Monday, March 29, 2010


"In today’s society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. If you face questions about this matter, you can be secure in following the revealed will of the Lord. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord’s declaration, “Thou shalt not … kill, nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline.

Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer."  -True to the Faith

Below I analyze some common abortion related issues.

"In 1983, the LDS Church's General Handbook of Instructions changed church policy towards abortion:

  1. It added pregnancy caused by incest as one more ground for abortion.
  2. It dropped the necessity that a pregnancy caused by rape or incest produce "serious emotional trauma in the mother" before an abortion was acceptable.
  3. It clarified who should seek counseling, and from whom.
The handbook states:

"The Church opposes abortion as one of the most revolting and sinful practices of this day. Members must not submit to, be a party to, or perform an abortion. The only exceptions are the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or health of the woman is in jeopardy or the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape. Even then, the woman should consider an abortion only after counseling with her husband and bishop or branch president, and receiving divine confirmation through prayer." 5

In his address at Brigham Young University on 1999-FEB-09 Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reaffirmed that an abortion is permissible, after "counseling with the local presiding priesthood authority and after receiving divine confirmation" if any of four grounds existed:

bulletThe life of the mother is seriously endangered.
bulletThe good health of the mother is seriously endangered.
bulletThe pregnancy was caused by rape.
bulletThe pregnancy was caused by incest.
He cited an additional ground that would allow abortion as a permissible choice:

bullet"The fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth." 2
In addition, Oaks dropped the requirement that a pregnancy caused by rape or incest can only be terminated if it produces serious emotional trauma in the mother. These three changes have apparently been made by the church leadership prior to Oaks' speech in 1999.
Elder Oaks justifies a woman's access to abortion in cases involving rape or incest by quoting a letter that he had received from a fellow LDS Church member. It said:
"The woman’s right to choose what will or will not happen to her body is obviously violated by rape or incest. When conception results in such a case, the woman has the moral as well as the legal right to an abortion because the condition of pregnancy is the result of someone else’s irresponsibility, not hers. She does not have to take responsibility for it. To force her by law to carry the fetus to term would be a further violation of her right. She also has the right to refuse an abortion. This would give her the right to the fetus and also the responsibility for it. She could later relinquish this right and this responsibility through the process of placing the baby for adoption after it is born. Whichever way is a responsible choice." 2

"  Source

Some would argue that the stance on abortion articulated above places the LDS church in the pro-choice camp.  If some categories of abortion are permissible, then the LDS church necessarily supports at least limited legalization of abortionCould the church simultaneously support some abortions yet oppose legalization of abortion?  To do so would be to support illegal activity.

The LDS stance is certainly more pro-choice than the conceptionist, pro-life Catholic stance [The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a mortal sin, as it is the willful destruction of a human life. This is because the Catholic Church beleives that a soul comes into existence with a person at conception, therefore, once conception has occurred, to artificially terminate the new life is murder and a grave sin, for murder is one of the four sins that cry out to God for vengeance. Abortion is such a grave offense that its completion incurs an automatic excommunication - an interdict from the Church and its sacraments - for those involved. This excommunication can only be lifted by a bishop, though one repenting of this offense may consult with their confessor on the best course of action.  David tells us, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5, NIV).]. See my post for criticisms of conceptionism.  

One weakness of the policy above is that is paints an overly black and white picture of a gray reality.  Example one: partial rape.  Say a woman consents to have sex but then gets drunk and when severely inebriated changes her mind but the man figures she's incoherent and goes ahead (if you say that she wasn't raped in this situation, then take out the drunk part).  She has sex with that same man the day before and the day after.  It is uncertain whether the egg was fertilized on day 1, 2, or 3: abortion justified?  Example two: another partial rape.  Woman has sex with man A on day 1; is raped by man B on day 2- is uncertain of paternity of resulting child: abortion justified? Example three: uncertain health prognosis.  "The fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth." The severely defected fetus is 90% likely to survive beyond birth; 9%; .9%; .09%; .009%; the doctors have no idea, somewhere between 0 and 100%.  Which of these categories equals "not allow the baby to survive beyond birth?  Example four: another uncertain health prognosis.  "The life of the mother is seriously endangered." The likelihood of the mother surviving pregnancy: 99.9; 90%; 9%; .9%; .09%; .009%; the doctors have no idea, somewhere between 0 and 100%.  Abortion justified?  A slight mistake on one of these categories propels you from permissible abortion to one of the "most revolting and sinful practices of this day," or from a "must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline" to a "responsible choice."   

Do children conceived through rape share culpability for the crime of the father?  That they do is arguably implied by a policy which permits abortion in rape cases but not in a non-rape setting.  If the moral status of the child (either that the fetus is a person under a binary person/non-person categorization or that the fetus has moral standing somewhere along a personhood continuum) is the only basis for discouraging abortion, then the manner of conception would be irrelevant- a child conceived by rape or incest is as innocent and worthy as a lovingly-conceived child of the attachment of whatever personhood rights (such as to not be aborted) apply to a fetus of his/her development stage.  If, however, the morality of abortion is a function of the mother's rights as well, then it makes more sense to permit abortions in rape/incest cases on a "further offense against the mother's autonomy" theory where the growth of the fetus is an outgrowth that expands the rape crime.  This still penalizes the fetus, though, for the circumstance of its conception, which the fetus did not choose.  Thus, it seems that even factoring in the mother's rights, a rape/incest exception seems unjust toward the fetus, ceteris paribus- "other things being equal."

From the perspective of the mom, however, does she have a "Good Samaritan" obligation toward even the rape-engendered fetus to allow the fetus to use her body, with the attendant risks?  Nine months and significant health hazards are no burden to shake a finger at.  Many would argue that a religious duty to preserve life exists, though legally people are usually not required to help each other - rather, they must only refrain from harm (see "negligence" within the theory of Torts.).  I think legal exceptions are usually moderate- requiring low-risk assistance in some situations, but probably not arising to the level of an involuntary pregnancy- and perhaps even a somewhat or fully voluntary one.

Is the mother's obligation to refrain from abortion a function the fetus's right to life, a function of the mother's responsibility deriving from her choice to have sex, neither, or both?

For a relevant discussion of personhood, see my plasticity of personhood post which argues for a continuum conception of personhood seemingly more in line with the continuous trajectory of fetal development.

Some argue that moral status (that adults have a duty to refrain from harming that fetus) depends on viability.  Viability is a continuously changing reality contingent on current technology (e.g. viability used to be about 30 weeks and over time has gone down to 24, then 23, then 22 weeks, and is a percentage game even then, i.e. .3% or 3% or 30% of fetuses survive outside the womb at that age, and what's the cutoff percent that engenders the label of "viable"?).  Thus, because abortion is a binary act (you either abort or don't abort- there's not a lot of in-between ground), it does not match well to the continuous underlying moral status of a fetus.  (Hence, probably why abortion is such a sticky issue).

Some argue sentience rather than viability.  Sentience is similarly a continuum, as it relies necessarily on a continuous development of a nervous system for the pleasure/pain requirement of sentience.

Some argue consciousness rather than viability or sentience.  Same problem- consciousness/non-consciousness seems to be more of a spectrum than a discrete reality.  Plus, a consciousness-based distinction would likely support infanticide if consciousness attaches post-birth, and few would support infanticide as morally permissible. Also, many severely mentally handicapped people don't appear to have full consciousness nor the apparent potential to develop it, but we typically consider them full persons.

For the record, I think it seems illogical to place a distinction between the embryo and the fetus that is morally significant on a basis of potential.  Similarly, an unfertilized egg or sperm has potential, if not quite as "much" as a zygote, to become a human.  (again, see my post)  IVF and contraception seem to quickly become as heinous as abortion on a "wrong because of potential" argument.

I'm  glad the scripture says "kill, or anything like unto it."  Abortion, if it doesn't also fit into the category of "kill," certainly fits into the "like unto it" category.  I think abortion likely is not equivalent to murder, even a "convenience" abortion, because the ecclesiastical penalties for participating in an abortion are not equivalent to those attached to murder.  Therefore, abortion must refer only to the "anything like unto it" clause.

From an LDS point of view on fetal welfare only (ignoring the duties that bind abortors), abortion does not seem immoral.  If the fetus is not a person, then there's no harm- just some cellular destruction.  If the fetus is a person, then s/he will be saved in the celestial kingdom as all who die before age 8 (those who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the kingdom of heaven...), which is likely good news for the fetal person.  Thus, both categories seem, if not advisable, at least permissible ethically solely from the fetus's point of view in an LDS framework.

Virtue ethics would focus on the emotional significance of the fetus to the mother.  Abortions would be okay under this perspective if the abortion can sometimes be performed as a result of both a virtue (say, compassion for a severely handicapped anencephalic fetus) and seeking to enhance flourishing life (say, for the mother). Thus, in at least some cases, abortion can be good/ethical under virtue ethics.

Mistaken contraception is a tough case, as the pregnancy was unintended (in fact, measures were taken to prevent it).  Some would argue that you take the risk of failed contraception when you have sex, causa proxima, non remota spectatur (the immediate, and not the remote cause is to be considered); however, one might similarly argue that you take the risk of being raped when you accept a date with a member of a risky demographic, and/or get drunk (the chances of the unintended result are similar in both cases: namely, low, but present).  Thus, it seems that failed contraception falls closer to the involuntary category than it does the voluntary- why, then, attach the same level of responsibility as unprotected sexual intercourse?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Policy problems: a perverse stick in the consequence bundle

 "Kathy abused the kids. She cheated on her husband- openly, repeatedly, and with many different men. She wouldn't do any of the housework, and she flat-out refused to get a job when her husband had his accident. She neglected their 4 year-old child, Bethany, until she had to go to the hospital. Plus, Kathy physically and emotionally abused her non-retaliating husband, and berated him in public and in front of Bethany and her brother at nearly every opportunity. There was nothing left of their marriage. Those who knew her described her as "evil."  Over a period of 8 years, she vehemently resisted every suggestion of counseling or behavior change."
This story exemplifies an instance where divorce would probably be appropriate. Below I show why this example and other arguments support the claim that, in the context of issuing church policies, it would be better in many instances to either 1) carefully articulate relevant exceptional factors or 2) issue no policy at all than to 3) issue general policies.

Context: The LDS Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI)

Case issues to be considered: divorce, adultery, stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion, homosexual marriage, surrogate motherhood

Caveat: the views expressed are of course not the church's (and not always my own- there're sort of a thought experiment, i.e. imagine someone like me who held these views), and I may get some facts wrong, such as the official position of the church on some of these issues

A quick review of why I think the church would issue a policy in the CHI-
Objectives of issuing policy:
1.      To cause more favorable outcomes for decision makers and those affected by decisions than would occur without the policy.
2.      To improve decision-making by providing tools calculated to this end.
3.      To comply with God's expressed will
Example: by maintaining a policy against euthanasia, the church presumably satisfies both objectives. Fewer persons are deliberately and immediately killed by physician-assisted suicide, and fewer sins are committed by those who would violate God's commandments by committing or assisting euthanasia, thus satisfying objective 1. Decision makers (say, LDS family members and physicians) are more likely to make the right choice by complying with the duty created by the policy. Otherwise, they might "but for" the policy erroneously conclude that some forms of euthanasia would be appropriate in some circumstances (say, a patient gives informed, passionate consent to euthanasia in order to stop extreme terminal suffering a few days early). Thus, objective 2 is also realized.  If the position was a revealed one rather than a practice (which is sometimes difficult to discern- e.g. the over-a-century practice of denying the priesthood to black males being one example of that difficulty), objective 3 is fulfilled.

Because the CHI is functionally a close approximation to a church legal code, CHI provisions are appropriately evaluated using comparable legal analysis constructs. I now support my claim (in the context of issuing church policies, it would be better in many instances to either 1) carefully articulate relevant exceptional factors or 2) issue no policy at all than to 3) issue general policies) by drawing upon two: 1) the "void for vagueness" doctrine and 2) the legal ethics idea of duty (also a standard deontological concept) .

1) The void for vagueness doctrine
“Misera est servitus, ubi jus est vagum aut incertum.” - It is a miserable slavery where the law is vague or uncertain.

