Why I Support Traditional Marriage

This blog post has led me to create a new website — www.discussingmarriage.org — that discusses these arguments (and many more) in depth. Please visit the website. Many thanks!

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.

Two Definitions

There are two potential definitions of marriage in question as a civil institution from which we can choose: a conjugal definition of marriage, and a companionate definition of marriage:

  1. From the conjugal perspective, marriage is a permanent legal union between a man and a woman who unite their families ostensibly for the purpose of having children, and who arrange their lives legally, civilly, and socially with the welfare of forthcoming (and preceding) generations in mind, and who enter into a legal obligation to remain loyal to that arrangement to the end of their lives, to be dissolved only for compelling reasons.
  2. From a companionate perspective, marriage is civil arrangement between two lovers for the purposes of sharing finances, assets, etc. (generally with the interests of the individual couple in mind, irrespective of forthcoming generations), to be dissolved if either party loses interest in the arrangement without legal consequence.

[Again, these are two competing civil definitions of marriage — this ignores potential additional definitions superimposed on marriage by faith traditions.] The companionate conception of marriage treats marriage as being primarily for and about the relationship between lovers. In contrast, the conjugal conception of marriage treats marriage as being just as much about children and the welfare of children (as well as forthcoming and preceding generations) as it is about the relationship between lovers. As LDS writer James Golberg explains, the companionate conception of marriage treats marriage as being primarily about the lateral relationship. The conjugal conception of marriage treats marriage as being equally about the vertical and lateral relationships.

The conjugal definition is the definition of marriage that has held in centuries past. This is why, for example, same-sex lovers in ancient Greece never really consider marriage something necessary for their union — marriage was about forthcoming generations, not just a ratification of a companionship. Homosexuality has existed for millennia, but this is the first time that same-sex lovers have attempted to claim the right of marriage. Why? Because this is the first time society’s conception of marriage has drifted from the conjugal definition to the companionate definition.

Broken Families

I believe the companionate conception of marriage is what is contributing most to the rise in divorce and broken families. This started a long time ago: with the implementation of no-fault divorce; we now no longer see marriage as a binding legal obligation, but instead as an economic contract either party can dissolve at will. Once upon a time, a couple (or an individual) had to produce a compelling reason for the marriage to be dissolved (such as infidelity, abuse, etc.), and that reason had to be evaluated on its merits by a civil servant. Today, no compelling reason is required at all.

While the prior system may have had its flaws — and perhaps judges were systematically biased against women, or perhaps there was too high a threshold for what constituted compelling evidence or compelling reasons — the prior system at least held that marriage was a legally binding arrangement and that, for the welfare of children, it needed to be preserved except in those cases where a compelling cause necessitated its dissolvement. The implementation of no-fault divorce placed marriage on the same level of almost any other economic contractual arrangement, and this placed marriage, as defined by the government, somewhere in between the conjugal and companionate view.

Since then, divorce has risen from the single digits to close to 50%. Since then, government welfare programs have dramatically expanded. Once sticking with a struggling marriage became legally optional, changing social norms and expectations of marriage have led many to abandon ship once their expectations and hopes were no longer completely realized. And since then, single parents have become a staple of modern society. Again, I recognize that single parents are often doing a great job of raising their kids. Again, I recognize that divorce is sometimes warranted and needed. But I would venture to say that the vast majority of them are not warranted, and that there are far too many single parents by choice than by necessity.

The Public Interest

To me, the only reason the state has an interest in marriage in the first place is to protect and preserve the arrangement into which children can be born. In other words, the state’s interest is in the welfare of children, and children thrive best when living with their biological father and mother. We cannot always achieve this ideal, and there are always valid reasons for divorce (the welfare of children can be such a valid reason), but this does not mean that we cannot encode into our civil and legal tradition a preference for intact families. We have done this in the past by incentivizing potential parents to enter into a lifelong legal obligation to their spouses and families. This is, and was always, the only valid real and legitimate reason for the state to even license marriage in the first place.

In the companionate view of marriage, it makes no sense to have the state involved in the first place. People can already privately contract for legal rights (such as inheritance, shared assets, etc.), and these private agreements are generally upheld in court. The state has no legitimate interest in publicly ratifying companionate relationships beyond these already existing legal agreements, unless children are potentially involved.

Basically, granting a government license and benefits to a purely companionate relationship amounts to the government saying, “Oh, you two are in a committed relationship now. Here’s a certificate acknowledging your relationship, and which requires others to acknowledge your relationship too. Here’s some bonuses for that too.” That is simply not a marriage. I don’t see a public interest in that. I don’t see any reason for the existence of government-licensed marriage from that perspective, or to grant any particular benefits at all to such a relationship. Why again does going steady suddenly entitle us to some sort of government benefit, certificate, or tax break? All it does is bestow a certificate of social and societal approval on someone’s committed intimate relationship, and I don’t really see why that is a right of a couple or a responsibility of the government.

In short, the state has a legitimate interest in ratifying arrangements into which children can be born, and incentivizing prospective parents to enter into binding legal agreements for the welfare of those children. But there is no legitimate state interest in incentivizing or ratifying purely companionate relationships — particularly those that cannot, biologically, produce children. The only reason for such tax breaks, certificates ratifying the relationship, the binding legal obligations that the marriage relationship entails, etc., is, well, children. We want to incentivize couples who have the potential for to have children to do so within a civil institution that the best environment for them. That’s the only real reason for the existence of civil marriage as a government licensed entity in the first place.

What about infertile couples of elderly couples, or perhaps those who elect not to have children at all? Well, Abraham and Sariah demonstrate that it is hubris to assume that we know with certainty who is too old bear offspring. Further, in the past, infertility was often considered grounds for a dissolution of marriage. I doubt that is usually the compassionate approach, but it does demonstrate the marriage was, at one point, only ever considered consummated with the generation of offspring. Also, from a conjugal perspective, older folks who married beyond typical child-bearing years were once expected to take upon themselves the parental roles of their predecessors in that family. If a man married a widow with children, he would step into the role of father, with all of those same obligations and responsibilities. And for those who elect not to have children at all, again, it seems strange for them to enter into a marital relationship in the first place, unless they have already adopted a companionate view of marriage (instead of a conjugal view of marriage). And if a reader responds, “Well, they got married so they can be chaste,” well, the same religious beliefs that compel chastity also teach us about our obligation to bear and raise children when possible. And, people can change their minds.

And, finally, what about the fact that same-sex couples can sometimes adopt children? Well, I believe that children thrive best with a mother and a father, and I believe that we should encode a preference for that arrangement into civil law — even if it means that children in families with two moms and two dads do not have married parents. I simply do not think the state has the same interest in preserving a relationship between two dads or two moms that it has in preserving a relationship between a mother and a father. Again, this is because of my belief that children thrive when they have both a mother and a father available to them in the home. Many politically-biased research communities are trying to leverage the prestige of science to claim that the gender of parents simply does not matter, but this research is inconclusive at best, and at worst riddled with methodological problems and epistemological hubris. But that is a subject for another post. (In other words, comments about the validity of research and children in same-sex families will be deleted, since they will distract from the main point of this article.)

Same-sex Marriage

People ask, “How does Sally and Janet getting married contribute to broken families?” On a granular level, it really doesn’t. On a personal level, I could care less if those two women call themselves married. It doesn’t personally bother me or interfere with my life and my marriage. But adopting same-sex marriage on a state or nation-wide level does contribute to the dissolution of family as a whole. And here’s how.

Right now, societal views are waffling between the two perspectives on marriage. We do stand at the crossroads. The changes in marriage law in decades past has put us at a crossroads. Part of this is because of changing social and moral norms of society. And part of this is because of changes in civil and legal tradition. The social and moral norms of society find reflection in our civil and legal norms, and our civil and legal norms help shape and inform the social and moral norms of society. And right now, neither we as a country nor the law have decided which definition (conjugal or companionate) of marriage is best suited for our nation. The law currently straddles the line by defining marriage between man and woman, but also making it a non-permanent legal obligation. Society straddles the line by implicitly holding a companionate view as a default, but also recognizing at times the virtue — if not also the quaintness — of the conjugal view.

I will fully admit that if we adopt a companionate view of marriage, it makes little sense to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to marry. It makes little sense to allow some companionate couples that legal ratification of their relationship, but not others. And so for those who already embrace the companionate view, I can fully understand why arguments in favor of same-sex marriage seem so compelling.

And that is precisely why encoding into law provisions for same-sex marriage will make permanent and explicit the companionate view of marriage as the official policy of the state, and leave to ash heaps of history the conjugal view of marriage. And since the law informs and shapes public conscience, it could easily tip the scales of societal opinion in that direction as well. We will have made an all-but-irreversable step in defining the welfare of children entirely out of our definition of marriage. This, to me, dissolves whatever public interest there was in involving government in marriage in the first place, and leaves marriage — as a civil arrangement — without a legitimate state purpose. It becomes just a plain old legal contract, no different in kind from civil unions currently available, and these civil unions simply do not protect children and families the way marriage (as a civil institution) is designed to.

I believe that if we adopt same-sex marriage, we would not be expanding an existing right to a larger population, but instead making explicit and encoding into law an ongoing redefinition of the very concept of marriage itself. And if the implementation of no-fault divorce — with its waffling step towards the companionate view of the marriage — can contribute so much to the dissolution of the family, then embracing the companionate view of marriage as the official policy of the state could have untold effects on future generations. And I believe that this will have deleterious effects on society as a whole. Those deleterious effects may not manifest themselves in the first decade, or maybe even the second decade. It may be a full generation or two before we can observe the fully societal impact of abandoning the conjugal view of marriage. So unfortunately, those who share our opinion may likely face a couple decades of “I told you so” before we start to truly see the change in societal norms that same-sex marriage can lead to.

