Secularism Won, and it’s a Good Thing Too

You’ve probably heard by now that the Supreme Court last Friday struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, granting same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states. This is completely true. And you may also have heard that this represents a victory of something called “secularism” over something called “religious freedom.” This is completely false.

It is not wrong to say that secularism won. It most certainly did. But secularism did not, and cannot win victories “over” religious freedom for the simple fact that secularism is the same thing as religious freedom. For the freedom to worship according the the dictates of one’s own conscience can only exist in any meaningful way in a secular society.

Let me dwell on this for a minute, since it sounds counterintuitive. For many religious people, “secularism” is a hiss and a by-word that means something like “a society that hates and persecutes religious people by feeding them to the lions or making them bake cakes.” Secularism, then, becomes something like “official state atheism.”

But this is not what secularism means. A secular government, by definition, treats all forms of belief, including unbelief, exactly the same. This is what James Madison argued for so forcefully in his majestic 1785 treatise, “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessment.” Madison believed that the government should always adopt a posture of strict non-cognizance towards all religious beliefs. Another name for this is “the separation of church and state.”

Latter-day Saints frequently opine that the Church could not have been organized in 1830 in any other nation in the world. This is probably true. Most of the nations of Europe had official state Churches and did not permit organized dissent. But precisely because Jefferson and Madison won the church-state battles of the previous generation, America was a secular state. The result was the most religiously diverse society in the world–one in which a religion as transgressive as early Mormonism could survive, and, in a very short time, thrive.

The debate over same-sex marriage has always been framed–by both sides–as a debate between secularism and religion. The debate has been excruciatingly complicated by the fact that “marriage” has always had both religious and secular aspects. Weddings are often performed in churches. Ministers have the authority to conduct legally binding marriage ceremonies.

This makes marriage one of the few areas in which the lines between civil and ecclesiastical authority remain blurred. Marriage is both a civil contract and a religious commitment, and both are often created at the same time and in the same ceremony. This, I suspect, is why so many religious people feel the recent Supreme Court decision as a slap in the face. But this need not be the case. While the civil and religious aspects of marriage are deeply connected in our lived experience, only the former have any business on a Supreme Court docket.

Those who criticize the government for “turning its back on God’s laws” misunderstand the function of law in a secular state. And those who complain that Friday’s decision “destroys the sanctity of marriage” concede far more power to the state than should ever be conceded. Such statements only make sense if we agree that sanctification–making things sacred–is a legitimate function of government. And once we concede this, we are no longer living in a state that is either secular or free.

Religious people of all stripes–but especially members of a minority religion that a lot of people still consider weird–should not be afraid to live in a secular society. We should, though, be deeply concerned about living in the other kind.



  1. John Mc says:

    An excellent post that cleanly expresses many thoughts and observations I have had. If I could marry this post I would.

  2. N. W. Clerk says:

    The OED says that secularism is “[t]he doctrine that morality should be based solely on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all considerations drawn from belief in God or in a future state.” The Soviet Union was a secular state, and China is a secular state. What wonderful religious freedom they have offered!

    The use of the word “secularism” by the Prophets and Apostles is almost entirely negative. I see no reason to believe you instead of them.

  3. “While the civil and religious aspects of marriage are deeply connected in our lived experience, only the former have any business on a Supreme Court docket.”
    Justice Kennedy even says something along these lines in his opinion. Unfortunately, that part of his opinion has no legal standing and can be superseded by the next court ruling otherwise. Expect legal challenges to start within a week or two somewhere to extend the secular ruling from Friday all over religious practices. I do not know if they will be successful challenges, lower courts will be hesitant to force a further ruling contradicting the non-binding advice until some time has passed.

  4. N.W. Clerk: Argument from the dictionary? Really, dude? You must write the best Sacrament talks.

  5. Rockwell says:

    Re #2:

    I kind of chuckle a little when people use definitions from OED, which is intended to pretty much capture all the ways a word has ever been used, rather than its common present day use.

    Rather than using a dictionary to define what someone else is talking about, it might be useful to use contextual clues. To a baker, a tomato is a vegetable, but to a botanist, a tomato is a fruit. It turns out they are both right.

  6. Wonderful, thank you.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    This makes me think of all the Mormons who think, as Charles Barkley might say, it’s T
    URRIBLE that they can’t pray in schools. In Utah where they’re a majority, such prayers would be pretty much Mormon in their contours. But what about in the rest of the country? How about prayers before football games in Texas, some containing content passive-aggressively sticking it to Mormonism? Oops–maybe school prayer isn’t such a good thing after all. (The situation I allude to really happened; see Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe decided by the Supreme Court.)

  8. Angela C says:

    Excellent thoughts. I couldn’t agree more. The idea that the state should legislate morality seems to be a natural byproduct of the social conservative movement that was popularized under Reagan, and suddenly we’ve devolved into this worldview with a fictionalized history in which we have strange bedfellows of the worst kinds: those who would use us as allies to further their agendas and then turn those same outcomes on us. Why it’s so hard for people to see that the current war against secularism is a war for their own brand of religion (and necessarily against our own) is beyond me.

