What is the position of the Church on same-gender attraction and
The continuing public debate over same-gender marriage has prompted
many questions from the news media, the general public and Church
members in relation to the position of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints on the marriage issue specifically and on
homosexuality in general.
The following interview was conducted with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a
member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church, and Elder
Lance B. Wickman, a member of the Seventy. These senior Church leaders
responded to questions from two members of the Church's Public Affairs
staff. The transcript of the interview appears below in order to help
clarify the Church's stand on these important, complex and sensitive
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At the outset, can you explain why this whole issue of
homosexuality and same-gender marriage is important to the Church?
ELDER OAKS: This is much bigger than just a question of whether or not
society should be more tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle. Over past
years we have seen unrelenting pressure from advocates of that
lifestyle to accept as normal what is not normal, and to characterize
those who disagree as narrow-minded, bigoted and unreasonable. Such
advocates are quick to demand freedom of speech and thought for
themselves, but equally quick to criticize those with a different view
and, if possible, to silence them by applying labels like
"homophobic." In at least one country where homosexual activists have
won major concessions, we have even seen a church pastor threatened
with prison for preaching from the pulpit that homosexual behavior is
sinful. Given these trends, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints must take a stand on doctrine and principle. This is more than
a social issue — ultimately it may be a test of our most basic
religious freedoms to teach what we know our Father in Heaven wants us
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Let's say my 17-year-old son comes to talk to me and,
after a great deal of difficulty trying to get it out, tells me that
he believes that he's attracted to men — that he has no interest and
never has had any interest in girls. He believes he's probably gay. He
says that he's tried to suppress these feelings. He's remained
celibate, but he realizes that his feelings are going to be
devastating to the family because we've always talked about his Church
mission, about his temple marriage and all those kinds of things. He
just feels he can't live what he thinks is a lie any longer, and so he
comes in this very upset and depressed manner. What do I tell him as a
ELDER OAKS: You're my son. You will always be my son, and I'll always
be there to help you.
The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and
behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It's no sin to have
inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a
transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not
unique. Even the Savior was tempted.
The New Testament affirms that God has given us commandments that are
difficult to keep. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter 10, verse 13: "There
hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is
faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are
able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye
may be able to bear it."
I think it's important for you to understand that homosexuality, which
you've spoken of, is not a noun that describes a condition. It's an
adjective that describes feelings or behavior. I encourage you, as you
struggle with these challenges, not to think of yourself as a
'something' or 'another,' except that you're a member of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and you're my son, and that you're
struggling with challenges.
Everyone has some challenges they have to struggle with. You've
described a particular kind of challenge that is very vexing. It is
common in our society and it has also become politicized. But it's
only one of a host of challenges men and women have to struggle with,
and I just encourage you to seek the help of the Savior to resist
temptation and to refrain from behavior that would cause you to have
to repent or to have your Church membership called into question.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If somebody has a very powerful heterosexual drive,
there is the opportunity for marriage. If a young man thinks he's gay,
what we're really saying to him is that there is simply no other way
to go but to be celibate for the rest of his life if he doesn't feel
any attraction to women?
ELDER OAKS: That is exactly the same thing we say to the many members
who don't have the opportunity to marry. We expect celibacy of any
person that is not married.
ELDER WICKMAN: We live in a society which is so saturated with
sexuality that it perhaps is more troublesome now, because of that
fact, for a person to look beyond their gender orientation to other
aspects of who they are. I think I would say to your son or anyone
that was so afflicted to strive to expand your horizons beyond simply
gender orientation. Find fulfillment in the many other facets of your
character and your personality and your nature that extend beyond
that. There's no denial that one's gender orientation is certainly a
core characteristic of any person, but it's not the only one.
What's more, merely having inclinations does not disqualify one for
any aspect of Church participation or membership, except possibly
marriage as has already been talked about. But even that, in the
fullness of life as we understand it through the doctrines of the
restored gospel, eventually can become possible.
In this life, such things as service in the Church, including
missionary service, all of this is available to anyone who is true to
covenants and commandments.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: So you are saying that homosexual feelings are controllable?
