I’m excited to introduce Dr. Taylor Petry, an associate professor at Kalamazoo College, and editor for the Dialogue Journal. In this first segment, we’ll talk about how LDS leaders have changed how they talk about race issues, especially with regards to interracial marriage over the 20th century. Is this similar to possible changes regarding LGBT issues?
Taylor: The typical way that we have told the history of the priesthood ban has been primarily around focusing on race as the exclusive category. But when I started looking at the conversations that were happening and what church leaders were saying about race in the 1950s and 60s, I saw immediately that marriage was one of the big concerns. Why were they in favor of segregation? Why did they oppose civil rights? Why did they even have church policies that would prevent marriage in the temple?
Because they were really concerned about interracial sex. They thought that this was a big, big problem. We have this whole ideology about race and racialized groups, that this group was destined to do this, and this group was destined to do that. They worried that interracial mixing would dilute the sort of divine designs for those particular races. So I immediately saw that the question of race was really entwined with the with questions of sexuality. Again, as a sort of modern parallel to issues around same sex relationships today, I also wanted to show that the question of ‘who could marry who’ wasn’t just an issue that we dealt with in polygamy. It was an issue that we dealt with in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and even up until the last decade, we still were publishing manuals that had quotes from Spencer W. Kimball discouraging interracial marriage.
So the question of who can marry who, what kinds of couples are allowed in the church, in some cases, socially, and then in some cases ecclesiastically, was not just an old question, it was a pretty new question that we’ve dealt with. So I wanted to tell the history of how we worked through that particular issue as a way, not explicitly, but a parallel to the kinds of questions that we’re dealing with [regarding] same sex relationships, too.
Of course, things have changed pretty radically with regards to interracial marriage since the 1960s.
GT: I think what was interesting to me is, especially in the ‘50s, and 60s, that interracial marriage would bring about the downfall of civilization. Now we have a black general authority, which was unheard of in the 50s and 60s. Peter Johnson is who I’m talking about, but he’s married to a white woman. And we have an apostle, [Gerrit] Gong. He’s Asian, and he has a white wife as well. So, apparently, we’ve completely changed on this issue about whether interracial marriage is a good thing. I think you also mentioned Mia Love. She’s a black Congresswoman, and she has a white husband. So, talk about how we flip from, “This is the downfall of civilization,” to totally embracing it now.
Taylor: Spencer W. Kimball, who had been a big advocate of the Indian Placement Program, was out there as the biggest opponent of interracial marriage. The same thing happens when we’re setting up BYU-Hawaii or whatever it was called back then, the Polynesian College. I forget exactly what its name was back then. But, [you get the] same thing. You get social integration. That leads to marriages and relationships and the church is like, “Oh, this isn’t what we meant. We wanted integration, but not intermarriage.” So, there’s a lot of anxiety about that. It’s surprising that then, what are we 40-50 years later, now, General authorities who were those who were of that age when they were hearing all of these messages of: Don’t get married, don’t be involved in interracial marriages. They ignored that advice, got married anyway and now have become general authorities. So, I think that those are some really interesting ones.
The Mia Love one I found particularly interesting because it’s not just the racial boundaries that were being blurred in her case, but also she was, of course, working. She was a working mother and not only working in a high demand job, but a high demand job that often took her out of state, as well. Yet, the church didn’t seem to have any problem with it. They promoted her on the I’m a Mormon campaign. There were newspaper articles in the Deseret News, talking about her and her relationship with her husband. So I wanted to sort of trace that shift. How do we get to today where these things aren’t problematic, when they were [problematic] to the members of the 50s and 60s? If Joseph Fielding Smith were around today and saw what the makeup of the general authorities and the kinds of marriages that they were in, how many children they had, did they use birth control? All of those things he would be very confused by, because he was such a vehement opponent of those practices. So I wanted to understand, again, that these aren’t–it’s not just the change from monogamy to polygamy, that’s not the only big change that we’ve made with respect to marriage and certainly not with respect to sexuality. It’s much more recent than that, that we’ve been having this conversation inside of the church about who gets to marry who and what are the rules around that and so on.
 It was called Church College of Hawaii in 1955.
What are your thoughts on the changing rhetoric around interracial marriage?
