Shut the door!

The intersection of LDS discipleship and conscious citizenship

Category: gay rights

The difficulty of dissent

Disagreeing with the prophet is hard. I mean, really really hard. I don’t know if you understand how difficult it is to disagree with the prophet when you’ve been born and raised in the church, served a mission, sealed in the temple, had a child die and know that your hope of seeing them again is tied to the covenants you’ve made in the temple, and live in the i-15 corridor so your entire culture as well as religion is Mormon, unless you’ve been there yourself.

I mean, I’m doing something I have been taught my entire life not to do. I can quote you scripture and verse on the dangers of steadying the ark, and whether by the voice of me or of my servants it is the same and I have a testimony of the brethren as prophets, seers, and revelators. And yet.

Heavenly Father told me to go to graduate school. He told me to go to the specific university I went to and to have the educational opportunities I had. And He arranged for me to have experiences that prepared me specifically to teach at BYU-I. I was interviewed by general authorities and approved by the Church Education board, which includes the First Presidency. And I held these same opinions when I taught at BYU-I as I do now.

Would I have written these blog posts if I had still been employed by the church? No, because I am disagreeing with official church policy, and I wouldn’t feel like I could do that as an employee of a church organization. So, I’m freer now. The interesting thing is that my time at BYU-I taught me a lot about church history and how the history of the church is very different in substantial ways than what is taught in Church History. It taught me a lot about how decisions are made in the church, how attitudes shift over time, and how revelations are received. If anything, my time at BYU-I made it easier to disagree with the church. And when I see the church have to disavow statements made by its own apostles on politically sensitive issues in the past, I wonder how much of what we are getting today will end up being disavowed in fifty years.

But Sister Arnell, I can hear you say, The Proclamation wasn’t just some off the cuff remark. It has the signature of all of the apostles and the First Presidency. And you’re right. It does.

There’s lots of  ways I could deal with that argument. That the Proclamation has never been put forth for a confirming vote to the members of the church to be accepted as doctrine, and therefore is not binding. That it was a politically motivated statement put forth to meet an evidentiary burden for the church to be able to file an amicus brief in the Hawaii gay marriage case (Baehr v. Milke) that was undergoing trial at the time. That the line about “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation” may be a whole lot broader than we are willing to give it credit for.

But no. I have to be honest. I don’t know how to reconcile the Family Proclamation with what I have felt the Spirit tell me to be true. And that is that the government shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to recognizing the validity of marriages as long as there are benefits attached to being married. I am not saying that churches should be required to perform weddings. I am solely talking about government recognition.

But I know that Heavenly Father spent a decade teaching me how to read law decisions, question authority, and be skeptical of claims to power. I served under good zone leaders and bad on my mission. I obeyed them both the same. I served under two mission presidents and two temple visitor center presidents, all of which had very different leadership styles, all of whom were good men. I’ve had multiple bishops. I’ve seen calls made by inspiration and calls made my desperation. I know that while the church is lead by men of God, they are also men who have been raised in specific historical and cultural contexts. And really, all I know is what Heavenly Father has told me through the power of the Holy Ghost. And I have no idea why it is so different from what the brethren are teaching. And it worries me. And it scares me. But I can’t deny what I know.

Does that mean I expect all members to believe the same way I do? No, absolutely not. Does that mean I think I am right and they are wrong? No. It means that right now I am in a place where my understanding is different. And most humans don’t do to well with different. So that causes problems some time. And when you get into “my truth is different from your truth” then that sounds like a bunch of post-modern nonsense.

But right now my truth seems to be different from the truth held by most members of my faith. There isn’t an easy answer to that dilemma. So I’m doing what I can to keep asking for knowledge. One of the most commonly repeated commands in the scriptures is to ask, and we’re told that if we do, we shall receive. So I keep asking. I keep praying to Heavenly Father to let me know if I’ve been misguided, or if I’m doing this out of some sort of need to be different or special or noticed. I keep checking myself to make sure this isn’t pride. And I keep asking for further knowledge.

Maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve. That would be first time. But right now I’m okay with where I am with God. That’s the only thing that gives me the courage to disagree with his servants.

And hopefully, we can continue to treat all people, regardless of political opinion, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation with nothing but love as this discussion continues, both here and in our homes, workplaces, and places of worship.

With love always.


What about the effects on society if gays are allowed to marry?

In which I will address all the reasons I have heard on why we, as a society, should not allow gay people to marry.

1. Oh noes, think of the children!

I do think of the children. I think of all the children in foster care who can’t get into long-term placements because there aren’t enough straight people willing to provide long-term families. I think of the children in foster care who can’t get adopted because gay couples aren’t allowed to adopt. I think of the gay children who grow up knowing that they will never be allowed to get married, that society thinks their love is less worthy because of something they have no control over. I think about how the rates of teen suicide are higher (some estimates place it at five times higher) among LBGTQ teenagers than among straight teenagers. I think of all the children who are bullied at school. I think of Matthew Shepherd who was born the same year as I was, who also studied political science, who was tied to a fence rail and beaten with a pistol butt and left to die. I think of Jaden Bell, and Josh Pacheco, and Tyler Clementi and Seth Walsh and Raymond Chase and all the other nameless children who died rather than continue facing the society we have right now. I think of the children who get kicked out of their house because they tell their parents they are gay so they end up living on the street. So yes, I am thinking of the children.

2. Oh noes, think of the religious freedom.

There is a huge difference between allowing states to allow gay marriage and requiring churches to perform marriages. But what about that case back east where the church had to allow the gays to get married? The church in question had a public hall that they rented out to members of the community for all sorts of public events. The church was told that refusing to serve gays in a business setting was discriminatory. The church was not required to actually perform the wedding, just to allow all members of the community to rent the space in question, which was not a church.

