Now that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has made its ruling legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states (though a few will continue to resist), one has to wonder what it will actually mean in the end.
While it upsets a great number of people (including many LDS Church members), in the long run, this may turn out to be a good thing in many ways.
Firstly, and historically, couples who wanted to be together, whether homosexual or heterosexual, found a way to do it in spite of the many obstacles and restrictions (and in some cases, laws) placed before them. I’ve known a few gay and lesbian couples who have been together for years, even having children together while not enjoying the basic civil rights afforded to married couples. They made it work because they loved each other and wanted to spend their lives together. No piece of paper or government recognition changed that. And, in their cases, they have not rushed to get officially married even though they are living in states that legalized it. Luckily, they now enjoy the rights that civil union laws have granted them.
Secondly, there seems to be pent-up demand for same sex marriages, which we have seen when states made it legal or courts forced them to, prior to the SCOTUS ruling. Many, many couples rushed to “tie the knot.” In a lot of cases, these were the same as the long-term couples I referred to above who wanted the recognition and rights of married couples. But in many other cases, it was simply couples doing it because they could, not necessarily because they should. This behavior is no stranger in the straight world, where couples, mostly young, rush to get married only to have it not work out and a divorce or annulment soon follows.
In the cases of SSM, the first divorces occurred within days of the legalization of Same Sex Marriage. In the long run, it will probably prove that the instance of gay divorce will mirror that of heterosexual marriage and divorce, but, for instance, the first same sex divorce occurred in Louisiana before the first marriage. This happened because many couples were married in states where SSM was legal, but resided in states where it was not. Some states, Colorado, Minnesota and New York, granted divorces even though same sex marriages were not legal.
“They’re doing what straight people do: ‘I’m excited, let’s get married, and work out the problem later.'” Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told us, “Every time a state gets rid of a marriage bar, there’s a flood of couples. That makes sense, and maybe some people do it impulsively, caught up in the moment. But it’s a serious step, and it has significant legal consequences.” On the sort-of-bright side, Minter adds, “I think we will continue to see people divorce. But nothing has humanized gay couples more than for straight people to realize gay couples need to divorce, too.” (The Wire).
Thirdly, and maybe more important, is that fact that marriage as a civil institution is not that popular anymore. Part of it depends on your socioeconomic position.
“Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America says the gap stems in large measure from the loss of stable, well-paid industrial jobs — consigning legions of young adults to precarious, low-paid jobs, and prompting many to put off marriage even while having children out of wedlock.
In contrast, college-educated young adults are more likely to wait until marriage to have children and then have the prospect of raising them in a household supported by two good incomes. For such couples, Cherlin writes, marriage is a status symbol, and their divorce rates are now much lower than for couples with only a high school education.
According to the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who have never been married is at an historic high. In 2012, roughly 20 percent of adults 25 and older had never been married, compared to only 9 percent of adults in that age range in 1960. Back then, according to Pew, the likelihood of being married didn’t vary according to level of education; now men with advanced degrees are far more likely to have married than those who didn’t go beyond high school.“ (Pike County Courier)
According to the United States Census Bureau, people in the US are now waiting longer to get married. The median age, 29 for men and 27 for women is the highest in more than a century. Contrast that with 1960, when the ages were 23 for men and 20 for women.
“Unmarried mothers account for 40.6 percent of children born in the U.S., according to the latest Census data. The rate is particularly high in the African-American community — 71.5 percent.
Even for couples raising children, marriage is increasingly optional. According to the research group Child Trends, there were 3.1 million cohabiting but unmarried couples in the U.S. raising children in 2014, up from 1.2 million in 1996.” (Pike County Courier)
Bottom line, is that once the pent-up demand for SSM is met, I suspect SSM will fall into line with heterosexual marriage. Some will, many will not.
So what does this all mean?
I think the entire episode will be a net positive in the long run. Here’s why:
1. Whether one likes it or not, we live in a secular society. That is, without respect to one religion over another. All the talk of being a Christian nation and/or founded on Christian principle is now meaningless. This nation was founded on principles that are pretty common to most religions anyway. But, we’ve certainly moved away from government-imposed morality rules that have been largely promoted by religion. Morality must come from within, not from a government mandate. That has always been the case, anyway.
As a result, many things are permitted that the LDS Church and many other faiths do not approve of. Certain acts and behaviors that were once illegal are now perfectly legal. In spite of this, we still do not drink alcohol, smoke marijuana (legal in Colorado and Washington), have pre-marital sex, cohabit with another person and so on. So now that SSM is legal throughout the land, the Church has made statements that it is still opposed to it and it will not be a practice of the Church.
2. Perhaps civil and religious marriage ceremonies will be separated. In many countries outside the US, LDS couples must be married civilly prior to a temple sealing. It is almost inevitable that this will happen in the US, whether the government actually makes it happen or the Churches do. This would be one simple way to avoid the issue of a same-sex LDS couple trying to get married in the temple. While I do not see the duty to perform marriages taken from Bishops, Branch Presidents or Stake Presidents, that could also happen.
3. Respecting Civil Rights – Whether you agree or disagree, the SCOTUS has made the ruling based on the 14th Amendment. This is the citizenship and equal protection amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment was passed after the Civil War specifically to address issues related to former slaves. This amendment was also used in the 1950’s and 60’s to address unequal treatment of African-Americans in schools, voting, and other areas where segregation was the norm. Ironically, many of the same arguments used on the dangers of Same-Sex Marriage were used at various times regard the civil rights of Blacks in this country. Unfortunately, even some leaders of the Church were known to make statements contrary to equal protection and brotherly kindness. And while you haven’t heard the same stridency toward same-sex marriage, many members of the Church have adopted a very strong position against it in spite of the protection of our Constitution. Quite ironic given how the US government attempted to disenfranchise the entire Church over polygamy.
Bottom line is that we can respect the civil rights of others in spite of the fact that we disagree with how they exercise those rights. In fact, I would say our religion and faith in Christ demands it. I hate to use the overused phrase, Love the sinner, hate the sin,” but it does apply. Certainly in all the communication from the Church, respect for others has been stressed.
4. In the long run, strong, committed marriage between two people is better for society than not. As I outlined above, there is a move away from marriage and it is not a good sign for where society is headed. There is a lot of improvement that can be made to heterosexual marriage and the rate of divorce and broken homes.
5. Finally, I believe that the ruling by the SCOTUS makes our agency even more important than before. If we truly believe that marriage is ordained of God, between one man and one woman, then is it our responsibility to teach it to our children and better prepare them to enter into a marriage with all the right tools, for all the right reasons and with the best person they can find and, to be the best person as well. To raise children in this world today, one needs to be committed to staying married and to choose well. The ideal is not always possible and circumstances and people do change things.
I do not know what to say to gay LDS members and what to offer them as a solution. Any more than I know what to say to other single Church members who never marry. I feel for all those folks and how hard it must be to belong to a Church that stresses marriage and family as much as we do. Since we all have challenges in this life, perhaps that is theirs. I do not know.
So why did I use that title? Because after a while, SSM will be no big deal anymore and we will forget the struggle. And because it does not necessarily solve all the challenges faced by the Gay community any more than the civil rights movement has resolved all the issues surrounding the African-American community.
My conclusion is that SSM is now the law of the land and we need to move on and work on being more loving to those around us who struggle with all sorts of challenges.