ELDER OAKS: Yes, homosexual feelings are controllable. Perhaps there
is an inclination or susceptibility to such feelings that is a reality
for some and not a reality for others. But out of such
susceptibilities come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we
cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If
we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior. That
pattern is the same for a person that covets someone else's property
and has a strong temptation to steal. It's the same for a person that
develops a taste for alcohol. It's the same for a person that is born
with a 'short fuse,' as we would say of a susceptibility to anger. If
they let that susceptibility remain uncontrolled, it becomes a feeling
of anger, and a feeling of anger can yield to behavior that is sinful
We're not talking about a unique challenge here. We're talking about a
common condition of mortality. We don't understand exactly the 'why,'
or the extent to which there are inclinations or susceptibilities and
so on. But what we do know is that feelings can be controlled and
behavior can be controlled. The line of sin is between the feelings
and the behavior. The line of prudence is between the susceptibility
and the feelings. We need to lay hold on the feelings and try to
control them to keep us from getting into a circumstance that leads to
ELDER WICKMAN: One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is
that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that
therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable.
That's contrary to our very nature as the Lord has revealed to us. We
do have the power to control our behavior.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If we were to look back at someone who had a 'short
fuse,' and we were to look at their parents who might have had a short
fuse, some might identify a genetic influence in that.
ELDER OAKS: No, we do not accept the fact that conditions that prevent
people from attaining their eternal destiny were born into them
without any ability to control. That is contrary to the Plan of
Salvation, and it is contrary to the justice and mercy of God. It's
contrary to the whole teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which
expresses the truth that by or through the power and mercy of Jesus
Christ we will have the strength to do all things. That includes
resisting temptation. That includes dealing with things that we're
born with, including disfigurements, or mental or physical
incapacities. None of these stand in the way of our attaining our
eternal destiny. The same may be said of a susceptibility or
inclination to one behavior or another which if yielded to would
prevent us from achieving our eternal destiny.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: You're saying the Church doesn't necessarily have a
position on 'nurture or nature' ….
ELDER OAKS: That's where our doctrine comes into play. The Church does
not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or
inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those
are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are
things the Church doesn't have a position on.
ELDER WICKMAN: Whether it is nature or nurture really begs the
important question, and a preoccupation with nature or nurture can, it
seems to me, lead someone astray from the principles that Elder Oaks
has been describing here. Why somebody has a same-gender attraction…
who can say? But what matters is the fact that we know we can control
how we behave, and it is behavior which is important.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Is therapy of any kind a legitimate course of action
if we're talking about controlling behavior? If a young man says,
"Look, I really want these feelings to go away… I would do anything
for these feelings to go away," is it legitimate to look at clinical
therapy of some sort that would address those issues?
ELDER WICKMAN: Well, it may be appropriate for that person to seek
therapy. Certainly the Church doesn't counsel against that kind of
therapy. But from the standpoint of a parent counseling a person, or a
Church leader counseling a person, or a person looking at his or her
same-gender attraction from the standpoint of 'What can I do about it
here that's in keeping with gospel teachings?' the clinical side of it
is not what matters most. What matters most is recognition that 'I
have my own will. I have my own agency. I have the power within myself
to control what I do.'
Now, that's not to say it's not appropriate for somebody with that
affliction to seek appropriate clinical help to examine whether in his
or her case there's something that can be done about it. This is an
issue that those in psychiatry, in the psychology professions have
debated. Case studies I believe have shown that in some cases there
has been progress made in helping someone to change that orientation;
in other cases not. From the Church's standpoint, from our standpoint
of concern for people, that's not where we place our principal focus.
It's on these other matters.
ELDER OAKS: Amen to that. Let me just add one more thought. The Church
rarely takes a position on which treatment techniques are appropriate,
for medical doctors or for psychiatrists or psychologists and so on.
The second point is that there are abusive practices that have been
used in connection with various mental attitudes or feelings.
Over-medication in respect to depression is an example that comes to
mind. The aversive therapies that have been used in connection with
same-sex attraction have contained some serious abuses that have been
recognized over time within the professions. While we have no position
about what the medical doctors do (except in very, very rare cases —
abortion would be such an example), we are conscious that there are
abuses and we don't accept responsibility for those abuses. Even
though they are addressed at helping people we would like to see
helped, we can't endorse every kind of technique that's been used.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Is heterosexual marriage ever an option for those with
ELDER OAKS: We are sometimes asked about whether marriage is a remedy
for these feelings that we have been talking about. President
Hinckley, faced with the fact that apparently some had believed it to
be a remedy, and perhaps that some Church leaders had even counseled
marriage as the remedy for these feelings, made this statement:
"Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems
such as homosexual inclinations or practices." To me that means that
we are not going to stand still to put at risk daughters of God who
would enter into such marriages under false pretenses or under a cloud
unknown to them. Persons who have this kind of challenge that they
cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith.