But what if they picket our churches for not performing marriages? Have you not been to General Conference? We get picketed all the time already. That’s because other people have first amendment rights too, not just the religious. Guess what? BYU football games got picketed back when we didn’t allow blacks to have the priesthood. Entire universities refused to compete against them. Did that cause the government to force us to give blacks the priesthood? Not according to the brethren.

I am fully in favor of allowing gays to get married but not requiring churches to marry them if they don’t want to. I think that’s kind of the point of living in a pluralistic society.

3. Oh noes, think of the schools.

Will we require our teachers to teach that gay marriage is okay? I don’t remember ever learning that straight marriage was okay in school, but do you mean that we’re not going to fire teachers for including literature in which there are gay people who are not scorned and mocked and bullied? Then, okay, I’m good with that. Are we going to include literature that has single parents, or kids living with their grandparents, or kids living in foster care, I’m good with that too. Are we going to show that stable families are good for society, regardless of their makeup? I think that’s a good plan. I’m good with children being exposed to the realities that match their own life rather than a preapproved list of Dick and Jane style homogeneity. I also think everyone should read The Great Gatsby and O! Pioneers, so take my curricular choices with a grain of salt.

4. Oh noes, think of the sex education!

People are going to have problems with sex education regardless of what’s being taught. So, biologically, reproduction should be covered in science class. Diagrams, etc. Sex education should teach you when it’s okay to have sex (i.e. when both partners are willing participants and explicit consent has been obtained.) It should teach you about the emotional complexities of being sexually active. It should teach you how not to get pregnant and how not to obtain a sexually transmitted disease. So, like I learned how to put on a condom in sex ed. And I think I looked at photos of diseased parts. And that sexually transmitted diseases were really easy to catch.

I don’t think I ever got educated about how to have sex. So for teaching gay sex in class, I’m not really sure what that means. Because straight people have oral sex and anal sex as well as gay people, so sex is sex to me. I mean, I think the world would be a lot happier if everyone understood the importance of lube, how to perform oral sex, and the necessity of clitoral stimulation in achieving the female orgasm. But I don’t remember any of that getting discussed in sex ed. So, maybe some of y’all went to schools where they discussed varying positions, but my town freaked out when they found out that we got shown a condom on a banana, so that’s where I’m coming from here.

5. Oh noes, we don’t have the data!

We don’t have enough data to know what will happen, therefore we can’t allow it to happen. This is a basic fallacy called “argument from ignorance.” You just flunked Introduction to Logic. Do not pass go. Do not collect your college diploma.

6. It’s always been that way/Judeo-Christian/Old Testament

Slavery had always been that way. Domestic violence had always been that way. Rape had always been that way. The Old Testament is a crazy place to draw your evidence from because unless you want to make your wife sit in a tent one week out of the month, never eat crab, grow a beard and never trim its corners, give up bacon and never wear a cotton-poly blend again, you need to be careful about arguing from the Old Testament. Especially since the OT has all sorts of whacked out family groupings in it that would appall most Christians today. I mean, if you believe in a literal Adam and Eve, their children were having sex with each other, so yeah. We also have penicillin, the internet and flush toilets, so I’m good with progress. We’ve also stopped lobotomizing those with mental illnesses. And given up monarchies. So, you know, change is sometimes good.

7. Oh noes, dog sex/marriage!

To borrow from Bill Maher, which is rare for me, women have been voting for almost a century now and we haven’t seen any hamsters in the voting booths.

Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg can tell the difference between a human being and an animal.


Why I am in favor of marriage equality

I have been privileged to attend several weddings of people I love. Many of these weddings have been in the temple. Some have not. I’d like to talk about one particular wedding today.

Many years ago, I think it was twelve, my brother Jon met the love of his life. His name was Todd. They have been together ever since. In the intervening years they have supported each other through job insecurity, major health problems, parenting children, home remodeling projects and dealing with each other’s families. They were married in all but the word.

Jon and Todd happen to live in California. In the scant few months that marriage was legal in that state, they got married. They had been together close to a decade at that point. They held their wedding at a friend’s house, and in the beautiful sunshine of a Southern California afternoon, they pledged to each other the commitments that they had already been living. And I felt the Spirit in my heart, confirming to me the sanctity and holiness of what they were doing.

My experience witnessing the wedding of these two men that I love was no different from witnessing a sealing in the temple. Their love is as welcomed and recognized by God as the love between a man and a woman.

Does this make me outside the LDS mainstream? Yes. Does this make me less of a Mormon? Culturally, yes. Doctrinally – probably, but hopefully not for long. I don’t know what the consequences are for saying this out loud, but it would be dishonest not to say it.

With my educational background, I can make a legal argument. Conservative judges can strike DOMA down as Congressional overreach easier than liberals will be able to strike it down with the equal protection clause. You can make gender arguments that it is discriminatory to let a man marry a woman, but not a woman marry a woman. Marriage is a commitment between two people. I know people want to say it should be between two people and God, but we let atheists get married in this country, so legally, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

But legal arguments aside – though I know how vitally important they are going to be in the next few days – what the issue comes down to for me is love. I love my brother. I recognize him as a child of God, and I respect him and the choices he makes for his life. He loves Todd. It’s evident that Todd loves him. They take care of each other and support each other and love each other. They are married. It’s just mean to say, “Nope, your love is worth less than the love of heterosexual couples.”

God loves Jon and Todd. I love them too. Let’s make their life and their marriage a little bit easier. Let’s make their marriage equal.