Many church policies threaten punishment and therefore roughly amount to criminal statutes- e.g. adultery, homosexual behavior, and euthanasia. Church members are subject to those CHI policies in that they can be disciplined for violating them. Some church policies seem to fall into this void for vagueness doctrine in that they don't provide sufficiently clear guidance on which to base conduct. 1) Sometimes nonstandard definitions are used, as in the cases of euthanasia (church defines letting die as outside the definition of euthanasia, in direct contradiction to a standard definition such as: "Also called mercy killing. the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful, disease or condition.")  and homosexuality (in a least one statement homosexuality is defined as only behavioral when a standard dictionary definition offers both activity and orientation).   "the terms of a penal statute… must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties… and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law." -Connally v. General Const. Co by Justice Southerland.
2) Though many church policies articulated in the CHI can result in sanctions/punishments against a member (excommunication, disfellowship, stripping of some ordinances, removed sacrament privileges, removed temple recommend, etc.) these policies are not publicized. The CHI is instead carefully guarded from general distribution.  For example- despite my efforts I have not yet obtained a copy of Book 1 of the 2006 or 2010 CHI. Ut poena ad paucos, metus ad omnes, perveniat- "that punishment may come to a few, the fear of it should affect all."

Example: did you know-

"Church discipline:
For minor transgressions, where the person is sincerely repentant, their bishop may invoke informal church discipline. This involves counseling with the member, and placing them on informal probation. Their privileges "...such as the right to partake of the sacrament, hold a Church position, or enter the temple" may be restricted.
For more serious transgressions,
"...such as abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing,"
a disciplinary council may be convened. The council can decide to place the transgressor on formal probation, or invoke disfellowshipment or excommunication. 6
I don't know whether this policy is current (6.  M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign magazine, 1990-SEP, Page 112, at:
2) The concept of duty
There are two popular ways to make an ethical decision (consequentialist and deontological). The deontological approach is to articulate the relevant duties, then act in the direction of the net duty. Church members are taught to believe in the infallibility of revelation and to believe that the Church is led by revelation- which principle likely extends to the provisions of the CHI since it is an official, judicial document that common judges in Israel are bound to enforce (or at least their discretion in many matters in narrowly constrained). Therefore, by issuing a CHI policy, the church inserts a very heavy duty into the decision-making equation both for Bishops as well as decision-making members.  Verba debent intelligi cum effectu - "words ought to be understood with effect."

If the CHI makes a nonspecific (general) policy on an issue, then one should presume that all categories of that conduct are proscribed. Example: "The church disapproves of adultery." Thus, for one to presume that the church smiles upon some categories of adultery but frowns on others would be inappropriate.  Ubi eadem ratio ibi idem jus, et de similibus idem est judicium - "when there is the same reason, then the same judgment should be rendered as to similar things."

Another germane example is homosexual marriage. The church disapproves of homosexual marriage and homosexual behavior. There is no class of homosexual behavior or marriage-like arrangement in which a faithful Latter-day Saint can participate without breaching church policy with its attendant consequences.

It seems better to rely on a consequentialist or deontological approach than to obfuscate ethical decision making by imposing a prophet-decreed duty so you have to breach your faith in God's servants in order to make an ethical decision. Muilta exercitatione facilius quam regulis percipies - "You will perceive many things more easily by experience than by rules."
To vary from a policy, a faithful church member either blatantly sins or at the least manifests a lack of faith in the revelation of the church.  This is troubling in two categories.

Category 1: the member mistakes the church's position and then makes an erroneous choice on that basis. Example 1: at the beginning of this post, the man continues to subject himself and his children to the wife's abuse and neglect by choosing not to divorce. If this choice is based on an understanding that divorce is always wrong, the man has thus made a choice that is justified neither deontologically or teleologically. Example 2: a man knows that the church teaches that a husband's primary responsibility is to provide for his family. He mistakenly places too much weight on this policy and neglects to spend time with his family, instead distancing himself more and more by working weekends and nights to provide a middle or upper-class level income for his family. Example 3: knowing the church teaches against abortion, a couple with several young children decides not to undergo an abortion even though the pregnancy resulted from rape, the doctor determined that the health of the mom is in serious jeopardy, and the doc determined that the fetus is defected to the point that the baby won't make it past birth. The mother and baby both subsequently perish a month later.

Category 2: decision makers correctly identify the church's position, but cease employing their decision making faculties, and devolve into an overly simplistic black-and-white canard incompatible with the grays of life (I provide 6 of 1000's of these gray area examples). Example 1: The church requires honesty in all one's dealings and in obeying the law. The church member is harboring Jews, and the Gestapo lawfully stops by and asks if there are any Jews in the house. The faithful member confesses, and both he, his family, and the sheltered Jews are predictably tortured and killed. Example 2: A faithful member thinks it is immoral to father a child with woman B while simultaneously being sealed to woman A (to do so is to commit adultery). The member is troubled by the reality that God did just such a thing by fathering Jesus while, as the member presumes, God was sealed to Heavenly Mother at the time. Example 3: the church is burgeoning in Sicily, and the church has a policy against bribery. However, every time the church fails to make a timely payment to the powerful Sicilian mob church buildings are vandalized or burned, and church leaders and missionaries are frequently beaten and sometimes killed. The church decides to pay off the mob. Example 4: a son is the appointed power of attorney for an unresponsive father with a severe condition involving seizures and respiratory problems. The father experiences pain and suffering but can't communicate his wishes. The son knows the church decries "deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease. Such a deliberate act ends life immediately through, for example, so-called assisted suicide. Ending a life in such a manner is a violation of the commandments of God." He also knows that the Church "does not believe that allowing a person to die from natural causes by removing a patient from artificial means of life support, as in the case of a long-term illness, falls within the definition of euthanasia. He also knows that the church teaches that sins of commissions and sins of omission are both grave sins. ("I fear that some of our greatest sins are sins of omission"). Additionally, he's aware of powerful arguments supporting the conclusion that no morally significant distinction between killing and letting die exists. The son's father is suffering from a disease that is 98% incurable (+/-2% margin of error). The father's living will contained a general provision about not being kept on life support but said nothing about heroic life saving efforts, such as administering antibiotics or CPR upon respiratory failure. Though the father is not "on life support," the father's life is supported by artificial regular medications without which he would immediately die of natural causes. The son is also aware of powerful arguments that no morally significant distinction between natural and artificial exists. While there, the son learns that the father probably only has a couple days left. During the son's visit, the father has another obviously painful seizure, and the other family members pressure the son to take the father off his normal meds so he can pass away in peace and cease his extreme suffering.    What should the son do?  Example 5 (a hypothetical): Nephi knows of God's footnote-less, stern command, "Thou shalt not kill." Therefore, he shrinks, concluding that the spirit telling him to slay Laban must not be of God, for the Spirit would never contradict the express command of the Father. The Nephites never receive the brass plates, and Nephi is culpable for disobeying a divine command. Example 6: Adam intentionally breaches God's express command to refrain from partaking of the fruit, but causes through this act that man may be.

Thus, absent weighty comparative benefits, it would seem advisable for the church to infrequently issue policies because of the perverse results in these two categories of cases. 

If making a high caliber choice necessarily relies upon the decision maker's ability to discern whether his is an exceptional case, it seems reasonable to rest the decision upon the decision maker's discernment ability in the first instance and forbear from issuing policies. Yes, teach doctrines to help the decision-maker ascertain the degree of pro and con that should attach to the various sticks in the likely consequence bundle of each alternative course of action; but refrain from imposing the often counterproductive duty of bluntly following the prophet's counsel unless there are no circumstances native to the issue that are likely to justify exceptional categories (which practically never happens). This approach is also wise in that it allows for greater flexibility for future novel issues that are created by technological advances; otherwise, it becomes expedient to invest heavily in constantly evaluating, for instance, the continuously morphing contours of bioethical issues centering around reproduction and death (i.e. life-prolonging procedures, surrogate motherhood, IVF iterations, PGD, etc.).  Do the policies appropriately identify the reasonable factors, unique to that issue, that should or could result in a permissible exception?  Idem nihil dicere et insufficienter dicere est "it is the same to say nothing as not to say enough."  Absent extensive understanding of the universe of circumstances attendant to these situations, policies are prone to look more like sweeping generalizations likely to elicit category #2 problems.

Agency always exists independent of church policy- no one is physically barred from sinning.  Thus, to issue a church policy, say that the church advocates Prop 8 in California, and then to accompany that statement with advice to church members that they have their agency is to articulate that which is self-evident.  Quod necessarie intelligitur, id non deest – “What is necessarily understood is not wanting.”  The reminder of agency merely confuses a decision maker because it suggests that s/he should use their own judgment and conclude for him or herself, which contradicts stating the proper position (i.e. think for yourself, but if you come to a conclusion other than the one we state here, you're wrong).  A policy statement is a communication of the morally superior position on the issue, not an invitation to consider the matter openly for oneself.

Joseph Smith: “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed” (History of the Church, 5:135).  Individuals don't engage life in a general way.  Instead, ethical situations are experienced inseparable from context, situation, and circumstance.  Thus, extenuating circumstances, evaluating consequence bundles, and achieving situation-specific revelation all seem at least as relevant to decision making as applying a blunt "follow the Brethren" approach based on statements that are usually generalized at least to some degree.  Generale nihil certum implicat "a general expression implies nothing certain."

An excerpt from my other post:
 It seems strange that religions should be years behind societal changes- you'd think instead that at least a revelation-based religion would be light years ahead on important issues of social justice and truth because of their access to a source of omniscience.  An example that comes to mind would be the Word of Wisdom, which seemed ahead of its time.  A riposte would be blacks and the priesthood, which in 1978 was not only over a decade behind the civil rights movement but over a century behind the Emancipation Proclamation.  Perhaps church members and leaders are too quick to presume that we already have all the truth we need (a sin we typically charge the Jews with for stopping at the Old Testament instead of accepting Christ and the New; or that we find modern people culpable of for stopping at the Old and not accepting the Another [Book of Mormon: Another Testament]).  Just last Sunday, a bishopric member advocated that I cease my line of questioning.  He made the oft-cited argument that "it's not important to your salvation" in response to my discussion of some church policies.  Article of Faith nine: "We believe... that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven."  Also, Joseph Smith: "... it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.  Given the doctrinal support for the idea that God doesn't work among men save according to their faith and doesn't reveal until His children ask (e.g. the Doctrine and Covenants sections are almost wholly answers to interrogatories), it would seem to make sense for church members and leaders to be knocking down the doors of heaven to obtain answers to tough questions such as homosexual privileges, surrogate motherhood, and social justice, rather than shutting their  praying mouths on a "we've received all we need" basis like the Jews did to Jesus and many today do to President Monson.  President Kimball's worrying, praying, and raising of the issue likely resulted in the lifting of the priesthood ban against blacks ("God rarely—if ever—uses his prophets as "teletype machines" who mindlessly transmit God's will word for word—he requires his prophets to inquire with some thought as to potential answers").  Perhaps if prophets a century earlier had cared to pray about and resolve the issue the ban would have been lifted then (see especially Circumstances which preceded the 1978 revelation).  On the other hand, the Lord didn't lift the ban until about 10 years after President McKay and Hugh Brown's attempts to move in that direction, thus implicating some wise purpose(s) in the Lord's forbearance.  Anyway, to conclude I haven't yet resolved this tension between a revealed religion and its apparent conservativeness as compared to secular society.  
To end, I comment about the CHI's stated position about surrogate motherhood: "The church strongly discourages surrogate motherhood."  I remember feeling a little disappointed when I learned of this statement, as I had expected/hoped for a categorical distinction.  It seems the morality of surrogate motherhood is a function of the infertility of the couple, the dangers of pregnancy to the mother and surrogate, the payment, the legal status of the resulting child, the degree of relatedness of the surrogate, the rights of the surrogate mother and biological parents, and the degree to which the option is pursued merely out of convenience, among other factors.  For instance, if a wealthy couple merely wishes not to undergo the inconvenience and normal risks of pregnancy but want their own biological child through exploiting an impoverished/desperate surrogate who has high risk of adverse health outcomes, surrogate motherhood in this case should be discouraged.  However, some factors would make the decision to choose surrogacy more moral/less immoral, if not  even permissible or advisable as well.  Two examples:

One- Say an LDS couple thinks the church's direction is to have their own biological children where possible.  The wife has a difficult time conceiving, and due to a medical condition is at a high risk of dying during pregnancy.  The couple has no children but desperately wants them.  The wife has a healthy, fecund sister who had two successful pregnancies and is still fairly young.  However, the sister's husband is now infertile due to prostate cancer and the couple couldn't have any more children of their own (which they decided before the infertility diagnosis they  didn't want anyway).  After much prayer, the two couples decide to pursue IVF and surrogacy.  The at risk wife and her husband conceive through IVF, and the sister acts as surrogate.  The pregnancy is successful, and the child is born to a healthy surrogate mother and is reared by its biological parents.
Two- Same situation/couple as above, except the surrogate comes from a different condition.  The surrogate-seeking couple is rich.  The wife served a mission in Brazil, and knows of some of the terrible poverty among members there.  She knows many of the women successfully have numerous pregnancies and large families.  Some of these women in the church become surrogates to pay for health care and education for their own children.  The couple researches a reputable surrogacy company known for screening out at-risk surrogates (it chooses only surrogates most likely to have no complications during the pregnacny for either the child or surrogate).  The couple decides to employ one of these LDS surrogates, thereby enabling the rearing of their own biological child while at the same time benefiting a poor Brazilian mother in an economically self-reliant fashion.  

