The Conservative Case for Group and Sibling Marriage

In his column last November, David Brooks’ argued for gay marriage on the premise that it would channel gays into monogamous relationships, and that monogamous relationships are healthy and fulfilling. If gay couples want to be faithful and monogamous, Brooks opines, conservatives should be doing all they can to encourage and support them.

He’s partly right. But he’s mostly wrong because he doesn’t go far enough.

Noting that marriage is in crisis, for example, Brooks notes that:

every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity — except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a “partner,” a word that reeks of contingency.

You would think that faced with this marriage crisis, we conservatives would do everything in our power to move as many people as possible from the path of contingency to the path of fidelity.

Brooks is wrong both on the facts and his underlying assumption. He forgot (doesn’t know?) that homosexuals are not the only “human beings in the United States” without the “chance to move to marital fidelity,” as Brooks defines it. People born with sexual preferences for siblings, to name one class, are similarly denied the option of marriage to the ones they love, as are first cousins. While we don’t know the number of Americans with familial sexual preference, we can assume the number is not insignificant given that 20% of marriages were between siblings in ancient Egypt, where the practice was accepted. But because modern society has shamed and demonized people with familial attraction into the closet, or into self-denial in order to accommodate society’s bigotry, every prominent supporter of equal marriage rights overlooks them.

Cynics might believe that Brooks doesn’t actually support equal marriage rights, and tolerates discriminating on the basis of familial sexual orientation. Some skeptics go so far as to wonder out loud if the uber marital-egalitarian Andrew Sullivan — who has failed to offer a single criticism of laws that prohibit fathers and daughters from marrying, even after the daughter is 18, in the thousands of sentences he’s written on equal marriage rights — has omitted this class not out of ignorance, but out of bigotry! The scandalous charge is hard to swallow. To think that the self-proclaimed champion of equal marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation is criticized for, of all things, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation!

If the charge is true, and Andrew has sadly failed to deny or otherwise respond to the accusation, perhaps Andrew, or at least David, can explain why they support laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Those born with sexual preferences for their family members deserve an explanation. (By the standard Sullivan uses against defenders of traditional marriage, he’ll have to prove that people with familial attraction “are not fully human.” It’s a really tough standard.) Trusting that he won’t be able to show that they’re not human, maybe he’ll argue that familial attraction is perverted. Unnatural? Brooks will certainly want people with familial attraction to be ushered into monogamous marriages like his.

But more important than overlooking those with familial attraction, Brooks’ central premise contains a devastating fallacy: he equates monogamy with fidelity.

Brooks is right that fidelity is a linchpin of succesful marriage, and all of the virtues Brooks ascribes to marriage are the result of a meaningful, trusting, soul-sharing relationship. But he’s wrong to think that someone can be faithful and loving to only one person, and there are historical and contemporary examples that convincingly demonstrate that marriage needn’t be based on exclusivity to be rewarding. Polygamous, polyandrous and polyamorous relationships aren’t monogamous, by definition, but partners can still be perfectly faithful.

My great-great-great-grandfather, John Johnson, was a Mormon polygamist jailed by the US government on charges of “co-habitation.” He had two wives, both of whom loved and accepted the other, and to whom John was perfectly faithful. John was the first polygamist to die while incarcerated because, in the words of the news story the day he died, “his conscience would not allow him to make any agreement to obey the law in the future, because it amounted from his standpoint to an annulment of a contract with his plural wife entered into before the status, which brought conviction against him had been made a legal offense.” It’s a mistake to refuse to call grandpa’s devotion and commitment to his wives “fidelity.” I fear that Brooks (and Sullivan) believe my grandfather was unfaithful because he had two wives. No doubt Brooks meant no offense. In trying to redirect his readers’ attention from gays to a new bogey-man, he unthinkingly focused on faithful polygamists like my grandfather.

Conservatives like Brooks and Sullivan will surely agree that it was wonderful that my grandfather’s second wife was married, loved, and cherished, rather than alone and lonely. Even Andrew would concede that she was fully human, and once we agree to that, what more needs be said?

But polygamy is only part of the conservative crusade. Brooks and Andrew have overlooked the tremendous need to embrace group marriage. This is where Brooks has it completely wrong. Not only did he mistakenly equate fidelity with monogamy, he shockingly believes that monogamy is the solution to the marriage crisis. Yet the divorce rate has grown exponentially since the US Congress made monogamy the only recognized marriage in the United States in the 1800s. Today, about 130 years into our monogamy experiment, about half of all people who try a monogamous marriage change their minds. With success like that, what’s failure?

Unaware of the source of their problem, however, victims of failed marriages typically blame themselves, thinking they weren’t fit for marriage. But besieged by incessant cues on the superiority of monogamy in romantic movies, television, media, and the law, they decide to try again, frequently only to fail once again.

Even those who stay married are frequently unhappy. Americans spend billions of dollars every year on counseling, books and escapes designed to help them make their monogamous marriage bearable. The reason married people so frequently don’t enjoy each others company, especially as seniors, is precisely because they get too much of it.

Clearly, monogamous marriage doesn’t meet the needs of many, many people.

Brooks praises monogamous relationships where partners, unable to find inner substance, resort to defining themselves by excluding everyone else. Like preschoolers, they haven’t learned that life’s true joys aren’t in possessing something, or in having something others don’t, but in sharing beautiful and precious treasures. Sharing is a noble virtue, and monopolizing something as valuable as a person’s personality, affection, kindness, and love, shows a glaring indifference to the rest of humanity. Love, like all goodness, dies when hoarded, and blooms when shared. To learn more, read Understanding Opposition to Polyamory.

Cheating in monogamous marriage is rampant, and increases the transmission of STDs. Many polyamorists, unwilling to deny their sexual orientation, are invested in committed, healthy marriages to multiple spouses. Rather than support these relationships, the law places them on unequal footing, suggesting that they can return to “valid relationships,” i.e., monogamy, if they like. “Gays should just find a pretty girl and settle down,” anyone?

