As a professor of philosophy, Jeffrey Nielsen ought to know a straw-man argument when he sees it. What’s more, he ought to know better than to use one. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not “speak out against” homosexual marriage or homosexuality. If anything the teachings of the church speak of loving acceptance and understanding of people who struggle with this tendency. However, this acceptance and understanding does not extend to granting homosexuals the privilege of marriage. In addition, the express purpose of the Constitutional Amendment currently before the U.S. Senate is not to prohibit homosexual marriage, it is to define and protect marriage between husband and wife. Though subtle and seemingly semantic, these are fundamental differences.
Marriage between a man and wife and their family unit is the basic foundation of successful society. To protect such a relationship does not deny rights to which homosexuals are constitutionally entitled–at least not according to our reading of that text–Equal Protection Clause quibbling aside. Nor is there anything in the Lockean Declaration that suggests that “life, liberty, property (pursuit of happiness) necessarily means that all should have the opportunity to marry.
Despite what some tortured couples may say, marriage is a privilege. In liberal-democracies it is the right of the majority to decide how those privleges are disbursed. That is the beauty of the Constitutional amendment process. Furthermore, wanting to protect traditional marriage does not make one a bigot. Calling those who oppose gay marriage bigots is just another logical fallacy Mr. Nielsen may be familiar with–ad homonym.
We love reading the logical fallacy in Op-Ed pieces like the one authored by Mr. Nielsen. Following his moral rationalization of criticizing the church, he launches into a scientific explanation of homosexuality, as though defining it in those terms requires automatic recognition of their “right” to marriage. We do not doubt that gay marriage may be a product of biology. That it may be so does not make it any more “natural” than schizophrenia, congenital heart disease, or depression.
Mr. Nielsen continues by vaguely mentioning and summarily dismissing every argument in defense of traditional marriage. Tradition is bad because historically we descriminated against African Americans and women. Yet marriage is hardly a superstitious tradition. It is the first and foundational relationship of the whole of Judeo-Christian theology. Lest you forget or insist on repeating the tired ’60’s era mantra that ‘one cannot legislate morality,’ Western democracy–especially our system of laws–is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And it doesn’t end there. Marriage cuts across culture, religion, and history. Every major religion and successful society was founded on the basic familial unit–mother, father, children. This Amendment no more tells homosexuals they can’t be married than nature tells them they can’t procreate. The nature and purpose of the family is two-fold: to produce offspring and provide for their care and upbringing. That homosexuals cannot do the former is beyond debate, though the latter is not, despite Mr. Nielsen’s protests.
Changes (mutations, really) that alter the very definition of marriage are an attack on the institution itself. Homosexual marriage is not the only assault on marriage, but it is an important battleground. It (marriage) is one of the last few refuges in a society assailed by rampant relativism. Today we are asked to give legal legitimacy to relationships between members of the same sex. Relativism demands that we take the sometimes fallacious threat of a “slippery slope” seriously. Tomorrow, most assuredly, we will be asked to give legitimacy to relationships between minors and adults because it is their “right.” They will argue, as they do with homosexual marriage, that some are born with a biological attraction and affection that should not be illegal. They will cite scholarly journals to back up their arguments. This is a development that would be opposed by a vast majority in today’s society. We would be willing to bet that homosexual marriage is a development that would have been opposed by a vast majority of society some 30 years ago. The trend is clear.
Mr. Nielsen is clearly ignorant of the relgious underpinnings of our laws and the Constitution. If the law is religiously or otherwise inspired and is passed by a vast majority of the House and Senate and then again by a vast majority of state legislatures, does that make it a “dangerous rejection of our Founding Fathers’ wise insight,” or simply democracy at work?
Attempts by Mr. Nielsen to distract from the real issue by trying to find hypocrisy in early church teachings about polygamy is also misguided. Polygamy is fundamentally different from homosexual marriage in that it provides for the fulfillment of the basic responsbilities of marriage as outlined above. This is not to be misinterpreted as an endorsement of polygamy, but polygamy does allow for procreation and provides for the care and upbringing of children. Besides, LDS history is hardly the only example of polygamous relations. Polygamy is one of those things that cuts across nearly every culture, religion, and history. Just because the church has it in its historical roots does not preclude its members from opining on the morality or legality of homosexual marriage or keep its leaders from making prophetic pronouncements.
As a history student who has read and studied church history extensively, we absolutely disagree with Mr. Nielsen’s statements about the church’s supposedly less than candid treatment of its history. Perhaps they are more coddled over there in the philosophy department or (more likely) perhaps Mr. Nielsen was too lazy to do more than the 30 minute Google search he suggests his readers make, either way, the church and BYU have made available more documents relating to the history of the church than any one individual could review in a lifetime. Or maybe he missed renowned Columbia professor Richard Bushman’s recent biography of Joseph Smith? Dr. Bushman is no lightweight. We take comfort from the fact that those who know the most about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are still faithful members–people like recently retired University of Utah history professor, Davis Bitton. The underlying theme these scholars stress is that they don’t have a testimony of church history, they have a testimony of the Gospel.
Mr. Nielsen’s diatribe is the just the latest in the genre of writing from supposed intellectuals who think they know more than Church leadership or their faithful, ‘simpleminded’ followers. As our father told us today, having a PhD at the end of your name does not make you intelligent.