On the other hand, persons who have cleansed themselves of any
transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these
feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a
great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter
marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity —
that's a situation when marriage would be appropriate.
President Hinckley said that marriage is not a therapeutic step to
ELDER WICKMAN: One question that might be asked by somebody who is
struggling with same-gender attraction is, "Is this something I'm
stuck with forever? What bearing does this have on eternal life? If I
can somehow make it through this life, when I appear on the other
side, what will I be like?"
Gratefully, the answer is that same-gender attraction did not exist in
the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a
circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seems to apply right
now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.
The good news for somebody who is struggling with same-gender
attraction is this: 1) It is that 'I'm not stuck with it forever.'
It's just now. Admittedly, for each one of us, it's hard to look
beyond the 'now' sometimes. But nonetheless, if you see mortality as
now, it's only during this season. 2) If I can keep myself worthy
here, if I can be true to gospel commandments, if I can keep covenants
that I have made, the blessings of exaltation and eternal life that
Heavenly Father holds out to all of His children apply to me. Every
blessing — including eternal marriage — is and will be mine in due
ELDER OAKS: Let me just add a thought to that. There is no fullness of
joy in the next life without a family unit, including a husband, a
wife, and posterity. Further, men are that they might have joy. In the
eternal perspective, same-gender activity will only bring sorrow and
grief and the loss of eternal opportunities.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: A little earlier, Elder Oaks, you talked about the
same standard of morality for heterosexuals and homosexuals. How would
you address someone who said to you, 'I understand it's the same
standard, but aren't we asking a little more of someone who has
same-gender attraction?' Obviously there are heterosexual people who
won't get married, but would you accept that they at least have hope
that 'tomorrow I could meet the person of my dreams.' There's always
the hope that that could happen at any point in their life. Someone
with same-gender attraction wouldn't necessarily have that same hope.
ELDER OAKS: There are differences, of course, but the contrast is not
unique. There are people with physical disabilities that prevent them
from having any hope — in some cases any actual hope and in other
cases any practical hope — of marriage. The circumstance of being
currently unable to marry, while tragic, is not unique.
It is sometimes said that God could not discriminate against
individuals in this circumstance. But life is full of physical
infirmities that some might see as discriminations — total paralysis
or serious mental impairment being two that are relevant to marriage.
If we believe in God and believe in His mercy and His justice, it
won't do to say that these are discriminations because God wouldn't
discriminate. We are in no condition to judge what discrimination is.
We rest on our faith in God and our utmost assurance of His mercy and
His love for all of His children.
ELDER WICKMAN: There's really no question that there is an anguish
associated with the inability to marry in this life. We feel for
someone that has that anguish. I feel for somebody that has that
anguish. But it's not limited to someone who has same-gender
We live in a very self-absorbed age. I guess it's naturally human to
think about my own problems as somehow greater than someone else's. I
think when any one of us begins to think that way, it might be well be
to look beyond ourselves. Who am I to say that I am more handicapped,
or suffering more, than someone else?
I happen to have a handicapped daughter. She's a beautiful girl.
She'll be 27 next week. Her name is Courtney. Courtney will never
marry in this life, yet she looks wistfully upon those who do. She
will stand at the window of my office which overlooks the Salt Lake
Temple and look at the brides and their new husbands as they're having
their pictures taken. She's at once captivated by it and saddened
because Courtney understands that will not be her experience here.
Courtney didn't ask for the circumstances into which she was born in
this life, any more than somebody with same-gender attraction did. So
there are lots of kinds of anguish people can have, even associated
with just this matter of marriage. What we look forward to, and the
great promise of the gospel, is that whatever our inclinations are
here, whatever our shortcomings are here, whatever the hindrances to
our enjoying a fullness of joy here, we have the Lord's assurance for
every one of us that those in due course will be removed. We just need
to remain faithful.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Elder Wickman, when you referred earlier to missionary
service, you held that out as a possibility for someone who felt
same-gender attraction but didn't act on it. President Hinckley has
said that if people are faithful, they can essentially go forward as
anyone else in the Church and have full fellowship. What does that
really mean? Does it mean missionary service? Does it mean that
someone can go to the temple, at least for those sacraments that don't
involve marriage? Does it really mean that someone with same-gender
attraction so long as they're faithful, has every opportunity to
participate, to be called to service, to do all those kinds of things
that anyone else can?
