LDS Church Response to Prop. 8 Begs Question of Polygamy

On Tuesday, Mormons—the religious group that invested most heavily in the 2008 California Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage—responded to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision finding the measure unconstitutional.

The first LDS response to the court’s opinion came from a member of the 9th Circuit Court panel that heard the appeal: Judge N. Randy Smith, a native of Logan, Utah and graduate of Brigham Young University and the BYU Reuben Clark Law School, who wrote the dissent.

Within hours of the ruling, the LDS Church also issued a statement:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today’s decision. California voters have twice determined in a general election that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view. Courts should not alter that definition, especially when the people of California have spoken so clearly on the subject.

Millions of voters in California sent a message that traditional marriage is crucial to society. They expressed their desire, through the democratic process, to keep traditional marriage as the bedrock of society, as it has been for generations.

This statement closely paralleled the one issued by the LDS Church in 2010 after the U.S. District Court for Northern California found Proposition 8 unconstitutional, with a few noteworthy changes, including the assertion that the Church not only “agrees” with the state definition of marriage between “a man and a woman,” but has “always had that view”—a statement that begs the historical question of LDS polygamy.

While some conservative Mormons viewed Tuesday’s ruling as an inevitable step closer to a U.S. Supreme Court hearing, progressive Mormons voiced appreciation for the ruling.

Laura Compton, founder of Mormons for Marriage, a pro-marriage equality group, said:

It’s great that we live in a country where people take seriously the rights of minorities and where courts try to balance the will of the many with protecting the needs of the few. By affirming the right of Prop. 8 sponsors to bring an appeal, the courts recognized that California voters have broad rights in creating laws and amending their state constitution. And yet, as the court shows us, it’s still possible for even a slim majority of voters to be overbearing in their legislative efforts, the same way their elected representatives can be.

We look forward to the day when the all-important and meaningful word ‘marriage’ may be rightfully applied to the committed, consenting pairs of adults who are willing to take on the responsibilities and proclaim to the world that they care for each other in sickness and in health. And we look forward to the day when LGBT teens and young adults can speak freely about the qualities they want in a spouse without fear of reprisal from society, because, as we so often proclaim, ALL families matter.

In his dissent, Judge Smith cited two factors that he believed could legitimate a state interest in a heterosexuals-only definition of marriage:

(1) a responsible procreation theory, justifying the inducement of marital recognition only for opposite-sex couples, because it ‘steers procreation into marriage’ because opposite-sex couples are the only couples who can procreate children accidentally or irresponsibly;

and

(2) an optimal parenting theory, justifying the inducement of marital recognition only for opposite-sex couples, because the family structure of two committed biological parents—one man and woman—is the optimal partnership for raising children (22).

According to Smith, allowing gays and lesbians to marry would weaken the status of marriage for heterosexuals and result in increased heterosexual cohabitation and therefore “less stable circumstances for children.” In his dissent, the word “marriage” and its conferral of status emerge as an “honor” to be “bestowed” by the state on heterosexuals as an inducement to sexual reproduction.

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