  9. Curtis Carmack says:

    “A secular government, by definition, treats all forms of belief, including unbelief, exactly the same.” This is the money quote. Many of us with deep concerns about this ruling are not even remotely convinced that this applies in the USA anymore. Unbelief is clearly superior to any kind of religious belief in modern life and thinking in this country, and virtually everything about our government’s behavior toward religion makes this point apparent.

  10. Curtis, that makes no sense at all. Our government favors religion over nonreligion in so many ways, from specialized tax provisions to RFRA to the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. I’m not going to stake out a normative position on it (frankly, some of the benefits are good, while some shouldn’t be there), but there’s probably as much religious liberty today in the United States as there ever has been in our history.

  11. The Other Clark says:

    I agree with much of the OP, and feel that the LDS Church will resolve much of the conflict created by the latest SCOTUS ruling by getting out of the marriage business (Doing sealings only and leaving the legal marriage to civil authorities–as is already done in many other countries.)

    My quibble is that government marriages (justice of the peace, etc.) MUST sanctify the marriage act. Otherwise it’s just fornication, right?

  12. Lew Scannon says:

    Excellent. Thanks for the clarity.

  13. It’s refreshing to read an opinion on this issue based on philosophical opinion which is no grounded in accusations of bigotry.

    The key misunderstanding I feel you and many supporters of ssm have is that you suggested the state should only use its power against the citizens for legitimate state interests and not religious beliefs.

    This is the ideal way to view the issue with gay marriage. Marriage is most certainly about two people on one hand, but cannot end there as it is clearly also about families and the perpetuation of society and therefore the state itself.

    Should the people possess the ability to outline how their society should perpetuate itself through the generations?

    With that in mind consider your accusation that ssm is a religious issue. While religion obviously comes into play, it is only because this issue intersects with foundational truth, namely that it takes a man and woman to procreate and religions recognize that truth with the establishment of marriage as a means for two to become one (husband and wife) and also many (family).

    This isn’t an issue at all of equal rights or an assessment of worth of same-sex relationships per se but what is the goal of marriage and what is the interest of the state in that goal.

    As ssm is biologically incapable of perpetuating the state it is a matter of fact that in some degree it is worth less in its potential to the future of the state. One relationship is capable of reproduction the other is not. This foundation is biology and sociology not religion.

    At this point, the discussion turns to exceptions where it is time honored tradition of to throw out the rule because of the existence of exceptions. Except if the only possible way for two to become both one and many is in the male female bonding then the state would have an interest in preserving that relationship because that at is exactly how the state preserves is future, by definition a legitimate interest.

    This is so engrained in our culture it may not be self-evident at first but that makes it no less truthful.

  14. Mark B. says:

    “The debate over same-sex marriage has always been framed–by both sides–as a debate between secularism and religion.”

    That simply isn’t true. “What is Marriage?: Man and Woman : a Defense” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George and Ryan Anderson is the counter-example that guts that assertion.

    But it is the same sort of weak argumentation that leads to silliness like “the idea that the state should legislate morality . . . .” The penal codes are of course full of legislated morality. Furthermore, the fact that recognition of conjugal marriage by the state conforms with some persons’ concepts of morality does not mean that those concepts are the sole, or even the principal, basis for such recognition.

  15. Mark B., bless your heart. May you get the theocracy you want and may it be Evangelical Christian. You deserve nothing less.

  16. Mark B. says:

    Not only do you fail the logic test, Nepos, but you apparently cannot even read.

  17. Terry H says:

    Michael. This is a good post, but because I disagree with it for some other reasons, I respectfully dissent (although I’d read my dissent from the bench).

    For me, the issue isn’t the Court accepting same-sex marriage, its the collapse of the boundaries between the states and their responsibilities and the federal government under its constitutional boundaries. The Chief Justice’s dissent is particularly ironic when he complains that the Court isn’t “a legislative body” after the way he somersaulted to protect the Affordable Care Act in 2012 and again the day before the marriage decision”. His actions further tear down the separation of powers (between the executive, legislative and judicial branches). Both the separation of powers between the three branches AND the balance between the States and the Federal government are at the heart of the Constitution, and I would submit, the main reason for its success over 200 plus years. In Constitutional law, the ends DON’T justify the means. Those are checks to prevent the government from over-running the individual rights of the people. If you think for one minute that the rainbow lobby will be satisfied with this victory, you are sadly mistaken. The next attack will likely be the tax-exempt status of churches that don’t give “full rights” or “recognition” to same sex marriages. The tax-exempt status of churches for years have been the burr under the saddle of so called “secularists”, who argue that churches are basically corporations with special privileges. If you want an example, take a look at the recent tax case against the Church in England. Since the temples aren’t “open to the public”, the Church loses a complete tax-exempt status for them. I may not agree with a church’s doctrines, but once they’re a “church” in the eyes of the state, then they should be tax exempt on their non-business assets, particularly when they’re used solely for religious purposes. (If I’ve got this wrong, I’m happy to stand corrected).