And by that time, the present debate may be so distant in memory that people even then may not even connect the dots — just like people today rarely connect the dots between the present state of the family and no-fault divorce. Concerned citizens raised the alarm bells then as well, and were dismissed as fear mongers just as we are today. All of their predictions came true, but nobody today connects the dots. Few people recognize the subtle shift in the definition of marriage that occurred then, and because of the current civil rights rhetoric that dominates and flavors the conversation, perhaps even fewer recognize the more dramatic shift in the definition of marriage that is happening now. And so societal consensus may never fully vindicate our view, even if our worst predictions hold true. We may continue to be told that we were wrong, even if we prove to be right. But that’s ok. My goal is not to be on the “right side of history,” but on the right side of truth — even if that earns me the scorn of society in the present and in the future.


In conclusion, it’s not a matter of rights. It’s a matter of definition. Are we going to adopt as the policy of the state a conjugal or companionate definition of marriage? If you hold a strictly companionate view of marriage, I can see why the same-sex marriage arguments make sense to you. And conversely, I hope that you will see that because we hold the conjugal view of marriage, the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage make little sense to us. It is not a matter of hate or bigotry. It is simply a different understanding of the nature, purpose, and history of civil marriage itself, and the extent of the interests the state has in marriage. I hope we can put to rest the idea that we are motivated by hate, and instead acknowledge that those who support traditional marriage have a legitimate point of view, even if you disagree with our arguments.

Further Resources

An Official Commentary from the LDS Church in Support of Traditional Marriage

A fantastic new book laying out similar arguments (but better than me)

A blog series by James Goldberg again laying out similar arguments (but, again, better than me)

89 thoughts on “Why I Support Traditional Marriage

  1. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but didn’t our Church give it’s best shot back in the 19th century at redefining marriage? I’m always amazed at those who use the phrase “traditional Biblical marriage” as if the concept of polygamy never once appears between the covers of the Old and New Testaments. Section 132 is still canon; men are still being sealed to multiple women in our temples. Some days, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is how voluntary polygamy comes back.

  2. While our Church does not practice or condone the practice of polygamy, nothing I say here is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of polygamy, and so nothing I say here is in direct contradiction with the Church’s former teachings.

  3. I think the philosophical basis for “same sex marriage” advocates has nothing to do with civil rights, but amounts to a shift from cultural interest in successfully raising families with a tradition of strong moral foundation to a celebration and promotion of self-centered narcissism.

  4. LDSPhilosopher,
    Could you comment on the lengthy historical model of marriage that understands it as a merging of families and their finances, properties, business interests, and, in the case of aristocracy, political powers? Where does that fit into your schema?

  5. John C., I don’t really know that I’m qualified to.

    That said, I’m positive that there are other definitions/conceptions for the civil institution of marriage that society has had to choose between in the past. I’m sure the adversary has made multiple attempts to distort and warp the definition of marriage in the past. The present debate is simply the current iteration of what I’m sure is a multi-millennial string of assaults on marriage. For example, spousal abuse, systems that legitimize unrighteous dominion by the father, marriage as an economic exchange (in which a father “sells” his daughter for personal profit), etc., are ways of warping and distorting our conception of what marriage is and is for. And I’m sure using marriage to transfer political power and manipulate political processes in an aristocracy is simply one more of those distortions of marriage as well — it is using marriage (as a civil institution) as a means to personal advantage rather than as a means to incentivize lifelong fidelity and service for the sake of forthcoming generations.

    That said, I think that merging of financial and political interests — in those cultures and times in which marriage is closely connected to those things — could very well be done with the welfare of forthcoming generations in mind. I can see that in cultures where marriage is closely tied with business, political, and property interests, the superimposition of these interests on top of the core relationship between spouses who are arranging their lives for the sake of their children does not necessarily jeopardize the core purposes of marriage (although it can).

    Further, the two conceptions I outlined above simply happen to be the two between which we are currently choosing. Fortunately — be it either divine providence or historical happenstance — one of those two definitions of marriage happens to be one that matches closely with what I think is the state’s primary legitimate interest in marriage in the first place (and, fortunately for Latter-day Saints, one that is congenial to LDS doctrine and practice). It certainly wasn’t always practiced in ideal ways, but as a legal concept it was fine.

  6. I’ve recently read a few articles by liberal LDS who are insistent that the Church will eventually succumb to public pressure and approve of same sex relationships/marriage. I just do not see it. The Proclamation on the Family fits in perfectly with LDSP’s thoughts above. That Proclamation is not going anywhere. We have continuously had a battle against any and all sexual impropriety. Recently, the LDS Scriptures were updated online (and in print in August), including a new heading for OD1, proclaiming that the norm is monogamy, unless God commands otherwise. Those statements will be firm and far reaching for a long time to come.
    The Church will not move from its stance on sexuality. The world will move further and further away from a moral stance, in the name of “rights”. As Pres Packer noted, while something may be made legal, it does not make it moral. God’s laws will not be abandoned simply because the world wants it so. Now, we are seeking to be charitable to all people, including those who choose to sin. However, no matter how you dress up a pig and put lipstick on it, it is still a pig. IOW, sexual sin is sexual sin, no matter how popular it may become.
    I see this as a key point to force a choice among the Saints – will they follow the prophets or the world? And it will be a choice for all people – will they listen to the righteous voices or the popular voices? The division lines are being drawn between the wheat and the tares, and as they quickly ripen, we will see just who are the wheat and who are tares. I know I’ll be spending my time praying for those on the fence or slipping over to the wrong side of the fence, because I fear they will lose their souls in the long run.

  7. I see this as a key point to force a choice among the Saints – will they follow the prophets or the world?

    I agree, and as I survey the trending discussion in the Bloggernacle, it appear that for most, the world has far more appeal. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.

  8. LDSPhilosopher,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I bring it up, because it strikes me that the vast majority of historical human culture applies the model of familial relations described in my comment. So it strikes me as odd to talk about traditions of marriage, when both of the models you describe are effective rejections of most of our traditions of marriage (both, for instance, originate in just the past couple of centuries and only become popular (in the west) in the past few decades). However, I agree that all of this is possible irrelevant history, since we do seem to be emphasizing these two models of marriage and family today.

    Another question, do you feel like these two models have to be in opposition, or is it possible to take what is best from both? In other words, do you think a third way is possible?

  9. John C.,

    I disagree that the offspring-oriented conception of marriage originated only in the last couple of centuries. It may have only been encoded into civil traditions in their present form (marriage license, marriage certificate, officiation by a civil servant, etc.) in the past couple centuries, but the concept and tradition itself extends much, much farther back than that. Israelit and Jewish tradition has always held that the purpose of marriage is to multiply and replenish the earth, and that childless marriages are, essentially, unconsummated and incomplete. We’re talking Old Testament antiquity here. Were there abuses? Were there distortions and warped ideas then too? Sure — but the basic tradition of marriage being a union between man and woman for the purposes of children, and for the purpose of arranging themselves social and civilly for the welfare of their children, has always been around in some form or another (even if not universally or ideally practiced).

    As far as a reconciliation of the two views — I personally think it is possible to have a robust marriage tradition in civil law, and make room for a different legal arrangement (aka, civil unions or contracts) for companions who simply want to share assets and merge interests. However, the moment you say that the potential for bearing children is not central to civil marriage, then you have eliminated the conjugal view from civil law entirely. In the conjugal view, children (or, at least, the potential and desire for children) are not an optional add-on to marriage. It isn’t a “companionship” that “may or may not seek children.” Marriage itself is declaration of an intent to build a family, and an arrangement of affairs with that in mind. There is simply no good reason to provide tax benefits to companionate relationships without that potential. There is, however, reason to incentivize marriage relationships (as defined by the conjugal definition).

    So, in answer to your question, to make room in civil marriage for purely companionate relationships that have no possibility of bearing children eliminates the conjugal definition from civil law. Providing the ability for companionships to contract with each other and share assets — so long as the state does not pretend to have an interest in incenticivizing such relationships with tax benefits and others “marriage-like” ratifications — does not.

  10. LDSPhilosopher,
    I think a thorough assessment of the value placed on children in the Bible is mixed. Mostly it seems to treat them as a renewable resource, and the surrounding cultures definitely did. After all, the reason the Old Testament repeatedly entreats folks to care for widows and orphans (children not attached to any particular patriarch) is because most of society didn’t and felt no obligation to do so.

    As to the difference you are arguing for, I worry that it is a difference that is being created primarily to prevent reconciling the two forms of marriage you describe. The case of infertile couples is instructive. There is no reason to prevent their marriage, even though there is no hope of children. All the benefits derived to society by an infertile marriage are the benefits of a companionate marriage, not a conjugal one.

  11. John C., I don’t know of a single instance of a marriage in the Old Testament that wasn’t entered into with the intent of having children. So I think you are vastly understating the importance of children in biblical marriages. Are you really arguing that Jacob and Rachel’s marriage wasn’t an union intended to produce offspring? Or Abraham and Sariah’s? Or Adam and Eve’s? Etc. Etc.

    In the Old Testament, everywhere I read, the primary purpose of marriage was to generate offspring, and if marriage had any civil component, it was to incentivize and protect the arrangements that did (or could) produce offspring.

    And in case you didn’t read my post, the subject of infertile couples has already been addressed. I spent a large paragraph talking about it. Most infertile couples don’t discover they are infertile until after they enter into civil marriage. So that point is moot about the purposes of entering into marriage. And, again, Abraham and Sariah demonstrate that it is hubris to know for certain that a man and a woman cannot conceive, merely because they haven’t been able to yet.

  12. I think you’ve identified a key problem with the debate, but I don’t think there’s anything to be done about it. Companiate marriage seems to have risen at least as early as the Jane Austen novel–when marriage discourse became about love, not about cementing familial, political, economic, and social relationships. The problem is that companionate marriage includes conjugal marriage, but conjugal marriage doesn’t (necessarily) include companionate marriage. Your argument about fertility doesn’t cut it, because conjugal marriage wouldn’t provide any benefits to the perfectly fertile couple that has no desire to have children. Yet there are people who desire exactly such a marriage. Promoting conjugal marriage leaves these people without a “marriage” when the companionate marriage has become the dominant meaning of marriage. These people and the many who think marriage ought to be companionate will push back when you try to explain why their marriage is illegitimate. And rightly so, given the way that marriage norms seem to have shifted in the West.