Phyllis Schlafly was an important figure in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, and she convinced LDS leaders to oppose the amendment. Dr. Taylor Petry will tell us more about how LDS messages have changed over the decades with regards to feminism and the sexual revolution.
Taylor: Phyllis Schlafly becomes the most famous anti-feminist during this time period. Schlafly is a Catholic, and she sees something that had been happening in the broader conservative religious world at the time, where there had been a backlash to the kinds of feminism that was arising. But it hadn’t really been organized as a political movement. So she sees that evangelicals and Protestant fundamentalists and even Mormons, are opposing feminism. She says we need to unite all of these people into a single coalition that will be able to speak for our values. The big issue of the time period is the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment was hugely popular among Democrats and Republicans.
All the Republicans at the outset of it passing in Congress, were ecstatic about it, and then it needs to march through the states. Immediately it’s passed by the first 32 states within the first year or something like that. That’s when the opposition really gets going. When the Stop ERA movement that Phyllis Schlafly is organizing and pulling together–all the sort of anti-feminist groups into a political coalition and the Church gets involved. [The Church] is specifically recruited by Phyllis Schlafly to get involved in this fight. [The Church] politically mobilizes, for the first time in decades at that point. The Church had not really seen itself as having a political mission. Even during ERA, at the very beginning, if you asked church leaders in the first couple of years that the ERA was a public topic, in the early 70s–the ERA had been around since the 1920s. But it really kind of gets going in the early 70s. It was supposed to be the sort of follow-up to the civil rights amendments or civil rights movements of the 1960s. So now it’s the feminists turn, so the Church gets recruited to do this and reverses itself because at first it was a no, this is a political issue. We don’t comment on political issues. We just care about moral issues, not political ones. But Phyllis Schlafly convinces the church that this is a moral issue, that it’s not just a political issue. So the Church decides to mobilize its membership in this political fight, and they start sending members to ERA conventions to shout down the leaders that are there, and to disrupt the meetings. The Church’s, nearly decade long, it lasted about eight years, fight against the Equal Rights Amendment until it was finally defeated in 1982, decisively. This was one of the major ways that the church gets involved in the anti-feminist movement.
We’ll also talk about changing attitudes with regards to birth control, and how feminism was tied to lesbians. Were you aware that Schlafly changed Kimball’s mind on the Equal Rights Amendment?
In our next conversation with Dr. Taylor Petrey, we’ll talk about Elder Oaks’ pivotal role in outlining strategy for preventing acceptance, and some accommodation, of gay rights and gay marriage. We’ll also talk about the internet rumor that the Family Proclamation was a result of the court case in Hawaii in the 1990s.
GT: As we talk about kind of the history of gay rights and that sort of thing, can you address that issue? I’ve even heard the rumor that the Proclamation on the Family was not written by the apostles. It was written by the Kirton & McConkie law firm. Can you enlighten us on that? Is that a true story?
Taylor: It may be. It may be, but the documents don’t fully support at least one iteration of that internet rumor. So let me sort of lay out the timeline a little bit, because I do think it’s important. I absolutely do think that the Proclamation on the Family is connected to what was going on in Hawaii and is connected to a broader set of conversations. So I do mention some of this in the book. But let me get into a little bit of the detail here.
Taylor: So the church comes out with a proclamation. It’s an affirmation of a kind of theological vision, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it’s an explicitly political document. At the end, the last paragraph says, “We appeal to citizens and judges, and we appeal to legislatures and leaders all throughout the world…” that this is the thing that you need to make sure that basically that same sex marriage doesn’t happen. Same sex marriage and homosexuality aren’t mentioned in the document. But it’s absolutely the implicit thing, because the church is deeply embedded in what’s going on in Hawaii. Did they need to do that for some sort of legal tricky reasons? I don’t think so. But it becomes a kind of clarion call, a kind of thing that unites the church membership and says, this is our political stance. And again, we have to read it as a political document.
The other part of the context that I think needs to be understood, is that there are a number of political documents that are coming out during this exact same time period, both before and after the LDS version of the Proclamation, that are making the exact same kinds of arguments. So, Phyllis Schlafly ran something called the Eagle Forum. She was still alive, at the time, in the 1990s. She passed away, I think, maybe five or so years ago. But she was running the Eagle Forum. Then there were other conservative groups, and they all got together, and they wrote a document in 1993, I want to say, maybe it was 1989. Again, my memory is fuzzy a little bit here, called The Family Manifesto. The Family Manifesto looks exactly like what the Proclamation on the Family does, except it’s longer. I think it’s five pages or so. It says, what are the obligations of husbands and wives to each other? What are the obligations of husbands and wives to their children? What are the basic scriptural values that inform these positions?
