A few weeks ago, my grandpa got re-married in the temple. His first wife – my grandma – has been dead for about five years now. Even though I was glad he won’t be lonely any more, it was hard for me to fake enthusiasm when I heard about the wedding plans. His remarriage just seemed to reek of, I don’t know, disloyalty – not only to my grandma’s memory, but to family bounds. Like he was letting an outsider into our “tribe” that’s been cultivated years before I came along. Sorting through my primitive clannishness, though, made me think about marriages, and the wider “tribal” Mormon concept of marriages: what they represent, how they can mean more than we let them, and how we’ve already expanded the definition of marriage enough that we should be able to painlessly accept gay marriage (and not just because of polygamy). It might seem like a leap, going from my grandpa’s wedding to marriage equality within the Church, but it seems to me that if we can accept the former, we can accept the latter. Here are my still-rambly thoughts on the matter.
There’s no way that my 80-something-year-old grandpa and his new wife are going to multiply and replenish the earth. During Prop 8, one huge talking point against marriage equality was and still is that teh gayz can’t reproduce. At my grandpa’s wedding, I was surrounded by people – whom I’ve heard use that argument – managing to celebrate a temple union that was conspicuously not about making babies. If we can accept that one marriage can be successful without seven kids as its end result, why not another? If you see reproduction as such a central tenet to marriage that you’d want to deny some people their legal rights, be consistent and protest my grandpa’s wedding. Lest your heads explode from bad faith.
When we accept that marriage can mean more than reproduction, we should be only a step away from scrutinizing heteronormativity and asking why. What does biological sex have to do with the forever-fluctuating institution of marriage, once we’ve eliminated childbearing as essential? Why should the spectrum of orientation bother us more than the spectrum of age, when it comes to love?
Oddly enough, “the system” seems completely onboard with this new, radical addition to the concept of marriage (i.e., marrying for love and companionship rather than multiplying and replenishing the earth). My grandpa’s wedding was performed in the temple, after all. He and his new wife were sealed “for the duration of their lives,” and not “for time and all eternity,” thus keeping their previous marriages intact without weird polygamous undertones. The fact that the system is flexible enough to accommodate a marriage focused on temporal companionship, not just eternal planet-populating, tells me that the Mormon church has the potential to chill the eff out on its “sanctity of marriage” rigidity. (If anything, same-sex marriage for time and all eternity seems almost less radical than my grandpa’s marriage, especially considering all the YW lessons I had that defined Mormon nuptials as exclusively eternal.)
Marriages remind us of the indeterminability of our tribes. They cause us to cross familial borderlines and share with the “other” territories that never really belonged to us. My grandpa’s marriage reminded me that even within 21st century Mormondom, the nuclear family is less tidy than we’ve been taught to expect. It’s expandable past textbook definition. It’s an anti-monolith. Further, our desires to cultivate a generous, healthy tribe helps us acknowledge the indeterminability of the institution of marriage. Its evolution is fresh to the Mormon collective memory, and I think there’s room for it to continue to evolve.