Conservatives should stop encouraging polyamorists to enter monogamous marriages — leaving a wake of estranged partners, hurt children, hard feelings, and years of regret — and help them build the committed, loving, healthy, and stable relationships they want and need. Fidelity is the principle that underlies conservatives’ view of marriage.

Marriage is a living, breathing institution that adapts with the times. David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan should lead us to the future.

UPDATE: I’ve been alerted to blogs commenting about the post. Positive: Curmudgeonly Clerk, Anthony Rickey, John Rosenberg, Michael DeBow. Negative: Will Baude.

61 comments for “The Conservative Case for Group and Sibling Marriage

  1. Adam Greenwood
    January 15, 2004 at 11:54 am

    Go it, Matt!

    Another great argument along the same lines is at:

  2. Kaimi
    January 15, 2004 at 12:36 pm


    Are you sure you don’t need a disclaimer like “Caution: Contains Satire”? Someone might take you seriously and lump you in with the rest of the crazy liberals posting at T & S.

  3. Matt Evans
    January 15, 2004 at 12:51 pm

    Caution: contains satire!

    Thanks for the reminder, Kaimi. Now Kaimi, please do me the favor of responding to the argument I made. On what basis do you ground your opposition (if any) to group and sibling marriage?

  4. Greg Call
    January 15, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    Nice argument, but I don’t think it will have much affect on the pro-SSM crowd. People don’t need any arguments against group or sibling marriage because society’s moral instincts (illogical though they may be) seem to be in consensus about whether those should be permitted. In dealing with the SSM issue, however, we confront genuinely different moral instincts about it. Pointing out that people’s moral instincts are not entirely consistent might change those moral instincts, but probably won’t. As William James said, the most potent of our premises is never mentioned.

  5. lyle
    January 15, 2004 at 1:00 pm


    Thank you for your insight into this issue. My mind is probably just a lil lazy, but I often find myself challenged to explain why I feel it is ok to discriminate against homosexuals (esp. given my current local of philadelphia).

    I’ll let everyone know if Rutgers-Camden decides to discriminate against my affirmative action/legacy/chocolate produced by slave labor
    bake sale set for next Tuesday in honor of MLK.


  6. January 15, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    Matt’s same arguments may also be made about age of consent laws. There is actually more of a movement to eliminate age of consent laws and to sanction sex between adults and children than there is to allow polygamous relationships. Stanley Kurtz has discussed this in the past at National Review Online. This is where we are headed if the arguments posited by homosexual activists are followed. (I just know someone is going to shout and scream about even discussing pedophilia in the same paragraph as homosexuality and same sex marriage, but look at the arguments put forward and take them to their logical conclusion and this is what you get. Note also that groups like NAMBLA and others are out there making these arguments.) Note, however, that while there is a more organized movement, fortunately, the “ick” factor is still very high, but it was also very high as to homosexuality 20-30 years ago.

  7. Greg
    January 15, 2004 at 2:33 pm

    The William James quote may provide an answer about the “moral difference,” Matt. Here’s my guess: many of the pro-SSM people are either gay or are have friends or family members that are gay. This profoundly affects their moral instincts about the proper contours of marriage. Less people, I suspect, are close to people with open incestual tendencies.

    By the way, what is your position on civil unions? It increasingly seems to me that gay marriage is off the table anyway (i.e., no Democratic candidate supports it).

  8. Kaimi
    January 15, 2004 at 2:37 pm


    Of course, there are many reasons to oppose group and sibling marriage that would be equally applicable to same-sex marriage. They include traditional proscription, potential harm to children (empirical evidence may vary), potential harm to participants (again, empirical evidence may vary), and difficulty reconciling it with current legal norms.

    There are also differences. There is a body of empirical literature suggesting that homosexuality is genetic. There is literature suggesting that children may be raised by gay couples without adverse effects.

    (I am certain that there is counter-literature as well. Without judging its merits, I am noting the existence of some empirical evidence.) To my knowledge, no such literature exists that would support group marriage, or sibling marriage.

    Group marriage would also potentially have a much more problematic impact on legal regimes. Gay marriage isn’t that much different than the traditional model. Group marriage would wreak havoc on family law, inheritances, and so on.

    Having said that, we’re aware that man church writings endorse polygamy. I don’t think it’s out of the question that, if polygamy is made legal, the church will allow it again. (Aren’t there scriptures saying that a man cannot enter heaven _unless_ he is polygamous?). If one-man-multiple-women polygamy is made legal, I would not object to legal recognition of one-woman-multiple-men polygamy as well.

    As for siblings, there is a clear scriptural basis for that. I think I’m opposed, however, for health and potential abuse reasons.

  9. lyle
    January 15, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Note, the Boston Globe has an op-ed on the Utah federal polygamy filing that quites this Sullivan guy.

    Kaimi, why would group/sibling marriage ‘wreck havok’ on current legal regimes that SSM (this means homosexual?) wouldn’t? So…instead of only 1 man-1 woman…now the legal regime has to accomodate 1man-1man, 1 woman-1woman…and that won’t wreck havok? I would think the 1 (wo)man-X(wo)man situation would be more easily adapted to the current legal regime; i.e. adding more of 1 gender to a legal relationship seems less problematic than changing the genders.

    Also, while the current literature may not be large, or even existent, re: pro/con of group/sibling marriage…I think Matt’s argument that such used to the SSM case as well still holds.

  10. January 15, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    “There is a body of empirical literature suggesting that homosexuality is genetic. There is literature suggesting that children may be raised by gay couples without adverse effects.”

    I don’t know that this is true, although the use of the term “suggesting” may provide enough wiggle room to make it so. To date there is no proof that homosexuality is genetic. As for gay couples, it depends on what one defines as “adverse effects.” I would consider the increased sexual experimentation and promiscuity in such children and the increased in identification as homosexuals themselves as negative adverse effects. Furthermore, there are real problems with the date you are undoubtedly referring to.

  11. January 15, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    last line should read “data” not “date”.

  12. January 15, 2004 at 7:13 pm

    Jeff Jacoby wrote a bit on a lawsuit filed in Salt Lake for the right to a polygamous marriage.

