Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mormons, Marriage, and Moral Outrage

This article (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/15/us/politics/15marriage.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=Mormons&st=cse&scp=2) examines the role of Mormon organizers in passing California’s Proposition 8. As reported by the article, Mormons were responsible for nearly half of the forty million dollars raised to support the measure. I was intrigued by the ways supporters strove to make the proposition “relevant” to voters. Apparently, they came prepared with two very specific scripts to support their arguments, one for religious voters, one tailored to nonbelievers. Supporters also raised vague, hypothetical claims, arguing that, without Proposition 8, religious people could be sued for objecting to gay marriage, and churches could lose their tax exempt status. One advertisement depicted an elementary school class attending a same-sex wedding, reinforcing fears that children would be “indoctrinated.”
I find it ironic, on some level, that Mormons would support these tactics. Not two centuries ago, Mormons were targeted for their own unusual marriage practices. In its time, Mormon polygamy was elevated alongside slavery as one of the “twin relics of multicultural barbarism” designated for extinction by the Republican Party. The LDS Church sanctioned polygamy was viewed as an abusive, immoral situation which enslaved women, corrupted marriage, and disgraced our nation’s values. Tales of polygamous debauchery and abuse, some real, some exaggerated, further stoked anti-Mormon sentiment in the east; this upset would culminate in armed incursions against the Mormons, as well as a series of court rulings limiting their religious practices and sovereignty.
I am not writing in support of polygamy, nor am I advocating for or against gay marriage. I’m just intrigued by the idea that modern Mormons have, in a sense, come full circle, to get on board with today’s moral panic.

7 comments:

Athira N said...

I understand why it is ironic to you that Mormons are positioning themselves against gay marriage. I’ve notice that when the Religious Right speaks about protecting the definition of marriage, they define it as “a union between one man and one woman,” which outlaws polygamy. So why would Mormons align themselves on an issue with groups that have argued against them before? Even though their view of marriage may be different from the Religious Rights’ in many ways, it is in alignment on this issue. So, though they have been attacked before for their non-mainstream ideas of marriage, they are willing to question other views of marriage that are non-mainstream.

Many Mormons have raised this same question with the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. One argument that has been written to explain Mormon acceptance of polygamy and opposition to gay marriage is that Mormons are not asking for government-sanctioned polygamy. That is, polygamists are perfectly happy to have only one of their unions recognized legally as long as they are allowed to live with others they consider spouses. Mark Evans wrote about this argument in an article entitled ‘Mormons, Polygamy, and Gay Marriage.’ (http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2003/12/mormons-polygamy-and-gay-marriage/)

Chidera E. said...

I do not know much about this issue, but overall I agree that it is ironic that Mormons are against gay marriage and aligning themselves with groups that denounced their own beliefs. But I want to throw out the thought that sometimes when a group has been severely opposed and the spotlight of scrutiny is moved to another issue or group. Sometimes it may be an advantageous and strategic measure to join the bandwagon in order to keep the scrutiny from returning to your group. I am not saying that the Mormons who are against gay marriage are doing this, but it plausible explanation for their alliance with those who have criticized their beliefs.

AndiMS said...

Although Mormons did have their own battle to redefine marriage in America over a century ago, I don't find their opposition to gay marriage surprising at all (maybe the strength of their opposition though).

Don't forget that Mormons are still technically Christians, and a deeper examination of the way they supported their own practices reveals that they - like all Christians - believed quite strongly in the need for a solid family base on which to build society. Women, because of their perceived nature, were suited to childbearing, housework, and teaching, while men were meant to strive for (moral) success; once a certain degree of success was reached, it was deemed necessary for men to take additional wives, so they could spread their bloodline as far as possible. (Women can only have so many children, and only one at a time, so a man needed multiple wives so that they could 'keep up' and also share in household duties).

Homosexual couples are not conducive to raising families and contributing to "the strong base of a community" (and if they were to raise children, I highly doubt Mormons would find them suitable parents). And since family values were (and are) so central to their religion, it is natural that Mormons are opposed to Proposition 8. My guess is that Mormons don't sympathize with this situation because they view homosexuality as a sin, and therefore have no obligation to aid in the pursuit for gay rights because gays by nature - according to them - are not innocent people and not wrongly persecuted.

Natalie S said...

I agree that while to an outsider the simultaneous opposition to gay marriage and advocacy of polygamy seem blatantly contradictory, i agree with AndiMs that this probably does not occur to them. They see polygamy as the ultimate manifestation of family values and gay marriage as an absolute perversion of those values. To us they seem like two very similar alternative types of marriage- to them they are probably opposite ends of the spectrum.

Andrew F. said...

I suppose it's not altogether surprising that Mormon groups would oppose gay marriage, considering both "alternative modes" of marriage are rationalized in different terms. While gay rights groups typically argue for individual rights and equal protection, polygamy was supported on the basis of moral command; polygamy was originally, officially sanctioned by the LDS Church. If the church happens to condemn gay marriage, then Mormons can be expected to follow suit. Church doctrine doesn't necessarily need to be consistent from an individual rights perspective. It just needs to be "divinely inspired."

Julius J. said...

I do not believe that the large support for Proposition 8 amongst Mormons in California is a case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor. To begin with, Polygamy is only practiced within a small number of Mormons and is banned by the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Second, while there are biblical examples of men taking more than one wife, Christians have laid out biblical justifications for their opposition to Gay marriage. While the fundamental definition of marriage rules out polygamy, the Mormon church has also ruled out polygamy. Any person found to be practicing slavery who is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints is excommunicated. Mormons were the recipients of moral outrage based on a practice they discontinued a nearly 150 years ago.

Jake S. said...

I think this is an incisive post with a good insight into the irony of this concept. Mormons have been criticized for their unusual types of marriage, that is, polygamy. However, I don't think they themselves would find their actions ironic at all. Their religious doctrine thinks that homosexuality is sinful, thus, gay marriage shouldn't be allowed. It's a backwards view in the opinion of many, including myself. Mormons are inherently indoctrinated into their own belief system due to their insular culture—for the most part. To them, polygamy is wholly moral. Of course, these fringe groups have to believe in their own morality. What else would they have without it? It's not like Mormonism is spreading like wildfire. (That'd be Scientology–the religion of the stars!)