Obergefell impact on church members, by the numbers

This is a post examining the number of members living in jurisdictions where the legal status of marriage changed due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Among members of the church in the U.S., Obergefell triggered celebration from some, angst from others, and plenty of Facebook conflict between the two. It also triggered an unusual, highly visible step by the brethren: sending a letter to all U.S. bishops, accompanied by lengthy member education talking points, to be read to all teen and adult members of the church. The impending reading of the letter unleashed a wave of concern among members at variance with the church’s position, questions about whether to attend or skip, and worry about emotional harm to LGBTQ members. The primary message of the letter is that a change in the nation’s laws does not affect church doctrine, to correct any notion some might have had that Obergefell would cause or force a change.

Living in a state where gay marriages have been occurring on and off since San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom began performing them in 2004, and where 157 stakes and 7 temples have happily and unchangingly operated throughout all that time, I didn’t see Obergefell as particularly impactful for members in my area. Of course it was an important symbolic victory, and a day whose anniversary will long be celebrated, but its immediate practical relevance was only to other states where gay marriage was not yet legalized. I decided to run the numbers on exactly how many members of the church were affected by the decision, to try to understand why church leaders felt such a strong step was necessary and why all members in the U.S. needed to hear the letter.

Above is the map of states where same-sex marriage was legal prior to Obergefell. The dark blue states are states where same-sex marriage was already legal. Below is the same map with the full color legend included, explaining the precise status of the remaining states:

The following states and territories were impacted by Obergefell: (states) Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, (territories) American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands (only Guam had previously allowed same-sex marriage).

I also used the church’s reported members of record numbers, broken down by U.S. state and territory, sourced from Wikipedia and the conference report. These numbers include all members on church records, including both active/self-identifying and inactive or not self-identifying. Based on these, we have the following raw data:

  • All U.S. members (incl. states and organized territories): 6,509,596
  • All U.S. wards (incl. states and organized territories): 11,752
  • All U.S. temples: 72
  • All worldwide members: 15,372,337
  • All worldwide temples: 144
  • Members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 916,669
  • Wards in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 1,306
  • Temples in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 16

Here is how it all stacks up proportionally:

  • 22% of U.S. temples located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
  • 14% of U.S. members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell
  • 11% of U.S. wards located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
  • 11% of worldwide temples located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
  • 6% of worldwide members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell
  • 86% of U.S. members, 89% of U.S. wards, and 78% of U.S. temples operating in areas where same-sex marriage was already legal prior to Obergefell 
    • I have not tallied the list of other countries where same-sex marriage was already legalized and where the church operates, but they include many areas of large LDS populations, such as: Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

Given the high percentage of U.S. members, wards, and temples operating in areas where same-sex marriage was already legal prior to Obergefell, the First Presidency letter must have been more of a symbolic reaction to the victory for marriage equality than a letter designed to address pressing practical concerns about implementation of church programs in the face of legally equal marriage.


  1. Given that your post, as I understand it, focuses only on states that didn’t currently recognize same-sex marriage, and that would be forced to recognize it ONLY if SCOTUS voted IN FAVOR of same-sex marriage, it seems like you would have entirely different numbers here if you also took into account the changes that would have taken place if SCOTUS stated that, no, the constitution does not REQUIRE same-sex marriage. I’m not a expert in this so you may need to correct me if I’m wrong, but a SCOTUS ruling that would have (and I would judge SHOULD have) stated that, no, the U.S. constitution does not require marriage to include same-sex couples–that that is a states rights issue to redefine if they wish–would have, in effect, overruled the lower court rulings that state constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and a women were unconstitutional. My understandings is that in the many states where same-sex marriage is legal by virtue of lower court rulings, where same-sex marriage would likely then be illegal again, contain a much larger population of Church members in the U.S.

  2. Ray, the post is considering the question of why the church found it necessary to send the letter, which was AFTER the decision. So what would have happened had the decision gone the other way is irrelevant, because presumably the church could have had a different response in that case. You’re saying that an analysis of whether sending the letter made sense or not depends on considering whether it would have made sense to send a letter in some other scenario.

  3. lastlemming says:

    I think the letter is less concerned with the number affected by the legal ruling but on the number affected by the subsequent doctrinal changes, which is zero (contrary to the fears of many and hopes–particularly on this blog–of others).

  4. Ray’s point is correct. Cynthia, your mistake is assuming that same-sex marriage was already a settled issue in all of the states colored in blue on your map. As Ray says, if
    Obergefell had come out differently, new same-sex marriages would be illegal today in Utah, Idaho and Arizona, where millions of Mormons live. A lot hinged on the decision. Obergefell brought finality to this issue for the first time in those and many other states.

    If you want to argue that the Church’s letter to members is an overreaction, I’ll probably agree with you. It’s true that the political argument over same-sex marriage is practically over now, after Obergefell. It’s probably not a good idea to encourage panicky thinking among those who are so inclined; better to let things chill for a while. However, I don’t fault Church leaders for thinking that they ought to respond in some way. The stakes in this case were very real – more than just symbolic, as you seem to imply.

  5. How do you know that “a wave of concern among members” was unleashed ? The letter was just read yesterday in only SOME of the wards, and will be read in other wards next week.