ELDER WICKMAN: I think the short answer to that is yes! I'd look to
Elder Oaks to elaborate on that.
ELDER OAKS: President Hinckley has helped us on that subject with a
clear statement that answers all questions of that nature. He said,
"We love them (referring to people who have same-sex attractions) as
sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which
are powerful and which may be difficult to control. If they do not act
upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other
members of the Church."
To me that means that a person with these inclinations, where they're
kept under control, or, if yielded to are appropriately repented of,
is eligible to do anything in the Church that can be done by any
member of the Church who is single. Occasionally, there's an office,
like the office of bishop, where a person must be married. But that's
rather the exception in the Church. Every teaching position, every
missionary position can be held by single people. We welcome to that
kind of service people who are struggling with any kind of temptation
when the struggle is a good struggle and they are living so as to be
appropriate teachers, or missionaries, or whatever the calling may be.
ELDER WICKMAN: Isn't it really the significance of the Atonement in a
person's life? Doesn't the Atonement really begin to mean something to
a person when he or she is trying to face down the challenges of
living, whether they be temptations or limitations? The willingness to
turn to the Savior, the opportunity of going to sacrament service on a
Sunday, and really participating in the ordinance of the sacrament…
listening to the prayers, partaking of those sacred emblems. Those are
opportunities that really help us to come within the ambit of the
Savior's Atonement. Viewed that way, then any opportunity to serve in
the Church is a blessing. As has been mentioned, there is a relatively
tiny handful of callings within the Church that require marriage.
ELDER OAKS: There is another point to add here, and this comes from a
recent statement of the First Presidency, which is a wonderful
description of our attitude in this matter: "We of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect
for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. We
realize there may be great loneliness in their lives, but there must
also be recognition of what is right before the Lord."
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: What would you say to those members in society,
members of the Church, who may look at same-gender attraction as
different than other temptations, than any other struggle that people
face? First of all, do you think it's a fair assessment that some
people have that feeling? What would you say to them?
ELDER OAKS: I think it is an accurate statement to say that some
people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining
fact of their existence. There are also people who consider the
defining fact of their existence that they are from Texas or that they
were in the United States Marines. Or they are red-headed, or they are
the best basketball player that ever played for such-and-such a high
school. People can adopt a characteristic as the defining example of
their existence and often those characteristics are physical.
We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us;
those choices are not thrust upon us.
The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of
Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a
divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may
be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is
destructive and it leads us down the wrong path.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Both of you have mentioned the issue of compassion and
this feeling about needing to be compassionate. Let's fast-forward the
scenario that we used earlier, and assume it's a couple of years
later. My conversations with my son, all our efforts to love our son
and keep him in the Church have failed to address what he sees as the
central issue — that he can't help his feelings. He's now told us that
he's moving out of the home. He plans to live with a gay friend. He's
adamant about it. What should be the proper response of a Latter-day
Saint parent in that situation?
ELDER OAKS: It seems to me that a Latter-day Saint parent has a
responsibility in love and gentleness to affirm the teaching of the
Lord through His prophets that the course of action he is about to
embark upon is sinful. While affirming our continued love for him, and
affirming that the family continues to have its arms open to him, I
think it would be well to review with him something like the
following, which is a statement of the First Presidency in 1991: "The
Lord's law of moral conduct is abstinence outside of lawful marriage
and fidelity within marriage. Sexual relations are proper only between
husband and wife, appropriately expressed within the bonds of
marriage. Any other sexual conduct, including fornication, adultery,
and homosexual and lesbian behavior is sinful. Those who persist in
such practices or influence others to do so are subject to Church
My first responsibility as a father is to make sure that he
understands that, and then to say to him, "My son, if you choose to
deliberately engage in this kind of behavior, you're still my son. The
Atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to reach out and cleanse
you if you are repentant and give up your sinful behavior, but I urge
you not to embark on that path because repentance is not easy. You're
embarking on a course of action that will weaken you in your ability
to repent. It will cloud your perceptions of what is important in
life. Finally, it may drag you down so far that you can't come back.
Don't go that way. But if you choose to go that way, we will always
try to help you and get you back on the path of growth.
