Some Laws to Strengthen Our Marriages–The Case for Consistency

One of our friends at T&S mentions that the the “official Church advocates using political means to encourage the traditional family” and that lately that has meant supporting the effort to codify the time-honored definition of marriage. Like other good LDS, I’m trying to think of other things we could codify to preserve the sanctity of marriage.

1. Divorce–what is it good for? This is a problem in our church. Our leaders speak often about the soaring divorce rates and the negative impact on society. If you aren’t committed enough to marriage to stay in it, you probably shouldn’t be in it in the first place. With around 50% of all marriage in the U.S. ending in divorce, this presents a bigger threat to the institution of marriage than SSM. A ban on divorce with a few well-crafted exceptions for physical abuse would discourage the Britney Spears of the world from denigrating our time-honored institution. Of course it will be difficult to get popular support for this measure because so many of our family members, friends and neighbors are involved in this practice that the Bible condemns, but friends, we must be firm and stand for truth. We must not give the impression that we are going after homosexuals only because they are easy targets–we are people of principle and we must be equally firm against those who would lessen the significance of our marriages on every front.

2. Sex–for married people only. I don’t think sex outside of marriage is as big a problem in the church, but society seems to have accepted it. We’ve been told that no other sin tops this one except murder. In the old days it wasn’t socially acceptable to have sex outside of wedlock. There were strong societal taboos and there were even time-honored laws against it. The union of a man and a wife was one of the most beautiful parts of marriage. It still is. But it’s being cheapened by people who are having unions without being married. Folks, don’t be fooled, this is part of the radical agenda of people-eschewing-respect-for-virtue (PERV). If sex can be had without marriage, some people will still get married because it is important to them to make a public commitment to the person they love, but lots of people will be getting all that sexual healing without making the co-pay we call marriage. To many people that will make marriage seem less desirable and the institution will be lessened. We should therefore make a law against people have sex unless they are married. Again, this is going to be unpopular, but we must stand on principal–otherwise it will look like our principals are selectively applied to gays.

Any other ideas how we can use the law to strengthen marriage?


  1. D. Fletcher says:

    “D.:”I reiterate that I think marriage should be thought of as reward, as an important human rite-of-passage”

    D. I only point out (as I did over at the real blog) that this view is flatly inconsistent with the rhetoric of self-regarding behavior that you use over there.”

    I don’t understand, Nate, what’s the contradiction?

    I do believe that our society is too caught up in the reverence of selfish interests. This is why (many) marriages end in divorce, because society has taught them that if they are unhappy, they should quickly get out.

    I think the symbolism of marriage should be very important, and I think it should be offered as a carrot/reward to any two people who want it.


  2. D. Fletcher says:

    “The fact is that the technology of birth control has really changed the world, as far as the costs of premarital sex for women, and I believe premarital sex has in most times and places been more or less accepted for men. It will be pretty difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.”

    Of course, this was the statement I was trying to make all along.

    Since technology has changed the repercussions of sex, society has been altered, and with it the notion of marriage. I agree with Rosalynde that marriage laws should more adequately protect women, but I’m not a lawyer myself and I don’t really know what those new laws should be and how they should be implemented.

    I reiterate that I think marriage should be thought of as reward, as an important human rite-of-passage, something no one takes lightly and no one wants to get out of. Easier said than done, I know.

  3. Mat was being completely sarcastic with the idea of criminalizing extra-marital sexual relationships though that was the norm in criminal law for most of the history of the United States.

    Some really interesting issues discussed here.

  4. Mathew: Why shouldn’t we have laws against other things the gospel teaches are wrong[?]

    Will the act of growing coffee beans become punishable by death? If not, why not? We’re repeatedly told that not paying tithing is wrong; should we pass a law that requires all Mormons to all an automated withdrawal from their checking account so that the process of collecting tithing funds is made much more efficient?

    When is a law a good idea, and when does a law “go too far”? What objective standard can we set up that will immediately disqualify us from establishing a given law while permitting others?

  5. And D, to continue to beat the dead horse, I would add that I think the consequences of heterosexual sexual relationships are such that this prepatory living together, while very good in theory, is not what happens much in practice, and does not help women achieve their goals (speaking generally) in terms of having a family. That is, most women at some point raise children (whether their own or someone else’s), and without the legal support, imperfect as it is, that marriage provides, they are at a great disability if they have a male partner to whom they are not married. If your hypothetical prepatory couple were both equally devoted to the idea of marriage and could guarantee no children would come of their union should they decide to separate, I can see why this would be an ideal way to prepare for marriage. Outside those circumstances, I think it is unfair to women.

  6. at first i thought this post was a joke, but i guess you are all serious. 2 things.

    1. divorce will never be outlawed
    2. premarital sex will never become illegal

    even though the political landscape has become more conservative lately, we aren’t puritans and those issues will never fly. and i am pretty confident that you will see gay marriage or at least civil unions become a reality in the country within the next decade or so. i’m not saying this because i have strong feelings one way or another, but i think that it is inevitable.

    i think the best solution would be for gov’t to get out of the marriage business completely, and leave that up to religous organizations. the gov’t would sanction civil unions and each church would be allowed to make it’s own definition of marriage. so you could get married in the temple if you wanted, but would still have to go through some kind of gov’t sanctioned process to become a legally recognized union of two people.

  7. Rosalynde Welch says:

    But Greg, property isn’t the issue. For the vast majority of families, it’s the *income*, not the assets, that is of must value. Thus divorce settlements should be made on the basis of income sharing (that takes into account the added but nonmarket value of caregiving), not merely property division, so that both halves of the family have their standard of living reduced by equal measures.