Posted by bradcarmack at 11:31 PM

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Carmack Vector Addition Theory of Ethics: Advancing the Ball

Through TAing for Bioethics I've noticed a lot of students and article authors struggle with using ethical frameworks such as utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics as decision-making tools.  Example 1: they might look at an instance of a father considering staying at work a couple more hours and say that deontology fails because although the father has a duty to provide for his family, what about spending time at home developing relationships with them?  Example 2: utilitarianism fails in an analysis of the morality of animal experimentation because it's impossible to compare the suffering of a mouse to a person because they have different consciousnesses.  Example 3: utilitarianism fails because Steve may value exercise much more than John, so a decision resulting in greater opportunities for exercise does not bestow equal benefit on the two and thus a teleological calculation is valueless.  Below I offer a resolution to each of these complaints/contentions.

First, example three.  Use preference utilitarianism!   "'good' is described as the satisfaction of each person's individual preferences or desires, and a right action is that which leads to this satisfaction. Since what is good depends solely on individual preferences, there can be nothing that is in itself good or bad except for the resulting state of mind. Preference utilitarianism therefore can be distinguished by its acknowledgment that every person's experience of satisfaction will be unique." Utils are a sufficient common denominator to use as a measuring unit.

Second, example two.    Bracket the uncertainty!  Or, to use the latin phrase, capture the uncertainty sub modo - "within limits." Let's say you're trying to make the difficult calculation of the net benefit of inducing a stroke in a chimpanzee to test a stroke medication.  The primary consequences that need a benefit/cost valuation are the chimpanzee's suffering and the medical advances likely to result from the research.  Sure, it's difficult to quantify the chimpanzee's suffering.  However, it is reasonable to define a modest range within which the magnitude of the suffering likely falls.  Let's say that suffering = (the number of pain neuron's firing)*(the duration of the firing).  Calculate the likely quantity of neurons, or benchmark it against a comparable mammal's suffering (say a human or a dog on some assumed scale, say 1-100 where 100 is maximum torture plus killing).  Then decide the range for comparing that level of suffering to human suffering.  E.g. 100 neurons firing for 10 minutes= 1000 suffermeters.  Will the ratio to humans be 2:1 or 1:1 or 1:10 or 1:1,000,000 (i.e. 1 human suffermeter = 1,000,000 chimpanzee suffermeters)?  Don't know?  Fine, but the likely value could still be bracketed- i.e. 1 suffermeter for a chimp is likely worth less than 2 suffermeters of a human (that'd be a 2:1::human:chimp ratio for you mathematicians out there) and probably more than 1/one duodecillianth of a human (1:1x10^39).  Now at least you've bracketed the uncertainty and can proceed with some fuzzy utilitarian calculations rather than getting stuck [again for you mathematicians- the next step is multiplying the human:chimp ratio by the quantity of experienced suffering by the chimp, then adding that quantity to the (pleasure/good of medical advancements)*(likelihood of those advancements)].  Then later, scholars may find substance on which to ground a narrowing of the range.

Third, example 1.  Use vector addition!  This method could apply to utilitarianism (add up all the benefit and cost vectors), deontology (add up all the duty vectors) and virtue ethics (add up all the virtue/eudaimonia-promoting vectors).

Each vector has a magnitude and a direction.  For utilitarianism, the direction is easy: qualify a specific consequence as either a benefit or a cost.  If this seems difficult, further subdivide the consequence into components that are either only benefits or only costs.  Next, valuate the magnitude of the consequence vector (use the bracketing method above to put parameters on a difficult-to-quantify magnitude).  Example- you want to tell your boss about a consistent error the boss makes.  One cost is the risk of getting fired.  Multiply the likelihood of that outcome by the severity of getting fired (say, 50 units of psychological pain plus 1000 units of financial pain resulting from lost salary).  If you're not sure about the pleasure/pain units, say between 5 and 500 units of psychological pain and between 10 and 1,000,000 units of financial pain and move on with the calculations (such as the benefit in pleasure units of correcting an egregious, repeated error).  After plotting and adding all the vectors of the consequence bundle, you get a net vector for the alternative.  Repeat this process, and then select the alternative with the greatest net benefit (or least net cost- when life hands you several options that all suck, choose the one that sucks least).

For deontology, the direction of the duty vector will be limited to two or three alternatives unless you use linear algebra, which as I understand it allows for n alternatives (1 dimension: 1 alternative).  Let's use a 3 alternative ethical dilemma: say the Gestapo shows up and asks if you're harboring Jews.  You are, and your three primary alternatives are 1) lie, 2) kill the Gestapo agent, or 3) tell the truth.  Say those are your three axes/dimensions.  Then plot in all the duty vectors (duties to sustain life, tell the truth, obey the law, resist evil, inspire others to resist evil, refrain from killing, etc.) in the 3D space.  The magnitude of each vector comes from the weight of the duty (on a priority sequence, e.g. to obey is better than to sacrifice).  For additional help in gauging the relative weight of the duty, draw upon trade-off techniques such as those articulated by Hammond and Raiffa in Smart Choices or the Analytic Hierarchy Process.  The direction comes from to what degree that duty advocates the axis's alternative (e.g. the refrain from killing vector would be perpendicular to the killing the agent axis and probably a 45 degree angle between the tell the truth and the lying axes).  Repeat for all duties, then add up all the vectors: the resultant vector is the ethical solution (and, conveniently, has the appearance of a guiding arrow).

Another deontology illustration: Animal experimentation generally.  Lets say I have a duty to maximize human health of 60 import units, and a duty to respect animals of 40 import units.  Dissecting and inducing illness is not very respectful, but doing so will very likely help me fulfill my obligation to maximize human health.  I acknowledge both duties, but am not stuck.  Using my method above, I conclude that I should breach the duty of respecting animals up to 20 units, since that's the net duty vector (60-40). If I could mitigate my disrespect with some with minimal reduction of advancing human health, I should do so according to the ratio I think exists between them (e.g. 3 units of disrespecting animals = 1 unit of breaching the duty to maximize human health).

In some situations, mitigating would not be feasible.  For instance, let's say you're a Hmong mother crossing the river into Thailand to escape Hmong-genocidists on the Cambodian shore, and your baby starts crying.  The slightest noise may result in detection, and detection will certainly result in death for you and your companions.  Your only options are to drown the baby or not drown the baby.  You have a weighty duty to preserve your child's life; you also have a weighty duty to preserve your own and your companions' lives.  Lets say that the vector addition results in a vector with a very small magnitude in the direction of preserving your own and companions' lives.  Ideally you would kill the baby just a little bit- but obviously that's not possible.  The ethical decision with these givens is to drown the baby.  In other circumstances, say the tension between the duty to be at home developing relationships with family members and the duty to provide, it may be feasible to "kill the baby just a little bit."  Let's say the resultant vector in the father's decision also has a small magnitude and is in the direction of spending time at home.  The father should then work just a few less hours and come home during that time, rather than quitting his job.  

For virtue ethics, you have one axis to plot your virtues on.  Each vector's direction is along the axis between infinite positive eudaimonia and infinite negative eudaimonia.  Each vector's magnitude is the extent the given alternative promotes achieving eudaimonia (think of arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing) to help achieve a number- bracket the uncertainty if such discernment is fuzzy).  If you like, break the alternative down into a set of virtues (say, 6-12 of them such as wisdom, prudence, justice, fortitude, courage, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, and temperance), determine how much each alternative promotes each virtue, then aggregate the magnitudes of each virtue vector for a resultant vector for that alternative.  After repeating for all alternatives, select the alternative of greatest positive (or least negative) magnitude.  

I have now completed my proposed resolutions to the three sample complaints detailed above.

Though these three processes (using utils/preference utilitarianism, bracketing uncertainty, and using vector addition) seem abstract and prone to error, their quantitative requirements force ethicists to expose their levels of certainty and take a stand rather than quitting early with the lame excuse that the valuations are too abstract to be meaningful.  This means authors will make more claims that can be criticized and hopefully improved: the more falsifiable the claim, the more correctable is the theory.  The resulting debate is therefore more likely than the status quo to arrive at increasingly precise ethical answers with only minimal cost of risking a sacrifice of meaningfulness.  The current lack of attempting to quantify results in trivial advances in ethics articles, at the opportunity cost of making substantive progress toward increasing meaningful resolutions of difficult ethical questions.  

This approach is of course conditioned on a presumption that most ethical questions are resolvable [i.e. ethical problems look like mathematical formulas: what to do in an ethical situation = f(variables A, B, C, D, ...)].  Articles in ethical journals should quantify those variables, weigh them relative to each other, and expound the relationships between them in a way that provides increasingly precise, meaningful answers.  Example: As a physician faced with performing a sterilization requested by a patient, I should do y where y = f(personhood of patient, level of consciousness of patient, availability of alternatives, degree of informed consent, maleficence/beneficence of act, fairness of procedure, etc.) These factors could be weighed against each other much as trade-offs are in decision analysis.  Example: Should I move my office closer to where I live?  Assume the move would be x units less convenient for my clients as a whole, cost y more dollars per month, and be z units more convenient for me by way of less travel time.  How much y am I willing to pay for z?  How much x for y? Z for x?  These relative judgments are as useful in decision making as I claim they can be in ethical analyses. 

Another rebuttal to my proposed approaches is that vector addition is somewhat difficult.  I would respond that calculus and statistics are also difficult and require some training.  However, they are immensely valuable tools for research and scholarship.  I make the same value-adding claim for a vector addition approach to ethical reasoning.

The three proposed approaches above help advance the calculations prerequisite to rigorous ethical decisions by overcoming common obstacles to the progress of those calculations. 

I support homosexual members of the LDS church

The average person on this earth has a tenfold better chance of having strong homosexual tendencies than to be a member of the LDS church.

Why do I support homosexual members of the LDS church?

Consider the following.

1) Homosexual members are children of God.
2) Statistical analysis points to the conclusion that homosexuality is about 62% heritable (heritable factors, not including steroid hormones and other epigenetic influences, account for 62% of homosexual variation).
3) Sexual orientation isn't limited to lust. Many homosexual people have physical and emotional romantic feelings toward members of their own sex, and often desire the stability and social validation that comes from marriage. I'd imagine that homophobia/heterosexism and bars to homosexual marriage create a lot of regrettable difficulties for homosexual people.