    The big difference here is that these people could go to jail even if the marriage they entered into was not legally recognized. That is not the case for same-sex couples who a marriage that is not legally recognized.

    And Kaimi, the evidence homosexuality being genetically predetermined is very weak. I blame the media for promulgating this “born gay” notion. It is simplistic and, ultimately, not true.

  13. January 15, 2004 at 7:48 pm

    I think the evidence that some homosexuality is due to genetics is quite strong. Look at the animal kingdom if nothing else. I think the homosexuality “lobby” (if I dare use that term) overstates the case however. Further even if there is a genetic predisposition that doesn’t mean some environmental trigger isn’t needed in certain cases.

    Like Matt, however, I honestly don’t see why that ought affect the church’s position. It seems like a very interesting scientific question, but it seems difficult to make it an ethical position.

  14. Greg
    January 15, 2004 at 8:06 pm

    Hi Matt,
    On your point (1), you may have missed my point. I was not arguing what *ought* to affect one’s moral intuitions, only what actually *does* affect many people’s moral intuition on this issue. I agree with what Nate has said elsewhere: “I don’t think that we can rationally persuade people who disagree with us on deep moral issues. If persuasion is what you are after, I think you should junk moral theory. Go for movies, sermons, poetry, narrative.” (

    On point (2), why “roll over” for civil unions?
    (By the way, you’ll notice that the National Review piece totally ignores the fact that the New Jersey legislature passed a civil unions bill. So it is not just anti-democratic judicial usurpation going on here, as the piece would lead you to believe.)

  15. Greg
    January 15, 2004 at 8:09 pm

    Here an article on the New Jersey civil unions bill:

  16. Matt Evans
    January 15, 2004 at 9:58 pm

    Hi Greg,

    I realize that those who object to my worldview at every step aren’t likely to be persuaded by my logical appeals.

    That’s why I’m much more interested in _your_ position on gay marriage (and that of Kaimi, Gordon, Claudia, Kristine and Taylor), given that we share the same moral framework and are not deeply divided on the role of revelation, wickedness vs. happiness, and so on. I’m trying to figure out the _principles_ you and the others rely on to come to the conclusions you do.

    As for conceding on civil unions, I think the hands-off approach of allowing anyone and everyone sufficiently dilutes the harm to marriage to be an acceptable alternative. You’re right that my preference would be to avoid weakening marriage at all, but given that my choices are to slightly undermine marriage or to watch marriage slide down the slope and off the cliff, I support civil unions.

  17. Kristine
    January 15, 2004 at 10:57 pm


    In your snide, sarcastic, and remarkably uncharitable way, you have put your finger on the problem: in the realm of what should be *legal*, “born that way” is meaningless. (I think it is NOT meaningless in trying to figure out what is sinful, as I argued before) Several people pointed out in the earlier thread that in trying to legislate what kinds of liaisons are acceptable in civil society, the appeal to natural law is logically bankrupt. The appeal to religious and cultural traditions similarly fails. The only way to make laws for an essentially secular (or mildly Deist), humanist society is by an appeal to moral instinct, guided by whatever rational argument (including relevant biological and social scientific data) can be brought to bear on any problem.

    There will be areas where, as Greg points out, reasonable people have differing moral instincts. Same sex marriage is currently one of these areas. The trouble with trying to have a rational debate in this area is that moral instincts are largely irrational. Yours tell you that allowing committed gay couples to marry is the first step on a slippery slope to Sodom and Gomorrah. Some people (including many Latter-day Saints at all levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy) thought that interracial marriage was similarly fraught with danger, and yet in hindsight, most people would, I think, concur that giving up our prejudice there was not a moral catastrophe, and may well have been a significant moral victory. Perhaps that would also be the case with gay marriage, but it’s really impossible to know that now, without relying exclusively on religious authority or other extrarational justifications.

    Some folks (even within the same religious tradition) are more comfortable relying exclusively on religious authority than others. Hopefully, they are no more tempted to pride in their obedience than the other folks are tempted to pride in their superior commitment to “prove all things.”

  18. Kaimi
    January 15, 2004 at 11:25 pm


    Let me toss some of your slippery-slope arguments back at you for a moment. Just a generation ago, many states had laws on the books prohibiting interracial marriages. When it appeared that courts might invalidate such laws, many people defended them.

    Such laws were defended as being part of the traditional understanding of marriage and as necessary to prevent adverse consequences. The idea of interracial marriage was viewed as harmful to children; as harmful to society; as perverse and as unnatural; and finally, as part of a slippery slope into worse abominations.

    All of these arguments are now mustered against gay marriage. How do you explain them away? What is your position? Or, are you opposed to interracial marriage?

  19. lyle
    January 16, 2004 at 12:00 am

    Matt: I know two individuals who are openly gay and whom I consider to be far more Christian than I am. Knowing them has certainly changed my views on those that choose to practice a homosexual lifestyle. Perhaps this reflects more deeply on my own personal intolerance and judgmentality however. ideally, i would always have felt respect and admiration for individuals striving to live a Christlike life, despite their sexual preference, alcohol preference, tobacco preference, etc. I know I certainly appreciate the kind patience/tolerance of all here on T&S for lettimg me learn and talk w/y’all.


    I think the analogy of gay relationships to inter-racial marriages is interesting, but inappropro.

    First, I think the Church Handbooks still discourages interracial marriages, or at least counsels that couples need to figure out how to deal with the extra challenges such a marriage would face.
    Second, race is clearly an “immutable characteristic.” Currently, the best science is very very divided on same sex attraction. I think I’ve read most of these studies, and I haven’t found one yet that claims to be evidence that same sex attraction is genetically determined. are there some genetic similarities that point in this direction? yes. but the media is responsible for the misleading headlines.
    Third, I think there is a large difference between “all levels of the religious hierarchy” and biblical statements supported by living prophets. Finding out what is sinful is certainly not useless…and each individual probably needs to/does spend lots of time doing so. however, how much finding is there to be done when the practice is explicitly condemned. what sticks with me as important, is not the public policy aspects, or state coercision, but whether I will personally choose to love, respect and value other individuals…regardless of their, and/or my, individual sins.