ELDER WICKMAN: One way to read the Book of Mormon is as a book of
encounters between fathers and sons. Some of those encounters were
very positive and reinforcing on the part of the father of a son. Some
were occasions where a father had to tell his son or his sons that the
path that they were following was incorrect before the Lord. With all,
it needs to be done in the spirit of love and welcoming that, as Elder
Oaks mentioned, 'You're always my son.' There's an old maxim which is
really true for every parent and that is, 'You haven't failed until
you quit trying.' I think that means both in terms of taking
appropriate opportunities to teach one's children the right way, but
at all times making sure they know that over all things you'll love
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line
into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, 'Well, if you
love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for
holidays?' How do you balance that against, for example, concern for
other children in the home?'
ELDER OAKS: That's a decision that needs to be made individually by
the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can
imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, 'Please
don't do that. Don't put us into that position.' Surely if there are
children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the
answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that
would make that the likely answer.
I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to
say, 'Yes, come, but don't expect to stay overnight. Don't expect to
be a lengthy house guest. Don't expect us to take you out and
introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public
situation that would imply our approval of your "partnership."
There are so many different circumstances, it's impossible to give one
answer that fits all.
ELDER WICKMAN: It's hard to imagine a more difficult circumstance for
a parent to face than that one. It is a case by case determination.
The only thing that I would add to what Elder Oaks has just said is
that I think it's important as a parent to avoid a potential trap
arising out of one's anguish over this situation.
I refer to a shift from defending the Lord's way to defending the
errant child's lifestyle, both with him and with others. It really is
true the Lord's way is to love the sinner while condemning the sin.
That is to say we continue to open our homes and our hearts and our
arms to our children, but that need not be with approval of their
lifestyle. Neither does it mean we need to be constantly telling them
that their lifestyle is inappropriate. An even bigger error is now to
become defensive of the child, because that neither helps the child
nor helps the parent. That course of action, which experience teaches,
is almost certainly to lead both away from the Lord's way.
ELDER OAKS: The First Presidency made a wonderful statement on this
subject in a letter in 1991. Speaking of individuals and families that
were struggling with this kind of problem, they said, "We encourage
Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding to
those struggling with these issues." Surely if we are counseled as a
body of Church membership to reach out with love and understanding to
those 'struggling with these issues,' that obligation rests with
particular intensity on parents who have children struggling with
these issues… even children who are engaged in sinful behavior
associated with these issues.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Is rejection of a child to some degree the natural
reaction of some parents whenever their children fall short of
expectations? Is it sometimes easier to 'close the window' on an issue
than deal with it?
ELDER OAKS: We surely encourage parents not to blame themselves and we
encourage Church members not to blame parents in this circumstance. We
should remember that none of us is perfect and none of us has children
whose behavior is entirely in accord with exactly what we would have
them do in all circumstances.
We feel great compassion for parents whose love and protective
instincts for their challenged children have moved them to some
positions that are adversary to the Church. I hope the Lord will be
merciful to parents whose love for their children has caused them to
get into such traps.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Let's fast-forward again. My son has now stopped
coming to church altogether. There seems no prospect of him returning.
Now he tells me he's planning on going to Canada where same-gender
marriage is allowed. He insists that he agrees that loving marriage
relationships are important. He's not promiscuous; he has one
relationship. He and his partner intend to have that relationship for
the rest of their lives. He cannot understand that a lifetime
commitment can't be accepted by the Church when society seems to be
moving in that way. Again, if I am a Latter-day Saint father, what
would I be expected to tell him?
ELDER WICKMAN: For openers, marriage is neither a matter of politics,
nor is it a matter of social policy. Marriage is defined by the Lord
Himself. It's the one institution that is ceremoniously performed by
priesthood authority in the temple [and] transcends this world. It is
of such profound importance… such a core doctrine of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ, of the very purpose of the creation of this earth. One
hardly can get past the first page of Genesis without seeing that very
clearly. It is not an institution to be tampered with by mankind, and
certainly not to be tampered with by those who are doing so simply for
their own purposes. There is no such thing in the Lord's eyes as
something called same-gender marriage. Homosexual behavior is and will
always remain before the Lord an abominable sin. Calling it something
else by virtue of some political definition does not change that
ELDER OAKS: Another way to say that same thing is that the Parliament
in Canada and the Congress in Washington do not have the authority to
revoke the commandments of God, or to modify or amend them in any way.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: On some gay web sites there are those who argue that
homosexual behavior is not specifically prohibited in the Bible,
particularly in the New Testament. Some argue that Jesus Christ's
compassion and love for humanity embraces this kind of relationship.