    Community property isn’t what I’m talking about. Joint legal access to income, no matter who earns it, is my suggestion, affording mothers (who allocate more resources toward children than do fathers) legal access to liquid income.

  8. D. Fletcher says:


    That was a beautiful post, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    It may not be a surprise to some of you who know me that I’m actually just an old softie, someone who loves the traditional world of loving parents, supportive and intelligent children, all living and laughing together for eternity. I love musicals, for heaven’s sake! There was never anyone more devoted to the Church’s idea of family than I was/am.

    And then I discovered I was gay. Try to work that out as I did, and you’ll see what happens.

    All I wanted in life was the sense of eternal security that my parents had. But I knew, from the moment I “knew,” that whatever I did, whether it was to marry a girl and have children, or to go on wild gay sexual rampages and leave the Church fantasy in the dust — I knew I would never have that security, that thing my parents had. I would never have that… I’ll say it again, I WOULD NEVER HAVE THAT. It isn’t fair to me to build my eternal hopes up and then dash them.

    I’m not gay. I don’t have lovers. I don’t participate in marches. I’m LDS, and until very recently, I was simply an active LDS member, going to my meetings and paying my tithing. Some might say I took the high road, choosing to be LDS and celibate, and simply observing the beauty of life from a marginalized distance.

    All I want is life is what my parents had. Suddenly, there is SSM in the world, the possibility, outside the rarified realm of the Church, that somebody (yes, a man) might want me in a moral way, a committed way, for life (or even eternity, why cut it short?) It’s a nice thing, and it makes me so sad that the world I’ve chosen (the LDS church world) doesn’t want me to have this.

  9. john fowles says:

    D. wrote I also know that there are SCDs out there — I was just trying to suggest a reason why the notion of two virgins came to be.

    Any chance that virgin marriage is an eternal principle mandated by God and that sexual intercourse is a sacred relationship only to be practiced within the bonds of marriage? After all, the scriptures are very straightforward about fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy, and bestiality. It seems that to make the claims you make about cohabitation, sexual experimentation, and sexual “practice,” you need to dismiss the OT and NT (not to mention the BoM) perspectives on these topics as mere cultural aberrations/developments–things to be progressed away from as society became less prude (more desensitized?).

  10. john fowles says:

    D. wrote It’s a nice thing, and it makes me so sad that the world I’ve chosen (the LDS church world) doesn’t want me to have this.

    I can see how hard this must be for you D and have long admired your strength in your trials. I just want to ask, with regards to your quoted words above, why the Church is so strongly the focus of your sadness. After all, our Church didn’t write the OT and NT and so my question to you is, is it the Church that doesn’t want you to have this security that you seek right now, or it is God’s law that precludes it?

    Personally, if I didn’t think that it was contrary to God’s law, I would have nothing against SSM. Let people get their sexual gratification whereever they choose. The problem is those pesky scriptures in the OT and NT and statements from modern revelation. In other words, I would be just as liberal about all this as all of you but for God’s own words in opposition to homosexual behavior. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or rain on anyone else’s parade, but how can I overlook these teachings when considering the issue of SSM?

    You stated over at T&S that SSM will not encourage experimentation or cause more people to become homosexuals. I don’t think that you can make that statement–you simply can’t know that. And since we can’t know that for sure, it seems the default (for people who believe those scriptures to be revelation from God to his prophets, both ancient and modern) needs to be in opposition to SSM if it has the potential of creating more homosexuals (because, if you believe those scriptures, homosexuality does not please God). This actually makes me sad but I don’t prize my own intellect above God’s statements.

  11. Rosalynde Welch says:

    D. wrote, “Disease is less of a problem now, and technology has more or less solved the unwanted pregnancy issue.”

    D., I really appreciate you perspective on these matters, and you’ve made some suggestions I’ve found really helpful and interesting. But as for this statement, uh, have you been following the news?

    And about the living together situation, while it sounds like a good idea, it’s my understanding (and anecdotal experience) that relationships that begin with a trial live-in more often dissolve than those that don’t.

  12. D.,

    I’ve heard the same things as Rosalynde in regards to the success rate of couples who chose to live together prior to marriage. To be honest, I haven’t had much experience with divorce–in my family or among my friends, but I kind of doubt that living together before nuptials will solve the problem of divorce. A deeper level of committment to the institution of marriage and a willingness among spouses to forgive petty frictions would probably get us further down the road.


    They said the same thing to Swift. Besides, there are plenty of people who are working very hard to put the abortion genie back in the bottle. Nothing less than total victory is acceptable for these people. There was a time when the task seemed quite hopeless, but they are committed to the cause and reasonable people think they now have a chance. Even if that were not the case, pro-life advocates would continue to fight the good fight because they belief in the sanctity of all innocent life. I’m only taking many of the anti-SSM advocates at their word–if they truly believe in the sanctity of marriage, it isn’t unreasonable to expect them to prosecute it on all fronts.

    Nate–the objection I have to conservative arguments about the need to preserve a particular symbolic public meaning for marriage is that they are as disingenuous as the arguments I put forth in my initial post. There are very few people in America right now having a real discussion about SSM and a lot of people who don’t like Andrew Sullivan’s “despised minority”. SSM is really just code for whether society will accept openly gay lifestyles. I’m asking conservative to come clean.

    I object to channeling discomfort to gay lifestyles for political gain. I’ve heard a lot in the last few days about values voters and I’m asking them to start questioning their values. I’m asking whether their values are really as good as they suppose them to be or if they are just great self-kidders.

