LDS Church leaders reacted swiftly to California Northern District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling Wednesday overturning California’s Proposition 8. An official statement released Wednesday afternoon by the LDS Newsroom reads:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today’s decision. California voters have twice been given the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage in their state and both times have determined that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We agree. Marriage between a man and a woman is the bedrock of society.
“We recognize that this decision represents only the opening of a vigorous debate in the courts over the rights of the people to define and protect this most fundamental institution—marriage.
“There is no doubt that today’s ruling will add to the marriage debate in this country, and we urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion.”
As we’ve reported here at RD, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, responding to a letter from the Church’s First Presidency read over the pulpits during Sunday meeting in June 2008 and other organizing efforts headed by high-ranking and local Church leaders, contributed the majority of donations and volunteer hours to the 2008 Yes on 8 campaign.
Mormons supports of equal civil marriage rights are celebrating Walker’s ruling. Laura Compton of Mormons for Marriage writes:
“We’re so happy to see that Prop 8 has been formally identified as what we’ve considered it to be all along—an attempt to codify religious beliefs into law. Judge Walker’s decision addresses so many of the fearmongering, stereotype-enforcing arguments that polluted the marriage debates of 2008, and his findings of fact and conclusions of law set a reasonable, rational and logical foundation upon which we can begin a less rancorous discussion.
“Gender roles are changing and as a result, so are marriages, both religious and secular. And that is a good thing – nobody wants to return to a time when women gave up rights upon signing a marriage certificate or to a time when slaves were thought of as less than human. ‘Marriage [has been] transformed from a male-dominated institution into an institution recognizing men and women as equals,’ Walker wrote. Each time we’ve revised marriage-related laws, we’ve moved closer to the ideal of valuing each child of God equally, and that must be a good thing.
“Churches will continue to preach their beliefs and doctrines and their adherents will continue to practice and live their lives according to their religious beliefs, but now people who don’t adhere to those religious beliefs will still be able to come together, create committed, stable relationships, have responsibilities for caring for one another and their children and will be recognized by society as being both capable of and equal to the challenge of a life-long relationship. And many lives will be blessed by the ability to come together in love and respect.
“As Judge Walker wrote, “fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” How absurd would it be to put to a vote the ability of people to peaceably assemble or to practice a religion?”
Compton spent Wednesday afternoon culling out from Walker’s ruling and publishing at the Mormons for Marriage website Findings of Fact that speak directly to some of the sentiments that animated Mormon Yes on 8 activism. Many conservative Mormons insist on viewing “same gender attraction” as a remediable condition rather than a feature of identity; Walker’s Findings of Fact 44 and 46 declare that the “weight of the evidence” shows that “sexual orientation is fundamental to a person’s identity.” The contention that children need heterosexual parents was a staple of Mormon Yes on 8 discourse; Walker’s Finding of Fact 70 holds that “the sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent” and that “research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.”
As both Church leaders and Mormon same-sex marriage supporters anticipate appeals to Walker’s ruling and call for continuing “civil” discussion of the subject, Walker’s ruling has set new baselines for civil discourse on the subject of same-sex marriage.
How will Mormons who gave copiously of their time and resources process this ruling? Will Mormon communities put behind us the half-truths and insinuations about same-sex-marriage as a threat to religious freedom and the welfare of children generated by paid Yes on 8 strategists, circulated anonymously through LDS Church channels and Mormon networks, and taken by many members as gospel truth?
As Laura Compton of Mormons for Marriage reminds us, as long as gay Mormons continue to commit suicide—as three did in Utah this month—there is tremendous need for dialogue, education, mutual respect and civility within the Church. If Judge Walker’s ruling manages to spur increased self-examination and dialogue within Mormon communities, it will be a blessing not only to LGBT communities but to non-LGBT Mormons as well.