  6. Obergefell was presented and received as a moral statement about the propriety of celebrating gay sex, made by the highest level of our judiciary–a level that many Americans have traditionally accepted on some level as the “conscience” of our government.

    The First Presidency was right to respond, if only to remind the Church that the 1st Presidency and not SCOTUS speaks for God. Judging by my Facebook feed and the bloggernacle, at least a few Mormons had momentarily lost sight of that.

  7. What I also find interesting, is that churches other than LDS read a similar letter from their pulpits also….

  8. I don’t think it was symbolic at all — I think it was practical and realistic. Although same-sex marriage was legal in that big blue west end of your map, the issue was still not fully settled until Obergefell was decided, and theoretically (if extremely unlikely) the issue could have gone the other direction, or been left in a state of limbo.

    The letter to me signals a practical, realistic acceptance of the decision as final, and a reminder to Church members that civil government does not make ecclesiastical law or overturn doctrine, and a clear statement that Obergefell does not, among other things, affect the law of chastity, require bishops to perform same-sex marriages, or open Mormon chapels to such ceremonies.

    It seemed full of such practicalities, and I don’t see anything symbolic about it at all.

  9. … require or permit Mormons bishops to perform …

  10. Tom, maybe you’re just arguing semantics. It’s true that the decision could have impacted marriage in some unsettled blue states, had it gone a different way. But that’s not the same as did impact, and if we’re looking at questions like, “Does Obergefell change doctrine or the way the church operates?” (the subject of the letter) or “Why would the church feel the need to take a relatively big action?” (the why of the letter), it only makes sense to consider what changed post-Obergefell as it was actually decided. It doesn’t matter that marriage wasn’t “settled” in Utah until Obergefell, because the fact of the matter is that marriages were happening, and so if, hypothetically, the existence of gay marriage in Utah would “change doctrine or the way the church operates” in Utah, that change would already have been triggered. No changes were triggered, just as they weren’t in any of the other places like Massachusetts or Canada where gay marriages have been happening for over a decade, so movement from unsettled but reality to settled and still reality is not an interesting change.

  11. JimD, in the same way that opposite-sex marriages are about celebrating straight sex? That’s an absurd assertion.

    I’m interested in all of the pushback Cynthia’s getting here, not least because she’s right. Partly she’s right because spreadsheets don’t lie, and partly she’s right because she’s the one who did the spreadsheet, so she gets to set the terms and parameters. Several are arguing that, had the Supreme Court not found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the blue states would have turned red again. But that’s both simplistic and unclear.

    Had it ruled differently, it would have had to decide whether states were obligated to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and there’s no reason to believe that, had it not found a constitutional right to marriage, it wouldn’t have still found that states had to recognize all marriages. If that were the case, some blue states would have turned purple, but the end result would still be that basically all states had to recognize same-sex marriages.

    And sure, Cynthia didn’t code that into her spreadsheet, but she could have. In fact, though, her analysis is spot-on.

    Also, spreadsheets rock.

  12. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.”–Official Declaration #1

    As we saw 125 years ago, the Church generally likes to wait until a legal issue is settled once and for all before making a statement, which is probably wise, given that they might otherwise have to retract and restate. In this case (and it was the same in 1890), the Supreme Court’s decision should not have been a surprise to anyone–anybody who paid attention to Anthony Kennedy’s statements over the past few years knew that there were at least five justices on the Court who were going to vote to overturn the bans. And even if the Court had somehow ruled otherwise, SSM would have remained legal in enough jurisdictions to kick in a series of “Full Faith and Credit” challenges that would almost certainly have resulted in all states at least being required to acknowledge marriages performed in other states–making the marriage bans largely symbolic.

    So, this moment has been coming for some time in the United States. And it has already arrived in a number of other countries in which the Church operates. Nothing in the official statement departs from what has been said before: 1) the change in the law does not change the laws of God; and 2) as Christians we have a duty to be kind and respectful to people even when we disagree with them. The official statement seems to me to be (much like the 1890 statement) a final acknowledgment that the legal battle has been lost and it is time to move on.

  13. Sam: Yes. Marriages are nearly universally contemplated as social endorsements of sexual relationships. That’s why civil unions were never enough; and it’s why most progressives who are fine with gay marriage still nominally oppose legalized polygamy–because the sexual/familial nature of the relationship makes it oppressive to women. Such progressives generally have problem with–say–an LLC consisting of a male manager and two female members.

  14. Ray, Tom, Ardis: think of “practical” vs “symbolic” this way in very concrete terms–if the church needed to produce an answer to the question, “I’m a bishop and one of my ward members got gay married legally in my state, what should I do?” then it already needed to produce an answer to that question in California and in Utah and in every other blue-colored state in my map. Whether that bishop might have been able to take the already-produced paper with the answer to that question and throw it in the trash after Obergefell (because that could no longer happen in his ward) is purely hypothetical and irrelevant.

  15. JimD, that’s a pretty narrow, boring understanding of what marriage is, one that, by itself, is both ahistorical and inaccurate. Sure, marriage has something to do with regulating sex, but historically, it was also about making alliances and regulating property, and today it’s has to do with social and economic lives, and with love. If you’re looking at marriage as solely celebrating and endorsing sex, well, not only are you in a tiny minority, but weddings must feel pretty icky.