  18. [Prior comment lost in computer glitch; apologies if this duplicates]
    Thank you. This is great. Quotable.
    I’m reading comments looking for counterarguments, always interested in understanding the “other side”. I’d like it if arguments for religion, for non-secularism, would take into account my *religious* belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, should be encouraged to marry, and should be celebrated in marriage.

  19. Terry H. (7:11am): See (There are other discussions on BCC, including about tax exemption in England. This is just the most recent.)
    Freedom from taxes is not a fundamental right, for churches or anyone else. (Although freedom from differential or discriminatory or punitive taxes arguably is, at least some places for some persons, including churches.) Tax exemption (income, property, sales, VAT, etc.) is an ongoing discussion with likely different outcomes in different places in the world, different legal regimes, different constitutional rules, different times, and different taxes with different reasons for being and underlying logic. For reasons Sam Brunson has described (see above), core functions of churches in the United States are highly unlikely to lose Federal income tax exemption under any reasonably foreseeable circumstances (including Obergefell). But I’d be hard pressed to make another generalization. More to the point, same-sex marriage and Obergefell is just today’s sub-topic. The discussion started long ago and will continue forever. (Oops, another generalization.)

  20. Terry H says:

    Thanks christiankimball. I missed that. I would also just say who would have thought we’d get the federal government telling the states how to define marriage. Just six short years ago, Candidate Obama felt compelled to lie about his feelings on the subject (see Axelrod’s recent book). Now the White House is bathed in rainbow colors. I don’t see Sam’s arguments of high constitutional hurdles being so high anymore, especially if the liberal wing of the court gets another member. Especially with the executive usurpation of legislative powers apparently being accepted by the court in certain instances. Sure, the court has rejected some of the current Administrations most egregious over-reaches, but can anyone reasonably believe that a President H.R.C. wouldn’t press her executive powers as much or more as President 44? A liberal wing would back it unblinkingly. That’s why my real dispute with last week’s decisions is its casting aside the checks and balances between the three federal branches and the balance between the states and federal government.

  21. Mark B., my apologies, I must have confused you with another Mark B. May you be blessed with the same protection from majority rule that gays and other minorities enjoy. C.f. George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, 1970.

  22. Regarding checks and balances . . . (as I have observed elsewhere, but I like my stuff so here it is again):
    One way to generalize the position of the majority in Obergefell vs the several dissents is that they ask and answer a different question. I read the majority as asking whether same-sex couples should be or must be admitted to the privilege and right of marriage. I read the dissents as asking whether a new thing, i.e., “same-sex marriage”, should or must be extended by the States. If you frame the question in those two quite different ways, the jurisprudence almost writes itself. Making up a new thing is a serious matter of checks and balances, with real debate about what the courts do and what States and legislatures do. Recognizing individual rights to not be discriminated against is not an matter of checks and balances, but squarely in the Court’s hands.
    (I am firmly of the majority view in Obergefell, both as to outcome and as to the question to be asked and answered.)

  23. BJohnson says:

    “I’d like it if arguments for religion, for non-secularism, would take into account my *religious* belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, should be encouraged to marry, and should be celebrated in marriage.”

    Done and done! And I’ll do you one better. Go ahead and establish not only churches, but also hospitals, k-12’s and universities (with related housing) in full support of your religious beliefs! Looking at what religious opponents of the recent decision are now seeking through legislation, it is highly likely that you will hear nary a peep out of them in opposition to what your are doing–even if your beliefs expressly exclude from your organizations those who believe like they do.

  24. err, 1790. Darn typo. Actually, I recommend that letter for anyone who hasn’t read it–the U.S. was incredibly lucky (or blessed) to have him as our first President.

  25. “Looking at what religious opponents of the recent decision are now seeking through legislation”
    “Now” is a critical limitation. Yes, it is the case that many (but not all), religious organizations and proponents have backed up to seeking legislation that will reinforce the principle that they can continue operating within their beliefs, and me within mine. (And much of it is pretty good, even if I think unnecessary.) It is not a universal statement even now, but roll the clock back a couple of months and you couldn’t make the same claim.

  26. Query: If state legislatures wanted to repeal all laws defining marriage, could they? If so, why? If not, why not? Has the federal government, by calling marriage a fundamental right, just inserted itself into the realm of state contract law? Wouldn’t it be better if all states did repeal their laws, and force the Feds to come up with uniform, nationwide laws addressing marriage?

  27. Clark Goble says:

    (Haven’t read comments yet – forgive me if this has been addressed already)

    It most certainly did. But secularism did not, and cannot win victories “over” religious freedom for the simple fact that secularism is the same thing as religious freedom. For the freedom to worship according the the dictates of one’s own conscience can only exist in any meaningful way in a secular society.

    I’m not sure that’s correct. There are very real questions regarding what happens with religious liberties here. While Kennedy mentioned in passing that he didn’t think churches would be compelled, it also appears there are strong grounds to punish churches if they don’t marry gays. Likewise already some secularists a pushing to remove tax exempt status to religion.

