LDS Church vs Barack Obama on Same-Sex Marriage

As I’m sure you already know, last Sunday the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent an official letter to congregations throughout California asking the members of the church to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.” The full letter is available on the official church website.

In an interesting contrast, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States, Barack Obama, has issued a letter of his own addressed to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club which was read at the group’s annual Pride Breakfast. In the letter, not only does he express strong opposition to the California amendment, but he goes even further and advocates “repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.”

The Defense of Marriage Act is the law that protects states that do not allow same-sex marriage from having to recognize such marriages enacted in other states that do. So essentially, Barack Obama is saying that not only does he oppose efforts to amend the California constitution to ban same-sex marriage, he also wants to ensure that all other states recognize those marriages.

This position makes him the most pro-same-sex-marriage candidate ever. Last election’s democratic nominee, John Kerry, like his predecessors, while in favor of homosexual rights, was opposed to same-sex marriage. Al Gore, when running in 2000, said that he opposed “changing the institution of marriage as it is presently understood—between a man and a woman.” Gore has since changed his position.

This puts LDS members who support Barack Obama in an uncomfortable position. A vote for Obama, despite whatever other merits he may have in other realms of policy, may not be easily reconcilable with the Church’s exhortation to “do all you can” to pass the California marriage amendment. Some fringe members who support gay marriage have said that “all they can do” is stay silent. But refraining from publicly advocating against the amendment is nullified by both a negative vote on proposed amendment as well as a vote for Barack Obama.

The ballot is ultimately the most important form of speech in political matters.

UPDATE:
I realize that many of the commentators here came via a link from another blog with which I have a long history of strong disagreement and even antipathy, despite the fact that I have a number of friends who are bloggers there.

The link from that blog was made with the title “A vote for Obama is a vote against God.” This unfortunate, hyperbolic caricature of my thoughts unfairly predisposed readers to read a sentiment into my words that is not there. More clarification in the comments.

UPDATE 2:
I have been delisted from ldsblogs.org as a result of the conversations around this post.

UPDATE 3: This post contributed, in a round about way to this

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33 Responses to LDS Church vs Barack Obama on Same-Sex Marriage

  1. m&m

    If you look at protectmarriage.com, you will see that John McCain has also taken a stand on this…in support of the amendment.

  2. m&m, is it relevant that McCain was against the amendment before he was for it? In 2006, he announced opposition to the idea, as well.

    As a practical matter, such an amendment seems to be virtually impossible in America today.

  3. “This puts LDS members who support Barack Obama in an uncomfortable position.”

    Only if you buy your twisted logic. As a liberal and an Obama supporter, I obviously do not. Of course, my comments are also not usually allowed to make it through your filtering process.

  4. Chris H.,

    I suspect the degree of discomfort (or lack thereof) that members such as yourself feel about the issue has less to do with the twistedness of my logic and more to do with the violence already committed against the coherence of the restored-gospel by your own intellectual contortions.

    Sure, from a purely topological framework a doughnut and a picture-frame may be equivalent, but no one is going to pass off a doughnut as a picture-frame for very long.

    A framing of the restored gospel that can cast off a direct request by the First Presidency of the Church with such nonchalance is in danger of being so topologically twisted as to relinquish any true resemblance to the restored gospel, even if it can be intellectually claimed that they are “equal”.

    I merely said that support for Obama may not be easily reconciled. I did not say that reconciliation was impossible.

    I expect faithful members to take the advice of the Prophet and his counselors very seriously with a bias toward questioning their own understanding in favor of that of those who they sustain as prophets.

    This does not seem to be the general trend in the LDS Murmurnacle.

  5. Spig

    Think about this:

    “Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose practices or teachings are contrary to, or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

    This doesn’t seem to just apply to anti- and polygamy clans.

  6. Spig, it would seem that both major U.S. parties could fail that test.

    If the point of this post is to argue that U.S. Mormons will overwhelmingly support John McCain over Barack Obama this fall, I think that’s almost certainly a very solid factual prediction. Mormons just aren’t a swing demographic.

