Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mormons: Why do we get same-sex marriage so wrong?

Today I posted in one of my Facebook groups:

Sunday School teacher just mentioned how romantic Ruth 1:16-17 is (whither thou goest I will go...). It's obvious she doesn't realize that the quote is spoken by one woman to another. Good thing my friend is here to keep me from pointing out the legitimacy of same-sex family relationships as evidenced in this story.

Some of the subsequent thread debated the nature of Naomi and Ruth's relationship. I share my response in this post.

I feel I should clarify. I can see that my inclusion of the word romantic may have led to the conclusion that I assert a romantic relationship between Ruth and Naomi. I do not see any evidence for that assertion.

Instead, my appeal would have been to the more central aspects of relationships that merit being categorized as familial. Those aspects include, most predominantly, three: (1) a long-term commitment to caretaking, (2) an economic partnership, and (3) cohabitation. Though not new to the stage, (4) companionate, (5) romantic, and (6) sexual love are fairly recent occupants of the lead role, and even in the present are, I argue, lest central to the concept of family than the first three. 

For instance, consider the case of a couple who wants to get married, and are committed to (1), (2), and (3). Further imagine that the woman in that relationship recently underwent a vaginectomy (or imagine the man lost his penis in an accident), and that the couple does not intend nor are they capable of genital sex. None would consider them barred from marriage candidacy, nor would their relationship fail to constitute a family.

Similarly, parent-child relationships elicit the three core aspects of a family relationship: (1) a commitment to caretaking (though admittedly in only one direction, though it could hardly be otherwise because a child is dependent by nature), (2) an economic partnership (primarily in just one direction, again unsurprising), and (3) cohabitation. In these three important senses, family relationships are genderless.

(4) Companionate, (5) romantic, and (6) sexual love are frequently associated with the subset of family relationships that are spousal, but are less central, and if you go back a century or two or three, generally, less central still. Thus, and this would have been my point: Naomi and Ruth's relationship strikes us powerfully as being familial, and same-sex relationships do as well, _for the same reasons_. (1-4 anyway, 5 and 6 being rather awkward for two presumptively straight women from different generations and living in their culture and century). 

I believe Mormon practice is incredibly good at getting family right, most things considered. Latter-day Saints understand and emphasize the importance of commitment, stability, and much to their credit, building the social capital needed to support the demands of keeping families healthy. Many church programs, teachings, and even its very structure (e.g. the local ward) are seemingly calculated towards founding, maintaining, and nurturing healthy families.

For those reasons, it is at once both painful and surprising that we get this one so wrong. There is so little that matters about what anatomical structures are found in your crotch, and so much that is harmed by presuming that your birth genitals do tell us something about your fitness for governance, or about what genitals you should be paired with in marriage, or about whether you're a candidate for ordination. 

As I've argued extensively (, and continue to maintain: the sooner we acknowledge our baseless presumptions, the sooner we regain hemorrhaging credibility as a people and as an institution, and the sooner we cease to wrongly stigmatize LGBT persons, same-sex relationships, and those who fail to express a penis at birth (i.e. women). And that, in my opinion, would be a wonderful thing.

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