What is the Church's teaching about that?
ELDER WICKMAN: For one thing, those who assert that need to read their
Bible more carefully. But beyond that, it is comparing apples and
oranges to refer to the love that the Savior expressed for all
mankind, for every person, for every man and woman and child, with the
doctrine related to marriage.
In fact, the Savior did make a declaration about marriage, albeit in a
somewhat different context. Jesus said that "For this cause shall a
man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they
twain shall be one flesh. What God has joined together let no man put
We usually think of that expression in the context of two people, a
man and a woman, being married and the inappropriateness of someone
trying to separate them. I think it may have a broader meaning in a
doctrinal sense. Marriage of a man and a woman is clear in Biblical
teaching in the Old Testament as well as in the New [Testament]
teaching. Anyone who seeks to put that notion asunder is likewise
running counter to what Jesus Himself said. It's important to keep in
mind the difference between Jesus' love and His definition of
doctrine, and the definition of doctrine that has come from apostles
and prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ, both anciently and in modern
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: What of those who might say, "Okay. Latter-day Saints
are entitled to believe whatever they like. If you don't believe in
same-gender marriages, then it's fine for you. But why try to regulate
the behavior of other people who have nothing to do with your faith,
especially when some nations in Europe have legally sanctioned that
kind of marriage? Why not just say, 'We don't agree with it
doctrinally for our own people' and leave it at that. Why fight to get
a Constitutional amendment [in the United States], for example?
ELDER WICKMAN: We're not trying to regulate people, but this notion
that 'what happens in your house doesn't affect what happens in my
house' on the subject of the institution of marriage may be the
ultimate sophistry of those advocating same-gender marriage.
Some people promote the idea that there can be two marriages,
co-existing side by side, one heterosexual and one homosexual, without
any adverse consequences. The hard reality is that, as an institution,
marriage like all other institutions can only have one definition
without changing the very character of the institution. Hence there
can be no coexistence of two marriages. Either there is marriage as it
is now defined and as defined by the Lord, or there is what could thus
be described as genderless marriage. The latter is abhorrent to God,
who, as we've been discussing, Himself described what marriage is —
between a man and a woman.
A redefinition of that institution, therefore, redefines it for
everyone — not just those who are seeking to have a so-called same
gender marriage. It also ignores the definition that the Lord Himself
ELDER OAKS: There's another point that can be made on this. Let's not
forget that for thousands of years the institution of marriage has
been between a man and a woman. Until quite recently, in a limited
number of countries, there has been no such thing as a marriage
between persons of the same gender. Suddenly we are faced with the
claim that thousands of years of human experience should be set aside
because we should not discriminate in relation to the institution of
marriage. When that claim is made, the burden of proving that this
step will not undo the wisdom and stability of millennia of experience
lies on those who would make the change. Yet the question is asked and
the matter is put forward as if those who believe in marriage between
a man and a woman have the burden of proving that it should not be
extended to some other set of conditions.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: There are those who would say that that might have
applied better in the 1950s or earlier than in the 21st century. If
you look at several nations in Europe, for example, traditional
marriage is so rapidly on the decline that it is no longer the norm.
If marriage is evolving, ought we to resist those kind of social
ELDER OAKS: That argument impresses me as something akin to the fact
that if we agree that the patient is sick and getting sicker, we
should therefore approve a coup de grace. The coup de grace which ends
the patient's life altogether is quite equivalent to the drastic
modification in the institution of marriage that would be brought on
by same-gender marriage.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: You talked about the harm that could come on society
by redefining marriage. What would you say to those people who
declare: "I know gay people who are in long-term committed
relationships. They're great people. They love each other. What harm
is it going to do my marriage as a heterosexual to allow them that
ELDER WICKMAN: Let me say again what I said a moment ago. I believe
that that argument is true sophistry, because marriage is a unified
institution. Marriage means a committed, legally sanctioned
relationship between a man and a woman. That's what it means. That's
what it means in the revelations. That's what it means in the secular
law. You cannot have that marriage coexisting institutionally with
something else called same-gender marriage. It simply is a
definitional impossibility. At such point as you now, as an
institution, begin to recognize a legally-sanctioned relationship, a
committed relationship between two people of the same gender, you have
now redefined the institution to being one of genderless marriage.
