Same-sex marriage: Some chasms are unbridgeable

There’s a post by Michael Austin over at By Common Consent on the subject of same-sex marriage, the thesis of which is the heterodox but increasingly fashionable idea that the church should not discipline members who have legally married someone of the same sex.

I’ll briefly disagree before getting to the deeper issue. Michael argues that this change would not require any alteration in theology, and maybe not in fundamental doctrine either. The “line” of Latter-day Saint sexual ethics, he says, is drawn, or at least has historically often been drawn, by the phrase “legally and lawfully wedded”. Thus, a change in secular law (US law?) is a change in Mormon religious teaching. But while the phrase he refers to is part of our body of revelation, so are hundreds of instances where prophets and apostles have gone to the trouble of teaching explicitly that marriage is between a man and a woman and, of course, that sexual contact is only permissible within marriage. Let’s take them at their word, if only out of respect for their time.

The question then is whether the venerable doctrine is incorrect; or alternatively, whether an exception to church disciplinary policy should be made for people who have legally committed to repeatedly violate the doctrine. (I don’t mean to be flippant; just plain.)

Michael is right on one point: to Latter-day Saints who embrace the church’s doctrine of sexuality, the answer to the question above is easy, and hardly needs to be stated. This is also true of the opposite answer for members who don’t embrace the doctrine. As a result, we necessarily talk past each other when discussing whether discipline is appropriate for those within a civil same-sex marriage. To those with the traditional view, utilitarian reasoning is out of place in the face of fundamental doctrine to the contrary. To the more postmodern types, the concerns of dogma are irrelevant when dogma is causing real suffering. Incompatible non-negotiables are rarely productively debated.

Sex as a linchpin

And maybe that’s the bigger problem—and this is what I’m really interested in: the existence of deep philosophical differences amongst church members on the issue of sexuality. It wouldn’t be a unique phenomenon. Disagreement over same-sex marriage led to schism for American Lutherans, and ordination of openly gay priests led to widespread abandonment of the Episcopal Church in the early 2000s. In 1998, United Methodist pastor William J. Abraham expressed concern that the unbridgeable doctrinal chasm on homosexuality between conservatives and liberals in the United Methodist Church would lead to schism, and recent events have begun to validate his fear. The question of homosexuality is, historically speaking, a church-breaker. Why? Is sexuality really that important?

Well, it might be. Rod Dreher thinks so, naming sex the “linchpin” of the Christian cultural order. The general idea is that no sex-related issue is isolated. Someone who accepts that marriage (or the marital act) can be understood without reference to concepts of “man” or “woman”, to the point of believing church policy should be changed accordingly, has already accepted an alternative philosophy of sexuality and marriage—and perhaps of humanity—that entails a number of other alternative ideas. Accordingly, I’m fairly confident that church members divided by Michael’s proposition will also find themselves divided by their answers to the questions below:

  • Can a relationship between people of the same sex coherently be called a marriage? Can it be called a marriage without discarding the teleological properties of marriage?
  • Is the function of the marriage institution to place a structure around procreative sexuality? Alternatively, is its function to formalize or dignify a person’s identity (sexual orientation)?
  • Are “mothering” and “fathering” distinct phenomena? As a corollary, is a child deprived of anything by not having a father, or by not having a mother (or is the presence of exactly two adults what counts)?
  • If husbands are interchangeable with wives and mothers with fathers, are men more generally interchangeable with women? What is the meaning or purpose of a person’s sex?
  • Does a husband preside over his family?
  • Is surrogacy acceptable? Specifically, is it acceptable to arrange the sale of an egg or sperm, or to rent a uterus, in order to create a child for someone other than the biological parents?
  • Similarly, does a child deserve to be raised by his or her biological parents wherever possible, or not?
  • Do humans have a calling to procreate, or is it a matter of preference?

My purpose at the moment isn’t to defend the orthodox answers to these questions—rather, I’m pointing out that they are questions of eternal significance to which two classes of Mormons, identifiable by their stance on discipline for civil homogamous marriage, now have different answers. There are other questions which highlight not just the difference between the two sides, but the philosophical problems with the one:

  • What is the link in principle between romantic love and raising children, if not the biological reality of procreation? (Applied practically, why prevent mother-daughter pairs raising the daughter’s children—the most common adult same-sex household in the US—from “marrying”?)
  • What about two people in the context of marriage is meaningful, if not the one-man-one-woman biological reality of procreation?
  • The procreative character of marriage gives us secular justifications for premarital virginity, sexual exclusivity and permanence in marriage. If marriage can be understood in principle apart from procreation, and if it is “about intimacy, closeness, tenderness, mutual support, and the transformative power of loving somebody else”, as Michael suggests, do we have any reasons besides traditional doctrine for keeping these norms? (And if not, how long before bloggers advise changing them?)