  7. Like RT said, both political parties fail the test of representing what I believe to be gospel principles. I support Obama because overall he advocates more good (in my opinion) than the other candidates.

  8. DavidH

    The Pew survey shows that 73% of active Mormons regularly vote republican. According to the survey, Mormons are also the second strongest advocates of making abortion illegal in most or all cases and for society to discourage homosexuality. (Jehovah Witnesses are the most.) (Another interesting statistic is that 82% of active Mormons do not believe in evolution (more than evangelicals, but less than the 90% of Jehovah Witnesses who disbelieve in it)—but I do not think there is a difference in positions of McCain and Obama on evolution.)

    There is a difference in the positions of McCain and Obama on same sex marriage. Neither candidate favors same sex marriage (re Obama, see http://lesbianlife.about.com/od/lesbianactivism/p/BarackObama.htm). Both voted against the proposed federal constitutional amendment that would have created a national definition of one man/one woman marriage. But, as Max points out, McCain supports a California state constitutional amendment limiting the definition, but Obama (as well as McCain supporter Governor Schwartzenegger)opposes the California amendment. And, in other respects (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and DOMA), McCain’s opposition to same sex marriage is stronger than Obama’s. Similarly, McCain’s opposition to abortion is stronger than Obama’s personal (but not legislative) opposition to abortion.

    Given that the republican candidate and party are more opposed to abortion and to same sex marriage, this will tend to further entrench Latter-day Saints in our pattern of voting republican.

    I personally stopped supporting the GOP because of the Iraq war, and switched to supporting the democratic party. I know a number of other committed religious people in other faiths who have done the same. I do not know a lot of Mormons who have done that. It may be because of the importance to Latter-day Saints of political/moral issues related to abortion and homosexuality. Or it may be because most Mormons support the war—either because they perceived President Hinckley as implicitly doing so, or because, as the Pew survey also notes, we are the religious group that is second in most favoring military strength as leading to world peace, and second to last in favoring diplomacy (evangelicals most favor military and least favor diplomacy).

    http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2religious-landscape-study-chapter-2.pdf

  9. Mark IV

    I believe that you are harming the church with this approach. You seem to have in your sights those who “can cast off a direct request by the First Presidency of the Church with such nonchalance”.

    If that is your definition of a fringe member, perhaps we can expand it to include the following people:

    1. Returned missionaries who disregard the counsel given by Pres. Hinckley and multiple general authorities to maintain missionary grooming standards after they return home. How do you reconcile your beard with that advice?

    2. Those who did not attend their mass meetings or caucuses this past Spring. The First Presidency sent a letter telling us to go. Did you?

    This game can go on forever, Br. Wilson. It is best not to even start.

  10. Mark IV,

    The feeling is mutual I suspect.

    Your #1 is a silly attempt at reductio ad absurdum with a bit of ad hominem prestidigitation tacked on for good measure.

    I have never claimed that every word that falls from the prophet’s lips should have the weight of a first presidency letter, though neither do I believe that it can be disregarded with no thought at all.

    My facial hair, however, has nothing to do with the merits of the subject of this post, despite your playful round of “the fanatical hypocrite game”. My supposed hypocrisy in the matter of missionary grooming is irrelevant.

    Your #2, is a much better question. For the record, Yes, I take all First Presidency letters very seriously; I have attended my caucus meeting every year for a number of years and I have been a county delegate to the convention.

    I’m not interested in playing your game. And I reject the gaming framework you are attempting to impose on my post.

    As I have said, I have left open the possibility that members can reconcile a vote for Obama with the church’s instructions to support the ban of same-sex marriage in California, but that reconciliation should be a matter of serious contemplation and a bit of personal agony, I might add.

    While there has been some agonizing in the Murmurnacle, there have been a good number who apparently disregard the prophetic call to action as easily as they do their dirty socks.

  11. #4

    “the violence already committed against the coherence of the restored-gospel by your own intellectual contortions.”