As we've mentioned in answer to other questions, [genderless marriage]
is contrary to God's law, to revealed Word. Scripture, ancient and
modern, could not be clearer on the definition that the Lord and His
agents have given to marriage down through the dispensations.
But it has a profound effect in a very secular way on everybody else.
What happens in somebody's house down the street does in very deed
have an effect on what happens in my house and how it's treated. To
suggest that in the face of these millennia of history and the
revelations of God and the whole human pattern they have the right to
redefine the whole institution for everyone is presumptuous in the
extreme and terribly wrong-headed.
ELDER OAKS: Another point to be made about this is made in a question.
If a couple who are cohabiting, happy, and committed to one another
want to have their relationship called a marriage, why do they want
that? Considering what they say they have, why do they want to add to
it the legal status of marriage that has been honored and experienced
for thousands of years? What is it that is desired by those who
advocate same-gender marriage? If that could be articulated on some
basis other than discrimination, which is not a very good argument, it
would be easier to answer the question that you have asked, and I
think it would reveal the soundness of what we've already heard.
There are certain indicia of marriage — certain legal and social
consequences and certain legitimacy — which if given to some
relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman tend to
degrade if not destroy the institution that's been honored over so
many thousands of years.
In addition, if people want to legalize a particular relationship, we
need to be careful if that kind of relationship has been disapproved
for millennia. Suddenly there's a call to legalize it so they can feel
better about themselves. That argument proves a little too much.
Suppose a person is making a living in some illegal behavior, but
feels uneasy about it. (He may be a professional thief or he may be
selling a service that is illegal, or whatever it may be.) Do we go
out and legalize his behavior because he's being discriminated against
in his occupational choices or because he doesn't feel well about what
he's doing and he wants a 'feel good' example, or he wants his
behavior legitimized in the eyes of society or his family? I think the
answer is that we do not legalize behavior for those reasons unless
they are very persuasive reasons brought forward to make a change in
the current situation.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Would you extend the same argument against same-gender
marriage to civil unions or some kind of benefits short of marriage?
ELDER WICKMAN: One way to think of marriage is as a bundle of rights
associated with what it means for two people to be married. What the
First Presidency has done is express its support of marriage and for
that bundle of rights belonging to a man and a woman. The First
Presidency hasn't expressed itself concerning any specific right. It
really doesn't matter what you call it. If you have some legally
sanctioned relationship with the bundle of legal rights traditionally
belonging to marriage and governing authority has slapped a label on
it, whether it is civil union or domestic partnership or whatever
label it's given, it is nonetheless tantamount to marriage. That is
something to which our doctrine simply requires us to speak out and
say, "That is not right. That's not appropriate."
As far as something less than that — as far as relationships that give
to some pairs in our society some right but not all of those
associated with marriage — as to that, as far as I know, the First
Presidency hasn't expressed itself. There are numbers of different
types of partnerships or pairings that may exist in society that
aren't same-gender sexual relationships that provide for some right
that we have no objection to. All that said… there may be on occasion
some specific rights that we would be concerned about being granted to
those in a same-gender relationship. Adoption is one that comes to
mind, simply because that is a right which has been historically,
doctrinally associated so closely with marriage and family. I cite the
example of adoption simply because it has to do with the bearing and
the rearing of children. Our teachings, even as expressed most
recently in a very complete doctrinal sense in the Family Proclamation
by living apostles and prophets, is that children deserve to be reared
in a home with a father and a mother.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: On the issue of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting
same-gender marriage, there are some Latter-day Saints who are opposed
to same-gender marriage, but who are not in favor of addressing this
through a Constitutional amendment. Why did the Church feel that it
had to step in that direction?
ELDER OAKS: Law has at least two roles: one is to define and regulate
the limits of acceptable behavior. The other is to teach principles
for individuals to make individual choices. The law declares
unacceptable some things that are simply not enforceable, and there's
no prosecutor who tries to enforce them. We refer to that as the
teaching function of the law. The time has come in our society when I
see great wisdom and purpose in a United States Constitutional
amendment declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman. There
is nothing in that proposed amendment that requires a criminal
prosecution or that directs the attorneys general to go out and round
people up, but it declares a principle and it also creates a defensive
barrier against those who would alter that traditional definition of
There are people who oppose a federal Constitutional amendment because
they think that the law of family should be made by the states. I can
see a legitimate argument there. I think it's mistaken, however,
because the federal government, through the decisions of life-tenured
federal judges, has already taken over that area. This Constitutional
amendment is a defensive measure against those who would ignore the
will of the states appropriately expressed and require, as a matter of
federal law, the recognition of same-gender marriages — or the
invalidation of state laws that require that marriage be between a man
and a woman. In summary, the First Presidency has come out for an
amendment (which may or may not be adopted) in support of the teaching
function of the law. Such an amendment would be a very important
expression of public policy, which would feed into or should feed into
the decisions of judges across the length and breadth of the land.