  16. CJ Jones says:

    It’s hard to see the letter as anything but sour grapes on the church’s part. I’m particularly disheartened by the church reserving its rights to enforce its own moral code – as if this were in question. No one forced the temple doors open to blacks before 1978 – long after major civil rights legislation had been enacted and racist policies were generally frowned upon if not prohibited by law. It’s sad to think that the church is stating in its letter that discrimination against gays a central tenet of the Mormon religion. Is this really what the church wants to say to the world?

  17. I would say that it has been a long time since civil marriage–outside of the LDS Church or other similarly conservative denominations–was seen as a social endorsement of sex. Civil laws have endorsed extra-marital sexual relationships between consenting adults for some time now, and other social forces (television, magazines, music, movies, etc.) have pretty much blessed such unions. And one does not need to cite Obergefell to derive a state sanction for same sex relations. Lawrence v. Texas does just fine here.

    If we imagine a civil marriage as something more than a nookie license, I think, we will come closer to both the civil and the LDS ecclesiastical understandings of the institution.

  18. The practical purpose of the letter is to answer the question in some members’ minds: what does this court decision mean for the Church? I don’t know how many members are troubled by that question, but answering it is not merely a symbolic exercise. It has a pastoral purpose.

    Cynthia’s argument bothers me a bit because it tends to minimize the historic moment of Obergefell, as if it’s just a trivial afterthought to the actual change. But it’s not trivial. It has a significant impact, even if that impact in states like Utah and Idaho is only to make the status quo permanent. When moments like this come, it is natural for an institution like the Church to respond and give guidance to its members.

    Personally, I’m gratified by Obergefell. I’m also a faithful member of the Church, so I feel some tension about the situation. But to try to minimize the importance of this milestone for both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage seems churlish to me. We can acknowledge that this is a momentous time and also hope that the waters calm quickly.

  19. CJ Jones says:

    If the letter was to assuage the members fears it should have said that we believe that discrimination against gays is a core tenet of the Mormon religion and that the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to protect our ability to discriminate against gays in our private religious activities. Notably, after Hosana-Tabor and given Amos, we feel confident that we will not be required to marry gays, employ gays or have anything to do with gays. But please be nice to them anyway.

  20. Tom: “The practical purpose of the letter is to answer the question in some members’ minds: what does this court decision mean for the Church? I don’t know how many members are troubled by that question”

    Tom, that’s exactly what the post is addressing. I didn’t know of anyone troubled by that question, and rightly so because 86% of members in the US were already living in places where gay marriage was legal. I don’t live in a ward that is a representative sample of members, so maybe there were some people in more conservative places who were actually taken in by the over the top fearmongering about gay marriage and it honestly didn’t occur to them that, oh wait, the church actually does work fine in places where gay marriage is already happening. I just don’t know any of those people, so it seemed like the church was answering a question that literally nobody was asking.

    I don’t mean to minimize the historic moment of Obergefell. Basically my entire city shut down in celebration the weekend the decision came out, and about 1/3 to 1/2 of my Facebook friends’ profile pictures (including my own) were rainbow-ified. I get it, this was big. But it was not big **on the narrow question of does the church suddenly need to redo its entire Handbook of Instructions** which is what this letter seemed to be addressing.

  21. Norbert says:

    What interests me is that when other countries have had same sex marriage legislated or ruled as legal, nothing has happened: no letter from Salt Lake, no official boogy-man speeches, etc. It seems to me that church leadership has a special interest in US marriage policy … partially because it is an American church, but also because of the politics of the culture wars and how the teachings of the church has gotten situated within that, in a way that many members in other countries find bewildering.

  22. Tom: it’s also important to note that the % of members living in areas directly affected by Obergefell is NOT the same as % of Americans living in areas affected by Obergefell. We are dramatically under-represented in remaining gay marriage opposing states, and I don’t think that is entirely coincidental. The south has many who are outright bigoted against gays, and most of those are outright bigoted against Mormons too. Bigotries of different kinds tend to occur together, and that’s something that we as a tiny minority religion would do well to remember!

  23. Cynthia, I have really enjoyed your statistical analyses in the past, but I think this post does a disservice to both the use of statistics as well as to the broader point you’re trying to make.

    Utah represents 1/50 of the United States which in turn is just 1/193 nations in the U.N., thus representing 1/9650 of the entire world (perhaps we could use acreage instead). Why would such an inconsequential state call a “news” conference which was nothing more than a not even thinly veiled demand that the state legislature pass favorable laws prior to the Supreme Court ruling? Why would the church make a $2500 donation to the pride center which would realistically help less than one person? Why would the church announce the indexing of Freedom Bureau records just days after the Charleston shootings? Taken from a strict financial perspective, any organization that takes in roughly $10,000,0000,000 a year in revenue while managing roughly $50,000,000,000 in assets can be counted on to act in the best interests of the organization. Every. Single. Time. So when you compare the amount of good press bought for $2500 it makes a bit more sense.