  13. D.,
    I really like your ideas about marriage being the ultimate reward for commitment between two loving adults. But I disagree with your premise about how that should occur. I think marriage is itself a promise, and it takes a great amount of faith (some might argue, blind faith) to enter into it. But ideally it also comes with a commitment to that faith and to providing the energy to working it out. With that as a premise, marriage can have the same emotionally binding effect that you advocate, but it can come nearer to the beginning of the relationship and before sex, if your religious beliefs so dictate, than you propose. Otherwise, marriage starts to look like what baptism did for many in the early Christian church, something to be done after a lifetime of dithering about it. Speaking from a heterosexual perspective, I say thank goodness for the sexual revolution insofar as it promoted women as accountable actors in the sexual arena, but of course there have been terrible deleterious consequences. Women biologically are in a more vulnerable position than men re sex (again, speaking heterosexually), and I think that is a very good reason for why our religion teaches us to confine that sexual activity to marriage, because it can put the two sexes on equal footing, with the commitment to handling the physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity.

  14. D., I’m not sure that I accept the argument that marriage is only for procreation, but you might convince me. One thing I’m sure marriage isn’t for is cheating on your spouse. That definitely denigrates the institution of marriage. We need some laws about that for sure.

  15. Rosalynde Welch says:

    D., thanks for not taking offense, I was worried I’d come across as too brusque. When you write, “there is plenty of misinformation about birth control, often not communicated to teenagers,” you make my point for me: techniques of birth control and safe sex have made disease and pregnancy relatively rare for the educated and privileged; that is, the cultural revolution has worked quite well for a small sub-section of the global population. But the effects have been disastrous for groups that are disadvantaged by age, gender, education or socio-economics.

    And Nate, me trying to argue with you about the law would be like you trying to argue with me about Renaissance literature (okay, scratch that, you’d probably wipe the floor with me there, too). I’m mostly getting my ideas from the feminist legal scholarship I’ve encountered, and perhaps I’ve misunderstood. But I have to say, I don’t know what you’re talking about. My husband’s paycheck gets deposited via direct deposit into our joint bank account to which we both have access, per our agreement and his instructions. But should he wish to pick up the check directly, cash it and spend it, or have it deposited into an account with his name on it only, I don’t see how I’d have any legal access to that money. What am I missing here?

  16. D., that website gives the yearly rate at .4% per year…it’s not directly comparable to the 50% number.

    Rusty, your statistics ignore the fact that many of the men and women who have not been divorced will become divorced in the future.

    Nobody can really say how many marriages that happen this year will end in divorce, because we can’t predict the future. We can say, for example, 73% of first marriages that occured between 1980 and 1984 made it to their 10th anniversary. So the 10 year divorce rate for that cohort was 27%. But some of these marriages will end in divorce after the 10th anniversary, and rates for other cohorts may be quite different.


  17. Nate Oman says:

    D.:”I reiterate that I think marriage should be thought of as reward, as an important human rite-of-passage”

    D. I only point out (as I did over at the real blog) that this view is flatly inconsistent with the rhetoric of self-regarding behavior that you use over there.

  18. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Greg wrote: “If I understand, you are proposing a law that mandates that marrieds have joint banking accounts, and that the non-wage-earning spouse continues to have access to that account after divorce. At first glance, child support seems easier to enforce (and it is notoriously difficult to enforce).”

    Yes, Greg, something like that is what I’m proposing, though I have no illusions about the likelihood of this occurring, given the fact that since 19th-C feminists chose to pursue women’s right to own property rather than women’s compensation for nonmarket work, the idea that an individual’s income is his own personal property has never been seriously challenged.

    The trouble with child support is that the father only need pay some minimum amount for the support of the child; the disparity in reduction of standard of living for the separate households is not a factor in judgments. Thus a woman is unduly disadvantaged by the opportunity costs and loss of human capital involved in retiring from the labor market for a given period to perform uncompensated domestic work.

  19. Greg, I’m all for those nice things you talk about, but I don’t want to pay for them. Can we make these ‘pay-as-you-go’ reforms?

  20. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Here’s a serious suggestion.

    A key problem for mothers is the fundamental assumption that the income flowing into families does not belong to all family members, but only to the individual who earns it. Instead, all earnings of both parents should be considered joint marital property belonging to everyone in the family, including the children–a true “family wage.” To this day, mothers have no legal right to the greatest single financial asset that most families possess: the primary breadwinner’s income. Legislation should require husband and wife to become full economic partners in a common family enterprise, even if one partner’s contribution is nonmarket. This would discourage frivolous marriages and frivolous divorces, allocate more money toward care-giving mothers (or fathers) and chidlren, and afford husband and wife equal economic power (and thus real equality) in marriage.

  21. Hey, the scriptures say that we should study the Good Book regularly. Now that our righteous leaders have a “mandate”, I guess they should legislate that people read the scriptures daily. After all, society would be much better off, families would be strengthened, etc, if people would just read the scriptures.

    You might want to look closer at some blue states, like Massachusetts, where in spite of SSM, the divorce rate is lower than average — in fact, the lowest of all the states some years. (A quick Google search yielded these stats from 1994: Other quick looks at stats from other years show similar findings.

    In all seriousness, I can’t believe you actually are suggesting these things. It is YOUR religion that premarital sex is bad. Now that the religious nuts are in power with their “mandate”, you want to force people to abide by YOUR religious principles. I thought we Mormons revered the Constitution as an inspired document.

    There are a lot of common sense things we could do (waiting period, counseling) and are doing (tax incentives) to strengthen marriage, but imposing religious beliefs on others is wrong. The ends do not justify the means. Oh, and who’s idea was it to force righteousness on people?

    By the way, Mathew, please don’t run for office anywhere.

