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:
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.
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.