Sister Sheri L. Dew
Second Counselor, General Relief Society Presidency
The following selection is from chapter 5 of her book, If Life Were Easy, It Wouldn’t Be Hard: And Other Reassuring Truths (Deseret Book, 2005). Read the full chapter on GospeLink.com.
There are many recent developments, particularly in American society, that are individually wreaking havoc with the definition and protection of the traditional family. Taken collectively, their impact is tsunami-like. Various kinds of aberrational sexual behavior among consenting adults seem to know no bounds. In each case, new justifications for sexual liaisons outside marriage constitute nothing more nor less than old-fashioned immorality. The judicial branch of the government seems to have nearly unfettered power in terms of redefining relationships, marriage, and the family. The rights of parents with respect to their children are being threatened in an unprecedented manner. The divorce rate continues to rise even as statistics piled upon statistics, accumulated over decades, reveal how paralyzing divorce can be to children and adults alike. Much could be said about each of these factors. Allow, however, a focus on four other developments currently escalating in our society that have impact on the definition and protection of the family.
Number Four: Gay marriage has become socially acceptable and is even legal in some areas. It is difficult to even approach this topic for fear of arousing deep emotion, and yet ignoring this issue that has such direct bearing on the traditional family would be a bit like pretending there isn’t an elephant in the middle of the room—when there is one.
I do not pretend to understand same-sex attraction. I don’t understand why it occurs. I don’t understand what same-sex inclinations feel like. I do, however, have anumber of friends who grapple with same-gender attraction. Some of them are living an openly gay lifestyle; others are not acting on their inclinations. Some of those living an openly gay lifestyle have adopted children. They love their children, and their children love them. When a dear and longtime friend of mine died of AIDS recently, I was heartsick. He and I had had many long talks about his choice of lifestyle, and though we did not see things at all the same, I nonetheless cared about him dearly.
I love these friends, every one of them, and they know I love them. In many cases, we have had long, animated conversations about the issue of same-gender attraction. And we’ve had rigorous debates about gay marriage. I have tried to hear what they’ve had to say, and they have given me the courtesy of hearing my point of view. After all the dialogue, I don’t agree with them, and they don’t agree with me. They know, however, that although I have strong feelings about this issue, I do not feel it’s my prerogative to judge them for their choices, just as I hope they won’t judge me for mine. Their choices are between them and God, just as my choices are. We fought an intense premortal battle for the right to choose, and I would defend their right to live how and with whom they choose.
And one more thing: Those who deal with same-gender attraction, who do not respond to those inclinations, and who, in fact, make and honor sacred covenants, have my deepest respect.
Although I would defend the right of those with same-gender attraction to live as they choose, however, I can never defend the proposition that a relationship between two men or two women should be equated with a loving relationship between a man and a woman who marry. That is because I cannot betray or trifle with a law of God. A law that calls for complete abstinence from sexual relations before marriage and total fidelity within marriage. A law decreeing that sexual relations are to be deployed and enjoyed only by a man and a woman legally and lawfully married. A law that, as we learn in the temple, we must obey in order to have any hope of receiving celestial glory. This law? It is the law of chastity.
Our Father is the one who defined and set the pattern for marriage, and any attempt to redefine this pattern is simply not something covenant-making men and women can support. Our Father did not send two men or two women into the Garden. He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Moses 2:28), thus delineating the order of things as well as the highest priority of a husband and wife—to procreate. In that moment, our Father established the divine pattern for men and women, marriage and families. He set the pattern and the circumstances under which the privilege of sexual intimacy is to be enjoyed.
The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles reconfirmed that pattern in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World“: “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. . . . God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. . . . The sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”
They further explained just how seriously God views any trifling with this law: “We warn that individuals who violate the covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets” (Ensign, November 1995, 102).
In short, there is no relationship—not between two men or two women, not between colleagues or teammates or siblings or the dearest of friends—that compares with that of a man and a woman who commit to and covenant with each other in marriage, who remain faithful to each other, and who co-create a family unit.
Said President Gordon B. Hinckley: “God-sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman has been the basis of civilization for thousands of years. There is no justification to redefine what marriage is. Such is not our right, and those who try will find themselves answerable to God.
“Some portray legalization of so-called same-sex marriage as a civil right. This is not a matter of civil rights; it is a matter of morality. . . . Our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church. It is expected, however, that they follow the same God-given rules of conduct that apply to everyone else, whether single or married” (Ensign, November 1999, 54).
The law of chastity is a law of God. And it applies equally to everyone, regardless of circumstances, marital status, or sexual attraction.