Revisiting Dallin Oaks’ “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals”
The Church’s logic behind its policy concerning antidiscrimination laws for gays, as well as its steadfast opposition toward same-sex marriage, was spelled out in Dallin’s Oaks’ 1984 confidential memorandum “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals.” This document I believe got leaked a few years before the Prop 8 campaign (around 2005 or so?), but it hasn’t received nearly as much attention as I think it deserves, especially considering Oaks’ most recent talks concerning religious freedom and the current cases concerning Prop 8 and DOMA.
In the document you’ll find that one of the first things Oaks makes clear is that the Church should formalize a difference between homosexual “condition” and “practice.” In fact, Oaks underlines this difference constantly, which tells me that much of his audience did not distinguish between the two. Many of the older men he was addressing in the ’80s grew up during the McCarthy era in which homosexual thoughts were part of Satan’s chain of evil: greed <–> lust <–> masturbation <–> homosexual thoughts/practices <–> communism: lending to the decades-long drive to eradicate gayness in favor of “heterosexual normalcy.” Oaks himself was not so much interested in the question of cure or social services, but was concerned with the political and legal landscape.
He warned that as gay rights groups melded homosexual “condition” with “practice,” they would create a minority status that could eventually win over the public.
The public will see the debate as a question of tolerance of persons who are different, like other minorities. Perceiving the issue in those terms, the public will vote for tolerance.
He then states that if…
…the legislative issue is posed in terms of whether the public has a right to exclude from certain kinds of employment persons who engage in (and will teach practices the majority wish to exclude for the good of society (such as abnormal sexual practices that present demonstrable threats to youth, public health, and procreation), the gay rights proposal will lose.
During the Prop 22 and Prop 8 campaigns, we saw this put to the test. Although discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation has been illegal in California for some time now (you can’t fire a teacher for being gay), the state still saw political commercials that showed children in schools being taught about same-sex marriage. The aim of these commercials was to convince/remind the public that same-sex marriage is not just about a “minority,” but it’s about everyone, everyone’s children, and thus about your marriage. (In my article in the current issue of Dialogue I talk about “minoritizing” versus “universalizing” discourses. Whatever your politics, it’s important to remember homosexuality isboth about a “minority” and about “everyone.”)
Since Prop 8 won, Oaks has stated that people’s ill-will is “anti-democratic” and “un-American.” But as Prop 8 (and DOMA) is moving through the court system, whereby conservatives’ “universalizing” logic is being tested legally, Oaks has interestingly shifted his focus to “protection of religious speech.”
This is just my personal inkling, but I bet Oaks was consulted for the “friends-of-the-court” briefs that make auspiciously Mormon arguments concerning the “procreative purpose” of marriage and the “non-minority” status of gays. My hunch is that while Oaks talks about “religious speech” to the public, in more private affairs he makes calculated legal arguments so that when the issue is eventually resolved in some fashion by the US Supreme Court, he can say, “I gave it my all.”
At the end of the 1984 document, Oaks makes two rather insightful observations. The first is the “irony” concerning the Church’s stance against same-sex marriage given its history of polygamy, a point which has been innumerably repeated over the years by other observers.
The second observation is important because of the current Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Oaks recognizes an inconsistency in his own position. Take, for example, the idea of not employing gays in certain spaces like schools because of the “vulnerable minds of children” (or more realistically in California today, not teaching about same-sex marriage in schools). This is what Oaks (at least Oaks in 1984) considered acceptable discrimination based on homosexual “condition” and not just homosexual “practice.” He remarks that maintaining this position is more “complicated than it first appears,” though, because if it were to be employed fully (that is, keeping children “safe” from the “culture of homosexuality”), it would require the children of gay parents be removed (including those in same-sex marriages and mixed-orientation marriages) and be put into the care of “non-parents” or a single parent. This is not something the Church should advocate.
Yet rather than trying to resolve this contradiction, Oaks says that “this will be used by the opposition to suggest that in opposing homosexual marriage the Church opposes parental rights.” Indeed, in the cases of Prop 8 and DOMA, gays can adopt in California and can wed/adopt in Massachusetts/Connecticut/etc; these families are arguing to receive state and federal benefits that come with marriage. In other words, the contradiction is on its way to being resolved.
Dallin Oaks is the most influential and learned apostle on the topic of homosexuality. If he is ever to become the prophet of the Church, one would hope that he’d take this lifelong learning, see the contradictions where they exist and as they’ve played out, and implement a paradigm change. Since he’s a lawman himself, perhaps he will see this change in the voices of Supreme Court justices. Given his past trajectory, though, and the current state of Mormon cosmology, such a change of heart would also probably require some sort of “revelation.”