- Sasha Issenberg
February 13, 1994: Mormons Enter Marriage Debate
ON THIS DAY IN 1994...
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints urged members to fight any effort to extend "official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender.”
The message was delivered on behalf of the First Presidency, the pinnacle of the church’s leadership structure. Read by a local lay leader, typically a ward bishop or branch president, at the end of Sunday morning services, a message from the First Presidency was a common channel the church used to speak to Mormons about issues in the news. (In prior decades, First Presidency messages had spoken to issues as diverse as American missile-defense capacity and Utah’s laws on pari-mutuel betting.) Even though the church had never been ambiguous about its views towards homosexuality, the February 1994 message seemed to come out of nowhere.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God to fulfill the eternal destiny of His children. The union of husband and wife assures perpetuation of the race and provides a divinely ordained setting for the nurturing and teaching of children,” the message read. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, worshippers were told it was their responsibility to “appeal to legislators, judges and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender.”
No other religious denomination had ever concerned itself with the question of gays and lesbians marrying, and even those newspapers which followed the Mormon church most closely were befuddled by a statement void of specifics. “The announcement left many Latter-day Saints scratching their heads wondering which lawmakers were pushing for such a law,” the Salt Lake Tribune observed. “Utah lawmakers were equally perplexed.” Even the church’s own organ, the Deseret News, noted that the announcement prompted “some Utahns to wonder whether there was a local effort to legalize homosexual marriages.”
The church only reluctantly clarified to journalists that the message had been inspired by events in Hawaii, where the state supreme court had ruled in May 1993 that the state had to justify excluding same-sex couples from marriage. The First Presidency message committed the Church of Latter-Day Saints to deep political and legal engagement in Hawaii and beyond.