Animated educational vid my friend described as an "amazing, heartfelt film": Homosexuality: Is It A Choice? [For the Bible Tells Me So]

See "Embracing Our Homosexual Children" vid
and the paper by Bill Bradshaw which includes:

(Link to the full text of this excerpt)

"Greater sensitivity and a reduction in hurtful disapproval might also be achieved as we review
and evaluate pertinent LDS doctrines. I would like to suggest that it is appropriate for members of the Church to withhold judgement about the implications of some religious principles in humble recognition of the uncertainty that accompanies our relative ignorance. Isn’t it likely that much (perhaps even most) of what God knows He has not yet shared with us? For example, we worship a heterosexual Father In Heaven and accept on faith that gender is an intrinsic feature of the character of every individual [160], but it is not clear how to interpret anomalies such as the existence of intersex and hermaphroditic persons, exceptions to the rule whose mortal lives are severely impacted by gender uncertainty. There is a very large number of questions that we are unable to answer about such fundamental issues as the detailed pre-mortal history of spirits, our relationship to Heavenly Mother, the eternal meaning of race, the post-mortal organization and operation of families, and the nature and mechanisms of eternal increase. The ideals we espouse provide wonderful general guidelines for the heterosexual majority in their quest for exaltation, without ruling out the possibility that there will be equivalent eternal possibilities for the homosexual minority. If we find out when we pass on that homosexuality is a temporary condition – the result of the fragile conditions of mortality, or part of the eternal character of some of God’s spirit children, then we will learn to adapt to that new reality. Until then, however, it would seem most appropriate to love and support our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in their efforts in this mortal sphere to acquire as much as they can of godliness.

It is also my belief that our Heavenly Father has in store special blessings for his homosexual
children in recognition of the successes they have made of their mortal lives in the face of
undeserved hostility.

IV. Summary
The existing evidence leads to the conclusion that homosexuality is a normal minority variation in humans the origins of which are biological. A more complete picture of the responsible biochemical mechanisms is being uncovered by rigorous laboratory research. Data are lacking to validate putative social or psychological causal factors. Imperfections in parenting are not responsible. Homosexuality is not a choice. It is not a disease, a mental illness, or an addiction. Homosexual people are not pedophiles. Heterosexuals cannot be seduced into assuming a homosexual orientation. Evidence does not support the claims that homosexual orientation is subject to change. Some accommodation may be possible for those who are intrinsically bisexual. Homosexuals are good people who share with the rest of humanity the need for love and physical intimacy, and the capacity for living honorable, moral, commendable lives. Gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints are less likely to opt for a celibate resolution of their sexual orientation, and most likely to seek a loving monogamous relationship in which they hope to cope with the challenges and realize the blessings of being in a family. Disapproval, mistreatment, and alienation of homosexual children by family members has disastrous personal and societal consequences. Especially in the light of our ignorance about fundamental aspects of the eternal nature and possibilities of God’s spiritual children, it behooves Latter-day Saints to extend love, understanding, and support to our homosexual brothers and sisters." (video and blog resources)

The average person is 10 times more likely to have homosexual tendencies than to be a member of the church.

(assume 14 million church members and 6.8 billion people: .21%)
"there is a general consensus that about 3% of men and 2% of women
of women are homosexual (non-heterosexual). The number may be somewhat higher
(perhaps 4% overall) if people are included who acknowledge at least occasional
same-sex attractions, desires, or fantasies, but are reluctant to identify themselves as
homosexual [23, 24]."

Mishmash of thoughts and correspondence follows.

Negative attitudes toward homosexuality harm:
 Attitudes about homosexuality are not without heavy consequences, in either direction.  Many homosexually oriented people have experienced depression and/or committed suicide because of misunderstanding and maltreatment from others because of their homosexual orientation.
"According to a national survey conducted in 2000, 74 percent of [gay persons] and bisexuals reported having been subjected to verbal abuse because of their sexual orientation and 32 percent reported being the target of physical violence. [See] ... Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Inside-Out: A Report on the Experiences of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals in America and the Public's View on Issues and Policies Related to Sexual Orientation (2001) pp. 3-4...."; see also D. Satcher, supra ("[a]veraged over two dozen studies, 80 percent of gay [persons] had experienced verbal or physical harassment on the basis of their orientation, 45 percent had been threatened with violence, and 17 percent had experienced a physical attack"). Compare Partners Against Hate, "2000 Federal Bureau of Investigation Hate Crime Statistics," with Partners Against Hate, "2004 Federal Bureau of Investigation Hate Crime Statistics."  Crime Statistics, Sexual Oriented Related Hate Crimes by State."

In addition to craving marriage, I'd imagine many homosexually oriented people also appropriately crave being open, being authentic, being loved as they are:

Look at me
You may think you see
Who I really am
But you'll never know me
Every day
It's as if I play a part
Now I see
If I wear a mask
I can fool the world
But I cannot fool my heart

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

I am now
In a world where I
Have to hide my heart
And what I believe in
But somehow
I will show the world
What's inside my heart
And be loved for who I am

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection
Someone I don't know?
Must I pretend that I'm
Someone else for all time?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

There's a heart that must be
Free to fly
That burns with a need to know
The reason why

Why must we all conceal
What we think, how we feel?
Must there be a secret me
I'm forced to hide?
I won't pretend that I'm
Someone else for all time
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

Recent email correspondence with a friend (my responses in blue):
1) I agree with your message of loving all people--no matter their disposition. truly, we, in our finite mortal minds, do not understand what all these humans are going through or the implications of their tendencies. Thus, we must always love and accept people--no matter what their tendencies or history. Yes, good call.2) However, you might want to clarify your position on the issue. From reading your post, it sounds like you are in favor of eliminating all forms of discrimination of them in the Church. For example, allowing them into the temple, taking out ordinances, and other matters--such as adoption rights...redefining the definition of the family in their behalf? That's a good suggestion. I didn't think my post would result in the conclusion that I advocate eliminating all forms of discrimination against homosexuals in the church, but perhaps I should re-read it with that in mind and clarify that I am fully in line with the church's official position on this issue.That is kind of an extreme extrapolation--and not one that I really think from your otherwise kind and open thoughts--but one that others could pull from your stance. Yes, that is a risk worth mitigating.3) There are some untrue facts on the post. The data you obtained about it being 62% heritable--is still an unproved and controversial subject. Most of my friends and cousins who are gay--said it was because when they were young their father's guy friends would often molest them. This aroused some feelings, made the confused, and triggered their gay identity. Though the claim that the numbers I cite are untrue may be correct, I would expect some solid data supporting that claim (i.e. how do you know 62% of the variability for sexual orientation is not accounted for by heritable factors?). If, on the other hand, you claim that the 62% heritability figure is unproved, then the conclusion should be that the heritability of sexual orientation is uncertain rather than that it is false. Insufficient evidence results in uncertainty, not support of the counterclaim.

The evidence you cite (the friends and cousins' reported experience of what led to their identity) is at least equally susceptible to criticism because of 1) the scant empirical evidence supporting the model that social and psychological factors are primarily responsible for homosexual orientation, 2) the lack of foundation for the presumption that "gay identity" can be triggered by experience (presuming identity is synonymous with orientation), 3) the evidence supporting the claim that heterosexually oriented people cannot be seduced into a homosexual orientation (though importantly, not homosexual behavior), 4) the small sample size, 5) the high incidence of homosexually oriented people whose attractions don't reverse gender after heterosexual molestation or experience, 6) the prevalence of
homosexual behavior among animals who are presumed to be incapable of confusion and molestation, and 6) the consistent rates of homosexual orientation in the population subset where molestation was not present. (see this paper for more details on some of these criticisms)
The church has adopted a neutral position as to the causes of homosexual orientation ("The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on." -Elder Oaks), so religiously it's okay for LDS members to disagree/debate on the causes of homosexual susceptibilities and inclinations, and also to discuss them using scientific approaches. (go us!)
Furthermore, from the Proclamation to the Family, we know that gender is "an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Basically, not only were our bodies formed differentely, but our spirits and perhaps even our intelligences. That may be true, but many of God's children are born on this earth without a distinct gender biologically (see my post). It would seem, then, that for these people an essential gender identity is limited to their spirits.
Sexual orientation appears to be a biological, rather than a solely spiritual, phenomenon. Thus, a conclusion that gender identity is certain and predetermined does not advance an argument supporting the claim that homosexual orientation is not heritable.
Additionally, not all men and women are equally male and female as measured by some traits- i.e. at least for many sexually dimorphic traits (such as 2D:4D ratio, mentally rotating objects in space, remembering the location of objects on a page, and the volume of the third interstitial nucleus of the hypothalamus), homosexual males and females are atypical for their gender compared to heterosexual means. 
Although--again I agree, we do not know all things in this short world--and things can always change--that statement sounds pretty unchanging and an eternal principle. Yes, the gender characteristic statement sounds pretty clear and unlikely to change. Lastly, although again, I think your view on promoting a more encompassing and understanding view is RIGHT--and a lot of members need to take a more calm, open, and unbiased approach to the issue and especially those individuals who suffer so much internally and externally--it is essential that society is not so open that it evades societal moral and legal boundaries--in the goal for "equality" and anti-discrimination. I agree that moral and legal boundaries are useful. For, if we modified the definition of the family--the concept of fidelity and one partner would be destroyed. Not necessarily. What would preclude a person from making and keeping vows of fidelity to a single homosexual partner? Are there not examples of homosexual couples that are sexually faithful to each other? Also, the "would be destroyed" statement predicts the future with unmerited certainty. For, as the gay community has just recently finally acknolwedged, very few gay couples stay "loyal" to the other. There is little concept of fidelity. In the gay community--it is known as "sharing" and "playing" with multiple sexual partners. 1) the practice of promiscuity you reference is hardly limited to homosexually oriented people- many heterosexually oriented people, included married ones, are sexually unfaithful and/or promiscuous. 2) the gay community you refer to that acknowledges a low incidence of fidelity does not have the power to speak for or control the behavior of all homosexual people either now or in the future. 3) The reality that many jurisdictions and, indeed, cultural norms withhold the permanence of marriage from homosexual couples might be a contributing factor to low fidelity levels among the homosexually oriented population. Irrespective of the influence of this factor, the current frequency of infidelity is a behavioral reality, and therefore subject to change by means of cultural change and individual choice. Anyways, sorry for my blast of opinions! I hope it didn't come across as harsh--for all in all--I thought your insights to this issue are very needed. No worries, I value the dialog. It opens our finite minds to possibilities and allows for greater compassion and understanding--not meanly judging. I just get carried away with this issue--because I have read quite a few legal articles recently on this subject and recognize the valid argument points from both sides. Cool- it's an important one, I think.

A summary of some brain research bearing on gender identity and sexual orientation, from Brizendine's 2010 The Male Brain:
> Gay male hypothalami are stimulated in response to a pheromone found in male perspiration, but straight male hypothalami are not - Savic

> Identical twin pairs (who share all the same genes) are much more likely than fraternal twin pairs (who share much fewer genes) to have the same sexual orientation - Langstrom
> Gay men perform more like straight women on spatial tasks than they do straight males
> The anterior commissure (the superfast cables connecting the brain hemispheres) are larger in gay than in straight males
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (part of the hypothalamus) is twice as large in gay males than straight males.
> Gay males, like females, have better verbal abilities than straight males
> Size asymmetry of hemispheres, which is present in straight male brains, is not present in gay male brains, which in this respect look more like female brains.
> Viewing a female face produced a strong reaction in the thalamus and medial prefrontal cortex of straight men but not of gay men.  Gay male brains reacted more strongly to the face of a man.

