Last Friday, in a controversial decision by the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS), it was ruled that effective immediately, same-sex couples could legally marry in any state. This ruling even applies to conservative states that have traditionally opposed same-sex marriage. The decision was made after a 5-4 vote by a panel of nine Supreme Court Justices.
News of the ruling spread quickly and manifested itself in pride celebrations throughout the country, including posts on social media, statements by political leaders and pop culture icons, and even included the White House being lit in rainbow colors. While many are celebrating, many are asking what this decision will mean for religions and businesses that oppose same-sex marriage? Could it possibly force their hand to compromise their moral standards?
In 2013, the owners of an Oregon bakery refused service to a gay couple requesting a wedding cake. After the couple filed a complaint with the state of Oregon, Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, were ordered to pay a $150,000 fine for refusing service to the couple. According to Oregon state law, businesses cannot “discriminate or refuse service based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot turn customers away because of race, sex, disability, age or religion.” (Read the full USA Today article here)
This is not the first time discrimination complaints have been filed by same-sex couples against businesses that have refused service. Business owners cite their Christian faith as the reason for the refusals. If faith is at the center of these discrimination complaints, could this potentially affect how the LDS church operates? Could a Mormon bishop be forced to perform a gay marriage?
The LDS church has taken a strong stance on the issue of same-sex marriage. After the Supreme Court ruling, the church released the following statement,
“The Church acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.”
The First Presidency also released a full-length statement on Tuesday to be read in church meetings. These statements make it clear that the Church won’t be changing their stance on same-sex marriage any time soon. If this is the case, could the LDS church be forced to pay fines in the face of discrimination complaints? Or will the Church distance themselves from performing marriages completely?
To answer this question, we must consider a couple things. Members of the LDS church not worthy to marry and be sealed in the temple may get married civilly by their stake president, mission president, bishop, branch president, or LDS military chaplain. Authority to marry is given by the state to “ministers, rabbis, or priests of any religious denomination who are: (i) in regular communion with any religious society; and (ii) 18 years of age or older” (See Utah State Legislature, Marriages). If this authority is given by the state, which is now required to perform gay marriages, wouldn’t LDS clergy also be required to perform gay marriages?
I suspect it will only be a matter of time before a same-sex couple asks their LDS bishop to perform their marriage. If this is the case, could the Church preemptively stop performing civil marriages in an effort to avoid this situation?
In other countries where the LDS church and its clergy aren’t recognized as official ministers, civil marriages are performed prior to a temple sealing. The couple must first receive their wedding certificate by a justice of the peace, judge, or other official with authority to marry in the area, and then enter the temple to be sealed for time and all eternity.
Even though this isn’t something completely foreign to the Church, it is disappointing that the signature of a temple sealer, bishop, or stake president might not appear at the bottom of marriage certificates for much longer. This ruling decision may have an impact on how marriages within the Church operate, but the doctrine of eternal families and marriage between a man and a women will undoubtedly stay the same, for time and all eternity.