    So to say there is no secular/religious conflicts possible seems pretty dubious in my opinion. Already the changes of moving to the next step are happening quickly.

  28. Mormons, who accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, are concerned because they aware of the following teachings.

    10 And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
    11 And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
    12 And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.
    13 But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.
    14 And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father.
    15 But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people 3 Nephi 16

    This is the real concern for believing Mormons. State rights vs Federalism, conservative vs liberal, are not the primary issues.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    Christian (7:12) Freedom from taxes is not a fundamental right, for churches or anyone else.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing for that. Although there are strong compelling reasons why non-profits have tax exempt status. If churches were taxed the way corporations are, quite a few of them would go out of business. Which significantly affects how people come together for shared community resources. For instance how many of the Catholic cathedrals in prime areas of real estate like New York city would become cost prohibitive to maintain.

    Whether taxes are a right or not, the reality is that taxes could easily be used as a weapon to attack religion. Further, I’d say churches are the ideal case for not being taxed. If churches get taxes then so to should Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, and the ACLU.

    That said I agree with you that this will likely never happen despite some on the left already starting to push for it. That said, as others have noted, change happens quickly. We’re becoming a much less religious country and the divides between conservative and liberal areas are in some ways widening.

  30. So, Fred, just to make sure I understand you correctly, the Mormons are going to “tread down” the Gentiles because of gay marriage? Not because the U.S. sent an army to Utah, or because the U.S. forced Mormons to give up polygamy, but because the U.S. is requiring states to recognize gay marriage, which has nothing to do with Mormons?

    What about the Mormons in Canada? Or the various European states that have legalized gay marriage? Have they received these orders? Or do those places not count, since they aren’t American?

  31. Regarding taxes, just note that it is a big hairy subject. Will we tax donations as income? Probably not, as they ought to be considered gifts. Will we allow the donor a deduction? There are good arguments for the deduction, although analysis I’ve seen says that the actual effect on behavior is marginal. In any event, it’s a different analysis with different considerations. Will we tax investment income, supposing the church or other tax exempt has an endowment? Different question, different considerations. Will we impose a property tax? It’s a different question, with different considerations, under a different legal regime that has little or nothing to do with the U.S. federal and constitutional rules that are usually bandied about in these discussions. Yet property tax might well be the killer for some organizations. The number of property tax districts is mind-boggling, the rules are often rigid (I’ve seen “exclusive use” be pushed), and it only takes one or two people in a very small geography to make a derailing decision about one or another church or school or hospital (the common tax exempts that tend to have real property). If you’re watching out for discrimination against one church or another, I’d pay attention to property taxes first on the list, myself.

  32. “secularism is the same thing as religious freedom”

    Ideological nonsense! The decent of the other, much more pivotal secular movement – the French Revolution – into the terror prevents us from equating “secularism” with any kind of freedom, religious or otherwise.

  33. Nepos-

    By your comment, I don’t think you are acquainted with the Book of Mormon.

    Gay marriage isn’t the primary concern. Homosexuals are a very small percentage of the population. Maybe 2 to 4%.

    The concern is that the gentiles are turning their backs on their Christian heritage. They are rejecting Jesus Christ. The supreme courts, 5 to 4 ruling making gay marriage lawful in all states is one of many indications of just how far removed from Christ we are.

  34. Jeff G, I’m afraid your comment doesn’t make much sense to me. Secularism does not necessitate Robespierre.

  35. Fred, you’re quite right, I’m not as familiar with the Book of Mormon as you are. If gay marriage isn’t the trigger for the Mormons to “tread down” the Gentiles, then what is? How will the Church will know it is time to go forth and treat the Gentiles as salt that has lost its flavor? Are there signs and portents, or does it require direct divine command?

    This is a serious question, by the way–I’ve honestly never heard of this Mormon holy war, it’s fascinating.

  36. Steve,

    Of course it doesn’t “necessitate” it. But that is exactly the point: that secularism doesn’t necessitate freedom or its antithesis.

    Another counter-example that moves in the other direction would be Joseph Smith’s kingdom of God on earth in which he attempted to (or at least planned to) establish a Theocratic kingdom that would strictly enforce the religious liberties of all its citizens. The first example (French Revolution) shows that secularism is nut a sufficient condition for religious liberty, the second (JS’s kingdom) shows that it’s not a necessary condition either.

    One might feel that secularism has the best chance of establishing and maintaining religious liberty, practically speaking, but that is very different than what is being claimed in the OP.

  37. Jeff G, that’s a good point. A secular government that treats all religions equally can treat them all equally badly (Soviet Russia).

    What the OP is actually arguing, I believe, is that separation of church and state (which is a protection for all minority religions) can only be enforced by a secular state. I’m not sure that’s true–a number of European countries are technically religious states but effectively have the same protections for minority religions as the United States. But certainly the U.S. has the strongest protections, being secular.