For summary and fairly balanced commentary on other studies which bear on the biological basis of homosexual orientation, see Simon LeVay's webpage (updated as of April 2009 when I checked in August 2010).  Topics include: sibling studies, genetic linkage, twin studies,  X-inactivation, adult hormone levels, prenatal hormones, DES exposure, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, penis size, finger length ratios, suprachiasmatic nucleus, auditory system, odor responsed, visuospatial tasks, verbal fluency, handedness, aggressiveness, and birth order.  LeVay seems to find the prenatal hormone theory of homosexual orientation the most persuasive of purported theories (both biological and non-biological).
Recent email correspondence with my brother Trye (my responses in blue- PS to Trye: you can click "comments" below and post your own comment if you'd like as 5-6 others already have).  I have added to/edited some of responses subsequently:

I read your post on accepting homosexuals in the church. Besides the fact that the unchanging, everlasting God commanded that gays be burned, or just killed by any effective regular method, in the old testament, I'm pretty sure the church has come out pretty strongly against gay rights, especially marriage. 
Three responses.  First, it is requisite to conclude that A) God exists, B) God expressed His will through the Old Testament, and C) God expresses His will in the LDS church today in order for that fact to support an argument that God has and currently opposes gay rights, especially marriage.  Do you conclude that A, B, and C are true?  Second, strong arguments (see pages 33-37) refute the deduction that the Old Testament Mosaic code, Sodom story, etc. penalize homosexual behavior- for instance, based on an argument that heterosexually oriented people engaging in homosexual behavior is the proscribed conduct, rather than homosexually oriented people behaving homosexually (since the concept of homosexual orientation probably didn't exist then).  Third, despite His unchanging nature, (and assuming the LDS church is generally true) God frequently issues circumstance and time-specific commandments that appear contradictory in retrospect (see Jacob 2 and the Official Declaration about polygamy; consider blacks and the priesthood; D&C 56:4 "I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good" 
Why wouldn't this be the case though? Religions don't do a good job of respecting minority rights. In fact they were set up in quite the opposite way. They were a method to bind disparate tribes into larger groups.  
I think that view finds additional support in some sociobiology literature (e.g. in Sociobiology: The New Synthesis or Consilience by my favorite scientist, E.O. Wilson, or Ă‰mile Durkheim's ideas. However, though a religion may be a social institution or function as a tool to a specific end, it need not only be that tool or institution- for instance, a particular religion may also be a revealed way of life and belief).   
Plus, lets be honest, good old fashioned monogamy just happened to be the most successful societal structure from an evolutionary point of view (or monogamous marriage happened to be practiced in Western Europe which through Jared Diamondesque factors came to dominate the world. This doesn't explain east asian monogamal success though).  
Hmm- yes, monogamy is highly conserved historically and cross-culturally, indicating its evolutionary fitness as an institution.  Counter examples (such as the matrilineal Musuo in China) are few. On the other hand, polygyny seems to have been fairly common: According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry", and interestingly the males in those relationships tend to live on average 12% longer.  
Religions are often years behind social changes, one reason why they are referred to as being conservative.  
I've thought about the concept of conservative religions many times since I read it.  The following could suffice as it's own post:
It seems strange that religions should be years behind societal changes- you'd think instead that at least a revelation-based religion would be light years ahead on important issues of social justice and truth because of their access to a source of omniscience.  Though I can see the wisdom of non-revelation based (unsupported by direction from heaven) religions using a conservative (old ways are better than new) administrative  approach similar to that of the judicial branch, it seems that a revealed religion would be fresh, bold, fearless, and progressive.  A conservative church seems slow to change and risk averse, like an old man, more than strong and fearless and benefit-seeking and truth-filled, like the strapping prophet Joseph.  But, perhaps there's a sensible explanation for the apparent disjoint.  An example of being years ahead of society that comes to mind would be the Word of Wisdom (other examples include progressive recognition of racial and gender equality, in doctrine at least if not in practice- ""all are alike unto God, black and white, male and female"- 2 Nephi).  A riposte would be blacks and the priesthood, which in 1978 was not only over a decade behind the civil rights movement but over a century behind the Emancipation Proclamation.  Perhaps church members and leaders are too quick to presume that we already have all the truth we need (a sin we typically charge the Jews with for stopping at the Old Testament instead of accepting Christ and the New; or that we find modern people culpable of for stopping at the Old and not accepting the Another [Book of Mormon: Another Testament]).  Just last Sunday, a bishopric member advocated that I cease my line of questioning.  He made the "it's not important to your salvation" bromide in response to my discussion of some church policies.  Article of Faith nine: "We believe... that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven."  Also, Joseph Smith: "... it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.  Given the doctrinal support for the idea that God doesn't work among men save according to their faith and doesn't reveal until His children ask (e.g. the Doctrine and Covenants sections are almost wholly answers to interrogatories), it would seem to make sense for church members and leaders to be knocking down the doors of heaven to obtain answers to tough questions such as homosexual privileges, surrogate motherhood, and social justice, rather than shutting their  praying mouths on a "we've received all we need" basis like the Jews did to Jesus and many today do to President Monson.  (Proverbs 2: 3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;  4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;  5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.)  President Kimball's worrying, praying, and raising of the issue likely resulted in the lifting of the priesthood ban against blacks ("God rarely—if ever—uses his prophets as "teletype machines" who mindlessly transmit God's will word for word—he requires his prophets to inquire with some thought as to potential answers").  Perhaps if prophets a century earlier had cared to pray about and resolve the issue the ban would have been lifted then (see especially Circumstances which preceded the 1978 revelation).  On the other hand, the Lord didn't lift the ban until about 10 years after President McKay and Hugh Brown's attempts to move in that direction, thus implicating some wise purpose(s) in the Lord's forbearance.  It is likely that much truth is withheld because people are so steeped in their traditions (which are acutely manifest by symptoms of conservatism):
“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen... Why be so certain that you comprehend the things of God, when all things with you are so uncertain?... Some people say I am a fallen Prophet, because I do not bring forth more of the word of the Lord. Why do I not do it? Are we able to receive it? No! not one in this room.” - Joseph Smith  On the other hand, perhaps the revelation in this area is cohesive, comprehensive, and correct.  Anyway, to conclude I haven't yet resolved this tension between a revealed religion and its apparent conservativeness as compared to secular society.   
Society changes but religion often lags far behind. An example is the infamous case of blacks not being able to receive the priesthood. This was a blatantly racist practice that had no base in the written works. There was even an apostle who said that blacks would never get the priesthood, as god himself was inherently racist (Good 'ol Bruce R. if you were wondering).  
Yes, in retrospect that statement seemed unwise.  I've heard similar language that makes me cringe a little about how homosexual behavior will never be approved in the Church because to do so would be counter to the Plan of Salvation.  That conclusion is based on the presumption that homosexual behavior is malum in se rather than malum prohibitum - which is a conclusion frustrated by the simple difficulty of reconciling the Plan with the reality of homosexual orientation.  Permit a comparison.  
One: Sexual behavior itself isn't wrong- in fact to a faithful LDS member though it's a sin at one point, it is then condoned and encouraged fifteen minutes later, provided a marriage ceremony intervened (thus heterosexual behavior in a certain category is malum prohibitum, but not malum in se- the same might be the case for homosexual behavior).   Sublata cuasa, tollitur effectus- "the cause being removed, the effect ceases."
Two: McConkie's afterstatement: "There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, "You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?" All I can say is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.  It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the Gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the Gentiles.[6]" Again, it's only the most recent revelation that counts.  
Three: Similarly, the priesthood used to only be extended to males in one of Israel's twelve tribes- now, by dictate, it's extended to all worthy males.  It might later be extended to women or sheep: who's to say?  The euthyphro dilemma ("Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?") can thus exhibit a temporal aspect in that what is morally right is merely what has been most recently commanded by God- thus the seeming folly in making future predictions such as "women will never be bishops" or "homosexual marriage will never be approved by God."  Many church members and leaders mistook the prohibition against blacks holding the priesthood as doctrine. It seems more likely in retrospect that it was a practice whose doctrinal foundation ultimately failed.  Similarly, were church leaders to alter their stance about the sinfulness of monogamous, committed homosexual relationships in addition to their current altering of the language they use in discussing such matters (e.g. you don't observe the demeaning "so-called" and derogatory "chosen homosexual lifestyle" -like language as much in the last decade), it would seem that the church's policy once again reflected practice more than doctrine.  When the world changed and civil rights happened the church realized, years later, that they had to change or become marginalized in American society. Perhaps- though arguably the Church relied on revelation rather than the realization of marginalization risk regarding polygamy and blacks/the priesthood.  Otherwise they would likely have changed much earlier than they did.  What seems strange is why the revelation didn't precede the persecution and marginalizing effects, given God's foreknowledge.  "This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted- by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed"- Joseph Smith.  A test of faith?  Because His servants didn't ask?  I dunno.   
Another good example is women's rights. In the church women don't have any rights. 
Counterexamples- the right to pray, the right to read scriptures, the right to believe as they choose, all civilly-guaranteed rights, and the right to repent.  If you argue that they only have these rights through men (e.g. scriptures because they were revealed through a man or they have the right to pray because a male told them how), you might similarly argue that any rights men have come through women because none are born except to a woman.  My point is that you might have a solid claim here, but it's not yet well supported or sufficiently narrow.   
Any rights they have come through a man. This is understandable as it was the way society was run in the not too distant past. 
 I agree generally.  Many religions, including ours, have their roots in a man-centric milieu (e.g. 19th amendment wasn't until 1920).   
Women couldn't own property, they couldn't vote, and they were basically add-ons to their husbands. If you lived in a society like this today you would be labeled a patriarchial society. This is how the church still operates. Women are barred from holding the power of god, counterexample 1: officiating women in the temple. counterexample 2: any women exercising faith in the magnifying of her calling.  
 they're barred from taking part in any leadership role that doesn't involve other women or children,
I'm struggling to conceive of counterexamples here- e.g. a Sunday School secretary isn't a classic leadership role, and a mother role, though a leadership position, is mostly relevant to children, i.e. her role diminishes even in a family of only sons as the males become adults- so good point as far as I can tell.  
they're even technically barred from heaven if they don't have a man to let them in (see temple ritual). 
True, although that bar applies equally to men, i.e. neither men nor women can attain the highest degree of exaltation but for sealing to an opposite-gender spouse. 
Does this make sense in a modern context? Not really.  
I agree in that the restrictions do seem deleteriously and unnecessarily limiting.  Those restrictions may not exist forever- as others, the policy might feasibly change in the future (presuming the policy is either A) merely a practice like blacks and the priesthood or B) malum prohibitum only, like polygamy). I observed an all-female clergy in an episcopal church a month ago and they seemed competent for the pastoral role.  Given the opportunity, I see few skills women couldn't develop that are relevant to current male-only roles in the church.  Also, since growth and progress are important aims for men and women, it makes a lot of sense to open up traditionally male-only leadership roles to women (except for the presumed fact of current contrary revelation).  Difficult as some church leadership roles such as bishop are, they offer unparalleled outcomes for those who fulfill such roles (examples include understanding principles and refining skills of change, government, judgment, gentleness, love, stewardship, accountability, and leadership more generally).  There is little reason to conclude that women, though they might fulfill these roles differently, would do a worse job than men.  Nor does it seem likely that men have more need than women for the lessons gained from fulfilling these roles outside contrived gender distinctions.   
 Women have been proven to be just as smart, effective, and competent as men. Does it make sense in a society where raw strength and the ability to kill another
human being is what counts? Yes it does. Men are clearly superior in that respect.  
Good call, they are on average bigger, stronger, and have more testosterone, all of which are conducive to raw strength and killing capability.  
 I suppose heaven could be a free for all brawl where anything goes and women get the crap kicked out of them if a man doesn't protect them but I doubt it.  
 Aside from my chuckling at trying to picture that scene, I'm inclined to agree.  
So now we'll come full circle back to the gays. Back in the day there was a huge barrier to any gay couple who wanted to have a family and raise children, they couldn't get each other pregnant (kind of the definition I think)  
Good call, that has been and still is the case, though the getting each other pregnant barrier may not prove insuperable in the future.  (e.g. I know of a gay couple, with at least one set of LDS in-laws, who mixed their sperm, inseminated a donated egg, then had the zygote implanted in the womb of a charitable woman who knew the couple and volunteered to act as surrogate- resulting in the gay couple's child.)   
Hence they were genetic dead ends. In the cold world of evolutionary math they were a minus and thus persecution made sense.  
Being a genetic dead end doesn't necessarily justify persecution- Down's Syndrome, severely autistic, and infertile people often prove dead ends as well but persecuting them doesn't make sense.  Also, the high incidence of homo- and bi- sexuality in animals belies the conclusion that homosexual genes, if not also homosexual individuals, are dead ends.    
In this day and age that is no longer the case. Sex and procreation have been almost entirely separated.  
That is a significant difference from the past- both affirmatively and passively (i.e. two people can have sex consistently without reproducing and they can reproduce together without having sex).  Now a homosexual couple can easily have a child who is half theirs, or adopt if they choose.  
Yep, and perhaps not too far in the future can have a child that is fully theirs, e.g. by nuclear transfer (a mammalian cloning procedure) or inducing a stem cell to follow an opposite gender germline development path.  
Now, how are they different from a heterosexual couple?  
They're the same rather than different genders.   
Maybe there are some slight disadvantages  
yes such as earlier onset of menstruation and sexual activity for the girls, and a higher incidence of delinquency for the males during adolescence in the absence of a father.  Benefits of breastfeeding are generally lost to male homosexual parenting couples.  The unique negotiating parenting style of the average man (as opposed to the average woman's playing/nurturing parenting style) is lost to female homosexual parenting couples. Inferior outcomes of babies in infancy raised by one other than the biological mother in the case of two male parents is another disadvantage.  Gender noncomformity also seems to result more on average.  Increased promiscuity on average compared to heterosexual relationships (based on some research in the Netherlands, one of the most gay-affirming countries out there) may have deleterious impact as well.  I've named but a few of the disadvantages.  For a more scholarly exegesis of the consequences of both legalizing and prohibiting SSM, see Lynn Wardle's What's the Harm 
but tell that to all the children born in poverty to heterosexual parents.
 The comparison of a loving, affluent homosexual couple (either male or female) to the condition of impoverished orphans or children born to one or both indigent biological parents is a compelling one.  Certainly there are significant advantages the former could confer that the latter is ill-positioned to provide, such as adequate nutrition, education, and health care.  However, the argument holds for advocating affluent parents in lieu of impoverished ones and would also argue against impoverished heterosexual couples bearing and/or raising kids, which unsavory idea contradicts the assertion somewhat.     
Technology has changed the base equation and society is changing to meet it.  
l agree.   
Do I think gays should be able to marry? Yea, I do.  
Thanks for revealing your conclusion.  
 Will the church decide they can and also be allowed in? I have no idea.  
Me either. The fabric of the future proves as foggy and impenetrable as ever. 
 If they do it will be long after it has become a societal norm 
 judging from comparable past issues that prediction seems likely
 and through intense social pressure (err what I meant was by divine revelation).  
Either one works for me if the outcome is the most ethical one (and does not contradict revelation).  Anyways good post.

