not in Primary anymore

a radical mormon marriage

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.

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16 Responses to “a radical mormon marriage”

  1. Andrew S.

    I loved this post. I know some folks who are all into what they call tribal relationships…there is a much longer term that they use in their circle, involving “multi-husband, multi-wife tribal” something or other (consider the polygamist implications of that?)…but the thing that gets me is that in such a radical viewing of marriage, these guys still apparently take a heteronormative stance.

    Reply
    • Justin

      Andrew:

      Is it not possible for one to be “heteronormative” and still believe homosexuals have a place in human society? I mean, “heteronormative” doesn’t necessarily imply “homo-abmoinative”, does it?

      The longer term our “circle” uses is “Gospel-based, Egalitarian, Multihusband-multiwife Tribal Anarchy” — and while I do think it’s certainly based on men marrying women — I’m not a fan of excluding same-gender marriages, if people feel loved and fulfilled and consent it being honored, etc.

      I think the natural law / evolutionary perspective for human relationships suggests that sexual unions capable of procreation ought to be normative — ought to be a majority, ought to be practiced and supported by our species — etc. I just disagree that doing that means that we must conclude that all other unions are an “abomination” or ought to be illegal, etc.

      I think a heteronormative society can still be able to accept people who choose celibacy, reach-out and support people struggling with infertility, as well as recognize the genuinely good families that same-gender couples are capable of being.

      Reply
      • Andrew S.

        Actually, I’d say that heteronormativity generally implies “homo-abominative.” It reifies the gender binary, the roles asserted within that gender binary, and then establishes certain roles (especially within sexuality) as being “normal” (especially in the sense of creating norms)

        I mean, the one way I can see you trying to argue that it does not imply such is if you say that “abomination” is too strong of a term…but then you’re arguing degrees.

        Look at your appeal to a natural law/evolutionary perspective…I would argue that this is reductionist…it reduces people to being tools for genetic propagation, when that really “ought not” be the case. But I guess my point would be is that when you make that statement, that necessarily implies that all other unions are less than. That they “miss the mark” or are not ideal.

        So, I mean, the question is…does the heteronormative society accepts people who choose celibacy and celebrate those people, or does it accept them as a lesser-than, less-than-ideal, option that has missed the mark?

        Does the society reach out and support those struggling with infertility because those people genuinely and personally struggle with infertility? Or do those people really struggle in a society where fertility is normativized when it does not have to be?

    • Justin

      Look at your appeal to a natural law/evolutionary perspective…I would argue that this is reductionist…it reduces people to being tools for genetic propagation, when that really “ought not” be the case.

      I can agree that the “purpose” of marriage [if we can ascribe it such a thing as “purpose”] wouldn’t be “to have children”. It’s just that the “natural law” is the go-to for theists who have no other leg to stand-on in their condemnation of homosexual unions.

      I agree with your critique of the argument. It’s partly why I think that if homosexuality is in any way contrary to the gospel [the only thing I’ve found that suggests that it is, is homosexual unions would be the temple’s law of chastity, but that’s it] — it doesn’t have to do with reproducing the species.

      Besides, I think you could certainly make the case that we’ve completely fulfilled the commandment to “multiply and fill the earth” quite well enough at this point anyway — that that purpose has “run its course”, and we are in need of a new purpose/paradigm.

      Actually, I’d say that heteronormativity generally implies “homo-abominative.”

      I see “heteronormative” as a descriptive phrase. It appears that’s the way most people are. But I guess if “normative” is used in the philosophical sense [as in “the way things ought to be”], then I suppose I wouldn’t be heteronormative then. Maybe you could call me heterodescriptive.

      Think of a bell-curve. I think it’s accurate to describe the majority of the curve to be men who are attracted to women and women to men. The tail-ends of the curve may have people who are cis and trans hetero- and homosexuals and asexuals, etc. But they’re still there, on the curve, with the rest of humanity.

      Saying they’re on the tail-ends of the bell-curve certainly doesn’t justify villainizing their experience of sexuality, illegalizing their home-life, and condemning their feelings as offensive to God, etc.

      I see no need to push them off the bell-curve, as it were.

      So, I mean, the question is…does the heteronormative society accepts people who choose celibacy and celebrate those people, or does it accept them as a lesser-than, less-than-ideal, option that has missed the mark?

      Does the society reach out and support those struggling with infertility because those people genuinely and personally struggle with infertility? Or do those people really struggle in a society where fertility is normativized when it does not have to be?

      I don’t know if “the heteronormative society” does those things, or not. Because the “the” implies you are asking about what our society is currently doing.

