There will be a gay marriage talk at this weekends General Conference. Of course, it will be an anti-gay marriage talk. I am not sure by who. I am not sure when said talk will be delivered. But there will be one.
In the way that the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control no longer has legal, political, or social relevance to the issue of birth control, the LDS Church’s stance on gay marriage is no longer relevant to the issue of gay marriage itself. Mormon support for Prop. 8 made quite the splash in 2008, but this element of the cultural war is all but over. We have not quite reached Appomattox, but that is the direction we are heading.
The amicus brief filed by the LDS Church in the Kitchen v. Herbert case in support of Utah’s gay marriage ban, was not shocking at all. In fact, few things could have been more predictable and I expect to see similar briefs and statements coming from the LDS Church in the future.
Likewise, LDS Church leaders making comments about homosexuality and gay marriage at General Conference (the biannual conference of the LDS Church) will continue. There may not always be entire talks dedicated to the issue, like there has been in recent years, but the passing references and veiled digs will continue.
There is not a 1978 moment (when the Church reversed the ban on blacks holding the priesthood) coming anytime soon on this issue. I do not see it ever coming, but nobody knows. Predicting future Church behavior is a bit different from predicting the future behavior of the United States Supreme Court, but precedent is a decent indicator when it comes to both institutions.
What is the pro-gay marriage member of the LDS Church to do? Or even the Mormon just tired of the issue? Well, follow the example of the Catholic women mentioned above…and shrug. The position of the LDS Church on this issue no longer has an influence on the status of actual gay marriage. Like with Catholic groups and birth control, we are already seeing the LDS Church’s focus on gay marriage shifting from seeking to prevent it to seeking accommodation for their own beliefs.
Of course, most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still going to be strong opponents of gay marriage. In general, Mormons are more likely to fall in line with the hierarchy of their Church than Catholics are.
The one group left out of this scenario is gay Mormons. They are already a group heavily marginalized within LDS culture. There are efforts afoot within LDS Church to reach out to gay Mormons, particularly in areas with large concentrated gay communities. However, larger acceptance within Mormonism and the LDS Church is likely far off. We will continue to see gay Mormons, as well as others, leave Mormonism and the LDS Church for more open and accepting communities.
Mormon opposition to gay marriage will frustrate some and embolden others. Yet, we need to analyze this issue within the context of larger social trends, not just within the context of Mormonism.
It is in the context of accommodation and arguments for religious freedom that the emphasis on gay marriage will continue in formal LDS religious settings like General Conference. Since General Conference carries with it a quasi-scriptural status, arguments against gay marriage at conference puts the issue front and center for Mormons. By doing this, the Church and individuals can continue to claim that opposition to gay marriage is a central aspect of their religion and something that needs to be accommodated and protected.
I do not see this position winning out as a viable legal or political position. Theologically, I have a hard time viewing opposition to gay marriage as a central and vital aspect of Mormonism. However, I think the recent Hobby Lobby decision has given opponents of gay marriage and broader gay rights hope. If they can just make get the idea that this is a matter of religious freedom to some how stick legally and politically stick they might be able to reverse their current downward spiral. It is the only position they have left.
For now, just add “gay marriage reference” to your family’s edition of General Conference Bingo.