  22. D. Fletcher says:

    Hi, Rosalynde,

    Tell me your point about the news. I know there are plenty of abortions, but I also know that there is plenty of misinformation about birth control, often not communicated to teenagers. I also know that there are SCDs out there — I was just trying to suggest a reason why the notion of two virgins came to be.

    I think it’s a human truism that behavior needs to be practiced. It’s natural to want to practice marriage before trying it out.

    I agree that live-in relationships often dissolve. That’s the point! Most of my friends got divorced because they didn’t enjoy each other any more. It wasn’t infidelity, or finances, or anything but plain old fashioned incompatibility. If these things were determined before the actual commitment ceremony took place (or children), then the separation becomes much less…messy and hurtful to society.

  23. D. Fletcher says:

    How about a law outlawing divorce? I’m not kidding…

    Instead of divorce, we’ll have serial polygamy instead. When couples choose to separate for emotional reasons, the husband can marry his pretty assistant, but he is STILL married to his former wife, and must continue to support her and the children in the style to which they have become accustomed. He may not live with them, but his marriage vow is still legally valid.

  24. D. Fletcher says:

    I guess my real point about my friends is that the best marriages — unions of men and women — are made by people who are really serious about it, who think about it and organize it and figure out how to work out the problems.

    Alternatively, the worst marriages might be those which are entered into spontaneously. Britney Spears, anyone?

    Perhaps a law to strengthen marriage might be — a waiting period of 60 days, or whatever, to determine that the couple really wants it.

  25. D. Fletcher says:

    I think a problem with marriage today is that it represents too much, too soon. Add to that a society so enamored of individual freedom, where people quickly lose all sense of commitment. She spoke to me harshly that one time? Divorce her — I don’t need to hear that.

    This suggests that relationships need to be “practiced,” before fully entering into constraining committed relationships. Yes, I believe that the sexual aspects need to be practiced, as well as the emotional ones.

    And those people who are simply having sex for its pleasurable aspects should be encouraged to consider commitment. This includes those in same-sex relationships. When two people find each and want to form a partnership, it’s a miracle (in whatever form) and should be applauded and rewarded. If our society considered marriage a reward, a prize for having properly learned human interactive behavior, I believe many people would take it more seriously.

    Just rambling, I’ll sign off now…

  26. D. Fletcher says:

    I think we need a law that dissolves all childless marriages after an adjustment period… say 5 years. I mean, sex is only for procreation, right?

  27. I’d like a law mandating religious marriage. All other ‘civil unions’ are to be forbidden.

  28. I’ll put it on my reading list — too bad divorce was so common when Mormons practiced polygamy, otherwise you might have been able to call it a good idea :)

  29. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m sorry I was sarcastic, but when Steve starts down that path, I can’t help but follow.


    I think that it’s best to view marriage from a historical/sociological viewpoint, rather than from a religious one (or even a legal one). Our religion, in particular, holds on tenaciously to values rooted in 19th-century society, though the irony is that we believe in continuing revelation. Though not perhaps by revelation, some changes have occurred in our church because of societal pressures. The revelation giving the Priesthood to blacks could be considered this, though some would say, it was an overturning of an invalid doctrine. I was referring more to levels of modesty — as society evolved, our ideas about modesty (a moral issue to some) evolved along with it.

    The practice of the marriage of two virgins has an elusive origin, but it may have been a response to the problems of disease in primitive societies. Two virgins were less likely to bring disease to themselves and children. Disease is less of a problem now, and technology has more or less solved the unwanted pregnancy issue.

    I’ve experience a huge amount of divorce. All of my friends from BYU have been divorced, several more than once. Many of my friends here in NY came from divorced homes, and were divorced themselves before they were thirty. Divorce, like abortion and Chapter 11, have become easy-outs to stress-inducing situations, without much consideration for the repercussions.

    One of the better marriages I know personally provides a good example of a “modern” marriage, one which works. This couple, raised in two different religious traditions, took marriage very seriously, and wanted to try and resolve the problems before they started (or at least have a prepared checklist to solve problems as they arose). After an initial dating period (with sexual intercourse, one assumes), they determined that they loved each other and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They then organized how this would work out. First, they moved in together in the same apartment. There is no quicker way to find out the personality quirks and mood swings of another person than by sharing a small space. Although they were living together, they purposely kept their finances separate, for the duration of this “trial run” of 5 years. Although they assumed fidelity to each other during this time, they figured that any problems with fidelity would probably pop up sooner than later. After the 5 year period, they knew it was working out, so they chose to get married (it took 2 years to work it out). Their wedding was one of the happiest, and best organized it was ever my privilege to attend and participate. The next year, their daughter was born. Although this couple have been together for 20 years, only 13 of them were they actually legally married.

    No divorce in sight, knock on wood.

    I think a problem with marriage today is that it represents too much, too soon. Add to that a s

  30. I’m waiting for the ground-swell of support across the country–it’s time we took our country back from those who support radical agendas aimed at harming families. We’ve got a good start on SSM, but for some reason we seem to neglect these other areas. Why? Would someone who has written in support of the need to codify bans on SSM explain why we aren’t prosecuting these other important causes. I know it can’t be because we choose our battles based on distaste for homosexual relations. I’ve reviewed the Proclamation and I see plenty in there to support any of the other problems I’ve written about. Those problems are: divorce, pre-marital sex and extra-martial sex. Anybody?

  31. If you make divorce much harder, you may also make people more reluctant to get married, and you might have more shacking up. I think that is a much more serious threat to marriage than anything else.

    Of course you could try to fix this by implementing suggestion number 2 and making premarital sex illegal. But I doubt you’re really serious about that.