My response to an email from a church member: 

Thanks for airing your feelings and perceptions.  In response to your request for insights, I'd direct you to my blog post (careful- I've updated it lately and it's pretty dense and lengthy).  Did you read Bill Bradshaw's paper from the link on that post, or did you get a .pdf of his paper?

I'm glad that you know ****- I've gotten to know her a little over the past month and she is a very neat person. 

I've included a few responses in blue below to some of your questions.

I care about you even though I don't know you yet.  I also care about homosexually oriented members of the church.  I also have a testimony that the LDS Church is the Savior's Kingdom on the earth, that Joseph Smith was God's chosen prophet to restore the church, and that we're led by an authorized prophet today as well.  I feel the Spirit testifying of these truths and the reality of Jesus's sacrifice for me, and I have hope to join Him in heaven someday.

Know you're in my prayers,

Brad Carmack

My name is ***. I am friend of **** who is a friend of Brad Carmack. Actually, **** was my missionary back in 2007 and has turned into a very dear friend. I am writing because I would like some opinions on the subject of same sex involvement including marriage. I was raised by lesbians and that was the main reason I did not want to be part of the church after knowing their feelings of gay people and marriage. ( I grew up in a non-denominational church led by gays) After some serious talks with ****, I was convinced that maybe I did not need to understand or even believe every single thing the same as the church teaches. I eventually got baptized. I had been going to church for a couple of months and about a week after I got baptized **** got transfered. I quickly went into panic mode. I no longer had 'my missionary" there by my side to talk to very day. I still went to church but about a month after that all happened Proposition 8 in California was going on in regards to same sex marriage. My bishop started talking about it one Sunday and I got up and left. The next day I saw the news reports of how much money the LDS church was giving to campaign against same sex marrige. I was done with church. ( I know it wasn't just the LDS church giving money...but that was the church I was tithing to so in essence...I was helping to pay for something that was way against my beliefs)  I can see why that experience would be hard.

About a year later I started missing the feelings I got while I attended the church so I went back but only once. I again started getting angry about the church's stance on the subject as it was brought up AGAIN in church that day. I have never been back since.

I have since started getting into universal happiness and karma to put it simply. However, when I try to think that maybe there isn't a God, I get a strange feeling. When I try to believe in giving good to the universe gets me good back....something happens and I end up "praying to God" even though I have sortof denounced him in a way. Obviously something isn't right. So when I think about....Is there a God?....I can only come to the conclusion that the LDS church seems to be the lessor of all "the religous evils" if that makes any sense. I think it does.  Still I can not come to terms with the gay issue. Okay, I follow you.

I am married to a man....not gay. However, my mom wanted nothing else but to be happy with her lifetime partner. When she was on her death bed, she was not able to get the rights with her lover that heterosexual couples got. This hurt me so bad. I would imagine!  i'd probably feel about the same way in your shoes. I also know people this has happened to as well. A long time friend of my moms was with her lover for 38 years and after she died, her lover got no rights, lost their house, and was not even allowed at the funeral. That is a very rough outcome.There have just been so many terrible things that go along with makes me cry to think of them. As you can see, it is not easy for me to go to a church that ex-communicates (from what I've heard) gay people that act on it....but re-enacts ex-communicated members that are child molesters (my husbands 2 uncles). I don't know for sure but I'd imagine that an individual that is excommunicated for homosexual conduct could also regain his or her membership and fellowship in the church after repentance, much like child molesters. How do I get over this? How does a gay man or woman stay in a church that doesn't 'want" them? I for one want them.  I think the Lord wants them.  Though duty-bound to take a hard line against what God has declared as sin, there are some strong statements from church leaders that the church wants them.  (See "Helping Those Who Struggle With Same-Gender Attraction:" “What’s more, I love you. My Brethren among the General Authorities love you. I’m reminded of a comment President Boyd K. Packer made in speaking to those with same-gender attraction. ‘We do not reject you,’ he said. ‘… We cannot reject you, for you are the sons and daughters of God. We will not reject you, because we love you.")  How do I follow the right path (if it is indeed the right path) along side people that would not have allowed my mom to be a member or even say she was wrong to be happy in an "unconventional" way? By following that path.  The people in the church are no more perfect than you, me, or your mother.  If people in the church commit uncharitable errors, it seems more appropriate to love, forgive, and associate with them than to part ways.

Brad mentioned one of you lead a same sex marriage talk group on there any blog about this stuff? Good question- I'd imagine there is such a blog, and on my post I included links to a couple similar resources.  He also mentioned one of you were openly gay? I would really appreciate your guys take on all of this. I so bad want to be were I belong....I just don't know where that is. I pray you'll find it.  Though I don't know how or when, because you're seeking, I think you will find where you belong if you have real intent (see Moroni 10:3-5 or D & C 14:5) and ask God.  I hate to think it is in the LDS church and I will miss out on the Celestial kingdom (if, again, I believe that) because of this when it doesn't even affect me directly. However, I would never change how I grew up. The way you grow up is a dangerous foundation for deciding how to believe and live. There are many scriptural examples of individuals who were raised with at least some false traditions (e.g. the Lamanites).  If these people always followed the way they were raised, then none would forsake their lives and take up their cross to heed the Savior's invitation to "Come, Follow Me."  It is better to seek and conform to truth even at the expense of abandoning beliefs or practices you were raised with if necessary (or, conversely, embracing correct beliefs you were raised with even if they're unpleasant).  How this principle applies in your case I don't know.  And I will fight right along side of the gays and lesbians for equal rights for my moms sake, as well as human rights sake, as long as I live. Again, the fight may be a just one, but it is not made so merely because of your mother's choices- for though of course you love and respect her immensely, she is no less human/imperfect than you or me.  I don't conclude as to the correctness of her choices: but I do claim that if they are correct, they are so not merely because the choices were made by her- but instead because they are in harmony with independent principles such as justice and equality.

I read the article by Mr. Bradshaw and found it very interesting. Actually...much of it I agreed with. I don't know if it was meant as controversal but I especially liked the part about the scriptures being misunderstood and even how so many scriptures in the Old Testament are not followed but the "gay" one is. That is what I was taught growing up in the "gay" church.

This is all very hard for me. Fair enough- given your experiences in life and the issue that makes a lot of sense.  I need answers and I don't like the ones I am getting. HAHA. I am not naive enough to think that any "religion" would say it is okay to be gay. But I do believe that many people are pushed away from "God" because they are gay. If memory serves me right, I was taught that God loves everyone and no one should judge. So if that's true....why do people that follow Gods' word judge? For some, the answer is because God has charged them with that responsibility.  For instance, Bishops are common judges in Israel, and are tasked with, among other responsibilities, judging and punishing certain sins.  God does love everyone, but He does not endorse sin, and it would be wrong for His servants to refrain from fulfilling a duty God has laid upon them.  Fortunately in my view, most members don't have this burden/responsibility of judging.  Plus, it is valuable to remember as God reminds us so often in the scriptures that He will judge us at the last day and hold us accountable for our choices- and that even though He loves us, He will not shield us from the consequences of our choices, positive and negative, without our exercise of agency.  Thus, church members should judge themselves, identify errors, and repent of them.  Thus, I've identified two categories where people should judge.  Isn't the point of our lives to live happily and do good to people? To help people? To show generativity (people nurturing the younger generations)? To unselfish to our own needs and wants? To raise a family with good values and morals? Yes, there's lots of scriptures supporting these points you make. And that is a whole other subject. There are so many children out there that don't have homes. They are living in group homes or on the streets. Why is it not okay to have these children placed in good homes if those homes consist of gays and lesbians? The church would rather those children grow up without a loving foundation? I just don't get it. Please help me understand. I address these last thoughts in my blog post.

Thank you for any insight you can give me.


My post on another's blog.  
(I've since made some edits)

Nice post, Kendel.  A few responses- some of them "devil's advocate"-like.

"So if I admit that there exists stable, committed, and functional same-sex households I have to concede that same sex marriage wouldn't harm children?"  

No.  The stable, committed, functional same-sex households might A) be outliers to a more deleterious statistical mean or B) still less on average than the outcomes of two biological parent households.  Of course, the argument of harming children has two major flaws: 1) it argues against step-parenting, single-parenting, co-habiting before marriage, and other family arrangements short of two biological parent households in addition to arguing against homosexual marriage.  Therefore, on that argument alone, an anti-same-sex marriage advocate would conceivably need to advocate against remarriage (that results in a step parent) as well.  2) if a particular child will not be conceived but for the homosexual relationship, it is very difficult to argue that the child is harmed.  How do you compare a blighted life to no life at all?  Picture an empty bench- on it sits Greg, the child that was never born because the ban on gay marriage resulted in his mother choosing a single life over the homosexual union he would have been born into (e.g. via a sperm donor). As much as life sucks for some people, most nonetheless overwhelmingly prefer to exist

"First problem: one of them isn't a parent in the technical sense.  By definition, two people of the same sex cannot both be "a genetic progenitor" of a child."  

Will this problem disappear with the obstacle?  That is to say, when it becomes feasible for a homosexual couple to reproduce together (say, via somatic cell nuclear transfer, or by inducing opposite gender germline development of one partner's stem cell), will you cease to use this genetic progenitor argument against same-sex marriage?

"Again, I concede that non-genetic progenitors can and have prove themselves to parent children without any deep apparent harm to the child."

Yes, although there are some benefits that children forfeit without the biological parent- e.g. the teenage girls experience earlier menarche in the absence of the biological father.
"But let's take a few steps back and try to see the longer view—one in which children haven't come into the picture yet, but face a world which has changed the rules about the where, when and why of their existence."

The rules have already significantly changed, and will likely continue to do so.  For instance, sex and reproduction used to be tightly correlated.  With birth control two people can have sex thousands of times with no offspring.  Similarly, couples can reproduce prolifically without ever having sex (e.g. via IVF).  Your argument would be better if based on the consequence bundle of a particular change rather than changing the rules generally.

"The entire premise of same sex "marriage" is that we can't discriminate against couples who are of the same sex--am I correct?  We have to treat heterosexual unions and homosexual unions by exactly the same rules for both.  If this is true, many things in society will have to change--changes that will go way beyond even the most well-intentioned efforts to reach out to an oppressed or hated minority."