ELDER WICKMAN: Let me just add to that, if I may. It's not the Church
that has made the issue of marriage a matter of federal law. Those who
are vigorously advocating for something called same-gender marriage
have essentially put that potato on the fork. They're the ones who
have created a situation whereby the law of the land, one way or the
other, is going to address this issue of marriage. This is not a
situation where the Church has elected to take the matter into the
legal arena or into the political arena. It's already there.
The fact of the matter is that the best way to assure that a
definition of marriage as it now stands continues is to put it into
the foundational legal document of the United States. That is in the
Constitution. That's where the battle has taken it. Ultimately that's
where the battle is going to be decided. It's going to be decided as a
matter of federal law one way or the other. Consequently it is not a
battleground on such an issue that we Latter-day Saints have chosen,
but it has been established and we have little choice but to express
our views concerning it, which is really all that the Church has done.
Decisions even for members of the Church as to what they do with
respect to this issue must of course rest with each one in their
capacity as citizens.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The emphasis that has been placed in this conversation
on traditional marriage between a man and a woman has been consistent
throughout. Do you see any irony in the fact that the Church is so
publicly outspoken on this issue, when in the minds of so many people
in the United States and around the world the Church is known for once
supporting a very untraditional marriage arrangement — that is,
ELDER OAKS: I see irony in that if one views it without the belief
that we affirm in divine revelation. The 19th century Mormons,
including some of my ancestors, were not eager to practice plural
marriage. They followed the example of Brigham Young, who expressed
his profound negative feelings when he first had this principle
revealed to him. The Mormons of the 19th century who practiced plural
marriage, male and female, did so because they felt it was a duty put
upon them by God.
When that duty was lifted, they were directed to conform to the law of
the land, which forbad polygamy and which had been held
constitutional. When they were told to refrain from plural marriage,
there were probably some who were unhappy, but I think the majority
were greatly relieved and glad to get back into the mainstream of
western civilization, which had been marriage between a man and a
woman. In short, if you start with the assumption of continuing
revelation, on which this Church is founded, then you can understand
that there is no irony in this. But if you don't start with that
assumption, you see a profound irony.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: What about various types of support groups for those
with same-gender affliction?
ELDER WICKMAN: I think we neither encourage nor discourage them, but
much would depend on the nature of those groups. We certainly
discourage people getting involved with any group or organization that
foster living a homosexual lifestyle.
Ultimately, the wisest course for anybody who's afflicted with
same-gender attraction is to strive to extend one's horizon beyond
just one's sexual orientation, one's gender orientation, and to try to
see the whole person. If I'm one that's afflicted with same-gender
attraction, I should strive to see myself in a much broader context…
seeing myself as a child of God with whatever my talents may be,
whether intellect, or music, or athletics, or somebody that has a
compassion to help people, to see myself in a larger setting and thus
to see my life in that setting.
The more a person can look beyond gender orientation, the happier and
more fulfilling life is likely to be. The worst possible thing for any
of us — no matter what our temptations, no matter what our mortal
inclinations may be — is to become fixated with them, to dwell on
them. When we do that, not only do we deny the other things that
comprise us, but experience teaches that there will be an increased
likelihood that eventually we will simply succumb to the inclination.
ELDER OAKS: The principle that Elder Wickman has talked about, in a
nutshell, is that if you are trying to live with and maintain
ascendancy over same-gender attractions, the best way to do that is to
have groups that define their members in terms other than same-gender
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If you had to describe this enormously complex
question in a couple of basic principles, what would that be?
ELDER OAKS: God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for
His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in
eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage
between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring
together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in
the life to come.
We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to
refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons
with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until
they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as
by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life.
God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength
and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children,
and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to
praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ's
atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and
His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the
life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in
mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so
that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Thank you.