  13. I’m curious: are there any stats to indicate that couples with children are more likely to stay together than couples without children? Just wondering.

  14. LDSphilosopher, I’d like to see your views on this question – In your own personal view, is there a place for marriage in which the married couple does not intend to have children? I understand your intent on couples that already have children, but what about couples that are not infertile that may not intend on having children, traditional marriages or not?

  15. Intent to have no children isn’t the same as not having children. Which isn’t the same as never, ever being able to have children. I agree…marriage without children is using something that was designed to bond a potentially fertile couple together in legal stability for the care of children to merely legitimize a sexual relationship. It wasn’t until recent medical practices and sexual mores that it is even possible.

    Using a relationship that denies the primarily conjugal purpose of marriage to show why it shouldn’t be primarily conjugal is circular reasoning.

  16. Abu, it is actually the other way around. Conjugal marriage can include a companionate component (in the sense that parents can love each other), but strictly companionate relationships (such as same sex marriage) are by definition not conjugal.

    Matthew, I address your question directly in the post.

  17. ” I agree…marriage without children is using something that was designed to bond a potentially fertile couple together in legal stability for the care of children to merely legitimize a sexual relationship”

    Huh? Are you suggesting Elder Oaks and Elder Nelson remarried only to have sex?

  18. Um . . . did you READ the OP? “If a man married a widow with children, he would step into the role of father, with all of those same obligations and responsibilities.”

    And of course not: the LDS religion is particularly placed to see ALL male-female relationships as potentially eternally procreative, even if the mortal time is past. Seriously, if you’re going to argue using Logic Lite, you should come up with some better smokescreens.

  19. Great post, LDSPhilosopher. I think that the definitional difference is a major part of the differences, but I would say that I don’t think that this is all that’s happening, and of course, being from “the other side,” I would say that I don’t quite agree with your analyses of the history and of the future.

    One thing I would say is the stating that the debate is not about right but about definition ignores the reality that based on the definitions used, different rights are in play. When you say that “marriage” is not required for the contractual, legal, etc., benefits therein (e.g., two people can form binding legal agreements), the issue is that many folks on the conjugal side (maybe you disagree with their opinion) isn’t really at that compromise. Many states that implemented gay marriage bans *also* implemented bans on anything approach marriage in terms of status and rights. So, no civil unions/domestic partnership/etc., But even some of the component rights of marriage are separately called into question.

    It would be pretty unwieldy to try to independently and contractually draft a “private contract” to try to “get” all the rights of marriage (and redundant when marriage already exists for this purpose), but what’s more frustrating is that many supporters of conjugal marriage aren’t exactly all that keen to give *any* rights to relationships with which they disagree (so the soundness of those private contracts is on far shakier ground.)

    I guess it also oversimplifies what marriage is. Marriage is — for both sides — a public commitment. So, the companionate side would not concede that private arrangements are really even striking at the same thing. I that you cannot see any reasons why the public would want to recognize companionate marriage, but I think that’s simply because you’re steeped in conjugal rhetoric.

    Anyway, one thing that seems problematic to me is that I feel that the conjugal side says a lot about children, but in the end reveals itself to care more about the production of children rather than the raising of them. I understand that you’re saying that you believe the ideal situation is for children to be raised by their biological parents…but when this ideal is not met, you have a kind of scorched earth policy that I would say harms the interests of children. One quote:

    Well, I believe that children thrive best with a mother and a father, and I believe that we should encode a preference for that arrangement into civil law — even if it means that children in families with two moms and two dads do not have married parents. I simply do not think the state has the same interest in preserving a relationship between two dads or two moms that it has in preserving a relationship between a mother and a father.

    The line that is troubling to me is the “even if it means that children in families with two moms and two dads do not have married parents.”

    I just get the sense that you don’t really care about children wherever they are and trying to serve children — wherever they are. You have one ideal (biological mother, biological father), and if that ideal is not met, to hell with the children in any other environment.

    I mean, I understand that if you want to promote one ideal as most preferential. But still, I just see some major issues with how that plays out.

    I could go further on a few points, but I mean, this is your site, so I’ll just end this comment by saying that I definitely agree that fundamental differences in definition underlie most (but probably not all) of this debate.

  20. I believe Elder Oaks or Nelson married a woman who had never been married and did not have any children, so whichever one it was he is not stepping into any patriarchal shoes viz-a-viz her children. Perhaps the formula works the other way for second wives to step into the shoes of first wives and fill those roles for the children. (Set aside, for the moment, the fact that all the children are well into adulthood and probably parents themselves.) Under your gross overgeneralization, as modified by reference to the OP, one of them still married for sex. But, let’s leave any apostle out of the discussion, to the extent your comment can be discussed further. Assume a single older man and a single older woman with adult children who all have been out of the respective homes for a long, long time. Neither is capable or, if so, desirous to have any more children but they want to marry. They’re doing it for sex? That’s a possibility, to be sure, but surely you will allow there are a lot more reasons-some of them even good?-for two mature people to marry, no.

    Maybe they’re marrying to have children in the eternities?

  21. Andrew,

    I think, in the end, you missed the point entirely. The whole purpose for marriage as a civil institution is to incentivize the arrangement that is best for children. That is, the only reason for a government licensed marriage, with the tax benefits that accrue, etc., is to incentivize the arrangement where children have a father and a mother in the home.

    To provide the same incentivizes and benefits to alternative, less ideal situations is to eliminate the purpose of civil marriage as an institution. It would be like saying, “if you get an A, you’ll get a candy bar. But in the spirit of fairness, we’ll give treats for everyone else too.” at that point, the purpose of the candy is no longer to incentivize the ideal, but simply… Generosity? Magnanimity?

    Also, because I believe that children thrive best with a father and a mother in the home, that is the ideal I think we should incentivize. Two moms is no different, in my mind, than a mom and a long term nanny. There is simply not the same public interest in providing legal incentivizes for that arrangement as their is in providing legal incentivizes for keeping a father and a mother in the home. By providing the –same– incentives to the two moms, the state is simply saying that two moms and a mom and a dad are equally preferable environments for children, to be incentivized equally in the eyes of the law. And if we dont believe that, then why create legal incentives that pretend so? That is why, I think, that states are right to craft the legal benefits of marriage to be above and different than the legal benefits of a same sex civil union.


    I believe that Sister Oaksserves as a wonderful living matriarch to Elder Oaks’ children and grandchildren, and I can imagine that is a wonderful reason for Elder Oaks to pursue marriage. She has, in a sense, stepped into the matriarchal role that was currently absent in theirlives. Not all childless older marriages are about sex.

  22. Rb,

    One more thought. The benefit of living parents does not end once children are married and out of the home. We live in an individualistic society that teach us that patriarchs and matriarchs, fathers and mothers, exhaust their purpose once children are financially independent. Not so. While death often claims grandparents before grandchildren reach maturity, when possible, children are just as entitled to a grandfather and a grandmother as they are to a father and a mother, and they an have a strong formative influence in their lives. So again, Sister Oaks is currently serving that matriarchal role, which can be arranged just as much for the welfare for forthcoming generations as the initial, child producing marriage itself.

  23. Oh, and one additional thought. We are talking here about –civil marriage–. Religious faith traditions can superimpose further religious purposes to marriage that make not be acknowledged by the legal system. Elder Oaks and Sister Oaks may very well have additional motives for their marriage. The only purpose I can see for state sanctioned civil marriage, however, is as described — which, I’m sure, is at least one component of their motivation, for which reason it makes good sense to seek a civil marriage.

  24. LDS Philosopher,

    I guess if you say I missed the point, then you, as the author, ultimately know best regarding what you were writing. But I was under the impression that your main point was that this is essentially a definitional disagreement (wherein you then make a case for your preferred definition, but nevertheless, the main point is to recognize that fundamental definitional differences exist). But when we start from different definitions, that has cascading effects all down the road — that’s what I wanted to point out, but I think you already admit this, at least in part –> that’s why you are able to make a case for your preferred definition, because the difference in definitions has a cascading impact down the line. So when you say that

    The whole purpose for marriage as a civil institution is to incentivize the arrangement that is best for children.

    Then this is begging the question as to which definition of marriage one uses for that civil institution. As you yourself wrote:

    There are two potential definitions of marriage in question as a civil institution from which we can choose: a conjugal definition of marriage, and a companionate definition of marriage:

    That being said, in my earlier comment, I was simply expressing disagreement with certain parts of your accounting for how the different definitions play out, have played out, or would play out. I get that you don’t necessarily want to be challenged on those points, so I’ll bow out.

  25. One more thought that occurs to me as I read through comments. We can almost always find exceptions to general rules. It represents a serious misunderstanding to believe that such exceptions are of exceptional importance, to the degree where we focus more or mostly on them. The fact that things exist outside of the norm does nothing to invalidate observations that generally hold true. Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis.

  26. Jim, good point. And when we redefine an institution to accommodate a myriad of perceived exceptions, we run the risk of making those exceptions a norm.

  27. I like and wholeheartedly agree with most everything said here. I think the weakest point however was that “Abraham and Sariah demonstrate that it is hubris to assume that we know with certainty who is too old bear offspring.” I think this is one of those rare exceptions that we shouldn’t base the rule around.

    I think one of your other points is far stronger–saying that the new husband or wife takes his/her place as the patriarch or matriarch of an existing posterity. I think this is also a really important point with infertility and adoption. That a male can take the place of the man who fathered the child, and a female the place of the woman who gave birth to the child. (For male-female marriages without posterity, and no plans for posterity through birth or adoption, I wouldn’t mind if these were only considered marriages through private or religious ceremonies and that the gov’t saw these as civil unions–as they wouldn’t be considered conjugal marriages from a state perspective.)