    The fact is that the technology of birth control has really changed the world, as far as the costs of premarital sex for women, and I believe premarital sex has in most times and places been more or less accepted for men. It will be pretty difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

  32. In my opinion, the only way to counter the current trend is to pay more attention to teaching our friends and associates the gospel. I believe that externally-imposed laws will only make people bitter and turn them away from godlike values. I mean- look at the comments during and after this divisive election!

    The only way to strengthen marriage, in my opinion, is to teach the gospel in word and deed. Of course, our preaching may turn out like Mormon’s to the Nephites, in which case we can look forward to the second coming.

    I am not giving up or saying that we shouldn’t do anything about marriage, only that I don’t believe legislative remedies to this problem will really work.

  33. It is not clear to me that anti-fornication laws are a good analogy to anti-SSM laws. One consists of a criminal punishment and another consists of the witholding of a particular legal status and some modest subsidies. To be sure, both rest on decisions about the extent to which views of sexual morality should be codified in some way, but I think that the crime-subsidy distinction is a non-trivial one.

    As I have said elsewhere, I am skeptical that SSM will have dire social consequences, but I don’t think that this fact warrants setting up SSM advocates as straw men.

  34. John,

    I’m sure you know that you have written things that have made others feel uncomfortable. You have even written things that have made others feel uncomfortable not because of the point you were trying to make, but because of the way you made it. I sincerely hope you will look past what you see as my faults.

    You have asked me to lay out my vision for the church–something I do not feel compelled to do because 1) I don’t have a vision for the church (no radical agenda here I’m afraid to say) and 2) other than Nate’s tepid defense, no one has even tried to explain why we are so content to ride the SSM hobby-horse into law, all the while claiming we are motivated by a concern for families while completely ignoring what we also believe are other grave threats to the family. Why perseverate on this one issue while ignoring the others? Again I ask, can anyone explain why we are not content to teach that we believe homosexual relationships are wrong as is pre-maritial and extra-maritial sex and divorce. Why do some feel compelled to work so hard to codify into law bans on SSM and not the others?

    I’ve been largely absent from the SSM debates that have been the cause of so much spilled ink so let me be clear about one thing, I’m not talking about whether people have a right to make their views known–I’m just questioning their priorities. Why perseverate on this issue?


    It seems to me that anti-SSM advocates are using the issue for political gain, not because they care about marriage in any real sense. Newt, Rush and others have proven time and again that they don’t really care about marriage, but they make political hay by creating a wedge issue. If they can make hay, I can make straw.

    I appreciate the legal distinctions you are drawing, but they strike me as largely irrelevant as the anti-fornication statutes were not enforced in any event. The SSM issue has always been more about signaling than about rights.

  35. D. Fletcher says:


    My last sentence wasn’t really correctly worded. I recognize that the Church won’t wish me to participate in SSM. The surprise is that… the world doesn’t want it either. I just don’t understand why the world doesn’t want… this nice thing.

    Perhaps it is God that is unhappy with me. But he made me, didn’t he?

    This just makes me sad, I need to stop typing.

  36. John,
    Weren’t God’s laws written down by MEN?
    Isn’t there room for error in each step of: 1) prophets’ receiving the message,; 2) their writing it; 3) it being translated, and; 4) in our uptake of that information?

    Or, if you dont’ believe any of that, let’s look at how you interpret scripture. You say the Old and New Testaments are proof of God’s abhorrence of homosexuality. Do you also advocate the punishment of death for homosexual activity? Adultery? Because the castigation is as clear in the Good Book as is the order. Even the most conservative or “literal” understandinng of text is just that, an understanding, an interpretation filtered through our lenses of interpretation such as age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, education, experience. My understanding is such; your is too. The belief that we can understand text literally, whether they are the constitution, a la the Scalia school of thought, or the Bible, a la John Fowles, is fallacious.

    I know my comments only partially responded to the points you raised, because I am speaking from a heterosexual standpoint, and that perspective colors much of why I think God asks us to confine sex to marriage, and I just wanted to put forther my reasoning as to why marriage could be an ideal arrangment to enter into before sex and living together, but not that it was the exclusively ideal way to do it.

  37. Rosalynde Welch says:

    John, D. specifically said he was going to look at marriage from a historical/sociological position, not a religious one, for the purposes of this thread. I don’t think it’s fair to shift his terms and then criticize him on that basis.

    From what I know of D., he would absolutely agree that sex should be practiced within a committed marriage.

  38. D. Fletcher says:

    John, you are EXASPERATING at times!


    You brought up God, and his unhappiness with homosexuals.

    I don’t know why this happened to me, but I do know that I believe in God and have lived in the LDS church all of my life.

    Whether God made me this way, or biology — and by the way didn’t God make biology? — it doesn’t matter. I’m still this way, and still sad about it and want exaltation just like everybody else.

    So there!

  39. john: Do you really mean to say that God’s law is the only possible justification for any sexual restraint? I think that one can make a case for sexual mores simply based on human nature and human happiness.

    Also, I’m surprised at your eagerness to base teachings about marriage and sex on the scriptures. As far as I know, homosexuality is only mentioned in the law of Moses and in some Pauline epistles. But there are lots of other things in Moses and Paul that don’t match up so well with our current beliefs.

  40. D. Fletcher says:

    Looking up American Divorce Rate in Yahoo, here’s the first site listed:

    The divorce rate is about .4, better than 50% but not much.

  41. Man, am I dense. I checked his comments and I thought he kept a straight face the whole time. I looked closer, and clearly he was joking. Sorry Mathew. But seriously, don’t let your alter-ego run for office.

    I get a little solace from the fact that mike d. upthread was also fooled, but not much.