  38. Nepos,

    I think the degree of religious freedom in the US compared with other countries is almost totally irrelevant to the point of the post. The point is not about the quantity of religious freedom but the change in religious freedom. To say that the secular push for SSM entail zero change in religious freedom for conceptual reasons is obviously false.

    It should also be noted that the category “religion” is itself an invention that goes back to he 17th-18th century enlightenment that OP is channeling. Prior to this time, people spoke of different churches and traditions and to be “religious” simply meant that you were a priest/nun, etc. The category “religious” thus came to be used by secular thinkers in the exact same way that “pagan” had been used by earlier Christians: as a way of lumping together and sidelining those “other” people that are all wrong in more or less the same way. “Religious”, as a label, was a way in which secular thinkers tried to make their own worldview and values look less parochial, less traditional and thus more true than all the others in the exact same way that Christian lumped “pagans” together in a way that made their own worldview look less parochial, less traditional and thus more true.

    This doesn’t mean that, historically speaking, the secular attempts at isolating traditional authorities from state power did not help in furthering religious freedom within that specific context. Rather, it simply pulls the rug out from under any kind of conceptual link between secularism and religious freedom. Indeed, I think its much more likely that the rise of pluralism within that context that was responsible for the rise of religious freedom, not the replacement of catholic hegemony by secular hegemony. Secular values are not all that different from religious values and the idea that the latter somehow depend upon and thus ought to support the former is little more than an ideologically motivated power play.

  39. Jeff, I think I get you. Michael’s point is more about the possibility of religious freedom in a non-secular state.

  40. Nepos, in case you were wondering, normal Church-attending, home-teaching, their-own-business-minding Mormons do not sit around discussing holy war, or *ever* think about taking it into our own hands to bring about the fulfillment of such prophecy — in my more than 50 years of Church activity, I have never once heard this passage discussed in public or private. But then, I’m not a right-wing conspiracist, either, so I’m not usually invited to their parties.

  41. Michael, I agree with your post; but instead of saying “secularism” won, I prefer to frame it with “pluralism.”

    Pluralism won, and pluralism is vital to maintain religious freedoms of all; even the non-believers. The only thing religious people lost is preference in the law – which isn’t a bad thing.

    When the former majority forces beliefs/laws upon the minority; when the power shifts and the majority is now the minority . . . they start praying for pluralism (ie it’s only when we noticed the changing winds that the church started preaching loudly about pluralism and religious freedom). It would have been better to have accepted/preached pluralism when we were in the majority.

    I really think the negative experiences people have are from outliers and extremists. Most gay people, most religious people are a little more live and let live. There’s a silent middle majority that probably see both sides and understand why each side has their position; I think this middle majority respects both sides, even thought they disagree with one of them.

  42. Nepos

    To begin with, there is no “holy war” and mormons won’t tread down anyone.

    The scripture I used above is referring to a time when the gentiles entirely reject Christ.

    This isn’t the place for me or anyone else to bring you up to speed on the Book of Mormon. If you want to, there are many ways to learn about the Mormon Church. The first step I would suggest is to call 801-240-1000 and tell the operator you want to meet with someone to learn about the church.

  43. Clark Goble says:

    Kristine I think you’re right to focus on pluralism rather than secularism. Secularism does not always favor pluralism. Likewise I think I agree with you that the prior traditional view did not like pluralism. (Look at the Reynolds decision to see that pluralism never was the focus)

    All that said, I think it fair for those who feel something is important to worry whether it’ll be left. It is completely understandable for why those in favor of SSM wanted more pluralism, for instance. And it seems completely understandable for those of more conservative religious traditions to worry that there won’t be pluralism in the future but it’ll merely be the secular position adopting a non-pluralistic perspective. Even for those who favor pluralism and see this decision as good I think there are reasons to think that many in the secularist camp really aren’t in favor of pluralism.

    Maybe you’re right and there is a silent majority that is for pluralism. I think there are reasons to be skeptical of this. It seems to me that on emotional topics neither side seems to favor pluralism.

  44. Ardis, thank you. I suspected that Fred’s view wasn’t a common one.

    Fred, a gentle suggestion? if you don’t mean to invoke a holy war, don’t quote scripture that says that Gentiles “will be trodden under the foot of my people.” Because the only way the Mormons will be treading over Gentiles is war.

    You may be right about not seeking information from blog comments, though–after all, reading your initial comment, one might get the sense that Mormons are just waiting for God’s command to slaughter the infidels. Luckily, I know better.

  45. Clark Goble, if it’s any consolation, I’m quite sure, based on my experience with secular people, that they just want religious people to stay out of their business. Oh, I’m sure there are a tiny minority of secularists who want to smash all the churches, etc.–usually people who suffered at the hands of religion–but they really are a small minority. Most secularists are liberals who would be content to let religions alone, as long as those religions don’t try to impose their religious beliefs on others.

    You don’t see secularists yelling at Quakers, for example. Or Jains, or Sikhs. Because those religions don’t try to enforce their beliefs on anyone outside their own group.

  46. Nepos-
    This blog is frequented by members of the Mormon church who are seasoned in the teachings of the Book of Mormon. That is why I entered the verse of scriptures above.