      What I would say is that I believe that a gospel-based tribe of egalitarian polygamists who believe heterosexuality to be a “normal” state and who believe in reproduction as a “normal” result of marriages can still and should still reach out, support, and accept such people in their own right, as they are.

      If a group of people actually believes heterosexual marriage to be “better” or “preferred” — then how could they ever hope convince anyone of that by banning, delegitimizing, and stigmatizing other people’s feelings, perspectives, and experiences?

      I do think marriage has a “purpose” — and that it needs to be tied to people having happy, loving, consensual, and faithful cooperative-unions. If anything’s an “abomination”, it’s unions where people are taken advantage of, abused, lied to, cheated on, etc.

      That should be illegal.

      Reply
    • Justin

      Oh yeah, in addition to what I wrote in reply to you below — your question:

      So, I mean, the question is…does the heteronormative society accepts people who choose celibacy and celebrate those people, or does it accept them as a lesser-than, less-than-ideal, option that has missed the mark?

      made me think of the Catholics and their celibate priesthood. Don’t they, using Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians:

      for I would
      that all people were
      even as I
      myself

      but everyone has their proper gift of God
      one after this manner
      and another after that
      I say
      therefore
      to the unmarried and widows
      it is good for them
      if they abide

      even as I
      but if they cannot contain
      then let them marry

      for it is better to marry
      than to burn with lust

      celebrate celibacy as this “holier-than-thou” lifestyle of sacrificing the “natural desires” in order to better “serve God”. Then that would make heterorelationships the less-than-ideal option for people who have “missed the mark”, for those “too weak” to resist burning with lust.

      Reply
      • Andrew S.

        Justin,

        I actually think that to the extent that Catholicism and many other Christian denominations create a dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical (so that the body is basically a source of sin), that yes, hetero relationships become “less-than” celibacy — which also makes sense given that those groups do not believe in eternal marriage.

        That being said, I would say that Orthodox Christians (and, to a lesser extent, Catholics) have a theology that also makes heterosexual relationships in the image of godly love (e.g., the image of Israel being the “bride” [however wayward and unfaithful] to God, and so on.) They do this in a way that traditionally kicks any other kind of relationship to the curb.

        Mormonism is considerably different, though. Mormonism doesn’t assert that the body is a burden to spiritual matters. Rather, it divinizes the body. So what works for Catholicism doesn’t work for Mormonism.

  2. Pete

    The inability of a same-sex faux “union” to produce children is due to a CATEGORICAL limitation. The inability of your grandfather and his wife to reproduce is an INDIVIDUAL limitation. I’m not clear on why so many liberals seem incapable of seeing the obvious difference.

    Reply
    • eris91

      Age is also a category; homosexuality is also individual. The differences you see are far from obvious.

      Reply
      • Pete

        No. They are not. Heterosexual couples – as a category – can reproduce naturally. Same-sex “couples” cannot, have not ever been able to, and will never be able to, reproduce naturally. It is obvious if you have the ability to think rationally.

      • Violet

        Infertility is also a category. While I understand your categorical logic, Pete, and have considered it, I think it is flawed.

        Taking infertility as an example, the CDC published a study in July that found 1.8 million married women ages 15-54 in the United States to be suffering from infertility – that is 6% of that population, not including the addition 6.7 million with impaired fertility.

        This indicates that it’s not a small problem – it’s large enough that it would no longer be considered an individual limitation but a category in itself.

        So there exists more than one state of marriage that is acceptable but does not have reproduction as the sole end goal. That means we keep looking for a purpose that fits.

        Fortunately, if you’re religious (as I assume you are), you know that Adam and Eve were meant to be help-meets to one another. So while marriage definitely has a basis in reproducing, I agree with eris91 that our definition of “marriage” has room to grow.

  3. Jordan Bobo

    I was thinking more or less the same thing this morning, and I’ve thought about it before. If God’s okay with us marrying just for this life, why would it matter whether we’re married to a man or a woman? My only rebuttal is that same-sex marriage could prevent people from being sealed for eternity, whereas your grandpa still has the sealing ordinance in place. I know that a lot of people leave this life without that sealing ordinance, and they have the chance to receive it later, but I wonder whether a gay couple could ever be happy choosing an eternal companion and losing their lifetime companion? Just rambling now, but these are some very good insights, and I think we should really take another look at our beliefs as a church and make sure we’re using the right reasoning to back up our arguments, whatever they might be.

    Reply
  4. Ally

    LOVED THIS! But I’m confused – do they do civil unions in the temple? Is that what you meant when you said “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,'”? I really don’t know much about the non- baptisms for the dead part of the temple, and I’ve never heard of that being a thing before.

    Reply

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