  42. Mathew said:
    “no one has even tried to explain why we are so content to ride the SSM hobby-horse into law”

    Well, Mathew, as a member of the Church, who truly believes that God has a living prophet on the earth today, who actually speaks for the Lord, this statement by said Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley is why I am content to “ride it into law”:

    “Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.”

    I assumed the original post was sarcasm, and I really am not comfortable with sarcasm, as the mental gymnastics and arithmetic of it all confuse me. I like for people to say what they mean. It seems to me it is often a tricky way of hiding what might be unpleasant if spoken outright.

    If you are saying why do we think we can legislate morality with the SSM thing, why not everything else, well, that is because for the most part, people need to be free to choose for themselves. But society has a responsibility to have certain laws or we would live in anarchy. How do we know we need the SSM laws? The Prophet of God said so, and I do not question that. The other “laws” you mentioned are already written, in many religions, and those who care about the laws of God already try to live them. We don’t need a nanny-state to force us to do everything. The Lord did not have kind words for those who must be “commanded in everything.”

  43. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Mathew, I am far from clear on where I stand on this issue. But I do think it’s somewhat disingenuous to claim that legal efforts to prevent SSM are hypocriticial unless accompanied by efforts to ban divorce and extra-marital sex. If the past half-century has taught us anything in social experiments, we can take the following three lessons: although the appearance of radical social change can occur quite quickly, the roots of traditional structures will persist for some time (though perhaps not indefinitely); it is impossible to predict the secondary formations and consequences that will result from major changes in social structures; and it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to turn back time, to undo ideological work. I don’t think any rational person really believes that *at the structural level* the divorce culture can be seriously altered at this late date (although there might be measures that would prevent or discourage more divorces) or that sex can be put back into marriage. But since SSM has not yet been let out of the gate, there is (perhaps) still a chance to stop it. Whether or not you think it’s a good thing, you have to concede that it’s a different animal than repealing divorce and free sex.

  44. Nate Oman says:

    Matt, two points:

    1. Whether or not opponents of SSM are hypocritical really has no logical connection to the merits of SSM. Hypocrisy does not justify “making staw,” unless your concerns are not with SSM but are more ad hominem. Don’t get me wrong. Ad hominem attacks have their place. “Rush Limbaugh is an immoral hypocrit” is statement about which people can have a real debate. I don’t see that there is much value in it. It is not, however, really a discussion about the merits of SSM.

    2. I entirely agree with you that the debate about SSM is almost entirely about signalling. However, it is about signalling on both sides. Hence, I think that the drive toward SSM has much more to do with the role of marriage as a legitimator of sexual behavior than it has to do with the actual legal disabilties same-sex couples face. However, once we admitt that the argument is largely about signaling, then I don’t see that there is any objection per se to conservative arguments about the need to preserve a particular symbolic public meaning for marriage.

    Rosylnde: With all due respect, the notion that one has an absolute personal property interest in one’s income has been thoroughly questioned in our law. The problem does not lie in an unwillingness to believe that income from a working spouse should be treated as the collective property of the family. In many ways our law of marital property operates on this assumption. The problem is not one of theory but of mechanics. It is the difficulty of formulating workable legal rules rather than some ideological attachment to a particular notion of property that is — IMHO — the bigger obstacle.

    That said, perhaps we should re-evaluate the guiding assumption of post-divorce economic independence for former spouses. Also, I think that child support should be much more generous for non-custodial parents in the upper income brackets. On the other hand, much of the problem with non-payment of child support stems from an inability to pay, and it is not clear to me that locking these folks up in prison makes the situation any better.

  45. Nate Oman says:

    Matt: I blogged a while back on the primacy of the signaling aspect in the SSM debates. Check out:

  46. D. Fletcher says:

    Maybe one of you lawyer types can expound on the Covenant Marriage law from a few years ago in Alabama or Mississippi. Basically, it was a more binding marriage, with less option for divorce. Some people did take the vow, but I believe it was a huge flop as a proposition.

    There was plenty of analysis in the NYTimes, and other places, from sociologists, psychoanalysts, etc. Without societal supports in place, such a binding law was doomed, they said.

  47. Mike D. – it’s a joke! But only Mat’s proposals. I think we are all serious about exposing the hypocrisy of the conservatives’ position.

  48. john fowles says:

    Mike D. and D.: if the gov’t did take this approach and joined anyone who wished in a civil union then:

    (1) would the union be based on sexual activity, either hetero- or homosexul, thus excluding, say two non-homosexual spinsters who want those benefits? If so, how would that not be discrimination as well?

    (2) under that regime, would churches, or more specifically, the Church, still be allowed to “discriminate” in offering the title of “marriage” only to homosexuals? Will the gay activists really stop at merely gaining a civil union and refrain from pushing through restrictions on any form of “discrimination” against gays through e.g. hate speech avenues, as in Canada, where citing a scripture that condemns homosexuality counts as actionable hate-speech?

    D., also, you said that God made you that way. Even subscribing to the notion that homosexuality is not a choice, I still don’t think one can blame God for one’s homosexuality. If it is really just a function of biology and genetics, then that is all it is and not necessarily a predetermination by God.

  49. Mike D., I think the suggestions here run the gamut between serious and not-so-very. More than likely, they’re not-so-very.

  50. More random thoughts on debtors’ prisons: I suppose that in an economic sense a check is a form of debt, and we do put people in prison for check kiting. Legally, of course, a check is not a debt and historically there were reasons tied to the need for negotiability that were offered for treating passers of bad checks with special severity. So maybe I have to expand my list of criminal debts to child support, taxes, and bad checks. On the other hand, merely bouncing a check is not a crime. There is a mens read requirement for check kiting that is not present for criminal non-payment of taxes or child support. Those are true criminal debts (e.g. liability is strict in the contractual sense). Maybe I don’t need to add checks after all.