    As a sidenote, isn’t it problematic to speak in favor of a practice that one’s religious leaders speak against? I’ve always wondered, and never wanted to find out, how Catholic politicians somehow divide their moral universe so that they can be religiously faithful while simultaneously working against the explicit/exhorted teachings of their church. Personally, I happen to like the arguments in favor of legalizing drugs. I think it would be a fabulous solution to a thorny social issue. However…the Church is opposed to this, and hence, I feel that I am bound not to vote for, or advocate, my personal position. I would sincerely like to hear others opinion on how/what others do in such a situation. situations.

  20. Greg Call
    January 16, 2004 at 2:06 am

    In an official press release (published in response to Krakauer’s book) on, Robert Millet states: “There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in [the Church handbook] concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost 30 years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.”  
    Here’s the site:,15503,3881-1-17190,00.html  

  21. Kristine
    January 16, 2004 at 9:12 am

    Millet’s “almost 30 years” is probably cutting it close. The handbook did “discourage,” (though it did not condemn or prohibit) interracial marriage until 1989 (? I’m not positive about that; it may have been taken out one printing before that). President Kimball spoke at least as late as the mid-70s of the potential difficulties of interracial marriage and suggested (though rather gently) that it would be better to avoid those difficulties.

  22. Kristine
    January 16, 2004 at 10:00 am

    a tangentially related bit of humor, something a roommate of my brother’s at U. of Chicago said upon discovering that my brother was (is) Mormon: “Hey, what’s great about being Mormon and from Tennessee?”

    “You can marry ALL your cousins!”

  23. January 16, 2004 at 10:17 am


    Great post. I have a similar post at our site from a couple days ago, wherein I challenge those in favor of changing the definition of marriage to accomodate same-sex couples to come up with a definition. They don’t — I think the reason you will never see this crowd do so is because no matter what definition they come up with, it will be subject to the same attacks as the current definition. There’s no way around it.

    And that (I’m sure) is also the point of your question. Interesting that those defending same-sex marriage will not give their own definition.

    So, I ask again — where is the definition? If you support same-sex marriage, show me your definition. I will then proceed to pick it apart. It is much easier to tear down than it is to build up. Good luck.

  24. January 16, 2004 at 10:26 am

    Let me more directly ask a question raised by Lyle, a question I have raised in a couple of other threads but which has yet to have been addressed.

    In terms of making arguments against same-sex marriage, all we have to do, from a legal standpoint, is make rational arguments to justify a definition of marriage which limits it to one man and one woman. Many such rational arguments have been put forward (historical understanding of marriage, brings together sexes, natural place for children to be born, best situation for rearing children, etc.), and they cannot be dismissed out of hand (unless you are on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court). From a moral/religous standpoint, it is an even easier case, speaking in general terms, which is why world religions oppose same-sex marriage as contrary to God’s teachings.

    From an LDS viewpoint, there can be no doubt what positions are in keeping with the doctrine, and this is what causes people like Hugh Roper and the proprietor of and others concern. Why are LDS individuals making arguments in direct opposition to the church leaders and church doctrine on this issue? Arguing in favor of same-sex marriage is more than just intellectualizing, it is acting against the church and its doctrines. I would like someone to try and argue that it isn’t. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued the Proclamation to establish that it is clearly the Lord’s position that marriage and family are to be protected, marriage being between men and women. They issued a warning to the world. A warning that has been repeated since then. Millenia of doctrinal understanding support this view also. The Church actively supports defense of marriage acts around the country and has helped support referendums and other actions to fight against same-sex marriage. My former high priest group leader has been asked to take action here in Ohio, and direction has come from the church that church members are to get involved in defending marriage and the family. I appreciate that this may cause some individual church members some concern and difficulties. That is their personal burden to deal with. It is one thing, however, to personally struggle with one’s faith in the teachings of our living prophets, or of scriptural doctrine, but it is another thing altogether to actively argue against such teachings. It is difficult to write this without coming off as judgmental or overly critical, but I sincerely want to understand what those who are critical think about having a living prophet and believing in the existence of truth. I feel like a parrot, but what does it mean to have a prophet, to believe that he can and does speak on God’s behalf? What individual obligations do we have with respect to following and sustaining his teachings? Further, even if you try to make the separation of church and state argument, what is the point of having moral beliefs if you cannot champion such beliefs? I could go on, but I have raised enough questions for now.

  25. lyle
    January 16, 2004 at 10:27 am

    Greg: Thanks for the info! I stand corrected. :)

    hm…i wonder if the use of non-GA statements on official church websites will create/result in a quasi-official status attributed to such authors…and their other works of scholarship. i.e. I wonder how disputes among GAs would have worked in our day if they had the internet back then to distribute information so rapidly. Hm…Pratt v. B.H. Roberts online, live. hm…

  26. January 16, 2004 at 10:33 am

    I just reread what I wrote and I should point out that I do not mean to imply that I speak for Hugh Roper and, I can only speak for my concerns, and what I perceive are the concerns of others from comments they have made.

  27. lyle
    January 16, 2004 at 10:37 am

    Brent: I think you clarified my question well. However, I don’t think that the answer is simply that individual members have a “private burden to bear.” I think this is a great forumn in which all members can come to their own conclusions and strive towards a faithful issue.

    disclosure: this is my real stance. i have been unsure intellectually about this issue (homosexuality, drug legalization also, etc). While I don’t “publicly” question the church’s position, not even here…I am looking to learn from others and try to find answers that will bring my mind into harmony with my heart and my testimony.

  28. Taylor
    January 16, 2004 at 11:26 am

    Since I have been called out to defend my arguments (again…), I will breifly induldge myself once more. But honestly, I am really bored with this discussion. Personally, I don’t think much progress has been made.
    For the record, I neither support or oppose gay marriage at this point. I am still looking for a good reason. I think there may be some merit to slippery slope arguments.
    Also, for the record, I am extremely suspicious of biological arguments for homosexuality. I think that scholars of sexuality, like Judith Butler, have a much better theory.
    My main objection to the prohibition of gay marriage is that I am not sure that its immorality is a sufficient reason to prohibit it. Nor am I convinced that as a LDS I am obligated to oppose its legality. Those who try to argue that I am somehow not following the prophet are off-base. I know from experience that members in California who objected to participating in the campaign were not censured. As far as I can tell, my only obligations as a member of the church are not to practice homosexuality and not to enter into a homosexual marriage. So far, so good.