    Implied in your statistical analyses is that the ruling will affect four of my Jack Mormon friends as equally as it will a random Romney, Huntsman, Marriott, or Sorenson where Sorenson donations run in the range of paying for Nauvoo temples. A somewhat more sophisticate statistical approach would be a financially weighted opinions of members combined with conditional probabilities and expectation values of future earnings based on the church’s actions and it’s members’ forecasted responses.

    The main reason letters like these are read is sociological. They create a dynamic of Mormon vs. The World and also create both real and perceived fear that The Family is under Attack. This bonds together people sociologically and financially (see multiple $50,000 dollars in the state of California for those who are skeptical). Last thing Mormons need is to become Unitarians, or worse, the Quakers. Then your statistical report would have to label temples as “Steeple Houses Adorned With Angel Bling”.

  24. Sam, I could similarly argue that equating the Confederate battle flag with racism is a “pretty narrow, boring understanding of what [the battle flag] is” and point out that the Confederacy represented all sorts of values aside from slavery. But, of course, that one issue kind of becomes the elephant in the room in certain sorts of discussions.

    Marriage is, obviously, more than a “nookie license” (thanks, Michael!). On the other hand I think you’d have a difficult time finding anyone who agrees that marriages are fundamentally celibate in nature; or that a sexless marriage constitutes a normal, healthy, or desirable relationship. Surely the “love” in “#lovewins” was not understood to be an asexual kind of love? If sex has been wholly extricated from modern notions of “marriage”, then what is it about marriage that makes it inherently oppressive when we involve multiple women, or close family members, or children?

    Michael, I think there’s a distinction between de-criminalizing an activity and affirmatively promoting that same activity. Lawrence does the former; Obergefell, the latter.

  25. senile old fart says:

    Perhaps the letter is necessary because of changes made to the Chastity Covenant subsequent to the 1904 “Second Manifesto.” “Legally and lawfully wedded” substituted for “given by the Holy Priesthood” as language permitting intercourse between the sexes. I foresee another change in the language, assuring all that sex between non-traditional spouses is icky

  26. Cynthia – I too live on the west coast in a state the legalized marriage for all by popular vote. My ward though does have this anxiety you speak of…

    ” I don’t live in a ward that is a representative sample of members, so maybe there were some people in more conservative places who were actually taken in by the over the top fearmongering about gay marriage and it honestly didn’t occur to them that, oh wait, the church actually does work fine in places where gay marriage is already happening. I just don’t know any of those people, so it seemed like the church was answering a question that literally nobody was asking.”

    The few facebook posts I saw, and gentle, carefully worded comments the following Sunday during Relief Society were from the place. One woman went so far as to hope Jesus would come soon because the was so afraid. So yes we too have it in our community and it probably hasn’t directly impacted people, but it does scare them. I wasn’t at my ward this week, I don’t know if the letter was read, but if it was there will be some relieved souls who have faith that good will triumph over this evil.

  27. I love you, Cynthia.

  28. None of this explains why the letter was read here in Canada,where SSM has been legal for 10 years. I guess because Canada is just America’s hat?

    Or, what Norbert said.

  29. JimD, certainly there’s sex implied. But in contemporary America, sex is a small part of the package of marriage, and marriage certainly isn’t necessary for (most) couples to have sex, as a practical matter. If marriage were (for gay or straight couples) solely, or even primarily, the celebration of sex, it seems to me it would have to be a necessary (or more necessary) condition for sex.

    Which is why your original statement doesn’t work for me. At. All. Marriage is the celebration of two lives coming together, legally and socially. While presumably most married couples will have sex, that’s not what I celebrate when I go to a wedding, nor is it what most people (or, at least, people who run in my circles) celebrate. Reducing marriage solely to a license to have sex misses both contemporary mores and a realistic vision of what’s going on.

  30. Norbert is on to something. Because Finland.

  31. “Implied in your statistical analyses is that the ruling will affect four of my Jack Mormon friends as equally as it will a random Romney, Huntsman, Marriott, or Sorenson where Sorenson donations run in the range of paying for Nauvoo temples.”

    Actually, all that is “implied” by using the church’s membership numbers as opposed to active or self-identifying member numbers is that the % of members who are inactive will be roughly the same across different U.S. states. If that’s true, then when we say 14% of members are affected, the error is proportionally the same in numerator and denominator and cancels out entirely. Of course, it’s probably not entirely true that % inactive is the same everywhere, but we don’t have any better numbers to go by….Which brings us to really the only thing that is “implied” by using these numbers, which is that I’m doing this in my free time, for fun, unpaid, using the most readily available data.

  32. Talon, that’s interesting. I apologize, I didn’t even realize that the letter was read in Canada. I thought it was only read in the U.S., since I’d heard from friends in Europe that it was not read there.

  33. Cynthia, Utah is certainly not an equally weighted state, the United States is not an equally weighted country, and I can assure you I’m not an equally equated member when thrown in with those Brigham Apartment neighbors on South Temple. To illustrate why this type of statistical analyses is not relevant to the reading of the letter: What is the minimum percentage threshold that would require a letter reading of any kind? 51%? Why not 49%? Any division based on a threshold is going to be arbitrary and probably silly.

  34. “I think you’d have a difficult time finding anyone who agrees that marriages are fundamentally celibate in nature; or that a sexless marriage constitutes a normal, healthy, or desirable relationship.”

