DOMA and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

by: Mike S

April 4, 2013

Several years ago, before the movies and the hype, I somehow stumbled into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  After finishing it, I immediately read the second book in the trilogy, which had just been translated into English, but it ended in a cliff-hanger and wouldn’t be available in English for another 6 months or so.  So I did what anyone would do – post my dilemma on Facebook.  Within an hour, I received 2 offers from friends in Sweden to send me the book in Swedish.  I also received a message from a Norwegian friend who was incidentally coming to town to attend General Conference in 2 weeks, and who offered to bring me the book in Norwegian.  We had a great dinner, caught up on old times, and I finally had the book.  So, I ended up reading the third book in Norwegian.  (Yes – I served a mission in Norway and no – I didn’t use the vocabulary in the book on my mission – it’s somewhat “gritty”).

So, what does this have to do with DOMA?  The Millenium Trilogy, as the three novels are known, were written by a Swedish author named Stieg Larsson.  He was primarily an investigative journalist, and wrote the books in his spare time for his own amusement.  He decided to see if they were perhaps worth publishing.  Because his publishing house was quite excited about the prospects of the novel, they decided to publish 10,000 copies of the first book instead of the typical 5000.  But there was a problem.

Just as everyone was finalizing things, Steig was running up several flights of stairs and had a massive heart attack and died.  After discussions with Steig’s partner, they decided to go forward with publishing the book, even though they wouldn’t have an author for a book tour or anything like that.  One thing lead to another, and it became wildly successful.  The trilogy has sold over 65 million books worldwide; Steig was the first author to sell over a million copies of a single book on the Kindle; all three books have been made into Swedish films; and the first book has been made into a film by Hollywood.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been made.  Author royalties are in the tens of millions.

For over 3 decades, Steig Larsson lived with Eva Gabrielsson.  Like many people in Sweden, they were a couple but were never married, although there was a very specific reason.  As an investigative journalist, they were concerned about security.  In Sweden, if you are married, you have to register your marriage.  Because he wanted to protect Eva, they therefore never officially married.  They lived together for over 30 years; Eva helped formulate the novels and was there as they negotiated with the publishing house; together they withstood death-threats based on Steig’s work; and they talked about what they could do with the income from the novels.  But it was not to be.  Because they weren’t officially married, she got NOTHING from the tens of millions, but it instead went to Steig’s brother and father.  Even the apartment they shared for years went to his family.  Now there is a battle for the royalties, and Eva is on the losing end.  Steig’s brother and father have agreed to let Eva stay in her apartment (which they now own) even though she lived there for years with Steig.

So now – DOMA?  As brought up in recent arguments before the Supreme Court, there are over 1000 benefits in the United States that are defined by being “married”.  And just like Steig and Eva, there are couples in our society who are every bit as devoted to each other as I am to my wife, yet who are denied societal benefits.  Is this right as a society?  I suppose my outlook on this has evolved over the past decade, yet it’s NOT because of movies or TV shows or anything like that.  Instead, it’s because of people I know.  It’s a friend from college who is celebrating 10 years with his partner this summer.  It’s an extended family relative who, with her partner, has become an amazing mother.  It’s a trainer with whom I worked out 3 days a week for several years.  It’s people with whom I work who have bought houses with their partners.  It’s realizing that we are all the same, deep down inside, with the same goals and aspirations and emotions and hopes.  And it seems unfair.

Really, like most things, I think the problem comes down to definitions.  The word “marriage” has extensive connotations and denotations.  It has a history.  Many people are understandably concerned with a potential “assault” on traditional marriage.  But the word “marriage” means two very different things – “religious marriage” and “civil marriage“.

We accept these two definitions of marriage in the Church on a doctrinal basis.  In many countries of the world, the government doesn’t recognize the religious marriages that we perform in the temple.  These marriages have great religious significance to us, but don’t mean much civilly.  But the converse is also true.  In our church, we really don’t recognize civil marriages as being of eternal significance and teach that a couple needs to be sealed for it to be valid in the eternities.  We spend countless man-hours working on sealing deceased couples and families – essentially ignoring the “civil marriage”.

We accept these two definitions of marriage in the Church on a practical basis as well.  In many countries, a couple has to be married civilly to be recognized by the country for a specific set of benefits; yet they still need to be married religiously (i.e. sealed) in the temple for a specific set of eternal blessings.  In other countries, such as the United States, the government accepts a religious marriage as also meeting civil marriage requirements.

When it comes to discussing “gay marriage”, a big dividing issue comes when we conflate these two different types of marriage.  Perhaps the whole discussion would be easier if we instead looked at “civil marriage” and “religious marriage” as the two different entities that they are, with the different goals they are designed to achieve.