  29. January 16, 2004 at 11:50 am

    “Nor am I convinced that as a LDS I am obligated to oppose its legality. Those who try to argue that I am somehow not following the prophet are off-base.”

    I don’t think so. If the prophet says we should all give liberally to the fast offering, and I don’t do it, am I not obligated to give to the fast offering. Also if I don’t do so, I am not following the prophet. Am I likely to be censured? No. But I cannot with a clear conscience say that I am fulfilling all of my obligations either. (This assumes that I have sufficient means to be capable of making offerings, but let’s pretend I am have personal views against giving, whatever they may be). Again, I don’t think this is an easy thing, nor do I believe inaction on this merits censure. (Direct opposition to the church’s position. That may be another story.) I bring up the point though because it is an important part of the debate.

  30. lyle
    January 16, 2004 at 11:51 am

    so…unless punishment is threatened, each individual member is free to act as they please?

    sorry to bore you…my querry probably needs its own thread. or my own blog. i guess this is all just re-tread of the seinfeld/no duty to help others argument, re: the actively engaged duties of an individual with a covenant relationship.

  31. Kaimi
    January 16, 2004 at 11:54 am


    We all agree that homosexual acts are prohibited by the gospel. But I don’t see how this translates into a commendment to support legal restrictions (or not grant legal benefits) to homosexuals. There are a number of places where the law does not track the gospel. We do not have a requirement to seek to remake the law to legally enforce commendments. (Cf. my earlier discussion of the sin/crime distinction).

  32. lyle
    January 16, 2004 at 12:00 pm


    I’ll have to read the sin/crime post. i think that was before i found T&S. if you have already answered this question there…don’t do so again here, but i hope it will answer my question re:

    “we do not have a requirement to seek to remake the law to legally enforce commandments…” even when a living prophet explicitly asks for this?

  33. January 16, 2004 at 12:13 pm

    Kaimi, I think Lyle raises the question that I am asking. As to same-sex marriage, the prophet and the church have asked for action. They have staked out a moral position and have indicated that legal restrictions should be enacted and supported by church membership. Those who live in areas where defense of marriage laws have been considered are even more fully aware of the church’s involvement on this issue. That is where my question originates from.

  34. January 16, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    While we must keep our libertarian principles in mind, I don’t think libertarianism is that practical in practice. I like to think of it more as one pole of a complex tension.

    The thing that must be considered is what are the consequences of changing the very concept of marriage. I think that it will have huge ramifications, many of which we can’t yet even imagine.

  35. Kristine
    January 16, 2004 at 12:31 pm

    Like Taylor, I’m still agnostic on the issue of whether same-sex marriage should be legalized. If I weren’t taking seriously my obligation to listen to prophetic counsel, I would likely be an activist on the side of legality, as I’m unconvinced by any of the arguments against it on purely intellectual grounds.

    Also, like Taylor, I find that the debate tends to stall at the same points over and over again, which gets dull. The trouble may be that we’re having the wrong argument–arguing over an example, a symptom, instead of the root disagreement.

    I think Brent actually gets to the hinge of the debate, which is simply that people understand the requirement to hearken to the counsel of the Brethren differently. There’s plenty of historical precedent for a different understanding than the J. Fielding Smith/McConkie/Packer (to use a pretty crude shorthand) view of things that is currently dominant in the church culture, but you wouldn’t know it from being a member of the church for the last 30-40 years. Put as shortly as I can manage (because even I get annoyed by my long-winded comments), it was more common in the early part of the last century to refer to the president of the church as “President” rather than prophet, and to emphasize his authority over the administrative direction of the church, rather than his prophetic ability to direct the lives of individual members. This strain of thinking persists in the still occasionally heard admonitions to study things out, to receive confirmatory personal revelation, etc., but it has been widely subordinated to the “follow the prophet” line of counsel. Still, I think both habits of mind are authentically Mormon and faithful, and we’d do well both to articulate which frame of reference we’re working from and to be more tolerant of the other.

    Taylor, for the record, there were a few members in California who had temple recommends taken away and were threatened with disfellowshipping when they spoke out publicly against Prop. 22. As far as I (and they) can tell, their bishop was freelancing, not directed from SLC.

  36. January 16, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    Uh oh — did someone say ‘libertarian’? I’m with Kaimi. Sins and crimes are separate things, and I don’t believe church members are *required* to try and make all sins crimes. I’d be interested to see the exact wording in the official statement, but I find that they usually say things like “We strongly encourage members to . . .”

    Lyle says, “so…unless punishment is threatened, each individual member is free to act as they please?” My answer to this is, yes. Remember the principle of agency? Ultimately, we are responsible for our own salvation, not the prophet. Of course we want to take the prophet’s counsel extremely seriously. But if he says something is “urged,” or “encouraged,” and I’m not at a point where I feel like I can agree in good conscience, it doesn’t bother me if I quietly decide not to act on the counsel.

    My problem with gay marriage is that, as has been said, it goes against what my definition of marriage is. While it’s hard to pin down an exact definition, mine includes “. . . a man and a woman . . .” Philosophically, I can see no reason to oppose civil unions that are similar to marriage but with a different name. If people want a way to set up rights of inheritance and hospital visitation, etc. with whomever they choose, I don’t think I should try to stop it. Even if I don’t think people should *be* homosexual, I can’t in good conscience deny other people the right to live their lives. It’s not as though the illegality of same-sex marriages keeps gays from living together as though they already are *married* (oh, those libertarian principles. . .), so why do we have the law anyway? Just so we can say, “Oh, you bad, bad people!”?

    *One note: even though I draw on Kaimi’s sin/crime distinction, I don’t mean to say that he necessarily agrees with everything I’ve said here (I have no idea whether he does or not).