It took a little bit more aggressive stances on issues like spousal hierarchy than the LDS version does, but it does affirm their equal dignity. Husband and wife have equal dignity before God, it says. So we still have some of that egalitarian and patriarchal tension even in a document like that. Then after that, there are other documents that look very similar to the LDS version of the Proclamation. So I also want to put the Proclamation in the context of all of these other political documents that the religious right is producing, that is sort of laying out an anti-feminist and anti-homosexuality agenda as a political thing. And again, [we should] understand the Proclamation as a political document, and to see it in conversation with all of those. Did Kirton & McConkie write it? I’ve heard that rumor, too. I don’t know. Probably they were consulted on it in some way, as many public documents are consulted with the legal teams, of course. Every institution does that.
Elder Dallin Oaks has played a pivotal role in the Church’s LGBT policy.
Taylor: There are a variety of qualifications that I’m sure that he has, but his legal expertise and his reputation outside of the church–he was a University of Chicago law professor. He had argued in front of the Supreme Court on a number of occasions. He had been on the Utah Supreme Court. His resume is unparalleled, honestly. So he has lots of qualifications. But one of the first things that he does, at least as we can near as we can tell just based on the timeline of things, is issue what’s called a white paper, a memorandum, to his colleagues that has since leaked out. I’m not the first one to talk about it. Lots of people have talked about it, so I feel comfortable, the fact that it’s a public document now, even though it was not intended originally. [It was] for private use. [I] need to talk about it as a historian. But it lays out a strategy of how the church is going to be dealing with gay rights going forward. He sees on the horizon that this is going to be the big issue. Feminism, they won. We won that. We beat ERA.
How are we going to then be really smart and strategic in opposing gay rights? Oaks had replaced Mark E. Peterson, and Mark E. Peterson was really quite conservative on gay rights issues. He was a big opponent of legalizing sodomy. So there were a bunch of anti-sodomy laws that were being repealed in the 1970s. Mark E. Peterson was out there saying, “No, no, no. We need to keep these and this is disgusting and…” This is, again, “Our civilization is going to crumble if we legalize sodomy.” Elder Oaks comes on and takes a totally different tack. He says, “Listen, sodomy, we’re not going to get involved in this anymore. It’s going to be legal. These are consenting adults.” Basically, he’s like, that’s not the issue. He says, even employment discrimination with certain exceptions, we’re not going to get involved in that. We’re not going to say that gay people can’t work anymore. He carves out some exceptions and says, maybe not in schools. We’re not going to allow them to work in schools, but we’re not going to get involved in this. Where we need to save our energy is for the coming battle on same sex marriage and he writes this in 1984, nine years before the Hawaii Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage. But he anticipates that this is going to be the thing. The reason why is because same sex marriage had been on the agenda in the 70s and 80s, among gay rights activists as well. So again, it wasn’t invented in the 1990s. It wasn’t invented in the 2000s. People were talking about this back in the 60s and 70s, and definitely in the 80s. Oaks sees. If we’re going to get involved in opposing gay rights, we need to maintain some credibility on this issue and save it for gay marriage. That’s the one thing that we really need to care about. Because if gay marriage is legalized, then it becomes socially normal to such an extent that we won’t be able to teach against it anymore. So he really anticipates exactly where we are today. You know, that…
GT: Is it prophetic?
Taylor: Probably. Yeah. He would say so, I’m sure. He has all of the same arguments; arguments that he doesn’t seem to hold today anymore, but sort of. He warns about homosexual recruitment in this document. I think his views have changed over time. I don’t want to say that what he said in 1984 is probably exactly what he thinks today. But he definitely seems to have thought a lot about this issue in anticipation of what is going to come and seems to be one of the most important figures in the church’s positions on homosexuality and same sex marriage, certainly since he became an apostle, and continues to this day to be one of the leading speakers on this topic.
What are your thoughts on Oaks’ role? Do you think LDS will eventually accommodate LGBT as they have with blacks and women?