Okay, I follow you so far- but change is not always bad (e.g. Civil Rights movement of the 60's, or the passage of the 19th Amendment).  Let's see if you highlight negative impacts of a specific change.

"When traditional marriage is upheld, we assign parenthood by the obvious, natural principle: biology.  Every child has a mother and a father.  This is a biological reality."

Again, that may not always be true.  It is conceivable in the future to have, for instance, two men reproduce.  A naturalist argument (what is natural is right and what is unnatural is wrong) is weak absent additional support- see my post.

"What, then, do we do to assign parenthood when a same-sex couple is involved?"

One candidate course of action is to have a "parent 1, parent 2" designation at birth.

"No matter how you answer the question, you are not only saying that you know better than natural law,'

Not necessarily.  What is natural law?  What about examples in nature of non opposite-gender reproduction?  Is there some moral standing to what is natural?  It is natural for humans to commit genocide, but also immoral.  It is natural for those who are strong to exploit the weak, but enforcing a man-made criminal code against such offenders is a better law.  It is unnatural to administer lab-produced antibiotics, but also moral.  Again, see my post on the naturalistic fallacy.

" you are not only saying that gender is irrelevant or that men and women have completely fungible roles and abilities,"

Again, not necessarily.  An advocate of homosexual marriage could acknowledge the relevance of gender differences and the value of opposite gender parenting, yet still advocate on other grounds such as fulfilling the duty to bring children into the world in two parent households or on the basis of providing for a right to marry.  Or in the alternative they could argue, as Biblarz and Stacey did in 2010: "Contrary to popular belief, studies have not shown that ‘‘compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children’’ ... Research has not identified any gender-exclusive parenting abilities (with the partial exception of lactation)... ‘‘very little about the gender of the parent seems to be distinctly important.’’  Also in 2010 in Applied Development Science: "Our findings revealed, for the first time, that young children adopted early in life by lesbian and gay parents were as  well-adjusted as those adopted by heterosexual parents. Our results suggest that lesbian and gay adults can and do make capable adoptive parents. We found no significant differences among families headed by lesbian, gay, or heterosexual parents in terms of child adjustment, parenting behaviors, or couples’ adjustment."

"and the  you are not only designing the isolation of a child from having a relationship with at least one of their biological parents—and all the identity issues that come with it,"

Though a significant consideration, many children never know their fathers either because they skip town or they were conceived IVF by an anonymous donor, but your complaint doesn't also target them, which it should on a basis of opposing action that induces identity issues.  

"you are not only  aiding the idea of breaking up parental roles into multiple, separate spheres (biological, legal, caregiving, etc...),"

That already happens (as evidenced by arrangements made for many broken families by the courts, or the role-playing by mothers and fathers in whole homes)- but you are right, same-sex advocacy does aid the idea of discretizing some parental roles. 

"not only are you saying that it is more important to support private indulgences than public institutions,"

Not necessarily.  As argued above, there are legitimate grounds for advocating same-sex marriage as a public institution (e.g. homosexual couples are more likely than homosexual singles to bring children into the world, and many of the public benefits of marriage and family are not limited to the opposite genderness of marriage).  It is inappropriate to characterize same-sex marriage as a private indulgence- this appellation reflects a sex-centered conception of the proposed institution that fails to acknowledge the richness that same-sex marriage can provide two people that are committed to and sacrifice for each other.  Generally we don't consider heterosexual marriage to be a private indulgence or all about sex- is there a basis for an opposite conclusion about homosexual marriage?  Especially since homosexual people can privately indulge without marriage?

"you are also saying that--by rule of law—that adults get what they want and children only get whatever we say they get.'

Somewhat, but to the extent that's true it is equally true before institutionalizing same-sex marriage. Many children are born in countries with few civil rights and a bleak economic outlook- but they get what the adults of their community give them and no more.  In our country we attach citizenship and constitutional rights to people- lucky them.  Either way (what they're given or not given) is adult chosen- and that profile of privileges is independent of the existence or absence of the institution of homosexual marriage. Frustra probatur quod probatum non relevat "that is proved in vain which when proved is not relevant."

"Now, I don't know about you, but I am grateful to have a relationship with both of my biological parents."

The relationship of children in homosexual families with one of that child's biological parents is likely to be absent or abrogated as compared to a two-biological parent household- so you imply a strong point. 

"I sleep better at night not having to wonder if a core part of who I am was mortgaged at my conception because two people wanted to be “like all the other marriages.”"  

I don't get this argument.  What exactly was mortgaged?  

"Same-sex marriage turns children into commodities, when I say that no one has the right to do that."  
How are children turned into commodities more than in other family structures (such as cohabitation, single parent, step-parent, and two biological parent)?

"They are people.  If the purpose of this nation is to promote the general welfare, why not start with those people who have no voice in court or the law—who literally only have the ability to cry if the people charged with their care decide that there are other, more important, more "enlightened" things than their welfare."  

A persuasive point, though it advocates against premarital reproduction, divorce, drug use, and other factors as much as homosexual marriage, and there still is little data about child outcomes in homosexual marriage since only a few countries (such as Spain) have recognized homosexual marriage for a significant amount of time.  Also, one should remember that class of people who will likely be brought into the world that, but for homosexual marriage, would not.  Though in my view not the strongest argument in support of SSM, it is nonetheless a valid one.  Example: Lisa and Jennifer are single lesbians.  They choose to not become a couple unless their jurisdiction recognizes same-sex marriage.  Their jurisdiction does so.  They marry, then use donor sperm to fertilize Lisa's egg, which Jennifer then gestates, and they raise Timothy to adulthood.  Why not start with Timothy, who as "no voice in court or the law," and who doesn't even have the capacity to cry unless adults decide to recognize SSM?

"If we care about childrens' rights at all, we must admit that same-sex marriage is a two-sided stick." 

You mean we must admit that same-sex marriage affects children?  I agree.  Does it affect them differently than many other family setups?  Probably.  I predict there will be significant comparative research on these effects by 2020. (months after I made this prediction, this came up)-

A study about lesbian parenting

"According to their mothers' reports, the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach's normative sample of American youth." 17-year national longitudinal lesbian family study
Also in 2010, "children raised by lesbian parents (mostly comothers) have been found across a large number of tests to be generally similar to children raised by heterosexual parents on dimensions of psychological well-being, peer relations, and social and behavioral adjustment."  I presume the  inconsistent findings (same vs. superior outcomes) are attributable to the separate metrics.

"Who are we to say that children must be left with the short end?  I say, better not to pick it up."

Careful- there are many sticks in the consequence bundle of same-sex marriage, and many of them are benefits.  Similarly, there are many sticks in the consequence bundle of opposite-gender marriage, some of which are costs.  What matters is comparative net benefit, and whether there are grounds to prohibit same-sex marriage even if it does seem likely that its net benefit (adding up all the sticks in the consequence bundle) is inferior to that of opposite-gender marriage.  Just because there may be some costs for children doesn't result solely in a conclusion against same-sex marriage. 
For instance, if costs for children could be averted by more efficient means (such as reducing drug use or divorce), then perhaps those more narrowly tailored (fewer negative side-effect) means should be pursued before blocking the same-sex marriage movement.  

My responses to some facebook comments on this post (look below my response to see their statements)

Brad Carmack Wow, 20 comments! Thanks for the input everyone.
@Tim - Yes, I think the law of chastity applies to all of God's children. What do I mean when I say 'support?" That I acknowledge the scientific consensus indicating these likely realities:
-the significant, substantial, and dare I say predominant influence of heritable and epigenetic factors on homosexual orientation
- homosexual orientation is not a choice but rather a normal minority variation with biological origins
- heterosexuals cannot be seduced into assuming a homosexual orientation
- evidence for social and psychological causal factors accounting for variability of sexual orientation is mostly lacking
- evidence does not support the claim that homosexual orientation is subject to change for the vast majority of homosexually-oriented people
Also, that I recognize the difficult situation facing my homosexual-oriented LDS brothers and sisters (i.e .they have primarily four choices- to marry heterosexually, remain single/celibate, partner promiscuously with other homosexuals, or enter a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship). None of these four options is bereft of significant difficulties and heavy negative consequences. That I find it likely that a homosexual person experiences some unmerited loneliness and rejection as a result of misunderstanding, misguided opinions, and homophobic responses to their orientation. That I feel compassion for suffering that the homosexual LDS demographic is more at risk for than their heterosexual counterparts. That there is anguish likely to result from the apparent conclusion that "I don't fit into God's Plan." That I care about you as a child of God and my spiritual brother or sister. That's what I mean by "support." (duh, wasn't it obvious? ;-)
@Patrick- I agree if you assert that characterization of homosexual orientation as a "lifestyle choice" evidences a false assumption.
@Robert- "because some people are strongly tempted by a particular sin does not mean that excuses should be made for them." I agree.
@Erica- " But it is ultimately a choice." I disagree. Imbibing alcohol is a choice; alcoholic orientation, if you will, is not. Similarly, homosexual conduct is a choice; homosexual orientation is not, anymore than is heterosexual orientation.
@Erica- "We learn to put our spirit in control of our body." Yes, good point. But the spirit loses when the body mandates infertility or autism or diabetes (AGT [abnormal glucose tolerance] heritability is about .6, i.e. heritable factors account for .6 of AGT variance) or old age. Precious few "will" or "pray" themselves out of these conditions, strong spirit & corruptible flesh notwithstanding. I classify homosexual orientation (though, importantly, not homosexual behavior) alongside these heritable or biologically determined conditions.
@Noel- I didn't know you struggle with anorexia (maybe I'm dense- sorry if so). Thanks for sharing, let me know if I can help at all. Interestingly, heritability estimates for anorexia nervosa are between .54 and .84- which overlaps the range for homosexual orientation.
@Erica- " I'm not implying they choose their orientation, merely that whatever they feel that is, they have choices in how they behave." I agree.
@Patrick- "assuming that one can choose one's sexual orientation as easily as one can choose whether or not to drink alcohol, or saying that "everything is a lifestyle choice," is a huge misunderstanding..." I concur. Only "choices" have the potential to be classified as lifestyle choices- autism and homosexual orientation and anorexia do not qualify.
@Robert- "Choosing to do what is right..." comment. Aye.
@Noel- "But praying for alcoholism or depression or anorexia to be cured (overcome) is never going to work." I mostly agree. As to homosexual LDS members who have tried to reverse their sexual orientation through prayer, fasting, change therapies, abstinence, effort, and willing the orientation away, thus far it seems the vast majority experience disappointment, spiritual anguish, and substantive long-term failure. This is the same type of outcome expected from previously referenced comparisons such as Autism (.9ish heritability), Anorexia (.7ish heritability), and alcoholism (.4ish heritability).
@Erica- "As for the celibate comment for non heterosexuals.... well its the same rule for unmarried people so I don't feel a great injustice in that." I think that justification is consistent with the Oaks/Wickman press conference you referenced earlier. I'm persuaded as to that justice conclusion so far. That is a lot of people duty-bound to be celibate, though, which is a rough outcome (the average person is over ten times as likely to be homosexually oriented than to be a member of the LDS church- about 140 million people). I think duty-mandated celibacy is rough, multiplied by 140 million is a lot of roughness. However, rough outcomes shouldn't upset a justice conclusion unless those outcomes are also unjust, so I'm with ya for now on that point.
Peace out 'til next comment,

Etiology of Adverse Outcomes for Children:
Presume it is established that outcomes for children in SSM families are comparable to single or divorced parent households (and thus less than heterosexually married families).  I wonder what the research would indicate about the causality of that correlation.  Is the legalization of SSM largely responsible?  Could society's stigmatization of homosexual orientation be a suspect as well? 
"The Canadian Psychological Association has stated in 2006[150]:
The literature (including the literature on which opponents to marriage of same-sex couples appear to rely) indicates that parents’ financial, psychological and physical well-being is enhanced by marriage and that children benefit from being raised by two parents within a legally-recognized union. As the CPA stated in 2003, the stressors encountered by gay and lesbian parents and their children are more likely the result of the way in which society treats them than because of any deficiencies in fitness to parent."