  37. Greg
    January 16, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    It seems that this argument is now useful only for increasing site traffic. As a practical matter, gay _marriage_ is not going to happen, and it seems inevitable that many states will create civil unions. The marriage amendment seems like an election year effort to get the Christian right energized. It won’t be pushed too hard because the Repubs fear alienating the soccer moms. I doubt that it will even come close to getting ratified and even if it does it will be the weak version that simply entrenches what is happening anyway: civil unions on a state by state basis but no gay marriage.

  38. Aaron Brown
    January 16, 2004 at 2:45 pm

    Given the tremendous amount of discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage to date, I wonder if there are any knowledgable readers who could post on the current state of the scientific evidence on homosexuality’s possible genetic basis. Various posters have voiced support or skepticism of the idea, but I would like to see an informed, intelligent presentation of the latest evidence.

    I was somewhat conversant on this issue about 10 years ago, but no longer. As I recall, those who describe the evidence as “weak” often referred to LeVay’s hypothalamus study, which was flawed by its small sample size, LeVay’s inability to control for the possible effects of AIDS on his samples, and the scientific community’s inability to replicate his findings. More promising, in my view, were Hamer’s twin studies, which purportedly found significantly higher incidents of homosexuality among identical twins (in samples where one twin is pre-identified as homosexual) than siblings.

    What has happened in the last 10 years?

    Incidently, I acknowledge (and largely agree with) the argument that resolution of this question is not likely to resolve the moral debates, as so many once thought. But the question is an interesting one, nonetheless.

    Aaron B

  39. January 16, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    I don’t see many easily found on the web. It appears that some Christian groups have multiplied a few articles to get them a high Google ranking. Most of the good science journals only give their archives to subscribers as well. There was an excellent New Scientist discussion on all the points we’ve discussed a couple years ago. (New Scientist vol 170 issue 2290 – 12 May 2001, page 28)

    Here’s the link. although you need to be a subscriber.

    The argument basically is that sexual identity has three separate components. One is what you are attracted to (and how much), one is a kind of ‘style’ of behavior, and one is what gender you think you are. So you might be straight and recognize you are a male but act in feminine ways. Or you might be gay, but recognize yourself as a male and act like a traditional male. And of course there are degrees in all this.

    Exactly *how much* this is genetic is debatable. Almost certainly it is a mix of environment and genetics. And the degree to which their behaviors are genetic will vary from individual to individual.

    Evidence for the BSTc in the brain being tied to gender is pretty strong. Not only is it bigger in men than women, but similar structural parallels can be found in transgendered people. There are numerous other reasons, but nothing we can point to and say, “this is the gender gene.”

    There are reasons for that as well. Genes are a bit overstated as the basis for our identity. (There was a probably too complex discussion of this over at Metaphysical Elders) Genes just make proteins and any manfiestation might be the result of many genes, each of which do many things. Even a part of the brain is only one part of the story. We have hormones, neural connections, brain segments, and a lot else.

    Any physical basis is probably very complex and involves numerous parts of the body.

  40. January 16, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    As an aside, many homosexuals are opposed to a “genetic” basis for homosexuality as well. They fear that this would then possibly lead to treatments or even genetic tests of embryos.

    You can see a similar movement amongst the deaf who amazingly are trying to prevent cures of their deaf children. They want deafness to be just an other lifestyle choice.

    So the physical basis for homosexuality can be seen cutting both ways. If there is a physical basis then many things might be treatable that right now involve more complex issues. Treatable by parents of children, which is why I think the gay lobby gets worried.

  41. Matt Evans
    January 18, 2004 at 1:05 am

    Hi Kaimi,

    I don’t think interracial marriage is a sin. And I don’t know that the church treated as a sin, either. Were interracial couples to separate and repent prior to baptism, as homosexual couples are now? I don’t know the answer, but my guess is that interracial marriage wasn’t something that required repentance.

    Finally, interracial marriage will always be a sword in the hands of those challenging the status quo. It cuts against your opposition to familial and group marriage, and every other untraditional form of marriage, too. At some point you have to say, “even though the status quo was wrong then, they’re right now.” Otherwise there’s no right principle, just perpetual motion in every direction away from tradition.

  42. Matt Evans
    January 18, 2004 at 1:23 am

    Taylor wrote: “I neither support or oppose gay marriage at this point. I am still looking for a good reason. I think there may be some merit to slippery slope arguments.”

    Kristine wrote: “Like Taylor, I’m still agnostic on the issue of whether same-sex marriage should be legalized . . . I’m unconvinced by any of the arguments against it on purely intellectual grounds.”

    In other threads, Greg, Gordon and Claudia have expressed doubts about the merits of the anti-SSM argument.

    Taylor said he’s bored with the SSM debate; Kristine finds it dull. I don’t disagree.

    I changed the subject to get around this problem. I’m interested in knowing how those of you who aren’t persuaded that we should oppose gay marriage (also Greg, Gordon, Kaimi and Claudia) feel about a different, non-boring and non-dull subject that we’ve never discussed: familial and group marriage.

    I’m interested in how your “differing moral instincts” react to my argument in favor of these untraditional marriages. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m not interested in your views on whether the prophet has privileged access to revelation at all — I welcome arguments of any stripe. Assume that I’m not even a Mormon — I’m just some guy who thinks that fidelity is important, that society should encourage people to practice fidelity, and that group and familial marriage will help some people practice fidelity.

    Further, imagine that in my argument for group and sibling marriage, I’d thrown in society’s history of anti-miscegenation statutes as yet another reason to distrust the status quo.

  43. Greg
    January 22, 2004 at 3:40 pm

    Matt, I’m getting bored too, and think it is a waste of time considering that the real fight (or not) will be the shape of civil unions. Gay marriage will not happen. The conservatives have won that battle of the culture war.

    Anyway, once again, here’s my answer to your question: gay marriage seems morally different to me than familial or group marriage.

  44. Matt Evans
    January 23, 2004 at 2:42 am

    Okay. How?