    I m not saying that marriage has nothing to do with sex. Rather, I am suggesting that, in the prevailing culture in the United States and most Western countries, sex does not necessarily have anything to do with marriage. The idea that marriage legitimizes sexual relations is true for our specific subculture, and even 50-60 years ago it was true of American culture generally. It was true at the time of Loving v. Virginia, even, when one could make a reasonable cultural argument that, by supporting the right of people to get married, the state was endorsing their right to have sex.

    This is just not the case anymore. Very few people feel that they need the government’s stamp of approval to have sex with somebody, or even to enter into a long-term sexual relationship. Marriage does not endorse sex because sex is not the sort of thing that most people think has to be endorsed legally, politically, or culturally. At the current historical moment, this is equally true of homosexual and heterosexual couples. People don’t feel that they need the state’s permission before entering an openly sexual relationship.

    For your argument to work, permission to marry has to convey a social endorsement of sexual activity between two people. And for this to be the case, we have to assume that, in the absence of marriage, sexual activity is un-endorsed or deligitimized by our society. My experience has been that this is so true in our subculture that we over-emphasize this aspect of marriage and its importance to the other 98% of the people in the country, most of whom get married for reasons other than sex precisely because they feel no need to get married before having sex.

  35. I live in one of those dark blue states where a crazy judge had forced gay marriage a while back. This SC ruling did have a large impact on public actions. An associate of mine announced his upcoming wedding the next week. His wedding had been legal, but previously the prospects of it being undone were real. Check your blue states for this type of reaction and I think there will be many. The church does not want its members doing this, even if they are now living in sin with a partner. Hence the clear response.

  36. Cynthia, no apologies required.

    Norbert makes a very good observation though. In the lead up to the legalization of SSM in Canada the only direction we recieved from our local leaders here was to “write a letter to your MP in support of traditional marriage”. After legalization, nothing. No follow-up whatsoever.

    Watching the Church’s efforts on Prop 8 in California and everything that has followed since has been interesting to say the least. It shows the Utah-centric/America-centric nature of the Church to be sure, as this has been a non-issue in many other countries for some time. And as Norbert said “It seems to me that church leadership has a special interest in US marriage policy”, as it doesn’t seem one $ was spent by the Church in Canada to stave off SSM here.

  37. I was just old enough to remember a letter dated September 30, 1978 that when read affected less than 1% of the church members.

  38. Jeff, using my illustrative test from my comment at 12:43 (“if the church needed to produce an answer to the question, “I’m a bishop and one of my ward members got gay married legally in my state, what should I do?” then it already needed to produce an answer to that question in California and in Utah and in every other blue-colored state in my map.”), 100% of bishops were affected by that letter, not 1%.

  39. I think your metric of money donated is a crass way to look at it, but even if we adopt that I’m not sure it’s obvious that it does the work you think it does. Our very liberal ward and stake contribute an astronomical amount of tithing. Marriotts don’t care about gay marriage, Huntsman doesn’t, I’d be shocked if Romney does. Basically anybody with big money from corporate America has had positive professional interactions with gay people and recognizes the importance of an inclusive workplace and society.

  40. My response above was virtually identical to Michael Austin’s first response. My points are irrelevant, and his are not? Typical BCC rubbish.

  41. Cynthia, I really do appreciate all the other statistical work you’ve done highlighting obscene inequities. I respectfully think you’re off the mark with this one simply because numbers affected (regardless of who does the counting or how accurate it is) has no bearing one way or another on whether or not a letter is read. The intent, intended audience, content, reception, and effect both short and long term are certainly worth discussing. But tying them in to marginally relevant pie charts is a gross misuse of statistics.

  42. Kristine says:

    Jeff–“never argue statistical interpretation with a Stanford professor who teaches statistics” is right up there with “never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line” in terms of life aphorisms one ought to consider…

  43. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Thanks for running the numbers, Cynthia. I think this is an important consideration, and adds valuable perspective. However, statistically-speaking, I think you unfairly minimize the magnitude of the effect. To be sure, 14% is a clear minority. But it’s not an insignificant number. Actually, it’s a pretty big chunk. If something impacts 14% of US membership, the Church almost HAS to do SOMETHING. We often lament how the Church systematically neglects areas of the world with a proportion of membership much smaller than 14%. Still, I agree with the basic sentiment of the post. But 14% isn’t something we should sneeze at.

  44. Thanks Kristine, I have taken your suggestion into account and filed it next to “Never argue statistical interpretation with William Shockley the founder of Silicon Valley”. Point being, that regardless of a person’s credentials or claimed expertise statistics is an incredibly difficult and confusing discipline that may or may not shed light on sociological issues regardless of how well the number crunching has been done. I would venture a guess that Cynthia will be one of the first to tell you that humans are fairly decent at intuitively guessing expectation values, and notoriously bad at calculating probabilities, and that we have an innate ability to see patterns when there aren’t any. So yes, I will happily and respectfully argue with those Stanford profs and afford them almost as much respect as their Berkeley peers. By her own admission, Cynthia only has access to the same crappy numbers that everyone else does, where more meaningful metrics such as the number of church members who actually attend aren’t available. Also, anytime someone from Palo Alto or Cambridge thinks that their ward or stake is somehow representative of anything other than their ward or stake is adorable.