Interesting timeline of significant events regarding same-sex marriage and legal recognition of same-sex couples worldwide in modern history.

A Quote: 
"Free agency can be unfettered, yet still have  parameters."  To conclude that homosexual orientation is immutable or unchosen is not a violation of the principle of free agency.  I think freedom is the range of alternatives one has to choose from: agency is one's capacity to select from within that range.  Thus, a Down's Syndrome child may have less freedom than a developmentally normal child, but no less agency. 

A point:
Homosexual behavior and SSM don't seem to fit into the Plan of Salvation- but then neither does severe mental retardation or early death or living one's whole life as a single sister.  Importantly, homosexual orientation doesn't fit into the plan either (if it results in a person not marrying heterosexually).  Yet all four categories seem involuntary- so what is to be done for these misfits?  Contra non valentem agere nulla currit praescriptio - "no prescription runs against a person not able to act." They are all children of God as well, and it seems certain that God has made provision for them somehow.  Justitia nemini neganda est - "justice is to be denied to no one." 

A seeming hypocrisy related to the same-sex marriage debate:It's generally appropriate for an institution, such as a church, to take a stand on a consequential issue such as the definition of marriage, provided they're consistent.  For instance, it'd be appropriate for the First Baptist Church to declare, "The only definition of marriage should be/is one man and one woman."  What's not internally consistent is to say "the only definition of marriage always has been and always should be one man and one woman," (for instance, because that's God's unchanging, unqualified position on the matter) then later expand or contract the definition.  The LDS church, for instance, has a vitiated, or at least qualified, foundation from which to declare that marriage is only between one man and one woman.  Why?  Because in the recent past they officially maintained a broader definition (one man and one woman OR one man and several women).  Polygynous marriages had only two genders, but more than two partners; now, the official definition the LDS church supports is only two genders and two partners.  At first blush these two positions manifest a glaring hypocrisy.  Having so recently received such bitter government persecution for practicing an unpopular minority definition of marriage, one might reasonably predict that the LDS church would instead support those who, due to deeply-held beliefs, also desire government recognition and societal tolerance of their practice of an unpopular minority definition of marriage. 

An interesting study:
Can we determine the will of God through prayer?

"We published a notice on our web site encouraging visitors to take part in our study to assess the will of God. We E-mailed a form to each visitor to our web site who had asked to be included in the study. Subjects were thus self-selected. The form asked the recipient:
bulletWhether they were currently in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriages (SSM). 
bulletSome personal data -- their sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and which "wing" of that religion that they followed.
bulletTo seek God's will for same-sex marriages through prayer.
bulletTo continue praying until they received a response from God or felt that they could not assess the will of God.
bulletIf they were successful in assessing God's position on SSM, then we asked:
bulletwhat God's will is, and 
bullethow certain are they that they correctly assessed God's will."
Results from the preliminary study
Although the sample size was small, one result was striking: Of the 68% of the participants who believed that they assessed the will of God, every person found that God agreed with their stance on SSM:
bulletAll of those who are personally opposed to SSM reported that God agreed with them.
bulletAll of those favoring SSM also reported that God agreed with them.
bulletNone found that God took a compromise position, saying that God supported or opposed SSM depending upon the specifics of each individual case.
Design of study

Summary of the study:

bulletThe most significant result, in the author's opinion, is that:
bulletThose who personally favored SSM found that God also favored it.
bulletThose who personally opposed SSM found that God also opposes it.
bulletGod did not disagree with any of the participants' beliefs, even though they are in conflict.
bulletWith few exceptions:
bulletReligious liberals favor SSM.
bulletReligious conservatives oppose SSM.
bulletWith no exceptions:
bulletHeterosexual conservative Christians oppose SSM.

See also an article relevant to the polarizing effects of increasing scientific evidence about homosexual orientation (two pages).  

LDS Pamphlet, "God Loveth His Children"
Overall, I was impressed with the church's pamphlet about homosexuality.  I felt the Spirit as I read it, and I believe it contains many truths and mostly promotes love.  I also found some troubling/problematic pieces.  Three positive excerpts (presuming they're true):
> Notwithstanding your present same-gender attractions, you can be happy during this life, lead a morally clean life, perform meaningful service in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with your fellow Saints, and ultimately receive all the blessings of eternal life.
> As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.
> Same-gender attractions include deep emotional, social, and physical feelings. All of Heavenly Father’s children desire to love and be loved...

Some other thoughts:
A faithful LDS homosexually-oriented member has primarily four lifestyle choices: 1) heterosexual marriage, 2) fidelity to a single homosexual partner, 3) celibacy, and 4) homosexual promiscuity. In past decades, I've heard that some church leaders prescribed heterosexual marriage as a remedy for homosexual inclinations. Now, "Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith" seems to be more of the stance. Thus, if options 2 and 4 are out, and 1 is also advised against, the homosexually oriented person is left with celibacy as the only acceptable means for moving forward. The church position on homosexuality as evidenced by the Wickman/Oaks press conference is treading a fine line between some weighty doctrine-induced duties.  The first is to forbid homosexual behavior.  The second is to refrain from fobidding to marry: "15 And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man." One might wonder if homosexual men, to use an example, are not also men in the usage of that verse- in which case advising against heterosexual marriage for those homosexually inclined appears to be inappropriate on its surface. If homosexual orientation does not exist, is not significant, is chosen, and/or is changeable, then there seems to be little unjustified risk in a homosexually oriented person obediently entering heterosexual marriage. What relative risk increase exists if behavior is all that matters, and each person has total control over his or her behavior? Also, this counsel, which uses the language of "challenge... that they cannot control" seems almost to contradict the theme of the press conference about "we do not accept the fact that conditions that prevent people from attaining their eternal destiny were born into them without any ability to control" and "One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable" and "we know we can control how we behave, and it is behavior which is important.'  (see also my post about inclinations/behavior/dispostion.)  I'm not fully convinced about the significance of this inclination/behavior distinction.  Take two 10 year olds- John, who's normal and Mark, a very low-functioning autistic person with an inclination toward flailing about and throwing tantrums.  John and Mark can both control their behavior, and despite his inclinations in any particular instance Mark can, and sometimes does, refrain from throwing a tantrum.  If John flailed about in class and threw a tantrum, you might discipline him somewhat severely.  If you punished Mark the same amount for the same behavior, he'd spend his life in the corner.  Despite Mark's agentic control (i.e. the reality that any particular instance of misbehavior is not inevitable), it's absurd to hold him as responsible as John for an outburst- and it would be foolish to expect Mark to regulate his behavior to the same level of mellowness as John.  

To read a more thorough/thoughtful analysis of the Oaks/Wickman talk, see the 33 page Family Fellowship's assessment.  I found the response very insightful- though I didn't come across it until a few months after I first published this post.  Also, I asked Elder Wickman in person in September 2010 about the press conference- he said the transcript was pretty raw/unedited but for grammar and such.  I asked what he would change in retrospect.  He said, "not a thing, it was spot on." 

Though both I and I would presume the church disagree with his reasoning, no less an authority than a Supreme Court Justice rejected the significance of a distinction between behavior and orientation: "Following the Supreme Court's decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez on June 28, 2010, the plaintiffs in Perry cited the decision by Justice Ginsburg's  as Supreme Court precedent that sexual orientation is "an identifiable class" in opposition the defense's argument that sexual orientation is "behavioral".[72]  Christian Legal Society had asserted that it did not restrict membership based on sexual orientation but based on "conduct and belief that the conduct is not wrong". Ginsburg rejected that distinction, noting that with respect to sexual orientation the court has "declined to distinguish between status and conduct" and offering the parallel from an earlier case: "A tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews."  emphasis added). 
Also, it's interesting that in the Wickman/Oaks address, homosexual orientation was identified as affirmatively unique to mortality (i.e. was not an aspect of pre-mortal existence and won't be an aspect of post-mortal existence). Aside from the ideas 1) that we should avoid feeding mortal addictions such as drugs and pornography because that appetite will remain with our spirits after death to the addicted one's torment and 2) that our relationships persist after death, it seems that this fact suggests the permissibility of a mortality-only remedy for the homosexually oriented. If we are willing to "throw up our hands" and say "the Lord will work it out in the afterlife" in difficult situations (e.g. two faithful LDS members marry. The young wife's husband dies. Few LDS men want to marry her, fearing that they can't be sealed because a woman can only be sealed to one man and it would be unfair to the first husband to cancel the woman's first sealing. If the woman marries a second LDS husband, will the children be sealed to the woman? to the first husband? to the second husband? Second example- a child with Down's syndrome. Third example- a woman who goes through life without receiving a marriage proposal), why not carve out a similar short-of-heterosexual marriage, mortality-only remedy for the homosexually oriented? Perhaps a remedy that would encourage greater obedience to the law of chastity, which is also about 1) {cleaving to a single spouse} and 2) {behaving with fidelity} in addition to restricting sexual behavior to one's opposite gender? It seems that promiscuous homosexual behavior is more immoral than fidelity to a homosexual partner (LDS statement about marriage in an article about family: "united spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically, taking full responsibility for nurturing each other, they are truly married")- but if the repercussions of each behavior class is equal, there seems to be little incentive for treading the more moral of two paths both deemed to be immoral.  Though the church's teachings are very appropriate for the heterosexual majority, on what basis does a homosexually oriented member have faith in the ability of the church to help him or her be happy and prosperous during mortality?  Certainly there is the promise of full opportunity and felicity after death- but "it has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come." - Joseph F. Smith.  

I condemn homosexual conduct as sinful.  However, If a prayerful homosexually oriented member of the church took a teleological rather than a deontological ethical approach (arguably as Adam did in consciously and intentionally violating a commandment of God to bring about a worthwhile end, namely "that man may be") and concluded that s/he could obtain more of godliness through getting as close to marriage as s/he could with a partner of the same (or, for that matter, opposite) gender than through a long life of lonely dinners and little family purpose, one might be hard pressed to find that judgment grossly erroneous.  Both religion and culture generally extol marriage (the LDS church preaches marriage and family ad nauseum.  It's hard to beat marriage as far as its value in practicing to become like God, and the opposite genderness aspect of marriage is not the only cause of those valuable effects).  As one friend of mine said, "no matter how many puppies you save and battered women you help, you're still alone at the end of the day."  Though the God Loveth His Children pamphlet points out "Partaking of the sacrament, singing the hymns of Zion, and listening to uplifting talks all contribute to your spiritual growth," General Authorities consistently couch happiness in terms of spouse and children and preach the central role of the family in God's plan in mortality.  Comparing service and endeavors outside the home to motherhood, President Hinckley taught: "There is no other thing that will compare with that regardless of what she does."David O. McKay taught, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."  Might this principle include, for those that are capable, "No other success can compensate for failure to have a home," meaning spouse and/or children? 

Because it is unlikely or impossible for a Down's Syndrome child such as Jackie Junot to graduate from high school, let alone college, this fact does not imply that one should prohibit her from going to elementary school.  Similarly, even presuming a homosexual union does not qualify as a first-place ideal, why prohibit the homosexually oriented from approximating the ideal of marriage and family?  Take a look at a class of individuals- namely poor, uneducated Americans who grow up in divorced homes.  (I choose this class because their category is chosen about as much as is homosexual orientation).    Despite their elevated likelihood of themselves divorcing and thereby disadvantaging their own children (i.e. failing to reach the first-place ideal), one would nevertheless refrain from prohibiting their marrying, and would perhaps even try to assist them in building a stable marriage and family.  Since according to the presumption homosexually oriented people can hardly if ever make the ideal family, one should help them get as close to that ideal as they can rather than hedging up their way.   Family is central to the Creator's plan for His children during mortality.    

Because family is so central, individuals understandably exhibit a certain fierceness in marriage's pursuit.  A marriage or marriage-like relationship can, like almost no other relationship, context, or experience in life, help one to develop attributes of godliness such as patience, love, mercy, and the host of relational virtues unavailable to non-family experience (see my marriage post).  Even if a prayerful homosexually-oriented member of the church mistakenly fails to account for the primacy of earth's purpose to "to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" in choosing to develop attributes of godliness through a marriage-like homosexual relationship, that mistake seems somewhat small ethically.

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