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Oaks’ Role Designing LGBT Policy (Part 3 of 4)

In our next conversation with Dr. Taylor Petrey, we’ll talk about Elder Oaks’ pivotal role in outlining strategy for preventing acceptance, and some accommodation, of gay rights and gay marriage.  We’ll also talk about the internet rumor that the Family Proclamation was a result of the court case in Hawaii in the 1990s.

GT:  As we talk about kind of the history of gay rights and that sort of thing, can you address that issue? I’ve even heard the rumor that the Proclamation on the Family was not written by the apostles. It was written by the Kirton & McConkie law firm. Can you enlighten us on that? Is that a true story?

Taylor:  It may be. It may be, but the documents don’t fully support at least one iteration of that internet rumor. So let me sort of lay out the timeline a little bit, because I do think it’s important. I absolutely do think that the Proclamation on the Family is connected to what was going on in Hawaii and is connected to a broader set of conversations. So I do mention some of this in the book. But let me get into a little bit of the detail here.

Taylor:  So the church comes out with a proclamation. It’s an affirmation of a kind of theological vision, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it’s an explicitly political document. At the end, the last paragraph says, “We appeal to citizens and judges, and we appeal to legislatures and leaders all throughout the world…” that this is the thing that you need to make sure that basically that same sex marriage doesn’t happen. Same sex marriage and homosexuality aren’t mentioned in the document. But it’s absolutely the implicit thing, because the church is deeply embedded in what’s going on in Hawaii. Did they need to do that for some sort of legal tricky reasons? I don’t think so. But it becomes a kind of clarion call, a kind of thing that unites the church membership and says, this is our political stance. And again, we have to read it as a political document.

The other part of the context that I think needs to be understood, is that there are a number of political documents that are coming out during this exact same time period, both before and after the LDS version of the Proclamation, that are making the exact same kinds of arguments. So, Phyllis Schlafly ran something called the Eagle Forum. She was still alive, at the time, in the 1990s. She passed away, I think, maybe five or so years ago. But she was running the Eagle Forum. Then there were other conservative groups, and they all got together, and they wrote a document in 1993, I want to say, maybe it was 1989. Again, my memory is fuzzy a little bit here, called The Family Manifesto. The Family Manifesto looks exactly like what the Proclamation on the Family does, except it’s longer. I think it’s five pages or so. It says, what are the obligations of husbands and wives to each other? What are the obligations of husbands and wives to their children? What are the basic scriptural values that inform these positions?

It took a little bit more aggressive stances on issues like spousal hierarchy than the LDS version does, but it does affirm their equal dignity.  Husband and wife have equal dignity before God, it says. So we still have some of that egalitarian and patriarchal tension even in a document like that. Then after that, there are other documents that look very similar to the LDS version of the Proclamation. So I also want to put the Proclamation in the context of all of these other political documents that the religious right is producing, that is sort of laying out an anti-feminist and anti-homosexuality agenda as a political thing. And again, [we should] understand the Proclamation as a political document, and to see it in conversation with all of those. Did Kirton & McConkie write it? I’ve heard that rumor, too. I don’t know. Probably they were consulted on it in some way, as many public documents are consulted with the legal teams, of course.  Every institution does that.

Elder Dallin Oaks has played a pivotal role in the Church’s LGBT policy.

Taylor:  There are a variety of qualifications that I’m sure that he has, but his legal expertise and his reputation outside of the church–he was a University of Chicago law professor. He had argued in front of the Supreme Court on a number of occasions. He had been on the Utah Supreme Court.  His resume is unparalleled, honestly. So he has lots of qualifications. But one of the first things that he does, at least as we can near as we can tell just based on the timeline of things, is issue what’s called a white paper, a memorandum, to his colleagues that has since leaked out. I’m not the first one to talk about it. Lots of people have talked about it, so I feel comfortable, the fact that it’s a public document now, even though it was not intended originally.  [It was] for private use. [I] need to talk about it as a historian. But it lays out a strategy of how the church is going to be dealing with gay rights going forward. He sees on the horizon that this is going to be the big issue. Feminism, they won. We won that. We beat ERA.

How are we going to then be really smart and strategic in opposing gay rights? Oaks had replaced Mark E. Peterson, and Mark E. Peterson was really quite conservative on gay rights issues. He was a big opponent of legalizing sodomy. So there were a bunch of anti-sodomy laws that were being repealed in the 1970s. Mark E. Peterson was out there saying, “No, no, no. We need to keep these and this is disgusting and…”  This is, again, “Our civilization is going to crumble if we legalize sodomy.”  Elder Oaks comes on and takes a totally different tack.  He says, “Listen, sodomy, we’re not going to get involved in this anymore. It’s going to be legal. These are consenting adults.”  Basically, he’s like, that’s not the issue. He says, even employment discrimination with certain exceptions, we’re not going to get involved in that. We’re not going to say that gay people can’t work anymore. He carves out some exceptions and says, maybe not in schools. We’re not going to allow them to work in schools, but we’re not going to get involved in this. Where we need to save our energy is for the coming battle on same sex marriage and he writes this in 1984, nine years before the Hawaii Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage. But he anticipates that this is going to be the thing. The reason why is because same sex marriage had been on the agenda in the 70s and 80s, among gay rights activists as well. So again, it wasn’t invented in the 1990s. It wasn’t invented in the 2000s. People were talking about this back in the 60s and 70s, and definitely in the 80s. Oaks sees. If we’re going to get involved in opposing gay rights, we need to maintain some credibility on this issue and save it for gay marriage. That’s the one thing that we really need to care about. Because if gay marriage is legalized, then it becomes socially normal to such an extent that we won’t be able to teach against it anymore. So he really anticipates exactly where we are today. You know, that…

GT:  Is it prophetic?

Taylor:  Probably. Yeah. He would say so, I’m sure.  He has all of the same arguments; arguments that he doesn’t seem to hold today anymore, but sort of. He warns about homosexual recruitment in this document.  I think his views have changed over time. I don’t want to say that what he said in 1984 is probably exactly what he thinks today. But he definitely seems to have thought a lot about this issue in anticipation of what is going to come and seems to be one of the most important figures in the church’s positions on homosexuality and same sex marriage, certainly since he became an apostle, and continues to this day to be one of the leading speakers on this topic.

Check out our conversation….

Elder Dallin Oaks has played a lead role in designing LGBT policy for the LDS Church since 1984.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Petrey!

434:  Feminism, Sexual Revolution & LDS Church

433:  LDS Leaders on Interracial Marriage

1 thought on “Oaks’ Role Designing LGBT Policy (Part 3 of 4)

  1. “Elder Oaks comes on and takes a totally different tack. He says, “Listen, sodomy, we’re not going to get involved in this anymore. It’s going to be legal. These are consenting adults.” Basically, he’s like, that’s not the issue.”
    I’ll concede that this was likely Oaks’ view by the time he came into the apostleship, but it’s worth noting that he seemed entirely on-board with the idea of “retaining criminal penalties on sex crimes such as adultery, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, and other forms of deviate sexual behavior.”
    I’ll leave the conclusions on why to a more careful reading of the text, but it seems like he was enthusastic about the idea because of the effect he thought it would normalize homosexuality and also lead people to disrespect the law because homosexuality wasn’t normalized.

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