Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Marriage Amendment

In a few days I, as a member of the church in California, will be officially asked to actively support a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

My feelings on this subject are complex. I think there are good arguments on both sides. On balance, though, I think that my idea of good public policy on this issue lines up with my private morals enough to compel me to vote for the marriage amendment. I would really prefer a solution that involves the state disengaging from the concept of marriage, at least while the U.S. birthrate remains relatively high. I don't really want to discuss these arguments directly here.

I do want to highlight a number of concerns about the church taking official action to endorse the amendment. Most of these concerns relate to what I describe as negative externalities, or costs that are not taken into account, in officially asking the members to take action. I can also think of negative externalities of the church not taking official action but, since it is endorsing the amendment, here is a partial list of side-effects. These are generally culled from comments I've heard in GD over the past couple of weeks:

-The state is increasingly seen in church settings as the proper arbiter and enforcer of the morality of private, personal relationships. The problem with this is illustrated by asking why we don't seem to mind that a whole host of immoral behaviors, some which may be more destructive of traditional marriages than same-sex marriage, remain legal;

-The church's endorsement of this amendment is too easily conflated with a blanket endorsement of other conservative or republican-affiliated issues on which the church actually remains neutral (i.e. the smugness level with which certain far right political hotbuttons (i.e. anti-U.N., anti-global warming) are brought up in church increases);

-Since "the brethren have spoken," some members may have less of an interest or motivation in learning about the underlying legal and civic issues going into the proposed amendment, even though we are taught to educate ourselves about important political issues;

-Support for this amendment, and particularly the wording of the letter, is easily confused with the misleading "activist judge" rhetoric that already infects our national discourse;

-Support for this amendment seems to blur the important distinction between private morality and good public policy; and

-Official support for the amendment has already given ill-informed journalists and the like a springboard to publicly rehash the church's own spotty history with the whole concept of marriage.

Certainly I don't think that any or all of these reasons are necessarily sufficient to indicate that the church should not officially endorse the amendment. I trust that there are a great many positive things that could come from the church's involvement in this cause.

But personally, I can't help but feel a little unsettled when the church chooses to cast its pearls into the compromised and decidedly secular political pigpen.

1 comment:

DCL said...

In the event, the announcement came across as rather understated in my ward. In fact, the counselor who read the letter remarked immediately afterward, "Isn't it great having the right to vote!" as if voting would be all of the action necessary to answer the call in the letter.