A few points:

1) As a society, we use marriage to define commitment, not child-bearing potential

This is a pretty straight-forward point.  Infertile people can get married.  People past their child-bearing years can get married.  People who have been surgically sterilized can get married.  We should call a spade a spade and accept that a civil marriage recognizes a civil commitment.  It represents two people who have decided to throw their hats in the ring together, for better or for worse.  We should recognize this commitment so we don’t get cases like Steig and Eva.  We still have over 1000 aspects of federal law where there are differences.

2) Marriage does not necessarily imply more stability

Many arguments have been made that our current marriage policies in the United States are essential as they provide more stability in families.  The ideal of stability is real, and there are many studies that show that children raised with two parents actually do better than those raised in single-parent households.  They are more likely to finish high school.  They are more likely to do better economically and on many other measures.  But how is the United States as a country doing with its current policies?

Back to Steig and Eva – in Sweden, many people become a couple, establish a household and raise children, yet never get married.  In some accounts, fewer than 50% of Swedes actually get married.  But what happens to the children?  Researchers have looked at this in Sweden, the US, and in 15 other countries in the European Union.  By age 15, 70% of children in Sweden were still living with BOTH parents, even though they weren’t married in many (or even the majority) of the cases.  The United States was actually the lowest of ALL countries studied, with around 60% of children still living with both parents by age 15 because of divorce or other factors.  So, our marriage policy isn’t really “keeping families together” any better and, ironically, data shows we are actually “worse off” when it comes to family stability.

3) “Religious marriage” will still be separate regardless of what happens

Even if two people of the same sex can someday marry each other, it doesn’t necessarily imply that we will be “forced” to marry them religiously in the temple.  We already exclude many heterosexual couples from participating in religious marriage (ie. being sealed), even though they are legally married civilly.  For example, drinking wine is perfectly legal in all 50 states – yet it will keep you from entering the temple.  There is no legal requirement to donate money to charity – yet if you don’t tithe a specific percentage of your income to the church, you’re not going to get sealed.  Our requirements for participating in our “religious marriage” go far beyond any legal requirement – even to the point where a bride’s mom or a groom’s father may not even be able to attend the ceremony.

Therefore, requirements for a “religious marriage” can still be different from those for a “civil marriage” despite any Supreme Court decision – as they already are.


We read in the Proclamation on the Family that we “solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God”.  We don’t have to change that – even if the Supreme Court decides that the civil benefits currently limited to heterosexual couples constitutionally must be extended to all committed couples.  Despite how civil marriage is ultimately defined, we can continue our current policies as to who is and who isn’t allowed to be religiously married in the temple.  Our current policies might last for a year, a decade, or forever.  Who knows?  Strange things have happened in our history.  At one point blacks couldn’t be sealed to whites, and we were told by our leaders that  monogamy was evil.  But that’s not the point of this post.  Nothing seems set in stone, but we can change when our leaders tell us it’s God’s will – not when the Supreme Court makes a decision.

But the point of the post:

We can be active members in good standing and support the Church’s stance. We can support religious marriage – being sealed in the temple for all eternity – as the highest goal to which we strive.  We can support our commitments as couples working together to achieve Celestial goals – whether we are able to have children or not.  We can support our prophets and apostles whole-heartedly.

And at the same time, we can be active members in good standing and ALSO support equality.  We can support civil marriage as a recognition by a government entity of two people who are committed to each other.  We can offer them the same civil benefits that other equally committed people currently enjoy.  And we can hopefully help avoid situations like that between Steig and Eva from happening here.  People who are willing to devote 30+ years of their lives to each other deserve at least that.

And who knows?  Perhaps separating these two concepts would have some unintended benefits.  For a couple getting married in part-member families, non-member families, inactive families, or even completely active families, they can have an all-inclusive civil marriage ceremony.  No one needs to be excluded from the joyous occasion.  Friends and family can ALL celebrate the commitment that two people are making with each other.  This can meet all the civil requirements necessary in the couple’s locale.  The couple can then have a smaller ceremony with the subset of their friends and family who are temple-worthy.  They can be sealed together in a religious marriage.  This isn’t to meet any civil goals, but is an ordinance to meet heavenly goals.  It can be done without all the hype and chaos that exists on a typical wedding day.  It could actually make a sealing MORE meaningful rather than less meaningful.

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8 Responses to DOMA and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

  1. mark on April 4, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    The only way one knows that a person is homosexual is if they tell you. Dismiss all of the “he sure acts like___” and “I’ll bet she’s a___”.

    I’ve known several good friends/acquaintances who revealed their homosexuality to me, but they never had an “in-yer-face” attitude.

    This would be one of the results of changing marriage laws; maybe not widespread, but it would be prevalent. Remember Ellen Degeneres “coming out”? I (accurately) predicted that every episode of her sitcom would mention it no matter what the plot, which led to its cancellation. The same has happened with the gay-pride parades;exhibitionist behavior that takes it far beyond the facade of “citizens who just happen to be gay”.