    BTW, Marcus Cole had a fun article in the Green Bag a couple of years ago arguing in favor of debtors’ prisons.

  51. Most of my non-mormon friends are married, and most lived together before they married. None of them had children until after they were married.

    I think it’s very difficult to infer the general, long-term society effects of premarital cohabitation from our anecdotal experiences.

    I’m not up on the social-science research on this topic, but I’d be pretty skeptical that it could reach a convincing conclusion, either. Even if we see a higher rate of divorce from marriages that started with cohabitation, it might be because people who choose cohabition are different ex ante.

  52. D. Fletcher says:

    No worries, Christina… I don’t know why I posted about me. I suppose it comes back to the fact that I really only blog for myself… for clarity and coherence in my life.

    Really, this thread should be about strengthening marriage — what can be done? What can be done legally?

    I don’t really know. I’ve never been married. I think its more a societal issue than a legal one (why people are divorcing).

    P.S. I’ve recovered from my depressive episode a half hour ago.


  53. Oh, and by the way, Courts are the ones who got rid of “resorting” laws and similar things.

    It is interesting to think of how society adjusted.

  54. On principle, I must say that standing on principals is reprehensible, and that school children should have more respect for authority.

  55. D. Fletcher says:

    One additional point about my friends who lived together and then married.

    I wouldn’t call their experience “shacking up,” though I can understand that you all might be confused at the nuance.

    I think their experience was marriage prep. They wanted to get married, and they wanted to do it right. They felt that an adjustment period of 5 years was exactly the right amount of time, and they stuck to their commitment to each other and the plan.

    Some might say, they were really married from day 1.

    I think most people shack up or even marry without much of plan/future in mind. It’s just the next thing. I don’t think this applies to many Mormon couples, but I do think it applies to lots of others, particularly those who aren’t particularly educated.

    Inversely, SSM (sorry to beat a dead horse…) is really only for those people who WANT to commit, who are really serious about it. No one who likes the freedom of sex without constraint of relationship need apply.

  56. One more thought.

    The scary thing about this post is that it isn’t far off from reality. What we need now is for people to feel emboldened by the crushing victory scored by the Republicans so they will start airing their true thoughts. If we are lucky, we’ll soon get a reasonable electorate voting for reasonable (read: not religious nutjobs) candidates.

  57. Greg Call says:

    Oops, that was me above.

    Seriously, here are some laws that would strengthen marriage and families, and that I expect Republicans to soon champion: government compensation and social security credits for stay-at-home spouses; higher minimum wage; health insurance for all children who are not covered privately; mandated four week of vacation per year; government funded child care; more generous maternal and paternal leave laws; more generous family leave laws.

  58. Oops; that should have been “requires all Mormons to set up an automated withdrawal”.

  59. D. Fletcher says:

    Oy, I did read that wrong. Still, the number of divorces each year compared to the number of marriages is about 40%.

    It’s true the many people, particularly educated Mormons, will not experience divorce to the same extent as some others.

    But I’m convinced (though I’m not married and have no emperical data) that divorce will continue to be a huge reality until our country recognizes something other than freedom of the self. Freedom of self is the single most emphasized “right” in our governance. The right to choose freedom of self often overrules a commitment to others, and this has simply gotten worse since the founding fathers wrote the Constitution. Until our society promotes commitment, freedom of self will prevail — divorces will continue in our society at a high rate.

    SSM, by the way, was a step to emphasizing commitment over pure self — at least for individuals with same-sex attraction.

  60. Peggy, apcc said something similar here.

  61. Peggy, I appreciate your sentiment. At this point in the debate, the debate is actually over. I admire that. So I won’t try to win you over to my way of thinking.

    My conflict with this idea comes from scripture (as I have noted elsewhere). Specifically, D&C 134:9. Now that we are in a position of power, it seems that this principle no longer serves us.

  62. john fowles says:

    Pheo, Mat was being completely sarcastic with the idea of criminalizing extra-marital sexual relationships. The purpose of it was to throw the absurdity (from his point of view) of a ban on SSM.

  63. john fowles says:

    Point well taken D.! Thanks.

  64. john fowles says:

    Rosalynde, it might be uncouth to point this out but analyzing virgin marriage based on OT and NT certainly seems to fit with a sociological/historical analysis and not a strictly religious one b/c, it seems to me, that these scriptures are the reason that marriage is the way it is, unless D. is implying that events preceding and causing the OT view are the sociological/historical facts to be considered.

  65. Rosalynde, many states already take this position.

    It’d be nice if our Church were so progressive…

  66. Greg Call says:


    As Steve noted, in the 9 “community property” states (mostly in the west), husband and wife share equally in an wages (and other property) acquired during marriage.

    The other states use an “equitable distribution” regime, where, upon divorce, all property (no matter when or how acquired) is distributed however a judge thinks is best (considering certain factors).

  67. Greg Call says:


    If I understand, you are proposing a law that mandates that marrieds have joint banking accounts, and that the non-wage-earning spouse continues to have access to that account after divorce. At first glance, child support seems easier to enforce (and it is notoriously difficult to enforce). Am I missing something?

  68. Rosalynde: In community property states both spouse do have legal access to income and liquid wealth. Whether this exists practically is another matter, and as Greg suggests there may be administrative reasons for adopting other approaches than mandating joint bank accounts. Community property doesn’t make a distinction between income and assets. A stay at home mom in California has, in the eyes of the law, an absolutely equal legal right to the paycheck of her husband.