  45. Greg Call
    January 23, 2004 at 3:43 am

    See above. Rinse. Repeat.

  46. Matt Evans
    February 2, 2004 at 12:15 am

    Okay, let’s set aside the differences you see between gay marriage and familial marriage for now. (Incidentally, the only difference I see is that Hollywood has embraced and aggressively promoted the former but not the latter. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume there’s more to your view than accepting it because MTV tells you to, even if you’re reluctant to divulge the real distinction you see).

    So, please don’t mention gay marriage at all. I don’t care how you distinguish gay marriage from other alternative marriages. Gay marriage is off the table and out of mind.

    Why do you oppose group and familial marriage?

  47. Kaimi
    February 2, 2004 at 1:15 am


    To quote Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it.” Is that sufficiently well reasoned? :)

  48. Matt Evans
    February 2, 2004 at 11:29 am

    Is this an admission that government will be unable to prohibit any form of marriage, so long as the participants are consenting adults, just as it was unable to prohibit pornography, so long as the participants are consenting adults?

    Stewart’s famous line was offered to show his exasperation at being unable to find a legitimate basis to prohibit pornography.

  49. Kaimi
    February 7, 2004 at 10:04 pm


    I think the reason why people don’t want to engage you on this is that you are creating a fantasy world of familio-sexuals and multi-sexuals, implicitly equating them to gays, and acting like it’s all the same. You do this very well, but it can’t conceal fundamental problems with your comparison.

    1. There are no familio-sexuals or multi-sexuals. As a sexual orientation, it does not exist.

    2. Laws against gay marriage are problematic because they discriminate against a class of people. Laws against incest don’t.

    Thus, your flaw: You can’t just assemble a bunch of people with perhaps one feature in common and call them a class of people.

    Example: I open a deli, and refuse to serve blacks, I am discriminating against blacks.

    But, if I open the store at 9 am, there may be people who want to get a sandwich at 8. I am not serving them. Yet, it would be misleading to say that I am discriminating against a class of people who want sandwiches at 8 am.

    So, the answer to your question: I don’t think laws prohibiting incest marriages or group marriages are problematic, because they do not discriminate against a class of people.

  50. February 8, 2004 at 8:38 am

    Kaimi, but who says such a class of people do not exist? We certainly see the outward manifestation of familio-sexuality or mutli-sexuality. Who’s to say that such things are not genetic or that there are certain individuals who fit into a class? By dismissing your arguments the way you do, you undermine your own claims. Homosexuals as a “class of people” present the same problem. You have taken a group of people with a common feature and called them a protected class. We do not, however, know really what a homosexual is. We don’t know if people are born that way. We are not fully sure why some claim to be homosexual and then are not (e.g. Anne Heche). There is a large amount of self selection involved. All of the claims raised by homosexual activists could be and are being raised by polygamists, and others. Other than the fact that society, at present, is relatively unsympathetic to their claims, there is not a large difference between what they claim and what homosexuals claim.

  51. Mardell
    February 8, 2004 at 11:15 am

    I think that gays are not necasarily born gay. They propably have the tendencies just like some of us have the tendency to over eat, smoke,or drink to much. But just because they have the tendencies does not mean they have to act on them.
    Also,there is no way you can put them in a class the same as the blacks. There is not a black person anywhere that can decide not to be black any more, or a white person that can just up and decide to be black. Blacks were discriminated against because of nothing they did, it was just because they were black.
    The same happened to women. Women and Blacks also have a long history of being discriminated against. Many times through out history they were considered property, and some times they were worth even less than property. When gays hit he same level of discrimination then they can start comparing their problems with blacks and women. Gays are different because they chose to be different. So should the same discrimination laws apply to them? Probaly not.

  52. Mary
    February 8, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    “When gays hit he same level of discrimination then they can start comparing their problems with blacks and women.”

    Do you really want it to get to that level? Do you really think we should wait for gay people to be lynched before they should be allowed to complain?

  53. greenfrog
    February 8, 2004 at 1:59 pm

    Matthew Shepard comes to mind.

  54. Kaimi
    February 8, 2004 at 5:11 pm


    Apparently the difference in our approach is that I think that sexual orientation is a genetic or “born” trait.

  55. lyle
    February 8, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    Example: I open a deli, and refuse to serve blacks, I am discriminating against blacks.

    But, if I open the store at 9 am, there may be people who want to get a sandwich at 8. I am not serving them. Yet, it would be misleading to say that I am discriminating against a class of people who want sandwiches at 8 am.

    Kaimi: so we should allows the polls to close at 3pm? After all, this wouldn’t be discriminating against an immutable characteristic, right? However, I suspect it would be called discrimination and disenfranchisement of lots of groups (i.e. anyone that is poor and can’t get off work that early vis-a-vis the wealthy middle to upper class individuals that often take the day off just to do politics).

  56. Matt Evans
    February 8, 2004 at 7:22 pm


    There is no way to define the class of heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, polyamorists, familiamorists, polygamists, etc., except by their testimony or behavior.

    My guess is that you’re suggesting, in your argument about classes, that homosexuality and heterosexuality are genetically based, but bisexuality, polyamory, and familiamory are not.

    I see no reason to believe that our sexuality varies across some spectrums but not others.

    Indeed, the evidence for the genetic base of polyamory dwarfs that for homosexuality or heterosexuality. Empirical studies have convincingly proven that many humans and other animal species are not monogamous — they’re genetically programmed for multiple partners. The power of this sexual orientation is evidenced by the incredible sacrifices of polyamorists: millions have lost their health, families, careers, and reputations because of it. Much of their suffering has been at the hands of dismissive and condemning monogamists.

    I haven’t seen any research on bisexuality, familiamory, or polygamy, but I expect science will find a genetic component to them as well.

  57. February 9, 2004 at 12:17 am

    Laws against incestuous *marriages* are illegal because of the effects of inbreeding on the children as well as the social effects.

    So I don’t see the problem there.

    Laws against incestuous sexual acts by adults able to assent probably would be judged unconstitutional. And I think they should. I might find such acts heinous. But I can’t think of a compelling reason to make the *illegal*.

