I attended a funeral for a great aunt who had been close to our family when I was growing up. Her first husband had died 25 years earlier from cancer. After 6 years or so, she remarried and was with her second husband for the last 20 years of her life. He was a widower and was, like my great aunt, a faithful Latter-day Saint.
Aunt Barbara was tremendously blessed at the end of her life to be able to marry again. While her marriage to Harold must have been “for time” as she had been sealed for “time and all eternity” to Uncle Stanley, her marriage to Harold was fundamental to her well-being and happiness for the last couple of decades of her life. Their marriage wasn’t just a “nice thing.”
The following facts describe some of the realities, according to Latter-day Saint beliefs, of Aunt Barbara and Harold’s marriage:
- Barbara and Harold were not capable of bearing biological children during this life while they were married, and their circumstances were such that they had no intention of raising children together, other than those from past marriages.
- As both Barbara and Harold were sealed to their former spouses, their marriage wasn’t necessary in terms of saving ordinances or for any sort of spiritual procreation in the eternities. Their marriage was for this life only, and not for time and all eternity.
We could describe their marriage as a very intimate live-in friendship permeated by romantic attraction and non-reproductive sexual expression.
But then listen to the reasons recently advanced as to why same-sex marriage is considered “counterfeit:”
“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although his [Satan’s] imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness.” (Ensign April 2017)
Everyone at Barbara’s funeral was there, in part, honoring her marriage to Harold and openly acknowledging the good that it brought to both Barbara and Harold. Barbara’s second marriage brought no “posterity or exaltation.” I doubt anyone would have ever thought of Barbara and Harold’s relationship being a “counterfeit” marriage. As Latter-day Saints, we are taught that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Nobody would have denied Barbara her relationship with Harold and the opportunity to not be alone that their relationship offered. After all, it wasn’t Barbara’s choice to have Uncle Stanely lose his battle with cancer.
Similarly, gay, lesbian, and bisexual don’t choose their sexual orientation. Today, even the church understands this to be true. Why should they be denied meaningful relationships and the opportunity not to be alone that those relationships offer? Surely there is good that comes from these relationships, even within the teachings of the church. Outside of the church, it appears the benefits of marriage extend to same-sex couples who experience better mental, physical, social, and financial health when married.
Yet, same-sex marriages are still sometimes treated, at least in spirit, more like this:
PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’
ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, “Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.” Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer. I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, “Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your ‘partnership.'”
I can’t imagine how Aunt Barbara would have felt if her children asked her not to put them “into that position” by visiting their homes with her second husband or if she was asked to not “expect to stay overnight” with him while visiting. I can’t imagine how she would have felt if those she loved around her would have considered her and Harold’s marriage to be “counterfeit.” Of course, their marriage would have never been seen like that, and they would have never been treated like that.
Yet, there are daughters and sons, and uncles and aunts, and nieces and nephews who are treated this way. This treatment causes nearly irreparable harm to family relationships and is done, sadly, at the encouragement of church leaders. They are treated this way because they made a choice; not in their sexual orientation, but in choosing not to be alone. This is the same choice my Aunt Barbara made. Seeing all of the happiness and love that choice brought to her leaves me to conclude that no relationship based on love, honesty, and mutual respect should ever be called “counterfeit.”