    I do love that there are liberal Mormons. They can always be counted on to be initially disgruntled, but will always show up every Sunday with a smile on their face, faithfully fulfill their callings and pay their tithing. If the church were to read a policy letter embracing gay marriage, you could count on well over 50% of the membership leaving convinced the prophet had been replaced with a look a like Anti Christ.

  45. Last Lemming says:

    The statistics are not wrong, they are simply irrelevant to the reason the letter is being read. Everybody saw the news of the decision. Everybody watched the celebrations. It doesn’t matter what the status quo ante was in any given state, the overwhelming message people are hearing is “This changes everything.” It is entirely reasonable for the Church to respond with a “No, it doesn’t.”

  46. JimD, certainly there’s sex implied. But in contemporary America, sex is a small part of the package of marriage, and marriage certainly isn’t necessary for (most) couples to have sex, as a practical matter. If marriage were (for gay or straight couples) solely, or even primarily, the celebration of sex, it seems to me it would have to be a necessary (or more necessary) condition for sex.

    I think you’re confusing the inverse, Sam. The fact that A can exist independently of B, does not mean that B routinely exists independently of A. While marriages obviously should be based on much, much more than mere physical intimacy, the simple fact is that–as we were reminded ad infinitum last week–weddings are about “love”; and we aren’t talking about brotherly love or parental love or even divine love. (Would you want one of your kids to marry someone (s)he didn’t love and/or wasn’t attracted to?) Suggesting that a wedding is merely a social event that has nothing–nothing!–to do with a sexual union between the parties; is rather like suggesting that a baptism is merely a child’s rite of passage that is wholly unrelated to the child’s Christian faith.

    Michael, the trouble I have with your suggestion that people don’t “feel that they need the government’s stamp of approval to have sex with somebody, or even to enter into a long-term sexual relationship”, is that the words and deeds of gay-rights advocates suggest that they do feel the need for such approval on a very visceral level. Even when the traditional legal benefits of marriage were available to gay couples via civil unions and DOMA repeal–they pushed for marriage. Justice Kennedy himself offers beautifully phrased explanations of how marriage confers dignity and legitimacy to gay families. In Utah’s past legislative session, at which time gay marriage was already required here, gay-rights advocates torpedoed legislation that would have protected individual state officers’ rights to decline to solemnize/record a gay marriage so long as there was some other state officer willing to do the job. Throughout this whole business, gay-rights activists have launched a concerted and national effort to destroy the livelihoods of craftsmen who will not use their expressive abilities to support a gay wedding ceremony; and they have left a trail of shuttered mom-and-pop businesses in their wake.

    Oh no, Michael. People want that stamp of approval, very much indeed. “Marriage” might not mean what it used to mean, but it still carries a social cachet of legitimacy and permanence; and gay-rights activists relish being able to compel the baker, the judge, the schoolchild, and the random guy in the street to admit “you are married“.

    The First Presidency’s letter constitutes a stinging reminder in the name of the Lord that–legalities aside–gay sexual partnerships are neither legitimate nor permanent. Hence, the tut-tutting in the bloggernacle today.

  47. Jeff, dear Jeff, you are arguing against things I didn’t say. Really the whole conclusion of the post is to rule out the possibility that the letter was sent due to number of members directly affected. That is what the final paragraph says. It says that we can conclude, based on the small numbers affected, that numbers affected was probably not the key motivation.

  48. Jeff wrote: “If the church were to read a policy letter embracing gay marriage, you could count on well over 50% of the membership leaving convinced the prophet had been replaced with a look a like Anti Christ.”

    I don’t think that’s true. If the First Presidency were to announce that they felt inspired to reverse the church’s stance against same-sex relationships, or that women should be able to hold the priesthood, I think that the vast majority of members would accept the change and carry on. Not because they supported gay marriage or gender equality all along, but because they sustain the Prophet and follow his lead. Of course, twenty years later, millions of members would reminisce about how happy they were about the announcement, and how they had hoped for the change all along . . .

  49. Also, in response to JimD’s various comments:

    The recent celebration of “love” is so much more than just a celebration of sex.

    The kind of love that motivates a couple to want to marry involves so much more than just a desire to have sex. That kind of love involves a desire to commit yourselves to each other, to unite your lives, to put each other first, and to have a lifetime companionship that lasts long after sexual activity wanes due to age or infirmity.

    Gays and lesbians feel this kind of love the same way that heterosexuals do. If you think that gays and lesbians should live a celibate life, then you are not just asking them to give up sex — you are asking them to give up the rich experiences that come from sharing your life with someone you love. Sex is just one component of that shared life.

  50. Jack Hughes says:

    “Nookie License” FTW.

    I will bet my next paycheck that most single men at BYU (early 20s, sexually frustrated, RM sense of entitlement, short engagements, etc.) have exactly that view of temple marriage. I certainly did at that stage in life. We don’t need to worry about legalized and legitimized gay marriage somehow cheapening the institution; we were already doing that without any outside help.

  51. it's a series of tubes says:

    If you think that gays and lesbians should live a celibate life, then you are not just asking them to give up sex

    In fairness, CE, this is the clear doctrinal position of the LDS Church.