    For your information, and for anyone else interested in using Mormon scripture, I will add the following information that is contained in a well known commentary on the Book of Mormon written by two teachers at the BYU. I hope it is helpful.

    3 Nephi 16:10-15
    This is a sober warning, a warning directed fairly specifically to the Gentiles in America, including the members of the Church. At that point in time when pride, deceit, hypocrisy, priestcraft, whoredoms, secret abominations and murder proliferate in America-and to some degree even among the Latter-day Saints then the Lord’s judgments will be poured out upon the land. That the Saints will be involved in the abominations of the land is frighteningly evident in the Savior’s careful use of language. He states that if “the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel” (verse 13, italics added). One cannot return to a place where he has not been; this seems to be a reference to a return to the faith. In addition, the Master warns that those who sin against the light “shall be as salt that bath lost its savor” (verse 15, italics added). A modern revelation specifies clearly that it is only those who have received the covenant gospel who can become the salt of the earth (D&C 101:39-40). Perhaps this is what the Lord meant when he spoke through Joseph Smith in 1837: “Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord. And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord: first among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.’ (D&C 112:24-26, italics added.) “God will have a humble people,” President Ezra Taft Benson warned. “Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.” (CR, April 1989, p. 6.)

    Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume 4, Robert L. Millet and Joseph Fielding McConkie

  47. “the BYU” FTW.

    PS: Fred, knock it off with the long quotes.

  48. Time Magazine has already printed an article calling for all religious institutions who are against gay marriage to lose their tax exemption status. The LDS church is mentioned first! There are already cries for BYU to be uncredited and for other colleges to boycott playing sports against BYU. Catholics are against gay marriage ( and most evangelicals) but no one has gone after them the way people are going after the LDS church.

    The gay marriage ruling has caused, and will continue to cause, unforseen consequences, and it will not be good. The church leaders said this would happen.

    Political correctness has run amok to the point that if anyone disagrees with whatever issue they are labeled bigots, racists, homophobes, and other hateful names…..and sued.

  49. Fred, I’m kinda disappointed. Do you have any idea how many preachers and other religious leaders have predicted that America was sinking into depravity and would soon be destroyed? Heck, they were saying that in Joseph Smith’s time. And if you expand it to all Christiandom, people have been predicting the end of the world for, oh, about 2000 years.

    Your original post, hinting at an army of righteous Mormons that would triumph over the evil Gentiles, was pretty interesting. But this is just dull. Especially since any serious student of American history knows that there were entire decades that were much more evil than this one. I mean, take the antebellum South–if God didn’t smite them for slavery, what makes you think he’ll smite us for gay marriage? [Unless you think the Union army was the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, in which case, cool, we agree on something.]

  50. Nepos-

    I think I’ll leave you with the last word.

  51. Nepos both Sikhs and Quakers oppose gay marriage. In fact in England Sikhs stopped doing marriages due to legal changes about gay marriages. Quakers are split on the issue but a significant number are on par with typical conservative Christians.

  52. Obergefell could end up destroying BYU. The honor code will likely be untenable due to Title IX. The choice will likely come down to access to federal funds or keeping the honor code in its current form. Either choice will leave BYU a shell of its current form. Legislative change is the only way BYU can escape this fate. The 2016 presidential contest will have a profound impact on BYU’s future.

  53. Clark Goble says:

    Matt what’s the argument for the honor code being against Title IX? I know there’s been a lot of questionable expansion based upon Title IX but I’ve not heard of conflicts with honor codes. If anything it seems to be imposing nearly as draconian restrictions as the honor code.

  54. In essence, Title IX prohibits any university receiving federal funds from denying equal opportunities based on sex. It is pretty clear that this administration interprets Title IX to include sexual orientation. Thus, any university policy that denies equal opportunity to homosexuals (such as an honor code ban on sex outside of heterosexual marriage) will certainly cause that institution to run afoul of Title IX, with the result that the institution must come into compliance (ie, do away with the prohibition on homosexual marriage) or forgo federal funds.


  55. The link you provide indicates this is a new interpretation of Title IX and contrary to Cade law. I suspect there will be some big legal challenges on this.

  56. Mark B. says:

    The escape hatch for Title IX cases is to forgo all Federal financial assistance–so, if BYU simply tells its faculty to stop applying for research grants from Federal government agencies and its students to stop applying for Federally guaranteed student loans or Pell Grants it can tell the Feds to take Title IX and shove it.

  57. Curtis Carmack says:

    I disagree. Many in both government and the public square can barely hide their contempt or disdain for those holding religious beliefs. In theory we have great religious liberty. In practice espousing religious beliefs practically disqualifies many from participation in certain aspects of public life. As far as free exercise is concerned, there are so many carve outs and exceptions now that while we can congratulate ourselves for being more enlightened than previous generations (e.g., acceptance of fringe beliefs is definitely better than it was), as a practical matter we are not nearly as free as we once were. Obviously reasonable minds differ on these subjects, and perhaps I´m jaded from so much time spent on the two coasts.