    I would also have liked to see you go into reasons for why children most likely thrive best with both a father and a mother. To me evolution is key here. With about a billion years of the evolution of sex (male and female), surely natural pressures have very specifically catered male and female traits to most effectively raise and perpetuate their species/posterity. Any theory that proposes that 2 males or 2 females can effectively and equally substitute what nature has spent a billion years creating, would need some very significant and detailed proof to even begin substantiating such a claim. In the generally accepted paradigm of evolution, the burden of proof that same-sex couples can in this brand new social construct somehow raise children on par with male-female couples lies entirely at the feet of those suggesting such a thing. It surely is not the most logically probable conclusion from an evolution paradigm. I commented elsewhere that this reminds me of the time we as a people thought we could easily substitute and even outperform breast-milk with man-made formula for infants. But of course we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We now realize that it was ignorant and arrogant to think that we could create a better substitute for what millions of years of evolutionary pressure created for babies. Who knows how many benefits we are not aware of that both male and female sexes offer to offspring? I submit that it is as much or more ignorant and arrogant to assume we even come close to knowing all the benefits that evolutionary pressures have provided us through sexes in the extremely short time we’ve sought to study this.

  28. “You can’t look to evolution and the biological sciences to support your view. Homosexuality is widespread in the animal kingdom. The question of why it persists in nature is actually a fascinating question.”

    You can look at evolution and the biological sciences. Just because homosexuality is *found* in nature does not disqualify people using certain biological truths — such as perpetuation of the species (and along with it, species survival) — in order to showcase why marriage matters, and ought to be privileged, based on a conjugal model. Simply stating the fact that it’s found in nature is not a get-out-of-jail free card for folks who are trying to prove that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality in a ‘natural’ sense.

    Widespread? It depends on what you mean by that word. If it’s too widespread, then extinction becomes likely. Species never take homosexuality too far for that very reason. Perpetuation of the species is the biological prime directive.

    Biologically speaking, all sorts of conditions and characteristics are found in nature. But we humans don’t turn off our cognitive reasoning abilities just because monkeys masturbate and throw their poo at the public.

  29. MikeinWeHo,

    “Homosexuality is widespread in the animal kingdom. The question of why it persists in nature is actually a fascinating question.”

    Having grown up in the SF area in the 1970s, I heard this argument made many times, and I just don’t get it. Even when I was young and liberal I didn’t get it. Animals don’t have the capacity to reason. So, of course they would engage in all kinds of behaviors. There are animals who eat their young or their mates — does this mean we should consider that “natural?”

    I am convinced there are many people who are either born with or develop same-sex attractions. The Church accepts this. The issue is: we are human beings with the capacity to reason. Therefore, the Church teaches us that having the attraction is not a sin but acting on it is a sin. Hence, we should choose not to act on the desire even though we all recognize that many people have these desires. I fail to see how using reason would work with animals who do not have the capacity to reason or apparently the capacity to sin. The comparison falls flat for me.

  30. At the personal level, sure, conjugal marriage can also be companionate, but in terms of making policy, conjugal marriage is the exclusionary policy–if you pass laws so that the state only authorizes marriages with conjugal intent, then you necessarily exclude those who marry without any conjugal intent. But state laws based on companionate marriage are not exclusionary–any one can get married for any purpose, including starting a conjugal marriage. I recognize that disagreeing with that principle is part of your point, but the fact that one is exclusionary and the other is inclusionary means that trying to push back against the inclusionary norm or institution in favor of an exclusionary one means you’re incredibly unlikely to win the fight. They tried that argument in court and it didn’t fly. Neither did the idea that children are harmed under same-sex parents versus different-sex parents because the evidence isn’t there. If you want to believe that, it’s fine, but you can’t make policy until evidence of harm exists.

  31. Abu,

    A number of studies have demonstrated that children with a father and a mother fare better than children without either (including children of same-sex parents). Researchers like to tout the claim that there is no evidence of harm, but that is factually inaccurate — and to a rather large degree factually inaccurate.

    There are many, but here is just one study that investigated and found that children fare better with a father and a mother in the home: http://www.familystructurestudies.com/

    Here is a paper that summarizes and synthesizes a number of studies that also conclude that children fair better with a father and a mother in the home:

    A number of studies have been concluded that conclude “no effect.” But here’s the thing: that means nothing. Any good researcher knows that not being able to detect an effect in a research study does not at all mean that there is no effect. It could just as easily mean that the instruments used were not sensitive to an existing effect, or that the sampling measures or sample size were insufficient, or that other methodological problems exist. Except for the most exceptionally strong and robust study designs (of which hardly any studies purporting to investigate the effects of same-sex parenting qualify), no real conclusions of any kind can be drawn from “no statistically significant results.”

    Richard Williams, in fact, did a survey a dozens upon dozens of studies claiming “no effect” and concluded that in nearly every case, the absence of an effect was better explained by methodological problems than the actual any absence of an effect. In fact, in some instances, he combed through data and found effects that weren’t reported or published by the researchers, using their data. Here’s an article where he details some of his work: http://www.law2.byu.edu/wfpc/forum/2000/williams.pdf

    Anyways, it’s absolutely false that research has not given us any reason for alarm. At the very best, the research is inconclusive, and at worst, researchers are ignoring many studies that raise cause for alarm, and touting instead studies with sever methodological problems. The research community is highly politicized.

    But as I said in the article, this is a topic for another day. I will delete any further conversation on this topic, as it is a distraction from the main ideas of the post.

  32. LDSP, I think you are onto something important when you seek to articulate differences between “companionate” and “conjugal” marriages, and that certainly we have seen a shift in the values, motivations, and purposes behind marriage in modern times. I also agree that these changes tell us a lot about why same-sex marriage is making such strong headway in today’s society. I would like to expand upon your definitions, because I think they tell us many importand things. You describe “conjugal” as focused on the welfare of children, and “companionate” as focused on the “relationship between lovers.”

    Your idea about “lovers” is absolutely central to this argument. Before a few hundred years ago, marriage was not principally about love and physical attraction. If you read the literature from the cultures of the world, marriage has traditionally been a pairing of social and cultural convenience, most often arranged by outsiders, within very specific parameters, and often without the couple having ever met. In most of the world’s literature on love, it is almost never spoken of within marriage. “Falling in love” is traditionally thought to be an extra-marital phenomenon.

    But in modern times, love has conquered marriage in a powerful way, with profound implications for society. With the mythology of love in marriage in full swing, monogamy has become the great romantic ideal of our age. In the past, affairs, plural marriage, prostitution thrived openly with the full or tacit approval of many cultures. Now that marriage exists to fulfill the sexual needs of society, extra-marital relations are popularly frowned upon: Bill Clinton is impeached, and even something as innocent as a bachelor like David Letterman having an affair is seen as a popular disgrace, threatening his career. Additionally, divorce has skyrocketed, as people now see loveless marriages as something abnormal and wrong. Brad Pitt summed up the over-romanticization of marriage in his explanation of his divorce to Jennifer Aniston: “Marriage is by far the most important event in life, and I just didn’t want to make a mistake about it.”

    All this has profound implications for same-sex relationships, because marriage can no longer be said to be primarily about pragmatic contracts in the modern world. It is primarily about romantic aspiration and personal fulfillment. In this context, same-sex marriage fits perfectly, because it is all about romance, friendship, and fulfillment.

    Those who argue against same-sex marriage must also abandon our modern over-romanticization of marriage. Even Mormons are intoxicated with the modern world’s romantic notions about marriage. We’ve turned Eternal Marriage, which originally, in the context of D&C 132, is a pragmatic and essential ordinance, plural, and thus uniquely non-romantic by modern standards, focused on obedience and sacrifice “is she shall not, she shall be destroyed.” But we’ve turned Eternal Marriage into some kind of romantic “happily ever after” notion about “love everlasting.” So because we over-hype the romance in our own marriages, then it doesn’t seem fair that we deny that fulfilling romance to others.

  33. Nate,

    You are right that we romanticize marriage, and often in unhealthy ways. I think a scholar named Wilson put it best in his description of marriage in Jewish and Israelite culture:

    Today, people in the Western world are supposed to marry for love. Considerable emphasis is placed on romance and human emotion. The challenge each couple always faces is how to mold this premarital feeling of romance mature love.

    For Hebrew men and women of Bible times, living in an Eastern society gave them a different perspective on love. To begin with, love was more a commitment than a feeling. It was seen foremost as a pledge rather than an emotional high. It was a person’s good word to stick with someone, to make that relationship work; it was not merely a warm sensation inside.

    For centuries, Jewish people have pointed to one particular verse to illustrate the need for love to develop and deepen after marriage … passage is Genesis 24:67: “Isaac brought her [Rebekah] into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her.” In a world of arranged marriages, it was not uncommon for each partner to see each other for the first time on their wedding day. This was the case of Rebekah and Isaac. The text above says that after she became his wife, “he loved her.” In short, for the Hebrew patrtarchs, love came after marriage; it was not a matter of falling in love and then marrying.

    Thus, in the biblical world of the ancient Near East, couples were expected to grow to love each other after marriage. In the modem West, however, the emphasis has been more on marrying the person you love rather than learning to love the one that you marry.

    I bring this up because I think that love is important in a marriage. I just don’t think that is a sufficient reason to marry — the welfare of forthcoming and preceding generations must be a reason too. And, further, I don’t think that love is a prerequisite to entering marriage. We are commanded to love, yes, but that the fact that this is a command illustrates that this is something that we choose to do, rather than something that happens to us. Love can come later and grow with time. In the end, commitment and hard work are the primary ingredients, love is more of a side effect of commitment and hard work.

    I bring this up also as a counterfactual to your implication that conjugal marriage (as a concept) — with its implicit fidelity — is a relatively new phenomenon. A robust marriage tradition that condemned adultery, focused on children, and obligated spouses to love each other and, at the very least, to remain faithful for life existed in antiquity just as it does today.

    The Western world, however, has done two things: it has made love seem more like something that happens to us and which commands our highest attentions and loyalties, and it has romanticized marriage as being entirely about love and companionship. What this has led to is a society that acts as if two people in love must get married, children and posterity be damned (or, at best, irrelevant to the institution). Take this article as a perfect example: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/fashion/weddings/19vows.html?_r=1&

    And that’s simply not marriage. A companionship alone does not a marriage make, no matter how many tax benefits get thrown at it. And, again, why does such a companionship obligate us to shower it with attention and benefits, as if by going steady they have won a raffle of some kind? The only good reason is because we’ve romanticized affectionate relationships so much so that the mere existence of one seems to warrant societal approbation (if not even the right to such approbation).

  34. ” In most of the world’s literature on love, it is almost never spoken of within marriage. “Falling in love” is traditionally thought to be an extra-marital phenomenon.”

    Nate, this is simply not true. Ancient literature is absolutely filled with romance related to marriage. In ancient Rome, the conjugal marriage was expected to be about love, as it was in Greece, Assyria, Babylon, India, Egypt, etc, etc.

    Just to use one example, let’s take a look at Roman attitudes.

    Catullus wrote a love hymn about marriage saying to his wife “nothing is possible without you.” Ovid wrote elegies during his exile in which he longed for his wife. Pliny Minor wrote about his wife: “I am seized by an unbelievable longing for you. The reason is above all my love, but secondarily the fact that we are not used to being apart. This is why I spend the greater part of the night haunted by your image; this is why from time to time my feet lead me (the right expression!) of their own accord to your room at the times I was accustomed to frequent you; this is why, in short, I retreat, morbid and disconsolate, like an excluded lover from an unwelcoming doorway.” Pliny also wrote love poetry about marriage.

    It is true that there were plenty of marriages of convenience as well. We read about Solomon marrying foreign wives and helping keep the peace, and this has been a common phenomenon for royalty over the centuries. There obviously are many arranged marriages and marriages for money. It is also true that in various cultures men (and sometimes women) were expected to take lovers.

    But the common theme of the conjugal marriage has existed since recorded history. Societies that wanted to thrive realized that a healthy home environment was central to the future of society. Entire rituals of courting were built up about marriage so that the woman would remain a virgin until marriage. Nearly ever ancient culture has some kind of ceremony to celebrate the first conjugal relations of two people who are married.

    In short, your vision of how ancient societies treated marriages is simply way, way off.

  35. LDSP, I thought that was very well said about over-romanticization, and really like the quote by Wilson.

    Geoff, admittedly, I’m not expert enough to support my claims on the history of romance in literature. My ideas came from the book “Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy Or How Love Conquered Marriage” by Stephanie Coontz. And I can’t obviously back up her claims. You may be right about the particular cultures you mention. But I do think it’s interesting that you cite examples from the Hellenic world, which is the actual birthplace of our modern notions of romantic monogamy. The Hebrew world, a world of concubines, polygamy, obedience and sacrifice, is the true ancestral home of Joseph Smith’s revelations on Eternal Marriage, and within that world, the literature is very unromantic by modern standards.

    Joseph’s marriage with Emma was decidedly modern. A forbidden, romantic elopement defying the wishes of her father, a storybook romance filled with expressions of passion, tenderness, and possessiveness. But, like it or not, Joseph Smith restored marriage to it’s original foundations in D&C 132, crushing the Hellenic tradition of monogamous possessiveness and romanticism, restoring the principle of polygamy: “Sarah gave Hagar….And why did she do it? Because this was the law.” Obedience and sacrifice are the halmarks of eternal marriage, as LDSP very articulately pointed out in the previous comment. Love is part of that obedience, not a feeling: “Husbands, LOVE your wives (obedience), even as Christ loved the Church, and gave His life for it (sacrifice).”

    This is real traditional marriage, and I believe it must be understood within the context of polygamy, which is the natural environment for the practice of obedience and sacrifice, and true love, but not a natural place for romance. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1,231 societies noted, only 186 were monogamous.

  36. Nate, I see what you are saying — I just think you vastly overstate your case by implying that monogamy was never a default in ancient Israelite and Jewish cultures. Did those traditions embrace polygamy from time to time? Yes. Did those traditions elevate lineage and posterity over romance? Yes. Were arranged marriages a norm? Yes. Was romantic love considered a requirement for marriage in those traditions? No.

    But in all of that, husbands were still, nonetheless, commanded to love their wives, and vice versa — and while this love looks much different from the romanticism of the modern age, and is more akin to respect and commitment than infatuation, it is still nonetheless love. Further, your statement that “prostitution thrived openly with the full or tacit approval of many cultures” implies that marital sexual fidelity is a relic of the modern age or of the romanticism of marriage, and that men and women would find sexual satisfaction and romance outside of marriage on a regular basis. This is not true. At least in Israelite tradition, prostitution — even if it occurred — was condemned as a vice, and marital sexual fidelity was considered and imperative.

  37. I had a further thought: did some Israelites — particularly royalty, like Solomon, have concubines? Sure. But this does not mean that the faith tradition of the Israelites embraced the idea of concubines. I might compare it to someone 3000 years from now saying that the early 21st Century LDS faith embraced consumeristic lifestyles, and used the financial practices of Utah saints as their evidence. Well, sure — we often do practice consumeristic lifestyles — practices that we absorb from surrounding traditions. But our faith tradition never has — and when I say that I believe that a robust conjugal marriage tradition (at least, the concept, even if not the specific legal practices) can be found amongst the ancient Israelites, I am referring to their faith tradition.

  38. LDSP, you are right that perhaps I sometimes overstate my case. But I’m glad that you agree in general.

    If I have overstated my case, it is because I wish to highlight the anachronistic and peculiar charectaristics of “traditional marriage” in the modern world. Then I can argue that “traditional marriage,” while perfect for Mormons, “a peculiar, covenant people,” is not something that can realistically be demanded of the Gentiles, who wish to have a more modern, romantic approach towards marriage, an approach which is deeply engrained in modern, humanist culture. Within this culture, acceptance of same-sex marriage is the natural evolution.

    But you understandably wish to highlight the universal and pragmatic elements of what you deem to be “traditional marriage” to support your view that it ought to be the default, even among the Gentiles. So you may be guilty of understatement in order to support your own view.

    While we both agree in general, the crux of our difference lies in whether we see our LDS values to be pragmatic or monastic. I prefer to interpret it as monastic, you as pragmatic. But it obviously has elements of both.

  39. @Nate. I think the point is that while there may be several varying cultural impositions overlaying “traditional marriage” in antiquity, that even so there has been an important universal and pragmatic thread that has been passed on through most of them–namely that marriage has been about the perpetuation, preservation, and benefit of our species. Therefore it is in the interest of any community/state/nation (gentile, jew, lds, or otherwise) to preserve these core principles in the interest of its people, while it can disregard any peculiar old cultural notions that offer no such universal benefit to a society. Additionally, we can overlay our own additional cultural meaning that we feel is good/right/beneficial (i.e. romantic love, etc.) as long as the core that tends to the benefit of society is preserved–that marriage is primarily concerned with benefiting the rising generation and thus preserving and adding value to the state in the best way possible.

  40. LDSP-
    Go reread my last comment. My main point had little to say about evidence about parents and children. You responded to a single sentence while ignoring the rest of my post. That’s fine, but you don’t come off very even-handed by pretending that the substance of my comment was what you responded to. My main point was to push you on the policy, and therefore political implications of your position. If you want to ignore that, fine, but don’t pretend I’m trying to threadjack.

  41. @Abu Casey. I’m interested to know more about how many hetero couples actually do want such a marriage in the US. Do you have any stats on that?

    And if the gov’t made it clear they only had a vested interest in marriages for the purpose of children, do you think it would be a problem for such couples to simply marry privately on their own terms/definition and then for the legal purpose of the state get a civil union? Would it be that offensive for the gov’t to explain why particular setups are more beneficial to the overall good of the state than others, and therefore they would like to legally differentiate so they can incentivize according to those benefits? It seems like a rational person would accept the idea that those who are willing to put in the added work of raising children qualify to receive additional benefits, but if you don’t want to put in that work then you wouldn’t qualify for such additional benefits.

  42. @Steve-
    No, I don’t have any data, but I’m sure between the two of us we can come up with several cases. A common one (as someone already brought up) is elderly couples marrying for companionship. Certainly it falls under the definition of companionate marriage, not conjugal. And sure, you may be able to explain it “rationally”, but using a different kind of rationality we can “rationally” expect that they’d unlikely to want to give up the benefits that currently come with marriage. A shift from the current companionate standard to a conjugal one is a political economic problem, not just a problem of explaining why there should be different systems.

  43. To be clear, I don’t buy the argument that elderly couples took different roles in the past when they married invalidates these exceptions to conjugate marriage. YOu still have to deal with them. Institutions and norms change and the way it was isn’t necessarily better just because that’s the way it was.

  44. “A common one (as someone already brought up) is elderly couples marrying for companionship. Certainly it falls under the definition of companionate marriage, not conjugal.”

    The *forms* are still conjugal, unless you are implying that elderly couples don’t have heterosexual sex. Robert George (“What is Marriage?”) goes into explaining why it’s still conjugal even though there is no practical expectation of children. Abraham and Sarah’s was conjugal even though no child was produced for a long time.

  45. I’m not implying that elderly couples don’t have sex. But it seems silly to argue that conjugal marriage is about producing children, unless it isn’t, but you’re still doing the work that *could* produce children. Abraham and Sarah had a conjugal marriage because they *wanted* to produce children, but couldn’t for a long time. But if conjugal marriage is, at root, defined by a couple engaging in heterosexual sex that could produce children even if they choose not to, then it seems to me that your definition is so restrictive that it’s not very useful. Sure, that companionate marraige could “become” conjugal, but ignoring the couple’s intent seems problematic.

  46. @Abu Casey. Do the older people in your scenario have children? (although presumably not together) If they do, I don’t think old age ends role of being a father or mother. As I believe was also mentioned before, if any one or both of the newly married older couple had previous children, the non-biologically connected spouse still presumably steps into a parental role to those previous children.

    I can see the argument that once children are over a certain age (maybe 25 years?) marriage is not as beneficial to the state as it once was, and the tax breaks or benefits may therefore would be reduced, or some policy to that effect, but a couple with a posterity still fits the definition of a conjugal marriage to me as outlined in this post.

    If both of these older people (presumably past child bearing age with no plans of adoption) never had children then yes I would agree with you that this would be merely a companionate marriage in the eyes of the state. That might not be true religiously or with an eternal view, but to me that means the couple can get married in a religious context, and can obtain a civil union as it pertains to the state.

  47. Great post, ldsphilosopher. I wish you (or somebody smart) would tackle the immigration issue in this same manner.

  48. Clarification: I wish you (or somebody smart *like unto you*) would tackle the immigration issue in the same manner. Like gay marriage, immigration is also an issue we’ll never resolve- largely because we haven’t honestly defined the terms.

  49. “And, finally, what about the fact that same-sex couples can sometimes adopt children? Well, I believe that children thrive best with a mother and a father, and I believe that we should encode a preference for that arrangement into civil law — even if it means that children in families with two moms and two dads do not have married parents. I simply do not think the state has the same interest in preserving a relationship between two dads or two moms that it has in preserving a relationship between a mother and a father. Again, this is because of my belief that children thrive when they have both a mother and a father available to them in the home. Many politically-biased research communities are trying to leverage the prestige of science to claim that the gender of parents simply does not matter, but this research is inconclusive at best, and at worst riddled with methodological problems and epistemological hubris. But that is a subject for another post. (In other words, comments about the validity of research and children in same-sex families will be deleted, since they will distract from the main point of this article.)”

    But your entire argument stands or falls based on the accuracy of this premise! If same-sex couples can be just as effective at parenting as straight couples, then a same-sex marriage could fit quite nicely into either the conjugal or the companionate models. Sure, they require other methods for gaining children than just sexual intercourse within the relationship, but that applies to infertile couples as well, and you already explained how they can fit into the conjugal model. If same-sex couples are effective parents, then you don’t have a leg to stand on for denying them marriage even if children are the main impetus for marriage as an institution. Unless, of course, only children who live with both of their biological parents should be granted the societal protections of marriage.

  50. @Cylon. I know your comment wasn’t directed at me, but I just want to say that I couldn’t agree more with your point. Whether 2 males or 2 females can equally substitute a male-female parent set up is the crux of the entire matter.

    For those who would oppose same-sex marriage for the reasons outlined in the OP (as I do), we need to make it clear why the research up to this point on same-sex parenting is far from conclusive and what needs to be done so that at some future point we can arrive at a place where we can accept the research as satisfactorily conclusive (to the point that we are willing to base policy off of it). Furthermore, until that time comes that more conclusive research has been completed, I think it needs to be clearly stated why right now there exists strong reasonable doubt that same-sex parents can equally take the place of two-sex parents from a biological perspective, strong enough that we as a people should not be willing to take the plunge into the blind-assumption that somehow the sexes are totally interchangeable in parenting.

    I have briefly mentioned why I think from an evolutionary theory perspective this strong reasonable doubt should exist, although I feel like this needs to be fleshed out quite a bit. It seems most probable to me that evolutionary pressures have in a very deep and catered way developed and refined traits of each sex to be beneficial to the upbringing and survival of their progeny. But I also think it would be very valuable to look and make some comparisons with our other ape relatives. Let’s say we have an infant gorilla that is saved from a fire where both its parents are killed. Assuming introduction to new parents is possible, would a zoologist prefer to give that baby gorilla just a father or a mother, a father and a mother, or two fathers or two mothers? Does it make a difference? I am not a zoologist, so I would be very interested in the hear answers to these questions from experts. I’m inclined to believe that a father and mother, just as the baby would have naturally had in the wild, would be the most preferable parental structure. Maybe I’m projecting my thoughts on others, but I think most people would be naturally inclined to believe so as well. Then why is it any different with our own species? If 2 father gorillas can’t quite replicate what a mother gorilla also brings to the table for the baby gorilla, then why should human apes be any different? (Tangentially, if a father and a mother gorilla pair weren’t available, and there were 2 father or 2 mother gorillas that were available to take the role as parents, I think having parents and some form of family is better than no parents and no family. Likewise, I believe our legal system ought to give preferential treatment to mother/father couples who wish to adopt, but where children will not be adopted that single or same-sex parents willing to do the job are far superior options to no parents, and thus I think from at least a secular perspective that it would be right to incentivize these situations as a secondary preference to no adoption at all.)

    I think examples like these, and others need to be made to show why in the absence of proof, it is both probable and reasonable to believe that sexes are not interchangeable in raising children, and until further conclusive research is done that where it is possible we should encourage and promote that which will provide children both a father and a mother.

  51. Great article and discussion. With regard to the conjugal definition, many of the comments here seem to focus on the procreative aspect almost to the exclusion of the rearing, nurturing aspect of parenthood. Personally I favor incentivizing the heterosexual model for the purposes of child rearing (a lifelong commitment, mind you) but I wonder what others might think about extending the marriage incentive to a homosexual couple with existing offspring (i.e. couples who discovered their latent homosexuality after giving heterosexual marriage a go). Such a scenario seems to be a type of middle ground that fulfills the requirements of the conjugal definition. I’m not saying I agree with it, I just didn’t see this particular issue teased out in the comments.

  52. @Scott. Hopefully I am not hogging the comment section too much, but I agree with you that the rearing aspect should be the focus. As to your other point, the reason I don’t think this scenario fits goes back to the idea that the sexes are not equally interchangeable in parenting. So while another female can take the place of mother, and another male the place of father, a male-male partnership is still missing a mother, and a female-female partnership a father. Therefore I believe incentives and benefits more aptly should parallel single parents, as the civil union if created would be considered something like a single-sex entity.

    However, that said, I’d have to consider the ramifications further but I think for the sake of the children I am not opposed to offering the same or similar benefits as a marriage to other child-raising oriented set ups once children have entered the conversation (single parent, or civil union of same-sex couple or any other type of civil union) inasmuch as those benefits effect the children. However, I do think these other child oriented set-ups should still be legally differentiated from marriage because they are a secondary preference to the state for raising children where the ideal of mother and father parents cannot be met. (Also, maybe a little off topic, I think this reasoning leads to the idea that there could be some legal restrictions for single individuals or civil unions, same sex or otherwise, from using sperm donors or surrogates to have new children as they would be compounding the issue of putting children outside the ideal situation, rather than alleviating the problem as a secondary option for those children who may not be adopted and raised in a family otherwise.)

  53. (*I take that back, such restrictions would probably need full research validation/proof rather than plausible belief before such a policies could really be put in place. And even then I’m not sure it would realistically ever fly.)

  54. However, I do think these other child oriented set-ups should still be legally differentiated from marriage because they are a secondary preference to the state for raising children where the ideal of mother and father parents cannot be met.

    This matches my sentiments — whatever benefits that same-sex couples might receive through civil unions, the state should recognize that a committed same-sex couple is nonetheless a second preference for raising children. Marriage itself should incentivize the presence of a father and a mother in the home.

  55. “Whether 2 males or 2 females can equally substitute a male-female parent set up is the crux of the entire matter.”

    Yes. And if you think that 2 females can inherently be a “father” or two males can mother the way a mother can, then we won’t see eye to eye on this issue.

    The notion that two females somehow *equals* a man and a woman is illogical to me. They clearly do not. Two women are two women, very different from a man and a woman. The prevailing winds of discourse refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

  56. Pingback: The illusion of civil marriage | Agellius's Blog

  57. “And if the implementation of no-fault divorce — with its waffling step towards the companionate view of the marriage — can contribute so much to the dissolution of the family, then embracing the companionate view of marriage as the official policy of the state could have untold effects on future generations.”

    I think the main effect will be to make people wonder, even more than they do now, what point there is in getting married. Which will indeed have deleterious effects on children and therefore on the future of our society.

    “And by that time, the present debate may be so distant in memory that people even then may not even connect the dots — just like people today rarely connect the dots between the present state of the family and no-fault divorce.”

    Or between no-fault divorce and the Protestant Reformation. : )

    I had more to say in response to this excellent post, but being too long to post as a comment I have made it a post on my own blog (I hope you don’t mind me linking to it): http://agellius.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-illusion-of-civil-marriage/

  58. In another conversation, I thought of another way to frame the issue:

    To me, civil marriage is a package of benefits the government gives to men and women to entice them to make permanent legal arrangements for the welfare of their children. It can, in a way, be compared to tax benefits the government gives to students to entice them to attend college and to make it easier for them to do so. I don’t see how one can describe either as a human right. Rather, they are traditions that serve specific purposes in society, and therefore target a specific demographic. To me, the matter of same-sex marriage can be compared to non-students wanting to claim the same tax benefits of students in the name of equality, failing to realize that to do so would nullify the purposes of the tax incentive in the first place.

  59. “Also, because I believe that children thrive best with a father and a mother in the home, that is the ideal I think we should incentivize. Two moms is no different, in my mind, than a mom and a long term nanny.”

    I guess you never had a deadbeat dad?

  60. LDSP, I realize I’m late to this discussion, but I hope to engage you in a couple thoughts.

    First, I think this is an excellent post–far better than nearly all defenses of traditional marriage I have read. Much to think about. I definitely agree with the underlying concern of drifting into companionate marriage. What I’m less sure about (and have grown to be less sure about over the past several years) is what this means for taking such a strong stand, right here and right now, at the base of same-sex marriage. How confident can we be that certain irrational biases (I won’t go as far as “hate) are not strongly at play in an opposition to same-sex marriage — perhaps not for all individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, but for the general pulse of the opposition? Although the historical memory is before my time, I’m pretty sure that traditional marriage defenders did not have the same brouhaha about no-fault divorce as they have had about same-sex marriage. Nor have they — most of them — had the same consciousness as you demonstrate about the distinction in these kinds of marriage. It is indeed telling that your defense is at the fringes of the debate. Perhaps if the DOMA would have been spelled out in these terms, it would not have been ruled unconstitutional. But the point of the SCOTUS is that it was not spelled out this way. The train of companionate marriage has long left the station, one might say — why have traditional marriage defenders waited until now to demand a refund on their ticket fare? Now maybe you would agree here, and you’re making a much broader point than the recent legal cases. But a lurking question remains nonetheless: is it possible that most so-called traditional marriage defenders have long been wedded to a relatively companionate view of marriage — and without all that much consciousness of the problems of this until “the gays” wanted let in too?

    If this is the case, then it suggests that the problem is not *only* about definitions of marriage. Were I on the other side of the debate (I am in the middle), I would be very suspicious of your argument here being a cogent yet ultimately post-hoc defense of traditional marriage–a convenient way of being prejudiced against LGBT individuals while insisting on transcendent reasoning. Curious what you think about that.

    Along these lines, here’s a thought experiment for you. Let’s suppose, for sake of argument, that the number of infertile heterosexual couples is roughly equal to the number of same-sex couples. Why would the former be an exception to accommodate a conjugal conception of marriage, but not the latter? Clearly, an underlying issue here is that marriage implies sanctioning of parenthood through adoption. It sounds to me that the difference ultimately comes down, for you, to other-sex parents being the ideal. I believe that also. But I think almost everyone would agree that biological parenthood is also the ideal, and that doesn’t keep us from having a culture of accommodating to and respecting adoptive parenthood. Quite the contrary, it’s seen as filling a noble need for caring for children without parents.

    So my sincere, million dollar question is: Why should we accommodate for one lesser parenting arrangement and not the other? This question is complicated by the fact that many same-sex couples have one biological parent (and therefore are superior in regards to the biological ideal over adoptive other-sex parents). I suspect you may say something about social science research here, which is quite underwhelming if you ask me, and avoids a much more relevant pragmatic question in light of the prevalence of single parenthood: is being raised by two same-sex parents better than being raised by a single parent? And has the same level of scrutiny been applied for adoptive parenting? If not, the ugly question again rears its head: How can we know that bias (I think two men having sex is gross / sinful!) is not in the underbelly of your elegant justification?

  61. Dennis:

    Excellent comment. If I may jump in, I would agree with you: The train left the station with no-fault divorce. There should have been a big brouhaha at that time, if people were truly concerned about defending authentic marriage (by which I mean permanent with procreation as its primary purpose). I will just point out that there was some outcry, particularly by the Catholic Church. But apparently it wasn’t enough to persuade the electorate at large. The good ol’ electorate at large … we can always trust them to do what’s best, eh?

    Well no, we can’t. What we can trust them to do is what’s easiest, and that’s what they opted for in the case of marriage and divorce. I would suggest that it simply never occurred to them (because by and large they didn’t think it through) that this was opening the door to homosexual marriage, among other things. Would they have done it anyway? I don’t think so, not at that time — and not simply because it was “that time”, or because people back then were smarter or holier, but because the influence of the Christian religion had not waned as much as it has now.

    There were a lot of people who considered themselves Christians yet thought that divorce was OK. People who thought divorce was OK probably had a hard time seeing any essential moral difference between divorce for cause and divorce for mere “irreconcilable differences” (and who can blame them?). Yet these same people saw quite clearly that homosexual activity was sinful according to the Bible and unbroken Christian teaching since the time of Christ.

    So it’s not as though you had people who were saying at one moment, “companionate marriage is OK, even if it may be ended at will and it has no essential involvement with procreation”, and at the next moment, “companionate marriage with no essential involvement with procreation FOR GAY PEOPLE?? No way!!” No, what we’re talking about is an electorate which at one time could tell black from white but had trouble distinguishing between grays; but which over time started to blend black with white so that now everything appears gray; until it reached the point where it now thinks that companionate marriage with no essential involvement with procreation is fine for everyone, and can no longer see why that shouldn’t include gays, for the simple reason that it is no longer under the influence of Christianity.

    The problem all along, of course, has been the failure to grasp the true, permanent, procreative and sacramental nature of marriage, on the part of not only the electorate at large but political and cultural leaders as well. Once divorce was admitted, it was in fact a slippery slope to no-fault divorce, and thence to companionate marriage and finally gay marriage.

    Well, not finally. There’s no good reason to think it will stop at gay marriage, now is there?

  62. Agellius,

    Thank you for your response. I am inclined to agree part way. But I think the problem lies much deeper. It’s true that LDSP and I both indicated no-fault divorce as a watershed moment. But the seeds were sown much, much earlier, in the rise of individualism. In Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, he traces the rise of individualism to the Middle Ages and especially bolstered by the Protestant reformation. This Protestant individualism is the backbone of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and is especially evident in the Euro-American ideal of individual property ownership, in comparison to collectivist and communitarian ideals, as seen for example among American Indian tribes. If the U.S. founding is indeed a Christian event, it is a particular kind of Christianity we are talking about here — a Christianity that already has sown the seeds for emancipation of slaves and women, on to approval of interracial marriage, abortion rights, and, yes, gay marriage. Now, that is not to say that this individualism was required for each of these movements to happen–but that they did happen is in fact a logical outcome, at least in hindsight, of the individualism embedded in Protestant American life.

    I realize this is a productive, blood-boiling thesis, especially aimed for an LDS audience. Latter-day Saints, perhaps more than any other people, are especially fractured between Euro-American individualism and a radical communitarian theocratic vision. It has a history of both extreme animosity to and from the United States, as well as intense loyalty. The Constitution is practically enshrined as scripture in the minds of many Latter-day Saints, especially on the heels of outspoken radical conservative leaders such as President Benson, who viewed atheistic communism as the evil of all evils, and therefore reinforced Protestant-styled individualism as the lifestyle for Latter-day Saints.

    What is ironic is that many Latter-day Saints view gay marriage as such a deviant turn from our American Protestant legacy. But I wonder if, in fact, it is simply a logical conclusion of that very legacy. If indeed this turn is troublesome, then it may be a sign of the limits of American constitutional democracy–showing in every more uncomfortable ways the contrast between this view of life we have embraced, from that of the Zion we have failed to cultivate. If this is true, then we would be wise not to scapegoat gay marriage. But rather, to look critically at our own history–our own thorough American-ness–and to see that gay marriage is, perhaps, all part and parcel of the ideologies and idols we have come to embrace as American Mormons. And is the Tea Party Mormons — with their adulation of liberal individualism and individual property ownership, with suspicion of all things collective — who embrace this individualistic American Mormon life most of all.


  63. I should make clear, especially with this being the Fourth of July, that I am “proud to be an American.” But I don’t see being American as some kind of privileged, eternal identity, nor do I see the Constitution as even pseudo-scriptural (even if its Founders were pragmatically inspired). I want to believe that I am a Latter-day Saint far more than I am an American. But I know enough to worry that I may in fact be all too comfortable with being an American.

  64. Dennis:

    You write, ” It’s true that LDSP and I both indicated no-fault divorce as a watershed moment. But the seeds were sown much, much earlier, in the rise of individualism. In Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, he traces the rise of individualism to the Middle Ages and especially bolstered by the Protestant reformation.”

    and “What is ironic is that many Latter-day Saints view gay marriage as such a deviant turn from our American Protestant legacy. But I wonder if, in fact, it is simply a logical conclusion of that very legacy.”

    We are on precisely the same page here.

  65. Nothing boils my blood more than the implication that President Benson was alone in his views on this matter. It’s complete bull that President Benson was a loose political cannon, whose ideas can be dismissed with a magic wand of “he was going solo on these issues.” President Grant, President McKay, President Kimball, President Romney, and dozens upon dozens of others contributed just as much to the worldview you describe, shared much the same opinion as President Benson, and they were RIGHT to do so. The Constitution ought to be treated as binding upon the American populace (after all, God said so), Communism was evil, liberty ought to be enshrined as the law of the land. Dennis, you bumped a button you didn’t mean to bump, but quite frankly, I’m in no mood to respond to the rest of your comment.

  66. What I’m weary of is lip service to the idea of prophets, but then dismissing whole swathes of their teachings as the philosophies of man. Prophets have told us to defend traditional marriage in civil law. So I am. This post is apologetic in nature. So what? Why is that bad?

    I’m biased towards traditional marriage, because of my moral perspective on same-sex activity and its affects on societies, families, and communities. Any Latter-day Saint should be. It’s complete nonsense that law can only have a secular rationale, and that religious bias and motives should never, ever seep into public discourse or inform civil law. So, I’m biased. So is everyone else. And that’s fine.

  67. LDSP:

    You write, ” It’s complete bull that law can only have a secular rationale, and that religious bias and motives should never, never seep into public discourse or inform civil law.”

    I absolutely agree with this. But I contend that the reason religious motives are no longer affecting civil law, is because religious influence itself is waning among the populace. If people were more religious then there would in fact be more of a religious influence on the law, because we would elect more religious lawmakers, who would appoint more religious judges, etc.

    What we have is ultimately a cultural rot, which I think is the logical outcome of the principles carefully and deliberately enshrined in our Constitution. Instead of influencing people with religion from the top down, so that the people would in turn elect religious representatives, giving us a virtuous cycle; we instill non-religion from the top down, leaving it to the people to take the initiative to counteract that influence. But the people just don’t naturally have that in them to do. When you let people do as they are inclined to do (government of the people by the people) instead of guiding them in right paths, they take the path of least resistance, i.e. they do what seems nice and pleasant, not mean and restrictive.

  68. LDSP (not sure whether you want to be referred to by your name here–let me know):

    I am first and foremost a Latter-day Saint. That is the side I am on–or at least strive to be on, or see myself as on. I am on that side so firmly that I seek to have a critical consciousness of our history and teachings, in order to sift cultural tares from doctrinal wheat. I do so without authority but I am personally at peace in my current interpretation of the gospel, while also recognizing that others interpret the gospel differently. I am OK with that. I am reluctant to call into questions other’s loyalty, including your own, even though I disagree profoundly with you on many political and likely religious issues. My tent is big enough for both of us, as I believe is the tent constructed by today’s apostles and prophets.

    It pains me that you continue to think of me as an enemy in matters of faith. But I’m not going to defend myself further because I don’t even know what you are accusing me of by way of “dismissing whole swathes of their teachings as the philosophies of man.” I certainly resent being implicated as giving “lip service to the idea of prophets.”

    To clarify:

    (a) I never said anything was wrong with being biased. I myself said I was biased towards traditional marriage (a point you may have overlooked). Where I am less clear (and truly, I do not have fully-formed views on this) is how exactly those biases honestly come to play in the legal arena.

    (b) I never said anything was wrong with defending traditional marriage in civil law. All I did was question whether there was more behind your argument. Turns out there is — your own moral opposition to same-sex marriage. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m so fine with that that I think your moral opposition to it ought to be front and center rather than buried behind underwhelming social science research (that really cannot be very trusted on either side because of the biases of the funders and practitioners of this research).

    (c) I don’t see what I am doing as “exposing” your argument. Perhaps your own stated suspicion of my motives makes it hard for you to more charitably read what I am doing. What I do see myself doing is to help you to prepare an argument that is more palatable to a pluralistic audience. Maybe that’s not your intent, but I think it is. So I think you have more unpacking to do in order to address my questions in terms of detangling same-sex marriage from marriage to infertile partners (both as tolerated, sub-par, yet legal arrangements). That is the case regardless of whether I am feigning civility to undermine your argument or being disloyal to the brethren (I do not believe I am).

  69. Re President Benson,

    Well, we’ve certainly been down this road before. I doubt we will change each others’ minds. We have different interpretive schemes for statements of past prophets in relation to canonized teachings. You weigh the former much more heavily than I do. It’s a difference in interpretation among faithful Latter-day Saints from the beginning and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. We would do well to learn to get along.

    That being said, you’ve constructed a straw man of opposition to me: “The Constitution ought to be treated as binding upon the American populace (after all, God said so), Communism was evil, liberty ought to be enshrined as the law of the land.” I never said contrary to any of this, and in fact I agree with all of these points. My points are much more nuanced on this; I encourage you to read them again.

    I also didn’t imply that President Benson was alone. I said “such as.” Still, the historical record shows Elder Benson (that change in title is important; he softened considerably as President of the church) was a major outlier, and a repeated headache to the very authorities you mention. He directly contradicted First Presidency statements, he resisted repeated counsel from President McKay, he had wildly paranoid predictions about communism, his talks were repeatedly censored by the Church, his allegiance to the Birch Society was complained about by virtually all of the Brethren, and he was asked to apologize by President Kimball for a talk he gave and Kimball was dissatisfied by his apology. See http://mormonliberals.org/ezra-taft-benson-and-politics/ (a biased source, to be sure, and an admittedly cherry-picked presentation, but it is well documented).

    I take the prophets and apostle seriously. I take them so seriously that when one is clearly out of line with the others–as Elder though not President Benson clearly was–it gives me serious pause. Our history is filled with wild statements by our prophets and apostles, and so we ought to be wary to not build our fence at the foot of one of them or at the feet of dead ones. My guide is the statements that are collectively voiced by all of the current First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve or are canonized in scripture. And I don’t hear them saying much about communism. This guide can be defended on the very teachings of our living leaders. It’s actually very orthodox to be very suspicious of many, or even reject some, of the teachings of Elder Benson, just as it is to suspect or reject the wildly racist and wholly unscriptural statements by past leaders such as Brigham Young, George Q. Cannon, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Mark E. Peterson. What do you do with these statements? What I do–and for which I have both scriptural and prophetic warrant–is I weigh them against the canonized word. And I do so with the recognition that our own blindspots (such as racism) can easily get in the way of these interpretations.

    Consider Joseph Fielding Smith, who repeatedly taught in public (as an apostle) that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence. Here was the champion of the scriptures, the person who had said time and again that teachings need to be weighed against the canonized word. He read the scriptures probably more than anyone. And yet he endorsed a ridiculously unscriptural tenant. When asked about the scriptural warrant by Eugene England (as recorded in the working draft version of Edward Kimball’s biography of his father), JFS reviewed the scripture and replied that he did not have a warrant. He said that he had simply assumed it to be true because it made sense to him.

    I think that JFS, Ezra Taft Benson, and the rest would have us be more wise than they had been. Our history shows, unmistakably, that apostles and prophets can make enormous errors in their interpretation and proclamation of doctrine. We have to deal with that.

  70. Dennis, this is very true what you say: “Latter-day Saints, perhaps more than any other people, are especially fractured between Euro-American individualism and a radical communitarian theocratic vision…What is ironic is that many Latter-day Saints view gay marriage as such a deviant turn from our American Protestant legacy. But I wonder if, in fact, it is simply a logical conclusion of that very legacy. If indeed this turn is troublesome, then it may be a sign of the limits of American constitutional democracy–showing in every more uncomfortable ways the contrast between this view of life we have embraced, from that of the Zion we have failed to cultivate.”

    Exactly. It’s interesting that the “limits of democracy” as you say, are set up in the very first LDS scripture, The Book of Mormon, wherein a theocratically minded people embrace democracy for pragmatic governance, but always with this warning: if it so be that the majority choose evil, woe be unto that people. The Book of Mormon also makes clear that Monarchy is the ideal form of government, but that it is not practical, because we cannot garauntee that the kings will always be righteous. So enshrined in our foundational scripture, is the warning that republican democracy is an imperfect, compromised ideal, inferior to the true dream of zion, which is a theological monarchy in heaven.

    It should come as no suprise that the liberal principles of the Enlghtenment and democracy, whose roots come not from the Bible, but from the Greek philosophers, would lead us to the embracing of all sorts of things that are contrary to the things our prophets say. Yet we are outraged and indignant when it happens, trying to find evidence that it is somehow anti-democratic, or anti-constitutional, or otherwise contrary to our secular form of government. But it’s no wonder that our arguments continue to fall flat on their faces again and again. The only valid argument against same-sex marriage is a theocratic argument: God commanded us not to practice it.

    The Book of Mormon also teaches us how to live in this type of compromised world. Moroni continued to fight for his country, even after they became wicked by his theocratic standards. He was living in the world but not being of the world. There was nothing he could do, but preach, and love, and live in a compromised society. Korihor cannot be reprimanded for anything except actual breaking of the law. He is free to practice, to be political, to influence, and to govern if elected. We can moan and complain, and say “woe unto you” but that is all. There is nothing more to do.

  71. So, nate, should the widespread (but not universal) LDS support for Prop 8 be viewed as our attempt to “preach, and love, and live in a compromised society”?

  72. To all,
    I understand all of the points you all are trying to make. However, it is EXTREMELY important to remember that we are NOT “protestants.” We are RESTORATIONISTS.
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not based on “protesting” [the rights to marry/divorce whomever you please]. The doctrine that we now embrace is not based on bucking Catholic (or Papal, before the Catholic Church was officially formed) doctrinal rule. Rather, our doctrine is based on a divine connection with the Holy Ghost through our current prophet, the mouthpiece of God to ALL humans on the earth to restore truths that have been lost.

    “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is perhaps the best way to define what our doctrinal stance should be. If we are using the Gift of the Holy Ghost to interpret the meaning, we should all be in agreement, just as God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one. You might be able to “convince” others, but conversion comes through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can help us push our protestant/Americanized/progressive/liberal/conservative/self serving views aside to see with clarity.

    In fact, I find it interesting that someone mentioned way up in the comments about Jane Austen. With my recent hospital stay after giving birth, I indulged in a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ viewing. Watching it with years of marriage and five children altered my perspective from my earlier viewing years ago (I now intend to re-read the book). When my husband picked me up from the hospital, we drove home discussing whether or not the idea of being able to “marry for love” was actually good/beneficial or bad/selfish. What does that mean? Are we REALLY talking about marrying for ‘infatuation’ or ‘lustful desires’? Few of us truly understand love until we have been through experiences/trials together (especially bearing and rearing children together … or yearning for children together as infertile couples do). We have other family relationships that have that same “love” without warranting marriage. We need a large measure of the Spirit to help us see others in a Christ-like way.

    Love, infatuation, lust, marriage, etc. are not equal. So basically, I agree that this argument IS about definition. We need to ask ourselves to seek the Spirit in discovering, “What is God’s definition of marriage?”

  73. “So basically, I agree that this argument IS about definition.”

    Indeed, it is the very pith and heart of the debate, whether we realize it or not.

  74. I think a lot of people have this idea that polygamy is something exploitative due to their worse-case scenario of abuses and such. However, might we be able to consider that polygamy was and is as varied as monogamous marriages are today? There are people who thrive in it and others who may be let down. Here an anthropologist shares her insights into polygamy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erTwhTCAAss&feature=youtu.be

    I think that if we have a comprehensive knowledge of what it was like in the 19th Century as well as today we will stop running away when someone utters the word “polygamy” in reference to our faith or in regards to the eventual legalization of polygamy.

  75. I want to say how wrong this is but I know that time will heal this problem. I also believe that gay men and women will be able to get married in the temple someday too. Just like black men knew someday they would be able to hold the priesthood. All the “bias” science you’re talking about is accepted by the Mormon church, it’s one of the things…correction, it’s the #1 thing I respect about the LDS church, their acceptance of science and knowledge and growing with it. They’re not crazy creationists that treat the bible like a science book and they don’t deny hard facts because they’re not convenient. They’re progressive and smart and really grow with the world, not against it.

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