    Under equitable distribution (that is under non-community property regimes) judges can and do take into account the contributions of non-working spouses in divorce decrees. However, the current system tends to set as its goal the eventual economic independence of the spouses, which may mitigate against what you would want (I am not clear on this). BTW, equitable distribution does NOT (as far as I know) take the economic indepedence of children from non-custodial spouses as a goal.

    I final point on this. It is worth noting that the law is harsher with dead-beat fathers than with any other kind of debtor. For example, if you fail to pay your Visa card you are not going to prison. Indeed, we tend to think of debtor’s prisons as one of the more absurd barbarity’s of the past. However, many states have laws incarcerating people for non-payment of child support. The extent to which these laws are enfoced is another matter, but I do think it is interesting that child support is the only debt that we are willing to treat as a matter for the criminal law. (I suppose that to the extent that we think of taxes as a form of debt, they also make the list. I can’t think of any other debt that can land you in prison.)

    I should point out that our current tax regime favors stay at home mothers to the extent that their work, which is obiviously economically valuable, is not subject to any sort of a tax and their presence reduces the tax burden on earned income by providing an exemption.

    D. my understanding is that the Covenant Marriage law was passed in Lousiana, however it is an opt-in system and from what I remember reading about it way back when I had Property very few couples have chosen to opt in.

  69. Rusty,

    Thanks for the correction.


    I agree that preaching the gospel is a good start, but do you seriously think that is enough. The gospel teaches that murder is wrong, but we have laws against that. Why shouldn’t we have laws against other things the gospel teaches are wrong. Isn’t this ultimately just a question of whose morals are going to take legal precedence in our society?

  70. Anonymous says:

    If you are right, thanks for that debunking. For years I’ve been thinking that my marriage has the same statistical odds of success as the tempting red/black bet on the roulette wheel. But with your new stats, I’m encouraged. I haven’t been in the bottom 10 percent of something since junior high PE classes! (sung) We’re going to make it after all!!

  71. john fowles says:

    Should have been “offering the title of ‘marriage’ only to heterosexuals” . . .

  72. john fowles says:

    Steve wrote It’d be nice if our Church were so progressive…

    Mat and Steve: the type of sarcastic mockery that is driving this post makes me uncomfortable. In light of the quoted bit from Steve above, I would just ask you to explain, without sarcasm, in a very straightforward way, what is your vision for the Church? Steve wishes for a more progressive church, as does Mat, apparently, from the tone of this post. So indulge me and give me a list: what would be the ideal way for the Church to be to accommodate your view of morality and righteousness, etc.? Would it look like Unitarian Universalists? Would it still be uniquely LDS? How would we be a peculiar people/how would we be set apart from the rest of society? Would there be any person-based sin or would only outward, other-oriented acts constitute sin (e.g. nothing sexually-based on a personal level would be sin but ignoring the poor would be sin or the externalities of war would be sin, etc.)?

  73. Greg Call says:

    Maybe putting the estate tax and dividend tax back where they were is a start. Western European countries have most of these benefits (except the compensation for stay-at-home-parents) and no full-scale tax revolts.

  74. Strange that a different URL in cyberspace should be seen as “real.”

    Ros/Nate: Nate properly said that the problem is one of mechanics. In the scenario Rosalynde brings up, the issue isn’t her right to the money — it’s the practical limitations of enforcing those rights. Rosalynde would be able, via the courts, to get access to that money (albeit indirectly), but at great cost and inconvenience. So she’s right to point out that there is a large gap between what we say are people’s rights and what practical experience tells us.

    As for whether attacking those around SSM is logical, well, can’t you tell a lot about a pile of crap from the flies buzzing around it? I’ll admit that the central issue of SSM’s merits isn’t greatly affected by what we’re talking about here, but I wouldn’t entirely dismiss the value of examining the peripheral arguments and their proponents.

  75. The 50% divorce rate is a myth. That stat came from 1981, the American divorce rate hit an all time high of 1,213,000. That same year, there were 2,422,000 marriages. It’s easy to see the problem here. What if there were 2,422,000 divorces that year? Would we say 100% people will get divorced?

    In a 1987 Harris Poll, it was shown that of all the American men who had ever been married only 10% had ever been divorced. And by those same criteria, only 13% of all ever-married women had ever been divorced. This means that in reality, only 10% of American marriages fail, thus, 90% of American marriages succeed.

    Not to take away from your post, Mathew, but that oft-accepted statistic really bothers me.

  76. D. Fletcher says:

    To Mike D.

    Yes, I think the government should call all legal joinings civil unions, and then allow the various religions to pronounce marriage on whomever they want.

  77. Very entertaining comments. If time in the institution of marriage means anything, 37yr & counting, them IÂ’m some what of an authority. Marriage is more of an action verb than a subject. ya just work on it, continue to improve self if possible and practice courtesy and thoughtfulness with the better half, and go fishing once in a while…. does any of that need a law?

  78. a random John says:

    Where in the Bible does it say that the government should marry people? Perhaps it does. If it doesn’t, and we are committed to taking the Bible seriously, then we should try to cause the government to get out of the marriage business entirely.

  79. While we’re also at it, can we legislate gender as a pre-existential quality? Some sort of constitutional amendment>

  80. D. Fletcher says:

    Yeah, I see. In my friends’ case, their child didn’t arrive until after their legal marriage — all according to plan. Sometimes, though, the best laid plans of mice and people…

    Christina, have you ever read The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright? A very interesting book, one of my favorites. He agrees with you about the poverty of legal rights for women in this country, particularly after marriage has ended. In fact, he thinks women might be better of in polygamous marriages with no divorce available.

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