Finally, I think it’s worth illustrating the philosophical differences I’ve mentioned, as well an error on the one side, by making reference to a few passages from Michael’s essay.

The only two options now available for gay people who want to remain part of the LDS Church are 1) a commitment to lifelong celibacy; or 2) a mixed-orientation marriage.

To those who believe the Latter-day Saint vision of marriage, there are two options for everyone: celibacy and marriage. Heterosexual, asexual, polyamorous and gay members make the same choice. The deep philosophical difference (no one denies the practical difficulty) is whether the function of marriage is to formalize orientation, or not.

Committed, long-term, monogamous relationships are about intimacy, closeness, tenderness, mutual support, and the transformative power of loving somebody else on the same terms that one loves oneself.

Marriage is classically seen as ordered toward procreation, where man and woman are actually made “one flesh” through the marital act, which in turn fulfills romance in the deepest sense. Michael’s is the alternative philosophical view that marriage is ordered toward romance itself (a view that very quickly makes itself incoherent).

Committed monogamy is a good thing, and its goodness does not depend on its configuration of genders. … some kinds of relationships are spiritually superior to others—independent of the sexual orientation of the partners.

Unfortunately, the argument defeats itself here. Hundreds of thousands of real people consider themselves non-monogamous by orientation. In the sense Michael is attempting to use the word “orientation”, monogamy cannot be independent of it. The argument is analogous to an argument that sexually complementary relationships are superior to others, regardless of orientation.


If there are deep philosophical differences underlying the various policy disagreements of vocal Mormons, how does it all end? When William J. Abraham addressed a similar question in his letter to United Methodism in 1998, he concluded pessimistically:

However this important conversation continues, and it surely will continue, it must be informed by the very real possibility that the Liberal Protestant project exemplified by United Methodism was flawed from the start. Perhaps the very idea of theological pluralism was bound to self-destruct in time. These are the ominous questions now engaged.

I’m not as pessimistic about the Latter-day Saints as Pastor Abraham was about the Methodists. The Lord’s church will continue teaching and practicing the truth, and it will not ultimately surrender to the cultural forces pressing against it. However, as with the Methodists, our conversation “surely will continue” in the presence of the possibility that our differences are irreconcilable. If in fact they are, then it remains for all of us to choose a side.

42 thoughts on “Same-sex marriage: Some chasms are unbridgeable

  1. “Can a relationship between people of the same sex coherently be called a marriage?”

    Honest question. Think back to 1850’s. Two women are married to a man. Can the relationship between the two women coherently be called a marriage?

    Not that I think in the least polygamy is coming back. I don’t. But once you open up the door for polygamy it seems to me you’ve already embraced same sex marriage.

  2. Hi Tom,

    I suspect that we won’t see the Church tend to proactively excommunicate members who are celibate until marriage and then marry someone of the same gender. However these individuals will not be granted the full range of service opportunities they would have been considered for if they had either married someone of the opposite gender or remained unmarried and celibate. In addition, they will not be permitted to enter the temple from the time the Church becomes aware that they have committed themselves to a sexually active relationship with someone of the same gender.

    I am inferring from the policy circa the 1980s regarding individuals who surgically alter their gender. Someone who had previously altered their gender prior to investigating the Church was allowed to join the Church, but they were not allowed to be ordained to the priesthood or enter the temple. An individual who was a member of the Church and then surgically altered their gender would be excommunicated, for failing to understand that this step was not consistent with the eternal nature of our beings.

    But given the care with which the Church has clarified that John Dehlin’s recent discipline was *not* about his teachings about homosexuality, I believe the Church might step away from proactively removing members who have remained celibate until marriage and then entered into same gender marriages.

    I might be wrong, but that’s how I see things.

