Since the days when Utah was trying to achieve statehood (finally awarded in 1896), the LDS Church has been quite circumspect in taking specific political stances in a public fashion, particularly on national issues. (To be sure, some Utah locals that either disagree with or don’t affiliate with the church feel that the church’s influence in Utah politics —whether overt or not—is too great.) It’s not that the church never dabbles in national politics; it just prefers to do so discretely. The church sticks largely to policy issues that its leaders feel are germane to the church’s mission. They actively work to steer clear of party and candidate politics.
In 2004 the church issued a public statement saying that it favored amending the Utah Constitution to define marriage as being between man and woman. The church’s statement did not favor any particular wording of the amendment, and no further public statements were made. An amendment had been passed by the legislature, and Utahns voted in favor of that amendment.
Church leaders declared in a 1995 statement called, The Family: A Proclamation To The World that marriage should be only between man and woman. The proclamation further called “upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family [as defined in the proclamation] as the fundamental unit of society.” So the church’s public political stance in favor of protecting traditional marriage falls within church doctrine.
Now the LDS Church has officially joined a movement that promotes amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the “exclusive union of one man and one woman.” (See SLTrib, Dnews, Religious Coalition for Marriage) Elder Russell M. Nelson of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, along with 49 other religious leaders that include 16 Catholic bishops signed a statement calling for the amendment. The group doesn’t just call for an amendment; it proposes the actual text for the amendment (here).
These religious leaders are alarmed at “the growing trend of some courts to make marriage something it is not: an elastic concept able to accommodate almost any individual preference.” They contend that this “does not so much modify or even weaken marriage as abolish it.” They feel that a constitutional amendment “is the only measure that will adequately protect marriage from those who would circumvent the legislative process and force a redefinition of it on the whole of our society.”
An acquaintance of mine postulated that the group’s reasoning is somewhat similar to the reasoning used by abortion advocates in Roe v. Wade. I disagree. In Roe the Supreme Court abused its judicial mandate, creating new law that cannot reasonably be construed to exist in the text of the U.S. Constitution; thereby, creating a right to abortion that was far more liberal than any law then on the books of any state (or any other nation for that matter).
The Constitution, on the other hand, specifies the democratic process for amending the document. Roe usurped the democratic process, circumventing the will of the people and creating new legislation from the judicial bench. While a constitutional amendment supersedes federal, state and local laws, the process of amending the Constitution is inherently democratic. The will of the people can be heard through their elected representatives, first in Congress, and then in their respective state legislatures. If Roe proponents had wanted a democratic outcome, they would have sought the passage of a constitutional amendment rather than a court fiat.
The problem is that it is deucedly difficult to pass a constitutional amendment. You have to convince far more people to vote for it than you do if you run a court case up the ranks to the Supreme Court. Thousands of amendments have been proposed and Congress has voted on hundreds, but only 27 have passed muster to become part of our Constitution.
A proposed amendment must first pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote of each house (with no variation in wording). Then two thirds of the nation’s state legislatures must pass the proposed amendment before it becomes law. This can take a long time if it happens at all. The 27th Amendment took 203 years to finish that process (see here). There is no reason to believe that the marriage protection amendment stands a good chance of being passed by both houses of Congress, let alone being passed by 34 state legislatures.
Predictably, people indifferent to traditional marriage see this move as an intolerant and divisive assault on the civil rights of the minority. But amendment promoters provide 10 researched reasons (here) why they feel traditional marriage must be protected. (Researcher Stanley Kurtz has hundreds of articles supporting this view—see here.) In our political system both sides will be free to lobby politicians and voters. It is not at all clear how it will end up.