Things To Act
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Civil Unions?
Does the Church have an official position on civil unions?  A few days ago I posted: 

I am not aware of any official LDS position on civil unions. Nate Oman provides anecdotal evidence that the Church might not mind civil unions, which is interesting if true. It seems to me that the Church's public positions can be interpreted two different ways, either as 'opposition to all legal recognition of sodomous relationships,' or as 'wanting to preserve the traditional definition of "marriage," without caring about civil unions much.' I'd be interested if anyone can provide a definitive statement in which the Church clarified its position between these two options.
A reader email since has alerted me that I may not have been perfectly clear on my question, which dealt with the Church's political advocacy, not its internal policies.  Should civil unions become legal, the Church would not ecclesiastically accept them any more than it accepts legal alcohol drinking, gambling, Sabbath-breaking, or abortion.  In other words, things that are perfectly legal under the laws of the land may still bring a member under Church discipline.
However, the Church takes different positions of political advocacy on various issues.  On a few key issues, the Church spends its political capital and advises members to vote certain ways (sometimes successfully, sometimes not).  Thus, members are asked to vote to curtail gambling whenever the issue is on the ballot, and have been asked to work for constitutional and statutory preservation of the present legal definition of marriage.
However, other issues with moral overtones are not addressed.  The Church has no detailed ideal public policy program that it asks its members to work for in every area of law.  Many members disagree on how far government regulation should go, and one can find scriptural justification for various positions.
As for why the Church doesn't issue detailed policy guidelines, I can only speculate.  Reasons might include that members wouldn't have enough faith to accept more detailed direction, that members should be anxiously engaged in working out obvious applications of doctrine to law without being commanded, that Church leaders have not received guidance from the Lord on various matters and thus we are left to our own wisdom, that no one answer is right or wrong for many areas of policy, or some combination of these and other reasons.  While the moral consequences of these reasons differ, as long as none is given, I am forced to assume that members acting in good faith can (and do) disagree about many public policy questions, from sin taxes to no-fault divorce, from the exact role the welfare state should play to the meaning of the Establishment Clause.
Now obviously, some policy questions should be obvious from Church doctrine, regardless of whether the Church spells it out or not.  But many others are ambiguous, though members may have strong (and divergent) opinions about what Church doctrine implies in a given situation.
Which brings us back to civil unions.  When I first heard of the concept, I couldn't see much difference between a 'union' and a 'marriage' if both implied identical rights.  The Baron of Deseret argues for this position.  However, the more I look at this subject, the more complex it seems.  For one thing, it seems only fair to tweak family law in some ways to make it fairer--I see no reason why any adult shouldn't be able to easily make decisions about who he wants to give medical, inheritance, or insurance rights to, whether or not it has anything to do with a romantic relationship.
In addition, looking at the few public statements Church leaders have made on the issue of Church political advocacy and SSM, I see mainly rhetoric about preserving the definition of marriage--not about barring any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.  This does surprise me somewhat, but I think it serious enough that I should refrain from reading my own preconceptions into statements of Church leaders.  Thus, I wonder about what the Church's position really is.  I also wonder about many things relating to the lack of full explanation on these issues (why does the Church pick policy fights it will almost certainly lose?  Why does the Church worry about moral problem X but not moral problem Y?  Etc.).  In any event, I can see how a member, after reading all recent official statements on SSM, could come away thinking that the Church's position on the legal availability of civil unions is neutral as long as 'marriage' still refers only to heterosexual unions.  If the Church actually actively opposes civil unions, I hope that it clarifies its position soon.

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