    With the sexual revolution 50 years ago came an explosion of divorces/abusive relationships with children being the innocent victims. The idea of marriage being sacred and its participants committed to each other was mocked and ridiculed, and society seems destined for more of the same.

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  2. Jettboy on April 4, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    I don’t have much sympathy for Eva Gabrielsson, because she had to have known what was going to happen as separate entities. There are legal remedies that don’t have anything to do with marriage that she could have done. She could have put her name on the book as co-author or at least signed a contract with Steig Larsson as a business partner. The same can be said for the apartment where she could be co-signed on the contract. On top of that he could have written her into a will (although foresight for your own death is not common unless having a known disease) that promised her part or all of his book income among other things. It sounds to me that marriage isn’t the issue, but the laws and lack of taking advantages.

    My own personal remedy? Get the government out of the marriage business entirely. They have no business telling us who is a couple or who is not. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of association. It doesn’t cover marriage as a special privilege or right no matter what combination or purpose. Marriage is a religious term and not a secular one.

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  3. Jeff Spector on April 4, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    Many countries outside the US do only have legally recognized civil marriage. Religious marriages in a Church or the Temple must be entered into civilly first.

    So what is it really? is it in fact nothing more than a legally recognized partnership? With it, like other partnerships come rights, privilieges not affored to those who have no legal contract.

    Those who chose not to get civilly married,of opposite or same sex, can certainly chose to make legal arrangements, if they chose. A will, for example, gives assets to anyone the willer wishes.

    I guess this is the same as Jettboy said above. Seems an oversight on their part.

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  4. Brian on April 4, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    “Marriage is a religious term”. Does this only come from believers who think god started it? I don’t hear this from anyone else.

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  5. John Mansfield on April 4, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    This Euro-centric habit of comparing the United States with 16 European nations while ignoring most of the globe is an interesting practice. If the comparisons in family stability are going to ignore Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the rest of the world, then it would at least be more apt to only compare Americans of European origin with Europeans. Within the United States looking at state stats like abortion rates and illegitimate births gets swamped by the differences between races and becomes mostly no more than an indication of which states have the largest or smallest minority populations.

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  6. Nick Literski on April 4, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    “Get the government out of the marriage business entirely . . . Marriage is a religious term and not a secular one.”

    In my personal observation, this seems to be the fallback position of people who are so desperate to ensure that same-sex committed relationships are considered inferior, that they would rather see all civil recognition omit the term, than have to endure same-sex couples being referred to by the same legal term as opposite-sex couples. What these people seem to miss is that several religions quite happily perform wedding ceremonies—create marriages—for same-sex couples. In other words, attempting to restrict “marriage” to religious usage won’t get you anywhere. You’ll still have married gay and lesbian couples.

    As for the alleged ability of unmarried couples to assure their protection by other legal instruments, such efforts are far more expensive than a marriage license, and in many jurisdictions subject to failure. While the courts are improving in this regard, it’s still the case in most jurisdictions that the family members of a deceased gay man can challenge his will and obtain his entire estate, regardless of the fact that he clearly left it all to his decades-long partner.

    It’s rather amazing to see how relatives who haven’t spoken to a gay family member for decades due to of his sexual orientation, will immediately come rushing out of the woodwork to profit from his death—all the while feeling justified in making sure that the “sinner” who shared a life with him for 30+ years is left with nothing.

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  7. KT on April 4, 2013 at 5:35 PM

    Article on Marriage (1835 D&C)

    “According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies; therefore we believe that all marriages in this Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints should be solemnized in a public meeting or feast prepared for that purpose, and that the solemnization should be performed by a Presiding High Priest, High Priest, Bishop, Elder or Priest,. not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this Church from marrying out of the Church, if it be their determination so to do; but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    To me, this says that even the Church treated marriage in a much more secular manner in its early years. “Marriage is regulated by laws.”

    I love the differentiation in this post between civil and religious marriage. I also love the point out that members can believe as much as they want in their ‘sealings’, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world gives 2 shakes about it. It’s all the power of the mind, unless it’s regulated by gov’t and given benefits by gov’t. To me, that means it’s more about the civil side of it than the religious side of it.

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  8. Stephen R. Marsh on April 9, 2013 at 8:38 PM

    “It’s rather amazing to see how relatives who haven’t spoken to a gay family member for decades due to of his sexual orientation, will immediately come rushing out of the woodwork to profit from his death—all the while feeling justified in making sure that the “sinner” who shared a life with him for 30+ years is left with nothing.”

    Actually, as the mediator for the 9-11 fund noted, it was amazing how many families came together and gave everything to the domestic partner of the deceased. The exact opposite to what you note happened time after time and was the general rule for how people reacted.

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