    I suspect we will tend to see that those who engage in same-gender sexual activity (with or without legal sanction) will tend to remove themselves from the fellowship of the Church. At least, that has been the predominant trend I have witnessed for those of my acquaintance who have engaged in various forms of illicit or same-gendered sexual activity.

  3. Hi Clark,

    When a man was married to more than one woman back in the day, the women were married to the man, and they belonged to the same household. But they were not, themselves, married (with the conjugal implications of that term).

    In Mormon polygamy, families were like star networks, with the wives indirectly connected to each other through the common husband.

    The concept yp

  4. (not sure how that happened)

    Anyway, Clark, the topology you are suggesting would be a fully connected (family) network topology. That is not what Mormon polygamy was.

    A fully connected network from the standpoint of sexuality would be appropriate for a polyamorous household.

  5. Clark –

    that’s quite odd reasoning. There was never any indication the women “married” each other. Perhaps in a bi-sexual group marriage (like on the TV series “Caprica”), but polyandry and polygyny aren’t group marriage (technically group marriages fall under the label “polygamy” – one reason I don’t like using the polygamy term when discussing what the Saints practiced historically).

    I haven’t given this line of reasoning much thought, but it’s quite common for people who defend marriage to argue that, at the very least, the marriages in Mormon polygamy were, each individually, between one man and one woman, so that might answer your question. The women in polygamy nowadays call each other sister-wives, not spouses.

  6. Clark, good question. As others have said, I don’t think anyone in 1850 would have claimed that the two women were married to each other. Traditional polygyny, at least in the church, was thought of as multiple marriages on behalf of the husband (thus, the name “plural marriage”)–not as a group marriage.

    But to the bigger question, I think traditional polygny *is* the one other sort of arrangement (besides ordinary husband-wife marriage) that fits the purposes of marriage. Polyandry doesn’t fit, because reproductive potential is highly diminished and paternity is ambiguous.

    Meg, I do see a difference between same-sex civil marriage and sex-reassignment surgery. While the latter is disordered and sinful, it doesn’t fall under the umbrella of “sexual activity outside marriage”, an umbrella under which discipline has always been quite extreme. Transgender issues have always been sui generis in any setting, and I think that’s the case here.

    I hope not to drag the conversation to the side with my responses here, though. I’m most interested in whether there really is a philosophical divide on sexuality and whether it’s bridgeable. The discipline issue was a useful segue, but less important to me on its own.

  7. “But once you open up the door for polygamy it seems to me you’ve already embraced same sex marriage.”

    I’d probably reverse that – embracing SSM pretty much means polygamy becomes a given.

    However, back during the initial pushes for SSM, the activists constantly said “this does not lead to polygamy, we don’t want polygamy, don’t worry about polygamy, polygamy is a slippery slope straw man” – and yet, now, many of those same activists are arguing polygamy is just fine and should be legal too.
    So, frankly, I think a lot of debate was built on disingenuous-ness.

  8. “An individual who was a member of the Church and then surgically altered their gender would be excommunicated, for failing to understand that this step was not consistent with the eternal nature of our beings.”


    If we were smart, we would see that transgendered people including people who have undergone gender realignment surgery are a walking apologetic (to repurpose Elder Oaks’ “walking pornography” image) for the principle of eternal, immutable gender in the Family Proclamation. Someone who is transgender is someone who realizes that their biological physical body does not match their eternal gender — that in the preexistence they were a woman but thanks to chaos and the fallen world, and the nature of our biology including any number of things that can go wrong during the complex and complicated process of gestation and embryonic development, the physical body they ended up with did not match their eternal gender.

  9. “Michael’s is the alternative philosophical view that marriage is ordered toward romance itself (a view that very quickly makes itself incoherent).”

    Can you explain how this view quickly makes itself incoherent? I see a claim with no data. Thanks.

  10. Meg that seems to be a difference without a difference though. Especially given things were still developing. I recognize this became more of an issue in various Mormon schism groups such as the Manti group from the early 90’s which I think split itself over this issue.

    I recognize that marriage was viewed in the 19th century as largely about the men. i.e. it wasn’t an equal relationship. That affects how they viewed polygamous marriage although there was innovation as we saw with Brigham’s encouraging women to work jobs the rest of the country weren’t ready for.

    I’ll not pursue it more, but I do think that we have to keep in mind our 19th century ancestors here.

