The recent court decision that struck down Utah's law banning same-sex marriage is a turning point for religious Americans—and it's not a good one. Ultimately, gay marriage and the free exercise of religion cannot exist at the same time. Christians and Jews who practice their religion cannot accept gay marriage. The Bible is replete with passages where homosexual behavior is listed among various sexual sins in general along with adultery, fornication, and bestiality, as was recently pointed out by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson. In particular, the New Testament poses acceptance of homosexuality as the hallmark of a fallen, degenerate society.
The Church of Jesus Christ has published several important statements of belief regarding the topic of same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage. In 2008, during the debate over Proposition 8 in California, the Church published “The Divine Institution of Marriage” as a definitive exposition of its beliefs and norms. The document discusses the common arguments in favor of gay marriage and explains the reasons why the Church cannot support it. You can read the document here.
Mormons are not alone in opposing gay marriage. It may be anticipated that some Christian sects and denominations may change their position regarding gay marriage in the future, responding in part to external societal pressures and a desire to maintain internal unity. Other religions will prove inflexible on the subject because of a belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Mormons occupy a unique position on marriage in general because of doctrines unique to Mormonism. Without rehashing the full reasoning that is laid out succinctly in the 2008 document above, a brief explanation is useful here.
Mormons believe in two kinds of marriage, namely civil marriage and eternal marriage. Civil marriages are those performed for the period of one's mortal life. Regardless whether one is married by a minister in a church or by a justice of the peace, we regard this as civil marriage because the marriage contract dissolves at the death of one of the parties. The wording “so long as you both shall live” or “until death do you part” indicates this marriage contract is only for one's mortal life. Clergymen of other denominations and civil officers typically exercise this authority in the states of the United States. Likewise, Mormon bishops and branch presidents who receive the requisite licenses within their states may also perform civil marriages.
Mormons also have a second form of marriage which is considered to be eternal in nature. This kind of marriage is solemnized in our temples by a specific priesthood authority that was conferred by Jesus himself to his apostles. This is called the sealing authority. Those who are ordained to exercise the sealing authority may bind on earth and in heaven, according to Jesus' instructions in Matthew 16. Couples whose marriage is solemnized in this manner, by this authority, anticipate that they will enjoy their relationship as husband and wife throughout their eternal afterlife.
Eternal marriage is the capstone ordinance of our faith and it is directly connected to the greatest heavenly rewards. Indeed, the highest degree of glory in heaven may only be obtained by a man and woman who enter into it. It is a unique belief to Mormonism. Not all Mormons qualify to receive this ordinance. To enter the temples, the candidates must live their religion, be morally clean, pay tithing, observe the Church's health code, and demonstrate evidence of their determination to live lives of service and devotion to God.
This concept of marriage is what will make Mormons particularly unyielding on the principle of gay marriage. Marriage belongs to God. Although civil laws may change the nature of civil marriage, no earthly government or tribunal has authority to affect the sealing power granted by God unto his chosen apostles. Unlike many other Christian denominations, Mormons claim to possess the same sealing powers and priesthood authority held by Christ's ancient apostles. Whereas other Christian sects discontinued teaching the principle of continuing revelation centuries ago, Mormonism still has living apostles, prophets, and seers who continue to receive revelation from heaven. God directs the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by direct revelation and inspiration from heaven today. We cannot yield to threats of political pressure or litigation.
Some gay rights activists believe that social pressure from the civil rights movement forced the Church to change its practices in the Seventies. In 1978, the Church received revelation that changed existing policy that banned the ordination of blacks to the priesthood. Those familiar with the story understand that Mormons had desired to make changes in Church policy for years, but could not until revelation was received on the subject. When that revelation came, the Church moved swiftly and with great power to affect change. However, the pressure to change did not come from external pressures, but instead from a desire to see the Church expand in the world. A recent statement from the Church on this issue explains its history.
The reason I mention it here is that those who regard gay marriage as a civil rights issue believe that, if sufficient social pressure can be brought against the Church, that it will “cave” on the issue as it was perceived to have done on the ordination of black Americans. That reasoning is flawed because it represents a lack of understanding of both the issue itself and the Church's belief in modern revelation. In the case of ordaining blacks, it was never taught that being black was sinful or that race would preclude one from salvation. Nothing in our scriptures ever intimated anything like that. Race is a physical characteristic, not a behavior.
On the other hand, homosexual acts are sinful behaviors according to the Bible. An individual may be attracted to others of his or her own sex, but the act of engaging in homosexual behavior is a choice, just as remaining celibate is a choice. Unmarried heterosexuals feel attracted to the opposite sex, but engaging in fornication is a sinful choice. The Church distinguishes between one's inclinations and one's actions. Thousands of single, divorced, or widowed latter-day saints feel attraction to the opposite sex, yet they remain faithful and keep the commandments to abstain from sexual activity.