    BTW – I believe that bi-sexuality almost certainly has a genetic component. I suspect that polygamy has a genetic basis as well, although probably weaker. I don’t think evolution ought to be the determiner of the good, however. Recall that evolution favors actions which we find morally reprehensible and legislate against. I think genetics relevant to the discussion, but anyone arguing genetics implies a right clearly has a difficult case to make.

  58. Matt Evans
    February 9, 2004 at 10:31 am

    Clark, the problem is that the government doesn’t prohibit other classes of people with increased likelihood of passing genetic disorders from marrying. Nor do they prohibit couples with recessive conditions from marrying each other, even if the likelihood of genetic problems is far higher than among siblings. (The government didn’t prohibit women with AIDS from marrying, either, even when the likelihood of passing it to her child was very high.)

    We can deduce from this that the motivation behind the legislatures’ prohibitions against sibling marriage is not a desire to protect the gene pool.

    Further, no state allows siblings to marry even if they are unable to reproduce because of surgery or age (a position some states take in regards to cousin marriage — see for more info on the movement to give first cousins the right to marry).

  59. Matt
    January 15, 2004 at 1:33 pm


    There’s not a consensus about gay, group, sibling, polygamous marriage, except that solid majorities oppose all of them.

    What is the genuine moral difference that justifies your discriminating against people born with familial or polyamorous sexual preference but not same sex preference? The only difference I see is that the gay lobby is mature and organized, the others are nascent and just beginning to organize, but that’s not a moral difference.

    Imagine that group or sibling marriage were gaining traction, like gay marriage is now. Would you roll over once opposition to falls to 65%? If not, on what basis would you resist the growing minority?

  60. Matt
    January 15, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Greg and Kaimi,

    Thanks for responding to my post.

    Notice that all of the reasons you offer for supporting (or at least refusing to oppose) gay marriage are recent developments. Forty years ago, far fewer Americans knew an openly gay person, no academics had studied children raised by open gays, and there was no evidence of a genetic component in homosexuality.

    Before too long we’ll learn that there’s a genetic component to familial attraction. Researchers will find that children raised by siblings exhibit no neuroses, and as more people with familial attraction will come out of the closet, more Americans will know one of them. (Incidentally, I think incestuous relationships are much more common than people believe. I know of two cases of consensual sibling sexual relationships through my church calling, but haven’t yet encountered a homosexuality case).

    At the point the empirical evidence for sibling marriage aligns as it purports to now for gays, will you have no objections to sibling marriage?

    If so, is it fair to say that you discriminate against those with familial attraction today because you believe that there is no genetic component to familial attraction or that children from sibling marriages suffer psychological disorders? And is this belief based on evidence or is it founded in familiophobia?

    Polyamory will follow a similar route, though it’s trajectory will be more rapid given the extent of the literature showing that many people are not genetically designed for monogamy, and the many people who are out of the closet about it. It will become harder and harder to justify tolerating exclusive monogamous marriages, which we do now, and open, unbounded marriages, which we do now, yet maintain the prohibition on the middle ground of open bounded marriages.

    Some other points:

    (1) I can’t see the relevance knowing gays has to this question. Several of my high school friends have decided that they’re gay, but I can’t tell that it’s influenced my outlook. Presumably I will think drunk driving is sinful no matter how many people I know who admit to struggling with the bottle; and will think adultery is sinful no matter how many people I know (already a significant number) who admit to having the genetic makeup of a filanderer. In other words, none of my views about what constitutes a sin appear to be due to my knowing someone with the propensity (genetic or otherwise) to commit that sin.

    (2) I support the conception of civil unions in the asexual formulation as encompassed in the marriage amendment endorsed by National Review last week. The amendment would preserve marriage to one man and one woman (Jacob 2:27) yet allow state legislatures to give benefits to other couples. The amendment forbids the discrimination based on the fact or assumption of sexual relations, however, so roommates and sisters, for example, have to be eligible for civil unions, too. National Review’s endorsement is here:

  61. Mark
    February 28, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Arguments for and against the legality of any particular sexual practice are, and must be, based upon morality, regardless of protestations to the contrary. Arguments postulating genetic propensity are unprovable, thus irrelevant. Hence, we must consider the legitimacy of lawmaking proscribing certain sexual practices while accepting, even promoting, others. For instance, there is no basis for proscribing necrophilia other than moral judgments that verbalize our collective repugnance at this practice, regardless of the fact that we know that there is a subset of humanity, hopefully a small one, that desires such activity. What about beastiality? Should we consider practitioners of this sexual practice to be criminals or simply overly affectionate pet owners? Should humans be allowed to have legally authorized marriage with their favorite pets? And, of course, the emerging and increasingly militant arguments for sexual unions between adults and children is following the same trajectory now well established by homosexual activists in promoting public and legal acceptance for their favorite sexual practice. How long can it be before age-of-consent laws are struck down by our courts, just as our once ubiquitous anti-sodomy laws have been stricken? The approximate three-decade process for legalizing homosexual conduct suggests a similar time-frame, assuming that public apathy on the subject continues as it has to date.

    To the extent that a basis exists for the prohibition of any sexual practice it exists for all sexual practices. We must face the simple fact that the actual basis for such legislation, as for a very large portion of our body of laws, is a public sense of morality based on Judaeo-Christian teachings. Once we take upon ourselves, as a society, the right to make moral judgments, we reserve the right to make those judgments on sexual conduct. Thus, we may legitimately choose proscribe, or not, homosexual conduct along with each and every other type of sexual conduct, from adult/child sex to necrophilia, and everything in-between. It is all the same. There is no need establish justifications based in hypothetical genetic influences or other pseudo-scientific postulations. All we must do is decide for ourselves what is permissible sexual conduct and what is not, then legislate accordingly.

    Will we reach a point where homosexual activity is fully legitimized and accepted in our society on par with heterosexuality? Will other previously proscribed sexual activity follow suit? How far will we follow this path? Will adult/child sex be legalized within the next three decades, in the manner of homosexual sex? Questions abound. Opinions abound. Answers are virtually non-existent.

Comments are closed.