    Your point about benefits is well taken. Personally I would prefer that such benefits and preferences not exist. Belief systems can rise, fall, or flourish on their own. Tax policies and similar programs generally just muck things up and lead us all to the trough.

  58. Curt Carmack says:

    Sorry. Reply was for Sam Brunson.

  59. Geoff - Aus says:

    From a country with fewer religious people, a couple of comments. Our religious people have as much freedom to practice their beliefs, but are much less aggressive in presenting them, not being a majority voice. I prefer this.

    I have been amazed at some of the conservative religious responses, to this change. It is expected that our parliament will allow marriage equality by the end of the year, (it only put in the wording that prevents it in the 90s) and there may be some Mormons who will follow the example of their American brothers, but I think the response will be much more mooted. I hope so.

  60. Miss Quoted says:

    Reblogged this on Untold Stories and commented:
    This is what I posted on Facebook yesterday. “I was so saddened today to hear that my support of the LGBT community is translated as opposition to The Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have come out celebrating this as a civil rights issue, not as a marriage issue. I have seen children of “good LDS families” homeless and wandering the streets, and worse, suicidal because they would rather face death than face their families with a truth they cannot change. I celebrate this as a member of the church because it has opened the door to closed minds.” I was even more saddened that only one of the sweet, supportive comments came from an LDS friend. And then one of my former-LDS-gay friends posted this:

  61. I don’t know what it is about the US, but there’s this continual, pervasive misconception that marriage as defined between a man and woman only has religious foundations. This is simply not true. I live in a very secular nation, one in which no entity is to stand between the citizen and the state. A few years ago, the ban on same-sex marriage was tried in France’s constitutional court and was upheld. The decision pointed out that indeed the nature of heterosexual couples is different enough compared to same-sex couples to make a distinction constitutional. A very short while later, the French legislature passed gay marriage.

    While I oppose same-sex marriage, I do believe in judicial review, but in this case I believe the courts forced the decision rather than allowed the Constitution to speak. Why do I say it was forced? Because the nature of heterosexual coupling is unique and uniquely significant to the public interest.

    To those who feel this was a win for the constitution, I believe that the 5-4 decision should give pause, also, the fact that out of the many countries who’ve legalised ssm, only one other, Brazil, has done so judicially. Many of the other nations upheld bans judicially and then passed ssm legislatively. Are we really so Americentric as to believe all those other intelligent, democracy-loving countries’ courts to be wrong?

    Does this make a difference? Yes, a fundamental one. What the court has done is it’s accepted the claim that gender has no place for public recognition…in the one subject in humanity where sexual gender means the most.

    Forcing this false equivalence will cause problems. Referring to the comparisons to Loving v Virginia: there are only slight comparisons between race and gender; while the contrasts are profound. Race is an arbitrary classification, sexual gender is not.

    The problem with denying this significance of sexual gender, or in other words, by equating the nature of hetero with same sex relationships is this: you will either attribute responsibilities where they do not exist, or you’ll deny responsibilities that do exist. Usually people answer this by saying that paternity is already seperate from marriage but this is not true. As recently as 2013,the decision for Gartner v Iowa DPH granted presumed paternity to same-sex married couples. To say that marriage is already separated from sex and procreation, based on incomplete trends, is disingenuous when courts are citing same-sex marriage to grant presumed paternity to same-sex spouses.

    I do not believe that most supporters of same-sex marriage intend to break down the structure of marriage as we see it today. They intend it to be maintained with the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but with the legalisation being made by court decision, decisions denying the significance of gender, there will be little constitutional defense for any heteronormative legal structures. The weakening link between parenthood, procreation, and marriage will be severed.

    I see this as the problem of a judicial ruling. Had the court admitted this decision to the realm of the people via their lawmakers, we’d have more space to keep the wanted structures of marriage intact while still protecting same-sex couples.

    By the way, I don’t discount the possibility, that perhaps an alternative to marriage could have been found had same-sex couples been given the social, material, and legal support they needed. So if this ruling does harm, both “sides” are accountable for it.

    All this said, I did have reason to grateful for Friday’s decision. I know it means a great deal to many people, I know it will help many meet the needs of their families. I am happy for them. I just wish we could have done things in a better way.

  62. Clark Goble says:

    I don’t know what it is about the US, but there’s this continual, pervasive misconception that marriage as defined between a man and woman only has religious foundations.

    I don’t think that’s the view of marriage in abstract. However within the United States I think there is the view that marriage as an institution within the United States does privilege those religious foundations and also certain other issues such as child rearing. (Which is not the same as saying that’s the only basis of course)

    The conflict between the history of marriage culturally (and thus more broad than the United States), utilitarian arguments for what marriage does well (that I tend to think got highlighted only after SSM became a real possibility) and then ideas of marriage at the founding are a bit confusing. Which is why there’s conflict on the issue. Many basically privilege the non-religious history and other issues. Others privilege the religious aspect and see the overlap between state and religion as inherently making it religious. It seems rather rare that any group really tries to understand why the others think the way they do. Thus there’s lots of heat.

