The Roots of the LDS Church’s Opposition to Same Sex Marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon church) works to maintain the public image of a loving-Christian religious group while simultaneously acting as an anti-queer international political organization. If you’re at all familiar with the church, you’re probably aware of their pro-nuclear family / anti-LGBTQIA2s+ politics. What you may not be as aware of is how their current anti-queer beliefs, practices, and policies are tied to 1) their past polygamous practices, as both are rooted in settler-colonial eugenic ideologies, and 2) the World Congress of Families, a known hate group with connections to Russian oligarchs.

Polygamy was seen as uncivilized and thus not-white by many in the late 19th century United States. In President Hayes’s 1880 State of the Union, he called out Mormon polygamy proclaiming that “marriage and the family relation are the cornerstone of our American society” and asking Congress to reorganize Utah Territory to allow more “intelligent and virtuous immigrants” in.

Immigration, marriage, and the family were as central to the rhetoric and politics of this Euro-settler-nation then as they are now. Settler-colonialism “destroys to replace” and “intelligent and virtuous immigrants” who become married and reproductive Euro-settler-couples are essential to the “replace” half of this equation.

Mormon leaders, attempting to sell the nation on polygamy, declared that it “will produce a superior race of men and consequently a purer state of society.” Early Mormons argued that polygamy is an even better way to practice settler-eugenics as the wealthier a male is the more females he can marry and thus the more children he can have. And as wealth equals divine favor and good genes in eugenic ideologies, this allows for the spread of supposedly fitter genes to an even bigger pool, while poorer males and their supposedly poorer genes are restricted to one female’s limited baby-making abilities.

When polygamous Mormons lost their Supreme Court battles–battles that led to the U.S. officially defining marriage as between one man and one woman–they turned to assimilation. In order to not lose the Indigenous lands they had stolen, the church banned polygamy and worked to show the U.S. that Mormons could come back into the mainstream settler-eugenic fold.

In 1905, U.S. President and eugenicist Teddy Roosevelt told the National Congress of Mothers that “a race” that shirks its “duty” of procreative marriage is practicing “race suicide.” Two years later, postcards were printed featuring a Mormon man with a gaggle of children behind him. Above the large family, the text reads, “No Race Suicide in Utah.” And 102 years after that, future Prophet Russell M. Nelson, at the fifth World Congress of Families, warned of the dangers of “national suicide” as a result of marriage equality, feminism, and LGBTQ2s rights.

“Race suicide” or “national suicide” are eugenic ideologies, like “demographic winter,” (the belief that European and Euro-settler nations’ population numbers are in decline because of feminism and queer rights), “The Great Replacement,” or “White Genocide.”

***

“The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established…The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult.”

Nikola Tesla, Liberty magazine, 1935.

***

As Tesla had predicted, eugenists in the Mormon church were working to “make marriage (equality) more difficult” throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. They organized their members, time, and money to get several states to pass constitutional amendments banning marriage equality. To be involved in the legislative process, this church had to show that they have a stake in the case as a religion, but besides the Bible, none of their scriptures say anything about homosexuality. So, they created a new doctrine:  “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is considered by Mormon leaders to be an “unchangeable doctrine.” It hangs on the walls of many Mormon families’ homes around the world in at least 81 languages. The Family Proclamation proclaims that colonial-patriarchal-cisgender-hetero family values are “ordained of God,” that trans and non-binary people don’t divinely exist, and that “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” (like racial or national suicide). The final paragraph illustrates the more practical purpose for creating this document when Mormon leaders “call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the [cis-hetero-patriarchal] family as the fundamental unit of society.”

Religiously, the Family Proclamation is a key to the Mormon Plan of Salvation. Mormon President Dallin H. Oaks spoke of this divine Plan when he said God’s “binary creation” of male and female “is essential to the plan of salvation.” “Modern revelation,” he continued, “teaches that eternal life is only possible through the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female joined in an eternal marriage. (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:19)”

Doctrine and Covenants 132:19-20 reads in part:

“(I)f a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law…

(y)e shall…inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities…

and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. 

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end” 

“That is why [the Family Proclamation] is so important” because, without it, Mormons cannot become Gods with infinite children who may themselves become Gods with infinite children in an eternal pyramid scheme of ever engorging glory.

Secularly, the Family Proclamation is rooted in a 1984 memo from former Utah Supreme Court Justice and Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks. In it, he advised the church on how best to legally fight the “evil” culture “of lesbian, gay, and transgender lifestyles.” He advises that the church rhetorically separate homosexual persons from their homosexual actions–to make homosexuality into something someone does, rather than something someone is. (Mormons don’t call gay people gay, they say “suffers from same-sex attraction.”) This was and is essential to their legal battles because if the general public and the courts understand trans/homo-sexuality as an identity, rather than an action that an individual chooses, LGBTQ2s rights could fall under existing civil rights laws and the church will yet again lose. But if they can define homosexuality as a matter of choice then the argument becomes about moral choices, thus allowing this church and its universities to morally choose to discriminate against LGBTQ2s persons without violating any current or future civil rights laws.

The successful attacks on LGBTQ rights seem to follow Oak’s memo–the Church’s unofficial Plan for the Salvation of the Family:

1) Focus on the family and “youth-protection” – “If the legislative issue is posed in terms of whether the public has a right to exclude from certain kinds of employment persons who engage in (and will teach) practices the majority wish to exclude for the good of society (such as abnormal sexual practices that present demonstrable threats to youth, public health, and procreation), the gay rights proposal will lose.”

2) Frame the issues not as civil rights but moral issues – “Such opposition should be explained, with careful emphasis on the bad effects of homosexual practices (not homosexuals) and the need–for the good of society-to protect youth from homosexual proselyt[iz]ing and role models among their teachers and counselors.”

