Things To Act
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Governor Romney Renounces Pioneer Forbearers?
But the hearing's star witness, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, cited Utah's territorial battle with the federal government over polygamy as an example of when federal intervention in state marriage policy is warranted and necessary.
"There was a long time ago a state that considered the practice of polygamy [legal] and as I recall the federal government correctly stepped in and said, 'That is not something the state should decide,' " Romney told the committee. "We have a federal view on marriage; this should not be left to an individual state."
Later in the hearing, responding to Democratic skepticism that marriage faces an imminent threat demanding prompt constitutional countermeasures, Romney again drew a parallel with polygamy, saying if Massachusetts suddenly legalized plural marriage, he suspected Congress would recognize the need for an immediate constitutional amendment.
Desnews doesn't quite cover that quote:
Romney reminded him that the federal government outlawed polygamous marriages once permitted in Utah, and the Supreme Court upheld the ban.
"If my state had begun polygamous marriages," Romney said, "and we were providing polygamous marriages right now, I would believe we would recognize that there was a need for a constitutional amendment to prevent that. I would certainly support an immediate constitutional amendment to prevent that."
He said it makes sense to do the same to stop the spread of same-sex marriage. He added, "I think the federal government and the people of the United States have an interest in having a marriage definition that is consistent across the nation."
Transcripts of Romney's prepared remarks are available online, but I didn't come across a transcript of the Q&A, which is evidently where this came from. Romney, as quoted in the Trib, is somewhat hard to follow--after all, he confuses the sequence of events, as the state of Utah never allowed polygamy (plural marriages had been stopped before the Manifesto was issued, six years before the territory achieved statehood). I suppose it's possible that he meant (and the Trib declined to report his clarifying remarks) that the federal government was 'correct' to insist on a uniform definition of marriage, but that its actions in enforcing that definition were not 'correct.' However, that's a generous reading of his comment, and that position is not necessarily logically consistent.
Barring any sort of clarification, though, Romney appears to be on the record as considering the 19th-century federal government's actions against polygamy--including denial of voting rights based on belief, seizure of the Church's property, and imprisoning men for refusing to abandon their dependents--to be 'correct.'
One can argue about whether or not polygamy would have ended (and in what timeframe) absent federal intervention. One can argue about whether the Church's present uniform ban on polygamy is likely to change. One can argue about to what degree the Lord allowed political factors to influence the timing of the Manifesto. Members can and do, in good faith, have different ideas about these questions.
However, I find it difficult to understand how any member who thinks that the Church is led by God can question the fact the polygamy was a divine commandment taught and administered by four prophets in this dispensation. Absent the announcement of a radical doctrinal revolution from Church headquarters, the official position of the Church continues to be that the practice of entering, under proper ecclesiastical authority, into plural marriages was valid from the early days of the Church to ~1887 (and for a few years after outside the U.S.). Since the federal government at the time decided to directly oppose the inspired leadership of the Church, I find it difficult to understand how any member could say that the federal government was correct (and by implication, that the Church was incorrect).
I don't think that the Church has anything to apologize for with regards to polygamy. The same cannot be said of the federal government in the 1880s.
I suppose the generous interpretation might be that the federal government should have made it clear that Utah would not be admitted as a state until it renounced polygamy, and left it to the territory to decide. However, I don't know how tenable this position is, given that the antipolygamy persecution had been escalating steadily for decades by the time of the Manifesto. The feds were not interested in merely preventing legal plural marriages--they were interested in breaking up families and forcing people to renounce their religious beliefs. It's hard to argue for the moral example of a generation that went to such extremes in fighting against the 'relic of barbarism' that isolated Utahan polygamous marriages presented.
Of course, while many attempted analogies between polygamy and same-sex marriage are inaccurate, some superficial similarities do exist. A particularly ironic twist is evident in the latest developments. While the collected weight of the federal government in the 1880's was trying to break up existing marriages, once the Church published the Manifesto, persecution largely dried up. In exchange for renouncing future plural marriages, the feds agreed to stop trying to break up existing marriages, and many families lived in polygamous situations for years after the Manifesto. Fast-forwarding to 2004, the MA SC Runaway Four's tactical success (by refusing to stay its decision until MA had a chance to amend its Constitution to restore the intent of the majority, if necessary) has led to a situation in which legal same-sex marriages have gone forward. Gov. Romney has now gone on the record not only wrapping himself in mantle of Edmunds-Tucker, but also calling for the breakup of existing 'marriages,' which even the federal government stopped trying for after 1890. He also implicitly endorses an amendment that would end polygamous marriages in the same circumstances--circumstances that are not precisely parallel to territorial Utah ~1885, but are similar enough to be ironic. The fact that we Latter-day Saints consider the polygamous marriages to have been valid and the same-sex 'marriages' to be a sham does not dispel the irony observed by those who do not share our beliefs.
My ancestors were persecuted and imprisoned for their beliefs, including their belief in polygamy. I find it troubling that a prominent LDS public official would invoke the legacy of their persecutors to justify present political proposals, however well-intentioned.
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