    As I’ve said for years (back when it actually could have been done) there should just be a separation between unions and marriage so that there’s not conflating religion and secular/pluralist issues. However by and large when the religious had the power on this issue and could have done this they didn’t want to. Now some are moving in that direction but it’s rather too late. Had they done it in the days of the Defense of Marriage Act by Clinton I think a lot of the conflict could have been avoided.

  63. I support marriage equality. I appreciate the many freedoms a secular society protects.

    Do those who feel the need to protect hetero marriage think that not allowing gay marriage will stop homosexuals from being homosexual? And do those who suggest celibacy really think this is a solution? I don’t believe they would feel this way if the expectation were reversed.

    We all benefit when we apply our religion personally and individually, and allow others the same agency we so vigorously want for ourselves.

    Thank you for your post.

  64. “by and large when the religious had the power on this issue and could have done this they didn’t want to”
    Therefore it was relatively easy to apply the “animus” label to one-man/one-woman statutes and constitutional amendments, and DOMA. And then the end result–Obergefell or something like it–became predictable, in my opinion.

  65. Great post (also, I haven’t read any of the comments, so I’m unaware of the course of the discussion). The recent ruling should be interpreted as a victory for religious freedom. Same-gender couples are no longer forced to bear the burden of someone’s religious views regarding marriage. Furthermore, religious leaders who desire to marry same-gender couples are free to do so.

  66. When Church leaders talk about secularization, they aren’t worrying about the distance between church and state. They are worrying that society is increasingly abandoning church and God altogether. The swing of public opinion in favor of gay marriage was facilitated by this general indifference to faith. That’s what concerns the church.

  67. OK, now I’ve read a few of the comments. Where is the evidence of intent to force the churches through court action to marry same-gender couples? Technically, churches are free to exclude people based on race. The reason that we don’t see racial exclusion in the overwhelming majority of churches, however, isn’t because of pressure from the courts, but pressure from within the congregations themselves. If there is going to be any pressure on the LDS church leaders to marry same-gender couples, be it in the temples or outside the temples by the hand of a bishop, it is going to come from within the LDS church before it comes from the courts.

  68. We should be afraid of society promoting the religion of unbelief as secularism to the detriment of other religions.

  69. I find Elder Maxwell’s thoughts on secularism much more enlightening:

  70. “The swing of public opinion in favor of gay marriage was facilitated by this general indifference to faith.”

    I think some might say that the swing in public opinion was facilitated by a devotion to equality and equal rights. And I suppose the religious response to that is, “Well, that’s how Satan wants you to think about it.”

    Once upon a time, the Church was very unhappy with the government for forcing us out of the polygamy business. Somewhere along the line, the Church not only seemed to become reconciled to that having happened, it seems to have (unannounced) actually approved of the turn of events, even though I’ve never seen any actual printed statements from General Authorities to that effect, so I’ve never been able to decide: was good doctrine forced on us, or was it taken away?

    Between that and the idea that “in 1978, God changed his mind about black people”, it’s easy to see how lots of Church members can hold out hope that something similar will eventually occur in this case.

  71. Eric: “We should be afraid of society promoting the religion of unbelief as secularism to the detriment of other religions”

    Sure, but that is not what this post is about, at all.

  72. Paul Barrus says:

    The author argues, “it is not wrong to say that secularism won. It most certainly did. But secularism did not, and cannot win victories ‘over’ religious freedom for the simple fact that secularism is the same thing as religious freedom.” Is there really no difference between religious freedom and secularism? I find that statement unpersuasive. They may work together like a frenemy (In Madison’s day they both had the common enemy of a state established church), but that does not make them the same thing. I don’t think it’s an inaccurate notion to conclude that secularism sometimes undermines or subordinates religious freedom. James Madison stated that, “we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which had convinced us.” Yet secularism does not necessarily provide freedom to the minds of those who are not yet convinced by secular reasoning arising from human enlightenment, rationality and reason. The USA has a deep history of protecting religious freedom (although not perfectly) and so it is politically difficult for secularism to deny many aspects of religious freedom, but it is conceivable for a nation to fully embrace secularism while limiting or disregarding religious freedom. Marriage is a decent example. If the Supreme Court had decided merely that the government cannot have a monopoly on the legitimate definition of marriage and allowed social, religious and legal marriage to diverge (meaning you can have your cake, marry in a church if that church agrees to marry you and hold yourself out as married free from criminalization, but you can’t force society by means of judicial compulsion to affirmatively approve or legalize such marriages), then I might have been convinced the decision favors religious liberty, but that was not the holding and religious freedom is likely going to be undermined because a new secular morality says opposition to SSM is plain wrong, period end of debate with a weak disclaimer about religious freedom. (Food for thought, make what you will of it. Bar study is calling me and won’t let me return to comment again for three weeks.) Also I really appreciate Rebecca Dalmas’ sentiments in an earlier comment about France’s judicial decision on SSM, etc. Your comments were very insightful and persuasive.