Equating race with homosexuality is a false argument. The two are not comparable. Those who think that they can pressure the Church to change its doctrine and authorize gay temple marriages or civil marriages by our bishops are grossly mistaken. Legalizing gay civil marriage does not make it acceptable unto God. Sexual relations between partners of the same sex are outside the bounds the Lord has commanded regardless whether the world calls it marriage or not. Members of the Church have the duty to obey God. When it comes to a forced choice to obey man's laws or God's, we will serve God. As patriotic and responsible citizens, we do not take the notion of civil disobedience lightly. However, I expect that it may be a necessity in the near future.
There are also those who make the argument that the Church caved on its historical practice of polygamy because of political pressure. Again, these critics misunderstand our history and doctrine. Had the Lord commanded that we continue the practice, the leaders of the Church and most of its membership would have accepted incarceration rather than defy God's will. However, the Lord gave the leaders of the Church the option in 1890 to abandon the practice or to continue it. He gave them a clear understanding of what would occur if they did and he gave them the choice to continue or discontinue plural marriage. In general, the Church abandoned the practice in order to move forward in a particular way to accomplish its saving mission. It became more mainstream as a result, which benefited the missionary work greatly. A recent document published by the Church outlines the history and background of plural marriage and its social context. You can read that document here.
Even though many members of the Church were quite vocal and militant in defending polygamy, the work of the Church was able to continue without it quite effectively. In contrast, accepting gay marriage because of governmental pressure would directly contradict the revealed understanding of mankind's eternal purpose and destiny. It would defy the very plan of God as we understand it. There is no comparison to be made between same sex marriage and the limited historical practice of plural marriage. It's that fundamental.
In the coming months and years, it may well be that the federal government will attempt to force churches to accept gay marriage, claiming that denying gays the right to marry is an act of discrimination. In that case, the right to the free exercise of religion will conflict with what is considered a civil right. Those who stand for religious liberty and defy the government will be treated in the media like segregationists were in the past. They will be painted as intolerant bigots. LDS Church leaders warned the membership as recently as October 2013 General Conference. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, regarding our obligation observe the commandments as they have been given by revelation:
“In this determination we may be misunderstood, and we may incur accusations of bigotry, suffer discrimination, or have to withstand invasions of our free exercise of religion. If so, I think we should remember our first priority—to serve God—and, like our pioneer predecessors, push our personal handcarts forward with the same fortitude they exhibited” (Italics added. See http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/no-other-gods?lang=eng)
In other words, though the government may coerce or threaten and, though we mean no defiance of its legitimate constitutional authority, we cannot yield on what God himself has called sinful and forbidden. The government may threaten to take away tax exemptions or non-profit status. It may jail our leaders or sue individuals. It may seize properties. All of this was done in the 19th century and still we are here. The Church is not ours to change. God cannot be forced into changing things by government, laws, or lawsuits. Marriage is one of those fundamental things that is clearly understood in our doctrine, not like the obscure opinions advanced by a few 19th century Mormon leaders on the subject of race or plural marriage. The 1995 Proclamation on the Family issued by the Church warned “...that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
A friend of mine was recently told by someone that acceptance of gay marriage wasn't like Armageddon. That individual failed to see the big picture that acceptance of homosexuality is merely a part of a broader acceptance of sinful behaviors by society in general. A society that accepts homosexuality will also experience increased crime, violence, corruption, disease, violence, social unrest, and war. The combined effect of those evils has us stumbling toward Armageddon with increasing velocity.
Even if we believers do not stand together for marriage, it may be the case that Baptist ministers, Catholic priests, and Mormon bishops could targeted by civil courts for their refusal to perform marriages of persons of the same sex. As much as we may have bickered over the Trinity, grace and works, or other doctrines in the past, it's time to set those things aside, join hands as disciples of Jesus Christ and stand for truth on the sanctity of marriage. The defiance of secular authority may lead us to civil disobedience and possibly incarceration. In that case, the Mormon bishop might well be asking his Baptist counterpart whether he prefers the top or bottom bunk in the cell they'll share.
The secularist progressives who are advancing the gay agenda are unwittingly doing Satan's bidding. In the name of “change.” They are proposing a new order that is diametrically opposed to God's order—the order of holy matrimony between a woman and a man. The family is essential to God's plan, thus it must be destroyed by those who follow the Adversary's evil promptings.
As we saw in the weeks following the 2008 vote on Proposition 8, the pro-gay side is extraordinarily anti-Mormon. They held protests at our temples. They vandalized our buildings. During the period of their protests, one of our buildings in Washington state was firebombed. They are preparing to unleash the power of the federal government and the media on the Church, believing that the anti-Mormon enmity that has existed among other Christian sects will act to their advantage. They think that, once they make an example of the Mormons—stripping our Church of its tax-exempt status, seizing its property, and jailing our priesthood leaders—that it will soften opposition among the Christian mainstream. After they come for us, they'll come for you.
As fellow believers in Jesus Christ, we must stand together now to proclaim the fundamental and moral nature of marriage to the world. We must insist that the right to the free exercise of religion is respected and preserved. Those who accept our message will find joy and peace in God. Those who reject it will haply fight against God and come to a bitter end. Nevertheless, we may have to walk a strait and narrow path together for a time. We need to end the interdenominational infighting and accept one another as fellow believers so we might stand against those who would destroy faith in God altogether or replace it with a watered-down, ineffective substitute.