all. Parents should not feel obligated to take their homosexual child’s partner in like he/she were a spouse. Parents, if they agree with the Church’s position on SSM, have the obligation to teach their children that it’s wrong and set that example within a Christlike framework.

    As somebody with a close loved one currently living a homosexual lifestyle (who’s still very close to the family and whose partner is pretty much accepted as part of the family and understands well the point I just made), I think the Oaks/Wickman interview is very appropriate.

  13. mmiles,
    I actually thought I did include some concrete arguments. Rights are rights, and if freedom of religion or freedom of speech or parental rights or taxpayer rights or the health and well-being of children could be threatened by this (and I think they could), I’m concerned. If our leaders or other church leaders could be muted from teaching about homosexuality as they see fit, I’m concerned. These to me seem like concrete issues that aren’t related to our doctrine per se. Religious rights are not the same as bringing religion into it. These are legitimate concerns that experts in the country are grappling with (read that article I linked to above for an example). There are real examples of parents (taxpayers) being told they can’t influence what is taught to their children, or not being told at all about what their children are being exposed to. About people being in trouble with the law for writing their thoughts about homosexuality. These are real concerns, real issues that have little to do with my beliefs about homosexuality from a religious point of view.

  14. I wanted to add that in linking to the stories that I linked to, I realize that one story does not an issue make. But I have thought through this a lot, and I think there are legitimate concerns to consider. FWIW. I don’t believe that people just want gay marriage and that will be that. I sense that there is more to all of this than a simple marriage certificate, and the efforts toward ‘change’ will not stop there.

  15. To add to m&m’s last point, it is worth pointing out that “gay marriage” is already legal in all 50 states. Two gay people can find a pastor or notary public and get married anytime they want. If they are after legal rights, they could set up contracts between themselves regarding inheritance, etc. But that is not what they want — they want society to give a stamp of approval on their relationship, which goes beyond a personal thing into a public endorsement of their lifestyle, and this strays into a very dangerous moral area.

    So, if we determine that what they really want is societal approval, where does it end?

    If the California decision stands, under what possible argument can polygamy be illegal? How about bestiality (I am “married” to that animal)?
    It will be increasingly difficult to prevent pederasts from “marrying” their young lovers.

    This is a very slippery slope indeed, and there is an easy solution: marriage is an institution between one man and one woman.

  16. Thanks for the post, Geoff.

    A good friend of mine recently announced to everyone that he is homosexual. This was a man who had a profound affect on me as a teenager and helped me prepare for my mission. I love my friend and feel a great deal of empathy for his plight as a homosexual man.

    Having said that, I still do not support “gay” marriage, but wish my friend no ill-will in his quest to find a partner, and wish him all the best in his new life.

    I believe first and foremost that we should love all men (and women). But that admonition does not require the acceptance of “gay” marriage or homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

    Although I do not understand homosexuality and cannot fully appreciate what it means to struggle with same-sex attraction, I believe in the promises of the Lord–that he will not give us any temptation which we cannot bear.

    Just because a court makes something “legal”, does not make it right in the sight of God.

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