Op-ed: The Weird Relationship Between Mormons and Marriage

Ironic that leaders of the Mormon Church are still fighting to keep marriage equality off the books.

BY Roman Feeser

February 24 2014 5:18 AM ET

Marriage equality is under attack once again, and it’s no surprise the Mormon Church is behind it. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. government expanded recognition of same-sex marriages in federal legal matters. Meanwhile leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons) — along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and Lutheran Church’s Missouri Synod — filed a 42-page amicus brief to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals supporting bans on gay marriage in Oklahoma and Utah. The brief from the religious organizations states, "Our faith communities bear no ill will toward same-sex couples, but rather have marriage-affirming religious beliefs that merge with both practical experience and sociological fact to convince us that retaining the husband-wife marriage definition is essential.”

Let’s be clear, the word marriage does not belong to religion. Marriage is truly pertinent to no other institution other than the law. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has gone through divorce. While some might seek religious guidance during this period, most divorcees don’t spend their time going back and forth to the chapel with their preacher to become unmarried; lawyers and courts anchor the divorce process.

And, if anyone has a right to define marriage, it doesn’t belong to the Mormon Church. One just has to look back on their history to see that. Ask any Mormon if they are familiar with Lilburn Boggs and the Missouri Executive Order 44, also known as the Extermination Order.

Mormon founder and prophet Joseph Smith taught and practiced polygamy. He claimed it was a divine commandment from God himself, stating "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation — the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.”

The Mormons desperately tried to find a place in the U.S. to settle and thrive, but were constantly faced with opposition and hatred because of who they were and what they believed. Cut to the Mormons’ attempt to settle in Missouri. Boggs, who was the governor of Missouri at the time (1838) did not like the Mormon belief system, which included plural marriage. He said, "the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace — their outrages are beyond all description.” He issued the Missouri Executive Order 44 to drive the Mormons out. It was the government, not God, who was outraged by the Mormons’ definition of marriage.

In the years after the church began practicing polygamy, it continued to draw intense scrutiny and criticism from the United States government. This criticism led to the Mormon War, and eventually the abandonment of the practice under the Mormon prophet Wilford Wilson, who issued the 1890 Manifesto to end polygamy, a decree delivered, by none other than God himself, according the Mormon Church.

American poet, novelist, and literary critic Robert Penn Warren was quoted as saying, "History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future." Clearly the Mormon Church is still trying to understand itself.

ROMAN FEESER is a playwright, writer, and producer who is currently finishing his first book, a memoir titled A Stranger at the Table: Why God Hates Gay Mormons, about his year undercover in Salt Lake City. He works as the director of corporate productions at Scholastic in New York City.

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