Seth R. Payne has posted Mormonism and Same-Sex Marriage: Towards a Mormon Theology of Gender. Payne’s article chronicles the theological tenets that make acceptance of same-sex marriage in the present-day Mormon Church a virtual impossibility—yet he also suggests that there is reason to believe this position, at least in theory, could change. The piece adds additional context to my post on the recent book, LDS in the USA, which can be viewed here.
Most people know that Mormons and the institutionalized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints played an integral role in the passage of Proposition 8, which overturned the ruling of the California Supreme Court’s decision in In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d 384 (Cal. 2008) that prohibiting same-sex marriage was a violation of the California and United States’ constitutions. See Jesse McKinley & Kirk Johnson, Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage, N.Y. Times, Nov. 15, 2008, at A1. Donations by Mormons were instrumental in mobilizing the forces that supported Proposition 8’s passage. In certain respects, Payne articulates exactly why such donations were crucial to Mormon theological integrity.
For more on Payne’s exposition of these tenets of the Mormon Church, please follow the jump.
Payne argues that Brigham Young, successor to Smith as leader of the Mormon Church, “sexualized” God, which view eventually led to the present-day opposition of Mormonism to same-sex marriage. While I direct the reader to the article to fully understand this difficult concept in the context of this popularly misunderstood and scholastically understudied faith, Payne lucidly illustrates the origins of this theological concept through the teachings of Joseph Smith as filtered through Brigham Young.
In essence, Mormonism understands that God is, in fact, a human being—an exalted and eternal man, and thus comprised of flesh; bones; and, indeed, a sexual nature. Each human being has the potential to become exalted in this same manner—a God in his own right: “God’s children represent an eternal expansion . . . of God’s glory,” says Payne; that is, human increase adds to the expansion of the “plurality of Gods.” This conception led in part to Smith’s practice of polygamy—the cementing of his and his progeny’s dynasty of Godly beings, each reigning—as God reigns—in thrones of glory with creative and divine powers. One can understand, then, why same-sex marriage, which generally precludes procreation, would be anathema to Mormon tenets: In essence, its lack of procreative potential defeats the very foundation of the Mormon faith’s pluralistic conception of a godhead comprised of many exalted human beings.
But Payne contrasts Brigham Young’s teaching with Joseph Smith’s, suggesting that a return to Smith’s might, one day, make the Mormon Church more amenable to same sex marriage.
According to Payne, Smith taught that what was important was the family and its eschatological significance in realizing each human’s godly and, ultimately, creative potential. That is, in Payne’s view, Smith’s conception of male-female relations was familial and dynastic rather than—as was Young’s—sexual and procreative. To elucidate, Payne argues that for Smith, the Mormon command of “eternal increase” was not exclusively a reference to increased offspring, but a command that human beings access the promise of the Abrahamic covenant through marriage and familial life. While not likely part of Joseph Smith’s ideology, in contemporary thinking, marriage and family life may be possible in both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.
Payne illustrates, on the other hand, a break from this view in Young’s teaching, where it is not just the familial basis, but the sexual, procreative basis that drives this production of future beings who will, eventually, sit on “thrones of glory” as does God—as gods.
So, Payne offers two reasons for eventual amenability in the LDS church to same-sex marriage. First, Brigham Young’s sexualized God-man may, according to Payne, be a mischaracterization (“a teaching yet to be discarded”) of Joseph Smith’s familial, dynastic God-man—and so in Payne’s understanding, whether a familial couple is of the same or different sex should affect only Young’s view, not Smith’s. Moreover, Payne asserts that openness to change is a peculiar characteristic of the Mormon Church. (“Mormonism proudly boasts of ‘continuing revelation’ which may, as God sees fit, expand current understandings or discard previous held notions or practices.”) Ultimately, Payne suggests, forward progress might, paradoxically, be attained by looking at the thinking of the earliest Mormon teachers, not its later ones.
—DRS, CLR Fellow