    To be honest that almost sounds cool. Given that we have never had a gospel-related conversation I am pretty sure that you know not of what you speak.

    I am sure that there will be a special place in hell for Harry Reid, myself and all of the other Democrats that are opposing the Brethen by voting for Obama.

    For me, the best part is that the Brethen would in no way couch this issue the way that you have. That is what gives me comfort.

    Peace.

  12. Mark IV

    Br. Wilson (I don’t know how you prefer to be addressed),

    I’m not trying to play a game, and I also hope you will note that I’ve refrained from calling names (silly, murmernacle). I’m trying to make a serious point. Of course the advice we hear in conference doesn’t carry the same weight as a FP letter, but we nonetheless evaluate it and decide for ourselves how and to what extent we will apply it. I assume you have your good reasons for your grooming, and it is no skin off my nose anyway. There is no accusation of hypocrisy, just an observation that you have chosen to do something which disqualifies you from being a temple worker. You have considered that advice and for reasons of you own have chosen to set it aside. Fair enough. Even though advice in conference doesn’t carry the same weight as a First Presidency letter, it is nonetheless serious advice. I give you credit for being smart enough to see how someone else could go through a similar decision-making process with a clear conscience.

    I haven’t taken the time to look through your site, but I assume you have not published posts where you label your fellow saints as fringe members for failing to attend caucuses or stay out of debt, as FP letters advise. My guess is that you understand that it would be counter-productive to do so. I gently suggest that this post is counter-productive as well.

  13. Steven P

    The one thing that surprised me more than anything about moving back to Utah was how these one-issue views of the world dominated political discourse. No need to think, “so and so was for abortion, so we don’t vote for them.” Never mind they wanted to nuke the third world and rape and pillage the landscape. They were pro-abortion, or pro-gay, all discourse can cease, all analysis can be halted. All is black and white and simple. How much evil has crept into the world because people have quit thinking and allow these single-issue blindnesses dominate all discussion. A pox on all those who think the world can be reduced to such easy dichotomies and claims that when the prophet has spoken the thinking is done (or at least you really have to wrestle hard to justify your obviously evil choice).

  14. Latter-day Guy

    “Only if you buy your twisted logic.”

    Given that it’s his logic, I’m pretty sure he buys it. ;) (Sorry, I’ve just been reading Strunk and White, so I can’t help it.)

    In all seriousness, however, I think that Max does have a point. I think that the doctrinal calculus in which we engage as LDS folks sometimes (often?) overrides what we might me inclined to do otherwise (in this instance, in politics). And while it may be satisfying to condemn “unthinking block voting” (as I have done myself), I think that I have been guilty of oversimplifying some of the factors that really weigh on thoughtful Mormons. I have too often assumed that much of Mormon voting was a knee-jerk process, but have recently found that to be an unfair and unworthy characterization on my part.

    What brings this to mind especially is a recent post by Julie at T&S, describing political opposition to gay marriage as a modern-day symbol, like blood on the door posts. (For some reason T&S isn’t loading right now… but to paraphrase the money quote: ”…which, I guess, is why I’m opposed to gay marriage. Even though I’m not.”)

  15. Mark IV,

    I apologize for having written such a strident response to you. You are right that you have done an admirable job of refraining from both name calling and sarcasm and I appreciate that. And I admire your equanimity.

    (Tangentially, while “silly” was unnecessarily belittling, I believe the Murmurnacle is a relatively accurate epithet and I would be thrilled if the meme of LDS Murmur blogging were to gain a foothold.)

    I will consider your point.

    At first blush, however, reading your restatement, I still think your argument is flawed.

    Properly, hypocrisy is not failing to live up to an ideal that you believe, it is pretending to believe something that you do not.

    A failure to live up to an affirmed ideal (failing to attend caucuses in accordance with First Presidency instructions, or incurring debt against Church counsel) is fundamentally different from rejecting that counsel as incorrect.

    Few members will tell you that the First Presidency is wrong about either caucus attendance or debt. They are mainstream, even if they fall short.