  52. JimD, you’re conflating romantic love and sex. They certainly can go together (and quite often do), but neither is dependant on the other. That is, you can have sex with no romantic love whatsoever, and you can have unrequited—or celibate—romantic love. That weddings celebrate romantic love does not, by any stretch, mean they are all, and solely, about sex.

  53. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.

  54. it’s a series of tubes:

    Of course I understand that this is the clear doctrinal position of the church. I’m pointing out a consequence of this position that some people (JimD, for example) don’t seem to understand. We’re not just asking gays and lesbians to refrain from homosexual intercourse — we are asking them to live in relative loneliness for the rest of their lives. To beat the dead horse: Marriage (gay marriage included) is about more than just sex.

  55. it's a series of tubes says:

    Fair point, CE, and I am not disputing that. It’s a tall ask, to be sure.

  56. Sam, it has not been my position that weddings are solely about celebrating sex; only that a sexual union is a fundamental part of the marital (or even a merely romantic) relationship and that to celebrate a gay wedding is to celebrate, among other things, a gay sexual union. I don’t buy your idea that you can separate sexual attraction from romance (what if Obergefell permitted gay marriage subject to a sworn affidavit from the happy couple that they intended to remain celibate?), and even if I did–I don’t think the Church is high on the idea of “romantic love” between people of the same sex either.

    But, to explore this further–if you go ahead and state that marriage is inherently non-sexual–what aspect of marriage makes it worth regulating at all from a civic standpoint? If it were about romantic love, you wouldn’t deny the institution to bigamous relationships. If it were about the right to establish one’s own family structure as one sees fit, you wouldn’t deny it to incestuous relationships. If it were about monogamous or exclusive love, you would have to deny remarriage to widows and widowers. If it were about a meaningful commitment, you wouldn’t permit no-fault divorce. If it were about children–an idea you guys were pooh-poohing anyways when conservatives raised the issue–you would, of course, deny marriage to the infertile. The post-Obergefell restrictions on marriage (age, consanguinity, number of partners) have only one justification: The continuing acknowledgment by government that marriage is an inherently sexual relationship which, in the absence of the existing restrictions, would likely result in the exploitation of the disadvantaged.

    CE, yes; I’m aware of the sacrifices the Church expects of gay members. I’m also aware that a relationship of the nature you describe is not a sine qua non for a happy, productive and fulfilling life; that intimate, non-romantic relationships are also possible with family members and close friends; that the Church’s expectation of celibacy does not amount to a life in complete isolation from the broader community. Your insistence to the contrary creates a sense of despair in gay-but-celibate LDS teenagers–a despair that, all too often, leads to suicide. Please, stop hurting our children.

    Jack, we aren’t talking about “cheapening the institution” of marriage. We’re talking about why the Church would feel the need to reinforce, at this juncture, that gay sex and gay marriage are not OK from an ecclesiastical point of view–the answer being that the Supreme Court has just claimed that these actions are OK, and a lot of Americans explicitly or implicitly take some of their moral cues from SCOTUS.

  57. I believe that marriage is not just a bond, but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I am committed to the fundamental, bedrock principle that it exists between a man and a woman going back into the midst of history, as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization. And that its primary, principle role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adult.

  58. I remain opposed to same-sex marriage. I believe marriage is an institution for the union of a man and a woman. This has been my long-standing position, and it is not being reviewed or considered.

  59. I don’t think that the government ought to ever tell the church to marry people, if the church doesn’t want to.

  60. Ardis, I never said Michael Austin’s points were not irrelevant. I actually just sort of ignored his comment. Sorry if you felt unfairly singled out.

  61. JimD, way to knock down the straw man!

  62. Cynthia, after a careful rereading of your original post it is abundantly clear now that I’ve misunderstood. Where we differ isn’t in statistics, but whether or not the statistics has anything to do with the letter. I am of the opinion that such a letter is read to demonstrate, that no, even after legal and public opinion has gone the other way The Church will never change its’ opinion and by ambiguous extension, members are expected to do so as well. And that’s 100% of the membership.

    I do look forward to your next statistical and graphical analysis which, if I could put in a request, will hopefully be: Quorum of The Twelve: white, male, lawyer, MBA, BYU grad edition.

    I’m sure in your chosen field you’ve realized that the pipeline to address lack of female representation is an extraordinarily long one. Likewise, I suspect you’ll be creating these memes 20, 30, 40 years out. Best –

  63. See, so who said that gay marriage won’t affect my marriage? We’re already screwing with the definition in order to make it fit our sexual politics when we say marriage is the celebration of two lives coming together.

    Indeed that’s a part of it, but from God’s perspective it would be nothing short of eternal damnation if the concept of marriage ended there.

  64. And Cynthia? I’m still not sure you ever really made the case that 14% is somehow considered low. You are, after all, talking about a church that seems to make a BFD about numbers as low as 10%. A Church that is also named after a guy who seemed to be very concerned about numbers as low as 1%.

  65. Why all the hubub from my more liberal Mormon friends about this letter, if the letter were merely unnecessarily restating already understood doctrine? I think the anger and disgust many seem to be showing towards this simple restatement of doctrine shows the purpose and importance of the restating.

