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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Musings about Marriage and Faith

Observing my wedding anniversary, I am naturally thinking of marriage. Because this week we have seen a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court regarding the subject, I felt that I would write my thoughts about marriage. These are mine alone, and I do not intend any offense to anyone.

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and believe that in its highest conception, marriage is ultimately instituted of God for the happiness and fulfillment of an eternal plan that reserves this particular sacrament for the union of a woman and a man. In a more fully explained document, the Church has published a message about its position here.

However, I also believe that all people deserve to be happy in whatever ways they find fulfillment, barring, of course, actions that directly injure or destroy another being. I do not hold those who do not believe the way I do to the standards I set for myself, and nor does my church.

Everybody knows marriage in the Western world today is a much different institution than it formerly was. Many of us shudder to think of the old style marriages controlled by patriarchal teachings that set men above women and created a domestic slave environment for all too many women, if not a worse abusive relationship. That such marriages continue to exist today is wrong. When marriage was a conjunction of church and state policies, it made social sense for the institution to be exclusive, to be designed to perpetuate a religious ideal that saw man and woman united to bring forth and bring up children. With the ideal set at monogamy and complete fidelity, there would be no room for other kinds of families to be created—if the people in the family unit actually could live the ideal.

But there are other considerations. When society at large no longer believed in the religious institution or the doctrines behind it, then it no longer insisted on endurance for the poor people trapped in marriages that turned into hellish situations. Marriage as an entity shifted from a unit of society focused mainly on providing for the future of the children in the unit, to focus on the present state of the couple. They deserve happiness, right? If the present union could not provide happiness, how was that affecting the children too? These were good questions, getting at the heart of how to create the ideal while realistically allowing for the weaknesses and the faults of typical human beings. Divorce became much more prevalent, no longer the stigma it had been, and plenty of understanding to go around regarding the need for it.

Marriage today in most of the western world is simply a civil contract of love and commitment between two people who want to share their lives. There is nothing inherently in it that should bar gays from being allowed to make the contract. They are no different from heterosexuals when they fall in love and desire to share their lives with their chosen partner.

The difference is in religion. Getting religion out of civil law seems to me the only reasonable solution to the dilemma faced by many church-going people who feel strongly that marriage is for heterosexuals only. If we in the United States had a federal marriage law that recognized nothing but a civil marriage performed by a civil servant, then every citizen could participate in marriage according to the law. All churches would be free to teach and perform any sort of religious ceremony following the civil marriage that their adherents believed was necessary for the blessings of God to be on that union. No church official would be required by law to break his or her conscience by performing a marriage, because no church official could legally marry anybody. Nobody would worry about being forced to allow a church building to be used for a marriage between people they didn’t agree with, for no church would be legally allowed to be the site of any marriage at all. Religious ceremonies would not have any legal status and would be left alone according to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion. The churches would retain sole control over those ceremonies.

One problem remaining would be those civil servants who were also firm believers in a divine mandate that marriage must be only between heterosexuals—their jobs would require that they participate in civil marriages for all. They would have to resolve problems of conscience individually. Perhaps some people of faith would find they could no longer seek and hold civil service jobs that dealt with marriage. Perhaps they would find that they could make a distinction between the civil marriage contract and the divinity-approved contract taught and performed after the civil marriage in their church.

The other problem of course is for gays who believe strongly in all other religious teachings except the one regarding chastity for same-sex attraction. The deep irony in their position is not lost on me, but I hold off on what I believe about their position with regard to God and their future. How am I to know and understand all that God can possibly reveal about the universe, bound as I am by my time, my culture, my little temporal world, and the teachings that I have received and believe so far? I will not close the door on the possibility of an explanation and a resolution inconceivable to our finite minds today.

Indeed; I believe with all my heart that in the end of things, God will show us all what marvels He had in store all along for every single one of His children, and we will all acknowledge that we did not understand how fair and right His plans were all along, if only we could be ready for them sooner rather than later.

I believe that ultimately God intends that children should be reared by their father and mother—any other scenario seems to me impossible, because it is not ideal. Certainly there have been and will continue to be happy, well-adjusted people who are raised by single parents, gay parents, foster parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, surrogate parents, grandparents, or any other possibility you can think of. But being completely happy without any knowledge of one’s natural parents is hard for many, many children. Most children end up wanting to know what happened to their biological parents. I don’t have any studies to cite about this; my support is all anecdotal and personal.

The needs of children are not being considered in today’s marriage law struggles. Perhaps that is inevitable, but it is too bad. I do believe that it’s possible to achieve the ideal in family life: a man and woman who are perfectly in harmony, perfectly faithful to one another, and who create children who belong to them eternally. I believe that is God’s ultimate plan for our happiness eternally. But what He may have in mind for those who prefer a different scenario I cannot begin to guess—though I know in my heart it will be a happy solution to our earthly problem.

1 comment:

  1. The complete removal of religion from the civil marriage arena seems to be the best solution. The idea of continuing to use religious ministers as agents of the civil government in the matter of marriage would seem to contradict the position of the separation of church and state advocates, yet I have not so far heard of any challenge to it in the courts. Most Latin American countries have a civil marriage law and leave it up to the couple to decide whether they want a church wedding or not. This is in large measure due to the excessive influence that the priests exerted in previous centuries over the governments of those countries. When they rewrote their constitutions early in the 20th century, they often included language that prohibited ordained ministers and priests from serving in government offices. While I do not think that we need to go that far in this country, we do need to end this comingling of government with religion.

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