    Ivan, of course a lot of the debate was disingenuous – by both sides. People put forth arguments they thought were persuasive not ones that they necessarily believed. I think it inevitable polygamy will become officially sanctioned within 10 years of SCOTUS fully recognizing gay marriage.

  11. Clark,

    When I talk about star networks, I am talking about who is having sex with whom. There is no indication that women in polygamous families were expected to be having sex with one another.

  12. Meg, I think that there’s some distinctions that probably need to be made.

    (1) First of all, the Church’s comments about Dehlin’s excommunication not being related to his public support of SSM is not the same thing as saying that his excommunication is not (in part) related to any of his comments regarding SSM. Public support on Facebook for SSM is a very different thing than stating boldly that the Church is engaging in bigotry, and that Elder Oaks is a bigot, that the Church is damaging people, etc. Elder Christofferson and Elder Oaks, in interviews a couple of months ago, alluded to this difference by stating that public support for SSM is not grounds for discipline, but they followed it up by saying that attacking the Church and drawing others away from the Church’s teachings/positions might be.

    (2) Public supporting SSM is a far cry from committing oneself to a lifelong homosexual relationship that is against God’s laws. The former might not be grounds for excommunication, but that in no way implies that the latter is not. So the connection you are making seems kind of shallow to me — publicly stating that I don’t think two men having sex is a sin might not get me excommunicated, but that doesn’t men that having sex with a man won’t. There’s no real connection there.

    (3) There may be a crucial distinction between those who are endowed and those who are not. A young man who grows up without going on a mission, without going to the temple, and who marries another man in the eyes of the state, might not get excommunicated. Most bishops and stake presidents won’t outright excommunicate an un-endowed person who is breaking the law of chastity. Disfellowship, maybe (the restricted privileges you talked about), but not excommunication. However, I fully expect that endowed individuals who get married to members of the same-sex will continue to be excommunicated — they are breaking sacred temple covenants. Some might argue that they are not (using a legalistic interpretation of the wording of the temple ordinance), but prophets and apostles continue to clarify that they are, in all of their public sermons. I don’t expect that to change.

    (4) I also don’t expect anyone — endowed or not — in a same-sex marriage to be permitted to participate in the sacrament ordinance.

  13. Thanks, Tom. Good post. The libertarian in me disagrees with some of it, particularly the idea that government licenses are a good thing. It’s a tough pill for me to swallow considering that licenses initially started being ‘required’ in order to keep people from having mixed race marriages. Marriage is a right and having to obtain a license in order to engage in a particular activity means that that activity is no longer a right but has been turned into a privilege and THAT really rubs me the wrong way.

  14. Meg,
    Not in the way liberals say things like medical care, food, housing, etc. are rights. The way the I intend it is that government has no business telling me I need a license to get married and have sex with someone who wants to enter into that kind of relationship with me. There was a time when marriage was a religious institution and the government didn’t require licenses in order to enter into them. In reality, people STILL can get married without government permission by getting married under the common law rather than statute, but that’s a whole ‘nuther ball of string.

  15. Thanks, Aaron. As a former libertarian, I think a public marriage institution is consistent with the philosophy (By the way, you may be interested in the libertarian case for marriage at We gloss over the details by using “marry” as a verb, but the “actions” associated with marriage: living together, sleeping together and holding a same-sex wedding ceremony, are already allowed in every state. The license isn’t a “license” in the ordinary sense of the word–you won’t get arrested for holding a ceremony and telling people you’re married if you haven’t got one. Rather, you just won’t be given marital “status”. There may be a fairness concern here, depending on your view of marriage, but there isn’t a liberty concern.

    I’d be happy to talk more, but I don’t want to steer the comments section off into tangents. Feel free to look me up on Facebook via my site.

  16. Aaron, I actually agree with you, but still agree with Tom. The reason why is because marriage licenses are not the beginning or end of civil marriage. Check out this article for more information (you can watch the video or read the article):

    Basically, sure — I don’t need to have government permission to swear sexual fidelity to my wife. But even in a world where I didn’t, that promise may (and should) still have significant legal implications. In such a world, if I can provide a signed affidavit that we swore sexual fidelity to each other (a marriage certificate signed by a priest and witnesses), her children are presumed by courts to have been fathered by me, and I am presumed to have a legal obligation to care for them, and her, their mother (and she, conversely, may have duties with respect to me). These presumed legal duties are actually the core essence of marriage — they stem from the potential for procreation, and they are established by affidavits that the partners swore to sexual fidelity.