    Also, since the courts seem to know no boundaries at all, I do not see how they can be trusted anymore. Additionally there is much more finality to a SC ruling than state legislation.

  66. CE, fair point. I should have contented myself with addressing what you said, not what you obviously meant.

    (Unless you actually meant that it’s actually perfectly acceptable for the LDS Church to expect its gay members to live celibate lives and that these members can eschew romantic attachments while still enjoying a rich life full of experiences that include love, unity, selflessness, and commitment. In which case, I apologize for misreading you.)

  67. Jason K. says:

    I find that writing a good comment at BCC takes at least 30 minutes. Here’s some insight into my process, in case you’re interested.

    1) Skim the post. I mean, who has time to actually read it, and besides, this is the internet.

    2) Pace the room in a state of agitation for at least 10 minutes, until I’ve reached a state of psycho-spiritual froth appropriate to the wrongheadedness of the post. Mumbling to myself helps.

    3) Check back to make sure that a woman wrote the post, thus assuring that my super powers of explanation will be both necessary and appreciated.

    4) Pick out something that I kind of remember from the post I skimmed what is now at least 15 minutes ago that seems to be an unfounded assertion. It’s best that this be somewhat tangential to the post’s main argument, but I don’t usually go back and re-read the post to make sure that I really am missing the point, because, again, who has that kind of time?

    5) Write a lengthy comment claiming that the tangential unfounded assertion I sort of think was in the OP is actually at the heart of its argument, meaning that the author, bless her precious little heart for trying, has not in fact proven anything, although with my manly assistance she might eventually succeed.

    By following these 5 simple steps, I have become a favored commenter here. I know this because I always get this notification that my comments are awaiting moderation, which means that the good (if rather slow) folks running the show at BCC just can’t bear the thought of other readers experiencing the force of my intellect and testimony before taking the first draught for themselves.

  68. Jason K, that’s a good process. But I really think there should be a contingent step 4–if the post was written by a man, assume that the entire post is without substantive merit and is in fact nothing more than a patriarchal microagression against some hapless damsel in distress somewhere on the interwebs. Identify the damsel in distress if possible; then, shame the man accordingly. :-)

  69. I leave this place for ONE MINUTE and all hell breaks loose. Defense of the Confederate flag? Stupid failures to understand basic statistics? Gratuitous chauvinism and misogyny? What the sam hell is going on??

    Knock it off, people. You can do better.

  70. We missed you Steve. It was almost as much fun as that one time when Principal Richard Vernon left the Breakfast Club alone for a bit in the library, but without all the weed smoking.

    And Cynthia – Nolo Contendere

    Assuming you’ve demonstrated existence, how about uniqueness? And critical phenomenon require a control parameter to describe first, second, or third order transitions? What’s the critical point? I really think you’ve applied statistics to a problem that is not well-posed nor is it statistical in any meaningful way. Also, is Pi normal?

  71. JimD,
    Let me give you a step one. Don’t be a belligerent jerk. Not emoji-ed, because I’m being macroaggressive.

  72. Steve, no one here has defended the confederate battle flag. The analogy I was drawing (which perhaps I could have done more clearly) was that there are certain meanings that *cannot* be separated from a theoretically multifaceted symbol or institution.

    John C: Inconvenient truths are often conflated with belligerence. Perhaps Jason K. can give us another checklist so we can understand just where the difference is.

  73. JimD,
    Let’s end this now, okay. When you are a one-note, whiny, toadstool of a commenter, year in and year out, I’m happy just calling it belligerence. YMMV. Have a nice day.

  74. Bypassing the current discussion in the comments to directly address the issue at hand in the article, I would suggest the reason the Church leadership felt necessary to send the letter to be read in congregations was that there are many members, regardless of the actual status of same-sex marriage legality in their region, who were concerned that the SCOTUS decision would mean that LDS meetinghouses and/or temples would somehow be required to perform same-sex marriages. This does not in any way reflect reality, of course, but I can tell you that several wards I have lived in were very concerned about this issue, misled by urban legends and such. Case in point: that one non-denominational wedding venue in Idaho facing legal consequences for failure to perform same-sex unions became morphed through various retellings until it showed up on my Facebook feed as none other than the Roman Catholic Church itself being forced to recognize the validity of same-sex unions in Idaho. Even though gay marriage was already legal in the Utah/Idaho/Arizona/Nevada area, many members I know from the area were not too aware of what was going on and/or were concerned on the basis of misinformation they had been given. I understood the letter and its reading as an attempt to reassure. It certainly had that effect on the Colorado congregation I happened to be visiting that weekend.

  75. Jon, good comment, thanks. If that’s the case, I wish the letter would go a step further and say, “PS: If you actually held this completely false and delusional fear (that churches would be forced to perform gay marriages etc), please reevaluate your media diet and circle of friends to determine how and why you came to believe that. Be brave and complete in removing from your life any source that influenced your utterly mistaken belief that this might happen.”

  76. Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the court decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

  77. Someone said at the top, “It’s true that the political argument over same-sex marriage is practically over now, after Obergefell”–Yeah, just like Roe ended the political argument over abortion.

    Anyhow, I think that’s probably the end of this discussion here. Thanks everybody for your contributions. Cheers.

%d bloggers like this: