Friday, October 17, 2008


Yup. It's another guest post from my son, Richie. This also appears on his blog, The View from the Seven-and-a-Halfth Floor

What Would Joseph Smith (founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, and husband to too many wives to count) Do?

Try to change California law to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, of course! That's right, the Mormon Church is one of the key backers of California's Proposition 8, an initiative on the November ballot that is attempting to Constitutionally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and simultaneously strike down California's recognition of same-sex marriages.

Before you go shouting "hypocrisy," it is important to point out that present-day Mormons do not practice polygamy (with the exception of tens of thousands of fundamentalists, who have been excommunicated by the mainline Church). Tacitly recognizing that social norms change (and that Utah wouldn't receive statehood if polygamy were still practiced there), and with a well-timed revelation from God, the head of the Mormon Church struck down the practice of polygamy over a century ago.

This is not the only time that the Mormon Church was affected by changing social norms. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was opposed to slavery, which was still legal in the United States at the time of the religion's founding. Joseph Smith, however, was no great civil rights crusader, either: His holy book exalted the white race above all others; blacks, as inferiors, were barred from the priesthood, an injustice that wasn't undone until another revelation (this one a little behind the times) in 1978.

In its early years, members of the Church were subject to violent persecution (Joseph Smith was jailed and killed for spreading his religion). Thankfully, changing social norms and increased religious tolerance have allowed Mormons to practice their religion freely and safely anywhere in the United States. Heck, we even had a Mormon contender for the presidency this year.

But, by the Church's apparent logic, changing social norms had nothing to do with their decision to abandon polygamy, nor with their more recent decision to accept black people as equals, so therefore changing social norms cannot be considered when deciding to whom we grant certain rights. Setting aside that whole pesky separation of church and state issue, and disregarding the fact that the Mormons accept that their holy book is dynamic and editable by their President, the Church has evidently decided that defining marriage as monogamous and heterosexual is a universal and unchanging maxim (not-too-distant Mormon history be damned!) that merits meddling in state affairs but--unlike those other hot-button issues--does not merit any modern prophecy and revelation.


There, I said it.

UPDATE (7:20PM): Shortly after posting this, a group of dissidents--technically ex-Mormons, since they have left the Church over this issue--delivered a stack of letters and petitions to LDS headquarters protesting the Church's stance on the issue of gay marriage and its involvement in Prop 8. This also serves to demonstrate that the leaders and followers of a religion do not always see eye-to-eye, and there are likely many Mormons who remain committed to their Church but uncomfortable with its stances on civil rights.

UPDATE (10:15PM): Choosing sides: Mormons for and against Prop 8.

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