    In this way, even in the absence of marriage “licensure” where people have to ask for prior permission, courts still have to recognize some forms of sexual union as carrying implied duties — duties that might not exist or be recognized if both partners were men or both partners were women.

    Civil marriage did not start with marriage licensure. Courts would still enforce implied duties even when all you needed was the signature of your priest. And those implied duties are not enforceable or even logically implied when two men make the same commitments.

  17. “If we were smart, we would see that transgendered people including people who have undergone gender realignment surgery are a walking apologetic . . . for the principle of eternal, immutable gender in the Family Proclamation.”

    My problem with this statement is that it implies that those who get sex change operations are always doing so in harmony with their eternal gender. Unfortunately, biological problems such as hormonal balance can lead an individual to feel out of the proper gender and coupled with increasing acceptance of transgenderism might lead individuals to erroneously get their genders reassigned. Many who.get such surgeries experience regret and depression afterwards. Thua, I think what you said may be true in some cases, but probably not in many other cases

  18. To clarify, those implied duties are not enforceable or even logically implied when two men make the same commitments. But some of them can be contracted into — two men can make a legally enforceable contract requiring sexual fidelity from the other, and stipulating consequences if one party fails to keep the agreement. But those legal duties are explicit, not implied — they are enumerated in terms of the contract.

    But that’s not what marriage is — marriage is a set of implied duties. There is no fine print obligating partners to ongoing sexual fidelity, material care, support, etc. Those duties are implied by procreation. For this reason, we argue that marriage is not a contract (as we traditionally imagine contracts). As a legal institution, it describes a set of duties that we deem legally enforceable that flow out of procreation. As a social institution, it describes a set of social expectations that find their rational in the potential for procreation. Check out for more.

  19. ldsphilosopher,

    Totally agree with government enforcing certain implied obligations pertaining to a marriage. I think that can be done without the licence which makes the marriage a contract between the two people and the State and makes the State the superior party of interest regarding the marriage and the fruits thereof (children).

  20. We have an interesting situation now, where no one will engage in official violence towards an individual who engages in sex.

    In the early 1600s, children who were engendered by a man other than the legal husband were disposed of, as occurred with a set of hapless children who were sent to America aboard the Mayflower. The children weren’t killed, though they did all end up dying in the mass illness that struck the Pilgrims after landing at Plymouth.

    Similarly, it was common in the day for a man who attempted to sleep with a woman who was not his to be killed for his daring. As we see in the Bible, men and women who slept around outside of marriage were killed.

    Now, however, though we don’t officially harm either the children who result from illicit liaisons nor officially reprimand the adults who engender or conceive children outside of marriage, there is a high correlation between wealth and those who know how to keep their sexuality within traditional bounds.

    This correlation becomes muddied because the internet is happy to tell you all about lists of famous rich people who are same-gender attracted or bi-sexual. But when you look at the statistics across the entire population, sexual “liberty” leads to poverty and other negative outcomes for the participants (and any children engendered).

    So we’ve gone from a time when laws proscribed negative behaviors to a time (shortly) when laws won’t proscribe anything. And yet I project that negative outcomes will continue to be correlated with non-traditional sexual configurations (speaking of gender particularly). Thus you will see me informing my children and those I love of the desirability of the traditional sexual configurations and folkways.

  21. Aaron, agreed. But such is still “civil marriage” in its bare essentials, and such would still preclude two men from participating in “civil marriage.” An affidavit that the two men swore to sexual fidelity — signed by a priest and witnesses — doesn’t really hold any weight in court, since there are no implied obligations (since there is no potential for sexual procreation). The judge would have to ask, “Well, was there a contract?”

    It’s a very significant difference. It means that the duties of marriage precede the state — the state simply acknowledges them after the fact. It also means that the duties of marriage precede contract — couples can’t rely on fine print for loopholes. Even in cases of divorce, those duties carry forward indefinitely (in terms of alimony and child support).

  22. Or at least a smart state will go after the engendering male to offset the state’s responsibility for the engendered offspring, in the event that the male has abdicated his implicit obligation towards the product of the union that caused procreation.

    This is a very useful point to make to boys, if they aren’t aware that DNA proof means their wandering body parts can end up writing hefty checks off their future earnings. Girls should be aware that allowing boys’ wandering body parts near them risks conception and significant risk to their future plans as well.

