Since the announcement of the most recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, I have encountered innumerable end-time attitudes and statements generated mostly by my LDS family members and friends. For the most part these have included variations around a common theme; they could be epitomized by a recent piece by Paul Mero: “The Samuel Principle and Same-sex Marriage.” Mero writes:
It’s time for my pro-marriage friends to invoke the biblical “Samuel Principle.” It’s time to give Americans the “king” they want – even if it means their ruin. The Court’s decision has created a cultural welfare state. We can choose to prop up this culture of dependency (after all, same-sex marriage is a creation of the state) or we can let it fall from its own destructive weight. I’m saying, let it fall.
After a couple more paragraphs of whining, Mero concludes by writing, “The only relevant question left for my pro-marriage friends is this: What will become of us?”
I’ve reflected several times on Mero’s capitulation of defeat. As familiar as I am with this kind of rhetoric, I can’t escape the extreme irony in this view. Before consigning our entire society to ruin and despair, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we got here.
States have issued marriage licenses for so long it’s easy to forget how and why this practice began. Principally, states began to regulate marriage through the licensing process to prevent interracial marriage. According to Stephanie Coontz writing in the New York Times:
By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos.
When the government began to regulate marriage, the legal instrument with which to do so was the marriage license. Who was promoting this intrusion? Largely it was a white Christian population working to keep the white race “pure,” despite clear scriptural language that “God is no respecter of persons.” The LDS community perfectly aligned with the rest of the white establishment around this issue, even coming up with doctrinal bases for the inferiority of other races.
Let’s suppose for a moment that the white Christians of past generations hadn’t asserted their superiority to the point that they expanded government regulation of marriage. What would have been the result? Very likely governments would have simply continued to honor the validity of marriages performed in and by churches. With the regulation of marriage through the licensing process, however, marriage came to be viewed not as a sacred institution with a spiritual heritage, but as a right conferred by the state. It was this view of marriage as a government-regulated “right” that was so easily co-opted by the gay lobby in the push for marriage equality. The rest, as they say, is history.
It takes some humility to admit that our Christian heritage, while cherished, has not been without problems. As a Christian community—and by using this appellation I include all those who follow Jesus of Nazareth and look to Him for salvation—we have too often been divided by doctrinal differences and have allowed these differences to dilute and divide rather than to build on our common belief in Jesus and His divine mission.
Case in point: the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. It was not until 2004 that the LDS Church declared its support for such an amendment. Why not sooner? Ostensibly the delay focused on the words “one man and one woman,” language LDS leaders were hesitant to endorse given their church’s history of plural marriage. But by 2004 the window of opportunity for a constitutional amendment had largely closed. Doctrinal differences had prevented the church (little “c”—all Christians) from coming together to work toward a common goal.
The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that in the last days there will ultimately be “two churches only,” comprising 1) those who seek to worship Christ according to historical Judeo-Christian principles, and 2) those who choose to follow a different standard. We cannot therefore be surprised when events transpire that cause people to flock to one standard or the other.
But neither need we adopt a defeatist position, consigning ourselves and our society to despair and saying “let it fall.” Absent an understanding of the eternal plan for families, why would those outside our faith necessarily view marriage as more than a time-limited contract between two people anyway? Given that view, can we fault them for seeking to expand the terms of that contract? Does it mean they are “wicked”? I cannot think so—any more than those of us who seek to uphold traditional marriage are “haters” or “bigots.” Regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs, the world is so much larger than the lens through which we commonly see and experience it.
If we were less focused on feeling sorry for ourselves, we could seize this moment for the opportunity I believe God intended it to be: We could teach that God has better things in mind for us. With positive and affirming language, we could teach the truths of eternal family relationships. We could extend hope and light to the world in very dark times.
But we’ll never do so by adopting a defeatist stance. “The future,” as Latter-day Saint President Thomas S. Monson has taught, “is as bright as our faith.”
Thank God for that.