The Family Proclamation was first proclaimed by then-Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley at this church’s General Relief Society Meeting (their main women’s organization). Less than two months later, the Proclamation was read into the official records of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1997, it was first submitted in an amicus brief for a Hawaiian Supreme Court marriage equality case. Since then it has been used in “dozens of court cases, legislative sessions, hearings, and conventions in the United States and around the world.” The Mormon church organized its members’ to fight against marriage equality in Hawaii (1990-1998) Alaska (1998), California (2000 and 2008), Nebraska (2000), Nevada (2002), Utah (2004), Mexico (2016), and Australia (2017).

***

In 1997, the same year the Mormon church first filed their Family Proclamation in a marriage equality case, they also began working with The World Congress of Families. The World Congress of Families (WCF) calls itself “an international network of pro-family organizations [which are predominantly from the U.S.], scholars, leaders and people of goodwill from more than 80 countries that seek to restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit and the ‘seedbed’ of civil society,” WCF’s stated mission is to spread these mostly U.S. American anti-queer/pro-eugenic ideologies to other countries. WCF frames their anti-queer work as a way for Eastern Europe and Africa to resist European/U.S. neoliberalism.  By tying LGBTQ-civil rights to ideological colonialism, the WCF is able to disguise their own spread of U.S.-based anti-queer propaganda of “traditional values” and the “natural family.”

In 2015 the Human Rights Council listed the WCF as “the largest and most influential organization involved in anti-LGBT policies worldwide…with a great influence on anti-LGBTQ sentiment and legislation in Russia, Eastern Europe, Australia, and Africa.” That was also the year the Human Rights Council and the Southern Poverty Law Center both listed the World Congress of Families as a hate group.

The WCF was seeded in 1995 when U.S. academic Allan Carlson’s theories about how feminism and homosexuality had caused certain demographics to decline in the U.S were read by Russian sociologists Anatoly Antonov (current Russian Ambassador to the U.S) and Viktor Medkov. Antonov and Medkov were concerned about the same thing happening in post-communist Russia.

The first World Congress of the Families conference was held in the Czech Republic, in 1997 with support and participation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The conferences continued in Switzerland (1999), Mexico (2004), Poland (2007), Netherlands (2009), Spain (2012) Australia (2013), Russia (2014/canceled), United States (2015), Georgia (2016), Moldova (2018), Italy (2019), and Ghana (2019), all of which attract thousands of people from around the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints co-planned, co-convened, co-sponsored, and presented at least seven of these events. Mormon President Dallin H. Oaks was listed as an Honorary Board Member of the WCF in 2015.

The 2014 World Congress of Families event was to be held in Moscow, but after Putin annexed Crimea and the U.S. enacted sanctions in retaliation, it was canceled (the WCF publicly supported Putin’s actions). By that time, the WCF had already been organizing in Russia for at least four years during which 13 new anti-queer laws were passed there, most notable the Russia’s 2013 “Gay Propaganda Law.” When Mother Jones asked WCF’s Vice President,  Larry Jacobs if their work had contributed to the rise of Russian anti-gay laws he laughed and said, “Yes, I think that is accurate.” The anti-queer rhetoric Russian politicians used to drive this movement is the rhetoric of the World Congress of Families which is the rhetoric seeded in the 1884 memo President Oaks sent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders from which the Family Proclamation was made.

In 2015, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosted the VIII World Congress of Families event in Salt Lake City, Utah–the first WCF conference in the U.S., after the Moscow one was canceled. In seeming contrast to hosting this anti-queer conference, this church collaborated with LGBTQ-political orgs to pass the “Utah Compromise” that same year. This “Compromise” granted previously nonexistent housing and employment protections to LGBT persons while also “strengthening religious freedom protections” – such as allowing religious universities to continue to discriminate against queer people. In February 2021, a bill based on the “Utah Compromise” called the Fairness for All Act was introduced in the House.

Oaks’ plan to address this as a moral, religious issue and not a civil rights issue didn’t stop marriage equality in the U.S., but it was helping to create “Fairness for All” laws. And much like the U.S. Declaration of Independence’s “All” in “All men are created equal,” left out most people–the “All” in the “Fairness for All” laws leave out queer practioneers of fundamentalist and evangelical religions.

These laws and were tested in a 2021-22 lawsuit filed by dozens of queer students from Christian universities, including the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University (BYU). These students were suing these universities for gender or sexuality-based discrimination. BYU responded to the suit stating that “the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution (…) includes the freedom to operate a religious university without sacrificing distinctive religious beliefs.” Their response included as evidence a copy of the church’s Family Proclamation.

By February 2022, the suit against BYU was dismissed. Oak’s plan was working. And seemingly to celebrate, that same month BYU banned gender-affirming voice therapy for transgender students at its speech clinic.

As I write, the U.S. is working to overturn Roe v. Wade, ramping up anti-LGBTQ2s legislation (predominantly anti-trans bills), continuing to normalize the eugenic massacre of elderly, disabled, and BIPOC people through this pandemic, perpetuating a mass-shooting epidemic, pushing us all closer climate collapse and the sixth extinction, and starting a potential Second Cold War/World War III.

But many Mormons are “not troubled,” by the collapsing livability of our planet because as former Prophet Ezra Taft Benson points out “there is a bright side” to this “otherwise gloomy picture…(T)he coming of our Lord in all His glory.” And as you may have guessed, all us queers and feminists will be burned alive in “all His glory” “for the presence of the Lord shall be as the melting fire that burneth.”

nicholas jacobsen is the founder of Unsettling Mormonism.

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