The new editor of Sunstone, a good friend of mine who is also a very awesome, very demanding editor, wanted me to try redoing my piece to focus more on trying to show why same-sex marriage doesn't harmonize with the Mormon gospel. Below is the new portion of the essay; I changed the intro and conclusion too, but they are similar enough to what I posted in the earlier version that I won't post them again here.
Allow me to apply some Mormon spiritual and theological reasoning to the question of whether same-sex marriage could find a place in the Mormon plan of salvation and thus become acceptable to Mormons. I’m going to focus on the sexual aspect, for that is the crux of the matter. A recent New Yorker cartoon summed up the reality of the situation well: Three men are sitting at a table in a gay bar, having drinks and scoping out the action. One laments to the others, “It’s been so long—it’s like I’m only gay in theory” (August 25, 2008, page 65).
In Mormon temples, where we learn ideal standards and promise to strive to reach them, one of the covenants we make is to avoid any practices that are impure or unholy. For gay marriage to work in Mormonism, that covenant is as good a litmus test as any other I can imagine.
First, I’ll look at the impurity issue. Can same-sex copulation be made pure through gay marriage? One argument I often hear in favor of gay marriage is that many heterosexuals practice non-procreational oral, anal, and object copulation, and even the LDS Church seems to have taken a don’t-ask-don’t-tell stance on married heterosexual bedroom activities. So why shouldn’t gays be allowed to marry and enjoy the same intimacies?
I’m not going to focus on the oral or object parts of the equation—I know many modern-day Mormons feel these practices are okay for married heterosexual couples, so it would be a double standard to argue that they would be intrinsically worse when practiced by gay married couples. However, for male gays the ultimate sexual expression is anal sex, and that’s going to be a hard sell for the Mormon people. I’ll be blunt: Anyone who regularly indulges in anal sex will occasionally face the reality of fecal mishap, and most Mormons would agree that this constitutes an impure practice regardless of whether the participants are the same sex or opposite sexes. Purity means free of taint or pollution, containing nothing that does not properly belong. Mixing the body’s foulest excretion with the sexual act will never compute for most Mormons, even if the participants are married.
Many Mormons also find the concept of anal sex to be spiritually impure as well. According to Mormon belief, we are created in the image of God, who we believe has a body with parts and passions, which many Mormons interpret to include the genitals. From youth, we are told that the body is sacred and should be treated with reverence and respect, like a temple. In the view of many Mormons, to use an orifice for other than its natural purpose is an affront to the human tabernacle, whether or not physical impurities are in evidence. So in order for Mormons to accept gay marriage, we would somehow have to become reasonably comfortable with its sexual implications, which I suppose might be possible if married Mormon gays somehow made it clear that they would not practice anal sex.
Now I will look at the unholy part of the test. When something is holy, it has divine qualities, and we venerate it as sacred. To Mormons, marriage is holy—in fact, many Mormons believe that God himself is married and that eternal marriage is, in fact, the key to exaltation, which most Mormons understand to mean becoming eternally procreative parents like God. For Mormons, even earthly marriages that are not sealed in the temple have holy potential, as evidenced by our practice of performing posthumous sealings for any and all couples who have ever been married on this earth.
So what are the theological implications, for Mormons, of granting marriage status to same-sex couples? According to Mormon theology, same-sex marriages would, by our definition of marriage, have to be defined as holy and godlike. By most people’s definition, marriage includes sexual relations—in fact, marriage partners who withhold sex from each other are sometimes said to be violating the law of chastity, and many Mormons believe that the heavenly parents engage in a celestial form of sexual congress. So in order for same-sex marriage to be accepted by Mormons, we would need to become convinced that God himself could conceivably engage in such a union, with all its implications. This too will be a hard sell for Mormons, to say the least.
If Mormons in favor of gay marriage are able to overcome these reservations in some way, then I agree with Thurston that the LDS Church will accept gay marriage—and probably sooner than later, given the degree of pressure our society will likely increasingly exert on those who display even the slightest hint of “homophobia” or discrimination against gays. Personally, though, I think we would have to give up our Mormon integrity to accommodate gay marriage—in other words, we would cease to be Mormon in any theologically meaningful, distinctive way.