    Of course, this becomes part of the appeal of elevating same gender relationships to the status of “marriage.” Because then there is no risk that children will be conceived. Alas, people then get old enough to crave children, and do various things to acquire children. And at that point all the legal contract and explicit obligation stuff needs to be put in place.

  23. Meg, I wasn’t implying anything about sex, just a marriage relationship which needn’t involve sex.

    LDSPhilosopher, I assume that the state will now assume implied duties for same sex relationships in a fashion akin to hetero ones. I confess though I’m uncomfortable with the state enforcing such things without debate. There are many things that are wrong that I don’t think the state should enforce. (I’m a conservative, not a libertarian, so I probably disagree with libertarians as to what the state should get out of) I will say I’m uncomfortable with the state engaging in social engineering though. Whether I agree with the engineering or not.

  24. To those who believe the Latter-day Saint vision of marriage, there are two options for everyone: celibacy and marriage. Heterosexual, asexual, polyamorous and gay members make the same choice.

    What the LDS same sex marriage crowd conveniently overlooks is that Christ has given us the Law of Chasity and expects all members to abide by it. It doesn’t matter if the member is gay, heterosexual, divorced, single, widowed, or married. It doesn’t matter if the member is 12 years old or 101, male or female, lives in Utah or South America. No matter who we are or our circumstances Christ expects us to live it.

    The LDS same-sex marriage crowd is asking for an exception to the commandments. They want certain members treated differently because of a genetic predisposition. If we’re going to make an exception for gay members then why not make a similar exceptions for people based on age, race, gender, or where they live? How can we expect hormonal teenagers to practice the Law of Chasity when they see exceptions are being made for others?

    We do all members (not just gay ones) a disservice when we don’t expect certain people to live to the standards Christ has taught. Making an exception to the rule when it comes to the Law of Chasity would ultimately be the first crack in destroying the church. Sadly, there are many members who would like to see the LDS Church become less of a church and more of a country club. Making allowances for sin would be the first step in making that a reality.

  25. One of the sidebar articles “How Christian America Dies” cites the rapid decline, from 50% of the American population in 1958 to 14% today of the Mainline Protestants who have largely liberalized their views on social issues including same sex marriage. Meanwhile, although the number of people who identify as Christians has declined, it seems evident that the loss has mostly occurred among the liberals. Our leaders are inspired, but they are also smart enough to recognize that conservative views on issues such as abortion and same sex marriage are attractive to people who are seeking a religion. I believe current practices regarding chastity will prevail and even ‘committed’ relationships between polygynist, same sex, incestuous or polyandrous groups will fail to gain sanction.

  26. I think James stone makes a great point about definitions and the rule of law. In general, we have allowed liberals to destroy the concept and carved out so many exceptions, it is no longer coherent. They don’t believe in law, truth, or true justice.

  27. Back to Clark on the marriage/sex discussion of families during the era of Mormon polygamy, the marriages were still star networks. Thus, when the male individual died, the wives all became widows. They might have continued to associate with one another as friends, but they were not in any sense still “married” once the man was dead.

    Given the presumption that any “marriage” involves sex between the married individuals, I at least feel I’ve been useful in making that understanding explicit.

  28. Thinking about this idea of chasm, I think part of what we are seeing is the break down of a bridge. For many years many people of faith stood against birth control. But eventually birth control became synonymous with kindness to women, and most faith leaders stopped speaking against it. This made it easy for people of faith to travel back and forth. Those who believed that marriage was primarily about having a family could go to weddings and say to the couple “I’m happy because you are happy,” while those who thought marriage was primarily about emotional bond and commitment could say, “Children make a couple happy, so of course marriage will still involve having children, and being able to carefully plan those children will of course increase their desirability in adding to the emotional bond.” I think this bridge made it easy for people to ignore the chasm, and people crossed back and forth depending on circumstances.

    I would say that those more committed to the side of procreative marriage hadn’t realized how one-way the bridge had become until same-sex marriage became an issue, and it’s sort of a shock to them. Meanwhile the marriage as emotional closeness folks simply can’t understand why the anyone would stay on the other side of the chasm.