    Those who disregard the First Presidency regarding the same-sex-marriage initiative because they believe that the Brethren are wrong, on the other hand, are properly labeled “fringe” members because their views outside the mainstream. And I think that the marginality of such views should be proclaimed and acknowledged.

    Please point me to the oodles of LDS Blog posts wherein Obama supporting members lament Obama’s incorrect position on same-sex marriage, express their support for the First Presidency’ instruction on the matter, and then say that all things considered, they are voting for Obama despite his position and not because of it. ‘Cause I mostly see those who are voting for him in part because they agree with his position on this topic.

    From the long forgotten past of the LDS Blogs you might check out this previous post of mine that I feel is somewhat related:

    http://www.millennialstar.org/2005/07/27/on-being-offended-by-ideals-and-generalizations/

  16. Steven P,

    I see that you are not only determined to dismiss all views that differ from your own as the illogical ramblings of a lack of thinking, but that you also desire to curse everyone who disagrees with you with the chickenpox (at best) or with syphilis (at worst).

    How do you want me to respond to that?

  17. I come here as a total lay person…I know I can’t get into a ring with any of you… but I think the important message Jon was explaining … is simply that we have been officially, formally, explicitly counseled to do something – all we can to protect marriage between a man and a woman. The end. Given that direct counsel – those who choose to disregard it should… as Jon said…(if they truly believe in what they believe) struggle, or at least give it some serious thought before tossing it aside. If tossing aside the counsel of people you profess to be called of God is simply like sloughing off dead skin… what else is easy to toss aside?

    And… to call voters one-issue voters can also demonstrate ignorance on the name caller. If you look at a value of a life – something so simple as a child, a baby… or if you want to extract the emotional view of it… a fetus… if there is someone who does not find value in life – how can we trust them on global issues?

    It’s easy for candidates to step up and spout of pretty words, “hope”, “change”… but how will this happen? Do you even know what they mean by “change”? Is following someone who is slick and easily drops whatever dead weight might harm his image… wise? Especially when he is the most extreme of any candidate we’ve ever had?

    See this post: http://nestleknight.wordpress.com/2008/07/02/i-love-thinking-people/

    I wish there was a candidate that I could truly vote FOR. There isn’t… and as it is… I’m voting for the one that doesn’t scare the doo doo out of me the most. Obama… scares me to the core. I know he believes so far to the extreme that I know this country will be unrecognizable in the end.

  18. Jeremy Jensen

    “This doesn’t seem to just apply to anti- and polygamy clans.”

    That may be true, but if you’re implying that the Democratic party is one of these groups, than you’re in direct contradiction to Gordon B. Hinckley and Marlin Jensen, who have stated the exact opposite of what you seem to be implying.

  19. m&m

    I have got to make a clarification on my part. I pointed out John McCain’s position only on a matter of interest, not to claim that I think he’s the better candidate. I have serious concerns about both candidates.

    Also re #2, if he changed his mind to win votes (which of course wouldn’t surprise me, because that is how politics goes), I think that’s a slimy thing to do. If he changed his mind because he honestly has given it some thought and believes it’s better to support the amendment, then more power to him. Unfortunately, I will never know his motivations, and so that’s that.

    And I simply thought it was interesting that he had taken that kind of stand since a lot of times candidates will kind of hmmm and haaaa over tough issues so as not to offend anyone. The fact that each frontrunner has taken such a firm stand on one side or the other makes this race all the more interesting. That is ALL I meant on this post.

    Obviously, this issue is a big one for me, but there are many things about McCain I really don’t like. I just needed to make that clear. And I FIRMLY believe that there are good things to be had in both parties. People may not believe it, but I tend to be more independent politically than some might think. I don’t do platforms. I want to talk issues. And I grow weary of both parties’ holding so tightly to platforms that they forget to think.

  20. Left Field

    “A vote for Obama, despite whatever other merits he may have in other realms of policy, may not be easily reconcilable with the Church’s exhortation to “do all you can” to pass the California marriage amendment.”

