I recently looked back at some articles that I wrote in my undergraduate campus newspaper on the topic of gay marriage. At the time, I wrote the first of the two articles, I was strongly in favor of gay marriage. By the time I wrote the second, my position had become far more nuanced. You can see however in both posts my efforts to seek ways that religious believers could work together with supporters of gay rights to achieve common purposes.
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to reject Cert. on several appeals from Circuit Courts that struck down gay marriage bans, I have again been thinking a lot about how and where to move forward from here. I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision as well as the constitutionalization of gay marriage. Court imposition of gay marriage violates both my moral conscience and my judicial philosophy. And yet, in the aftermath I have reflected on Elder Oak’s truly inspired words delivered just this past Saturday:
Like the Savior, His followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior, and today when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called “bigots” or “fanatics.” Many worldly values and practices pose such challenges to Latter-day Saints. Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage in many states and provinces in the United States and Canada and many other countries in the world. We also live among some who don’t believe in marriage at all. Some don’t believe in having children. Some oppose any restrictions on pornography or dangerous drugs. Another example—familiar to most believers—is the challenge of living with a nonbelieving spouse or family member or associating with nonbelieving fellow workers.
In dedicated spaces, like temples, houses of worship, and our own homes, we should teach the truth and the commandments plainly and thoroughly as we understand them from the plan of salvation revealed in the restored gospel. Our right to do so is protected by constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion, as well as by the privacy that is honored even in countries without formal constitutional guarantees.
In public, what religious persons say and do involves other considerations. The free exercise of religion covers most public actions, but it is subject to qualifications necessary to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others. Laws can prohibit behavior that is generally recognized as wrong or unacceptable, like sexual exploitation, violence, or terrorist behavior, even when done by extremists in the name of religion. Less grievous behaviors, even though unacceptable to some believers, may simply need to be endured if legalized by what a Book of Mormon prophet called “the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).
On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. In doing so, we ask that others not be offended by our sincere religious beliefs and the free exercise of our religion. We encourage all of us to practice the Savior’s Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).
When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously and practice civility with our adversaries. In any event, we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.
One sentence in particular stood out to me… “We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” It is my sense that conservatives that oppose gay-marriage have failed to “be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence. We failed to be wise by failing to seek to actively promote compromise legislation that would more fully protect both gay rights and religious freedom (as the Church did in Salt Lake City). We failed to be wise by not speaking out more fully at times against anti-gay rhetoric that alienated would be supporters. Most importantly in my opinion, we failed to be wise by failing to define ourselves as anything but anti-same sex marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have often tried to label themselves as “pro-traditional marriage.” And yet, most people would be hard-pressed to say anything that those who are pro-traditional marriage stand for rather than against.
I hope that those who have fought to defend traditional marriage will continue to do so. We should not give up the fight for something that is a moral truth and defined by God. I know that I will continue to speak out in favor of the privilege status of marriage between man and woman. I will do so even if the Supreme Court or the people decide otherwise, because God’s truth is not up for popular vote.
And yet, given that gay marriage seems almost a foregone conclusion at this point, it is time to move beyond the single issue of gay marriage and towards more comprehensive pro-family policies. Some conservatives have already realized this necessity. For instance, Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have spoken out in favor of tax code reform to make out tax system more pro family. Senator Lee in particular has consistently spoken out on issues concerning pro-family policy. We need more conservatives like Mike Lee willing to stand up for family interests.
I also think we need to be bolder in our vision. We need to brainstorm state and federal policies that can truly be pro-family. For instance, we should consider progressively increasing tax credits for couples that remain together for a certain number of years, interest free pell-grant like loans for those seeking to start a family, increased protections for women seeking to take maternity leave (including requiring paid maternity leave- we are the only western country that does not do so). I mention these policies not as specific requirements, but as potential ideas. Certainly, others might be preferable, and one can disagree on the details. Regardless, I think it is clear that much more should be done to actually stand up for pro-family policies.
It is my firm conviction (one could even say my testimony) that pursuing more aggressively pro-family policies is how we can be “wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.” If we do so, we will have greater moral authority and persuasive power when we speak out about the sanctity of marriage and defend God’s truth. We will be able to truly say we are “pro-marriage” rather than merely “anti-same-sex marriage.”