Without touching on any of the merits of one or the other side of the same-sex marriage/marriage equality debate, I’d like to suggest a possible answer to the following question: How can Mormons who feel that the Church is wrong about the threat gay marriage poses to families reconcile their doubts on this particular question with their faith in the restored gospel, and in the identity of Church leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators?
Church leaders made a choice to commit time, energy, financial resources, and social and political capital to the passage of Proposition 8 in California. There are many things the Church cares about in the world and in the US and in California. Yet the Church chooses to involve itself minimally in many of these issues — poverty reduction, disease eradication, abortion, domestic violence, environmental protection, war and peace, economic globalization, etc. — at least at the level of lobbying and/or grassroots organizing and campaigning. A correct framing of the question of Church involvement in Prop 8 must address the fact that the brethren have chosen to focus on this particular issue, as opposed to other issues. Church leaders have elected to very publicly involve the Church and (part of) its membership in a high profile campaign, in a manner that directly impacts the Church’s image in California, the US, and around the world. The relevant question regarding Church involvement here is not, what are the potential costs and consequences of gender neutral marriage in the state of California, but rather, what are the costs and consequences of Church involvement in the campaign to stop it?
Church leaders make decisions about where to commit resources and how to frame the Church’s public image based on cost-benefit analyses like all decisions. The difference with Church leaders is that their analysis is based on a less limited vision of future consequences as well as on the desire to fulfill goals unique to the Church. The brethren (and the Lord) presumably knew that Church participation in a campaign to ban SSM would produce a number of possible consequences on two levels. Church involvement could affect the the legal status and definition of marriage in CA and other states; and Church participation would have more far-reaching consequences in terms of how the Church is viewed in parts of the world where we still hope to grow.
From personal experience with the latter, I know that how the Church is perceived in other countries (where, among other things, it is viewed primarily as a Euro-American Church), and especially how it is perceived in relationship to what is happening in Western Europe and North America, is an important part of its success or lack thereof in spreading the gospel. I think that the impact of Church involvement in the campaign on the Church’s future ability to fulfill its global mission is far more important to the Lord than the outcome of the campaign itself. In spite of my own personal position as a citizen, if I were personally advising Church leaders on whether or not to involve the Church publicly in the SSM debate, based on my experience abroad and my research on Church growth throughout the world, I would advise the Church to publicly position itself in defense of traditional marriage and in opposition to anything perceived as threatening to it. I support the Church’s position here, even while I personally believe that gay marriage does not threaten families. I don’t think a change in the definition of marriage in the US will adversely affect Church growth globally. But the Church wins in the big picture even if it fails in the small (which, regardless of the narrow victory of Prop 8, it most assuredly will in the not very distant future), because it fought on the losing side and has bona fide credentials as a bastion of traditional family models and gender roles.
Of course I have no idea if what I’ve outlined above is what is actually happening, if the cost-benefit analysis I imagine is actually driving the thinking of the FP and Q12. I would point out, though, that the brethren themselves need not be consciously aware of it in order for their their actions to be directed according to its terms. This is merely an attempt from my own narrow perspective and very limited, speculation-dependent understanding to suggest a possible alternative way of thinking about the decision to enmesh the Church in this campaign. The main point is that the inspiredness of the brethren’s decision here need not correlate to the merits of the political, moral, or sociological arguments advanced via newsroom statements, viral emails, or political advertising for the proposition. It is entirely possible for people who find the yes-on-8 arguments wholly unconvincing or even somewhat disingenuous to believe that the brethren were acting with divine approbation in involving the Church so extensively in the campaign.
The costs and consequences of Church involvement, from the perspective of the First Presidency, should be weighed not in terms of the social consequences for Californian society but of the long-term global mission of the Church. I suspect that positioning the Church as a major and influential player in the fight to preserve tradition in the face of rapid social change will have an overall positive affect on the global aspirations of Church growth and conversion. And no one is in a better position to make such cost-benefit calculations than the servants God has chosen to manage the affairs of His Church. I sustain them in word and deed, and I believe that even people who oppose Prop 8 should be able to trust that the brethren are enacting God’s will by supporting it.