    Given that the vote on the California marriage amendment is the same day as the presidential election, I’m wondering how anyone’s vote for president will have any impact on the passage of the amendment?

  21. “Given that the vote on the California marriage amendment is the same day as the presidential election, I’m wondering how anyone’s vote for president will have any impact on the passage of the amendment?”

    It’s pretty safe to say that there will be a very strong overlap between those who vote for Obama in California and those who vote against the marriage amendment; I consider his presence on the ballot to be the biggest obstacle the amendment faces. Any work to drum up Obama voters will work against passage of the marriage amendment. If there are those who are campaigning to get Obama supporters to vote for the amendment, though, that is great and valuable.

  22. John Mansfield, I think the biggest obstacle to the amendment is probably California public opinion on the issue. The Field Poll (certainly one of the best-, if not the best-respected polling house in California) showed a majority of Californians favoring same-sex marriage as of earlier this summer. Even the most favorable polling numbers for the amendment show it to be a close-run thing. It’s going to depend entirely on turnout—and unlike with propositions designed to ban same-sex marriage as a future possibility when it hasn’t yet been made a present reality, this amendment will be equally mobilizing for both sides of the issue.

  23. I am reticent to post a lengthy comment due to my beard and moustache. Perhaps I should shave first…

  24. Max,

    I see what you’re trying to do here, but there are some big problems. First, let me say that I am a supporter of Obama (for now), and I have expressed support for him in spite of a couple of things I don’t fully agree with him on. [See my Why Mormons Should Consider Backing Obama post, in which I discuss this in regards to abortion. There is also a continuing debate on my blog concerning McCain vs. Obama on which we will discuss same-sex marriage soon.] You may be right that many on the Bloggernacle [Murmurnacle] don’t see these positions as a problem, but there are MANY pro-Obama supporters who are more thoughtful of these issues than you seem to be giving credit.

    Second, let’s be clear that when you say Obama is “the most pro-same-sex-marriage candidate ever,” that he is NOT, in fact, pro-same-sex-marriage. He has specifically said this. He is in favor of “equality under the law” and opposed to a constitutional amendment (which, by the way, is NOT going to happen anytime soon—that time has passed). His disagreement with the California amendment is not grounded in his personal support for same-sex marriage.

    Third, I’m not sure if “all you can do” really means not voting for anyone who is in favor of the amendment—even if they are in no way involved (and Obama is not—he has no say whatsoever in these matters). There might be an important issue here regarding the future of gay rights and gay marriage—but Obama is not an issue in terms of the California amendment. Should I not vote for any political figure in any state who is against the amendment? Maybe I should not even vote for anyone who is not actively supporting it? Moreover, maybe I should quit work, leave my wife, and spend all my time fighting for this amendment—ALL I can do. Well, this example shows that “all you can do” doesn’t really mean “all you can do.” It means all you can, in light of your circumstances. For me, these circumstances do not include not voting for a presidential candidate who has no direct bearing on the amendment simply because he is against it. A big reason why is because of the whole picture of who this candidate is and what he stands for, in comparison to his opponent.

    Fourth, many liberals and moderates (I am the latter) really tire of hearing conservative appeals to not vote for someone that are based on a single issue (such as abortion or gay marriage). It is wrong to vote on a single issue (if Hitler is pro-life, it is wrong to vote for him for this sole reason). Likewise, it is wrong to (automatically) not vote for someone because of a single issue. Rather, the one issue needs to be weighed in light of other issues. For you to not be clear about this is disingenuous and it communicates (intentionally or not) a one-sided radically conservative polemic—and worse yet, one that plays on religious sympathies and loyalties. It would have been better for you to have made clear that this is an issue that Latter-day Saints might consider weighing against other things. It also would have been better to simply discuss the issues of gay marriage and an Obama presidency, rather than try to play on a tangential issue like the California amendment.

  25. Dennis,

    I think we agree a lot more than you are permitting.

