Friday, June 26, 2015

I Celebrate the Supreme Court Ruling Because of my Religion, Not in Spite of It

It is with much joy that I woke up and heard the news this morning: the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage bans are illegal and these unions must be recognized. I've been a supporter of the legalization of same-sex marriage for years, and today, I'm very proud of my country.

But I'm a Mormon, and Mormons have a history of opposing same-sex marriage.

It is true that our doctrine does not allow for same-sex marriages to be performed in temples. We believe that families can be eternal, that the biological laws that govern our bodies will exist in the eternities, and that we can live with our spouses in order to create children in the Celestial Kingdom (we refer to this as the Plan of Salvation). This cannot be done through a same-sex union, and so The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints cannot officially support same-sex marriages; in fact, the Church has already issued a press release concerning the ruling confirming that this will not change their position. And I will never try to change the church's position on this.

However, our religion isn't the only one that matters - not in terms of what is legal. The Constitution protects the rights of all its citizens, including those who believe in a God who accepts same-sex marriage as well as those who don't believe in a God at all. The Supreme Court has ruled no less than fourteen times since 1888 that marriage is a civil right protected by law. And today, the Supreme Court recognized that marriage laws based on religious beliefs violate both the First Amendment (by creating laws that favor a religion over another) and the Fourteenth Amendment (by denying equal protection under the law for all U.S. citizens).

The leaders of our church have recently emphasized the importance of protecting religious freedom, and we strongly believe in the separation of church and state. Our 11th Article of Faith affirms the importance of allowing all men to worship how they wish - including worshiping a God that accepts same-sex marriage. Even some of our earliest writings emphasize the limits of the Constitution on prescribing religious beliefs as law and specifically state that the government has the right to frame laws surrounding marriage. Thomas S. Monson, our current Prophet, even stated that members can support the legalization of same-sex marriage for political reasons.

Some members of the church have opposed this because they are afraid that this means that the church will be forced to perform same-sex marriages, even though our doctrine is central to our beliefs. This fear is unfounded. There has yet to be a single successful instance of a church in the United States being forced to perform a religious sacrament. Churches all around the country, right now, refuse to perform marriages for a wide variety of reasons that are technically legal: the couple didn't attend church enough, they had pre-marital sex, they had an abortion, they have had a divorce, they haven't attended pre-marital workshops... there are even churches that refuse to marry interracial couples because they believe that God doesn't sanction those unions. And no church has been forced to perform marriages for these couples. Why? Because the First Amendment guarantees absolute protection to religious institutions in performing their sacraments (not for-profit wedding chapels, mind you). Temples, churches, synagogues, mosques - any place whose primary function is religious instruction and sacrament - is protected.

Even if there was some pressure on the church concerning this (and that's a big if since there isn't a single precedent for it), we'd just do what we do in many other countries: allow couples to get legally married outside of the temple and then sealed in the temple separately (which I think would be great anyway).

And no, there is no threat to the church in losing its tax-exempt status. There are only six ways that a non-profit organization (church) can lose its tax-exempt status: 1) running it for private benefit, 2) lobbying, 3) engaging in political campaigns, 4) income unrelated to the business, 5) not meeting their annual reporting obligation, and 6) not operating in accord with stated purposed. That's it. So, as far as same-sex marriage goes, as long as the church stay politically neutral, then its tax-exempt status stays safe.

So, for me, it's very simple: I cannot claim religious freedom for myself if I do not grant it for others, and I cannot claim to uphold the Constitution if I support laws that deny civil rights to anyone. For far too long, basic protections have been denied to too many Americans, and today, I'm proud of my country.

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