  29. In the old days, the term for children born less than a year apart, but more than 9 months apart, was “Irish twins.”

    The implication was that only ignorant immigrants would risk pregnancy so soon after birth of an earlier child. From, “the term pokes fun at the stereotypical fertility of Irish Catholic families, which traditionally do not use birth control. In addition, it implies that the Irish lack the ability to plan ahead or control themselves, having children in quick succession rather than responsibly spacing them. Finally, it suggests that the Irish do not understand the medical definition of twins, which involves two children conceived and born together.”

    I bring up the Irish twin term because the expectation in the 1800s and earlier was that people controlled themselves.

    In Mormon circles as late as the 1970s it was a major “revelation” to some that sex could also be used to strengthen the emotional bond between husband and wife. I know there was an Exponent II issue devoted exclusively to this matter (our family had great fun reading that issue and wondering how people could be so dumb) and our local stake devoted an entire Stake Conference session to making it clear to the assembled adults that sex was not merely for procreation (they shunted all us non-adults off to other places for that conference, so I have this report from my parents).

    At any rate, it is useful to remember that when children were not showing up every 10 months in families prior to 1950, it involved a combination of the natural “birth control” provided by nursing and sexual continence.

  30. I would say maintaining a healthy emotional bond in marriage is actually an important aspect of raising healthy and generally well-adjusted children, and therefore an important aspect of procreation. It is painful and more than a little damaging for children to experience parents whose emotional bond has deteriorated, in a more personal way than it is to see just normal friends break-up. (And as has been pointed out by many, the state has little interest in helping normal friendships stay together if they decide to part ways.)

    Having a secure emotional bond is extremely useful to women who are paying quite a bit up front when it comes to procreation, meaning that the burden is more demanding on them quite early, before relationships have time to mature into life-long commitment on a timing more natural for regular friendships. So society and instinct have ways of connecting sex with emotional commitment for women. From what I see, emotional commitment is an optional part of sexual encounters for men, whereas for women sex is the optional part of emotional commitment.

    Part of the swing away from tradition I think has to do with the overly-masculine view of procreative sex being merely conception-oriented, and also the continuing prejudice against sex as inherently sinful, only redeemable by its ability to actually produce offspring. But if the goal is not just the conception of children, but also their healthy adjustment toward adulthood, then ‘making-love’ is just the right phrase to describe what should be happening between married people. It is love you offer directly to your spouse, and indirectly to your children, both in conception and in commitment to their continued welfare.

  31. @Meg. I personally feel the concept of nursing induced birth control to be overhyped. Laserwife was nursing every couple hours two months after laserbaby arrived, but her womanly time arrived too.

  32. @laserguy – agreed that expecting that birth control by virtue of nursing might be insufficient to prevent “Irish twins.” Which leaves us with phenomena such as the fertility of Emma Hale in the context of her marriage to Joseph Smith. When I look at it, I suspect that not only was Joseph not sexually active in his additional marriages, but it appears that his intimacy with Emma was controlled as well. Specifically, Emma doesn’t conceive until after she goes with Joseph to retrieve the Golden Plates. And the majority of her pregnancies thereafter appear to begin in September as well…

  33. Lactation associated birth control is not effective for well nourished women. It is effective on a population basis for women who are borderline nourished, as in third world or developing countries. In anorexic or athletic women who try to stay ‘ripped’, a state where body fat is kept at a minimum, amenorrhia, or lack of menses is common. On the other hand, recently publicized research indicates that well nourished women give birth to healthier, more intelligent babies. A survey of Victorian and earlier attitudes towards sex gives the impression that for many men harlots and mistresses provided an outlet for desires that they chose not to bridle, meanwhile ‘proper’ women were taught that sex was a necessary duty that they owed their husbands in order to produce a few children. In this scenario large families were characteristic of the ignorant, ‘unwashed’ masses.
    Simple cuddling and physical closeness is a large component of satisfactory marital relations for most women, and likely for many men.
    I have read research that indicates that frequency depresses male fertility. Paired with a woman who is nursing and slightly anorexic, you could expect to see smaller families.
    Homosexuality is rare enough in the general population that its inevitable effect on over all reproduction is negligible, except for the attitude it has fostered that marriage should be focused on affection instead of the responsibilities of procreation.
    The various costs of chemical birth control to the physical and emotional health of women is ignored or deliberately obscured. As the population of developed nations continues to implode the consequences of current common practices and attitudes will be realized.

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