    You say there are “MANY pro-Obama supporters who are more thoughtful of these issues than you seem to be giving credit” and I believe you. But they are not a vocal group in the Murmurnacle.

    Whether or not he “personally” is against same-sex mariage, the policy positions advocated in his letter are for all practical purposes the most pro-same-sex marriage of any candidate of either party.

    My intention with this post was not to push single issue voting, but to make information available that might influence these “thoughtful” members. The fact that Obama not only opposed the amendment, but also advocates the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, should make members of the church uncomfortable, and even if they can reconcile their vote for him justified by Prudence, that reconciliation should not be simple a simple linear equation.

  26. Max,

    You may be right that we agree more than I think. If so, then I probably take the most issue with the rhetoric of your post. Really, it was hard for me to see it as more than another conservative member of the Church who is already decided against Obama and is using the California amendment issue as a wedge issue to rally support against him. Now, I realize that this may not have been your intention, but I think it’s a viable interpretation of your post’s rhetoric.

    Regarding what is vocal on the Murmurnacle, I would simply ask, “Who is your audience?” Is your blog meant to simply gripe to people on the Murmurnacle? I’m also someone who sees themselves as outside the Bloggernacle, but I don’t see the Bloggernacle as my audience (see this post ). I see my audience as thoughtful Latter-day Saints.

    Also, your post was much more than “information.” It was information with a clearly implied conservative agenda (even if it wasn’t intended). A little more context would have been better—for example, making it a clear that this is an issue that a person needs to weigh against other issues, including McCain’s positions that might be against a person’s LDS values.

  27. I would like to point out that the BCC link saying the “a vote for Obama is a vote against God” is extremely misleading and snarky. That is not what Jon is saying by a long shot. As I have posted many times, Obama’s support of gay “rights” is one of about 100 large issues with which I disagree with him. If I agreed with him on the other 99 and he happened to be a gay “rights” supporter, I would probably vote for him. Most Mormons are not going to be single-issue voters. But his position on this crucial issue is one thing, among many, that Mormons should consider when looking at who they will vote for in November.

  28. Geoff,

    Yes, but let’s be clear that Max ALSO did not say what YOU just said. Had he done so, his post might not have been labeled the way it was at BCC. Extreme rhetoric breeds extreme rhetoric.

  29. MS

    After reading a number of the posts above.. it is aparent we’ve taken the bait. It’s simple – you take a heated issue, mix it was emotion and religion and release it to the public…. We continue to bash at each other, grow heated about the supposed issue and cast I’m better than you spears.

    Hidden below the “supposed,” headline issue – is the real threat. Simply put, 61% of California voters voiced their support against same-sex marriage. Using the “issue,” special interest groups…. appealed the vote. California Supreme Court using the “issue,” sided against “We The People,” electing to literally cast the common voice of the people out.

    The real issue is not same-sex marriage but rather our Consititution. “We The People,” have fewer and fewer Right’s due to the supposed issues and we continue to give them away… all the time believing we’re doing some poor discriminated gay couple a favor by recognizing them as married. Married, living together etc. Why is our Government, Supreme Court etc. not upholding the wishes and voice of the majority?

  30. Doug Askelson

    I am relatively new to the church and I am very liberal if we use labels and until now I had no problem reconciling my political beliefs with church doctrine.Jowever I am at an impasse and I wouold like some help were any of you members when blacks were not allowed the priesthod how did you reconcile that? I just need some encouragement I have been praying and reading obsessivly since sunday

  31. Act IV

    This should be interesting . . .

  32. Doug,

    I was not a member (or alive) before blacks could hold the priesthood. I’d be happy to share some words of encouragement, though—but I’m going to need a little more information. Could you be more specific about how you are struggling?

  33. Nice post, JMW—I wasn’t aware of Obama’s statements on this issue and agree it does (should?) raise the discomfort level for some LDS voters. Ironic that in the face of Iraq, the credit crisis, and climbing oil and resource prices, this might turn out to be the Gay Marriage Election.

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