"A Welding Link of Some Kind"
Exploring a possible theology of same-sex marriage sealings
It has been a while since I wrote one of these. Today’s post will be the most inside of inside Mormon baseball, for which I apologize to non-Latter-day Saint readers (and to Latter-day Saint readers exhausted by such discussions). What follows is the text of an essay that I have been working on for some time that explores the theological possibility of same-sex marriage sealings within Latter-day Saint theology. My goal is to show that given the history and current practice of temple sealings within the Church, the recognition of same-sex marriage sealings would be a less theologically radical move than many (including myself) have assumed. Warning: much theological and liturgical esoterica follows.
For non-Latter-day Saints who might be following along, “sealings” are a class of rituals performed in Latter-day Saint temples that includes marriages. The theological understanding of these rituals is, I believe, the key to making sense of the Church’s long-time — and in my view corrosive — opposition to same-sex marriage.
For those who would like a more essay-like format, here is a link to a PDF version of the essay. As always, please feel free to forward this email to anyone that you think might be interested. Other wise, I’ll see you next time.
“A Welding Link of Some Kind”: A Minimalist Theology of Same-Sex Marriage Sealings
Nathan B. Oman
The purpose of this essay is to explore the theological possibility of same-sex marriage sealings in a way that requires minimal theological change and maintains maximum continuity with Church practices. By focusing on the limitations of our knowledge and the history of sealing practices, one can see a place for same-sex marriage sealings that is true to the ongoing work of the Restoration. I will not rehearse the tortured history of the Church with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Suffice it to say that the pain and anxiety around these issues is having a corrosive effect on Latter-day Saint families and on the ability of the Church to retain members and gain converts. In part this comes from increasing tensions between Church teachings and a culture in the developed world that has become more welcoming of gay and lesbian relationships. It would be a mistake, however, to think of this issue in terms of great and spacious buildings and fingers of scorn (cf. 1 Ne. 8:26-28). Moral tension between the Church and society is inevitable and often healthy. The Church’s moral teachings on chastity were increasingly out of step with social norms in the second half of the 20th century, but this was an era of unprecedented Church growth and high youth retention rates. Rather, conflict around same-sex marriage has proven corrosive because of the internal tensions within our theology. The Church teaches that married family life is the best kind of life to live and that gays and lesbians must be excluded from that life. Homosexual orientation, however, is unchosen, immutable, and more or less evenly distributed through the population. Hence, gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints, their families, and their friends continually crash against this basic conflict in Church teachings.
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that a “stupor of thought” can be a prelude to revelation (D&C 9:9). I believe this describes the present position of the Church. The same revelation teaches that the way forward is to study a question out in one’s mind and then ask the Lord if the answer arrived at is correct (see D&C 9:8). This essay is an exercise in such studying it out. Asking the Lord if the answers offered here – or something like them – are correct lies with those who have ecclesiastical authority that I lack.
Two Theologies of Homosexuality
The core of the Church’s theological opposition to same-sex marriage flows out of the ordinances of the temple and the theology that we use to understand those ordinances. Stated as clearly as possible, here is what I take to be that theology: The process of exaltation consists in following the example of God so as to have the kind of life that he has. God, however, is not alone. Rather we are the literal spirit children of heavenly parents. Exaltation requires that human beings enter into heterosexual marriages blessed by the sealing authority in the temple. Those who through accidents of birth or circumstances are unable to contract such marriages in mortality are promised that they will be able to contract them in the eternities. Within this understanding, same-sex marriage is impossible because marriage properly understood is an imitation of the divine, heterosexual union of heterosexual heavenly parents. A corollary of this theology is that homosexuality – unlike heterosexuality – is an accidental rather than a necessary characteristic of one’s spiritual identity. Hence, being gay or lesbian is a mortal condition but one that will be corrected in the eternities. There will be no gays and lesbians in the celestial kingdom not because they will be excluded by God but because he will cause them to cease being gays and lesbians. Let’s call this the theology of heterosexual exaltation.
I think that the theology of heterosexual exaltation is a fair summary of current Church teachings. However, I know from numerous conversations over the years that many members of the Church dissatisfied with its stance on same-sex marriage reject these teachings. Most of this opposition isn’t very theologically reflective. It’s content to note the destructive consequences of Church teachings in the alienation of gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints and to affirm the love of God. However, “love is love,” while a compelling slogan, is not an adequate response to the theology of heterosexual exaltation. Rather, it often amounts to a rejection of any theology more definite than a belief in benevolent theism. This strikes me as too thin of a theological foundation for Church teachings and practices.
There have also been more sustained efforts at articulating a theology of same-sex relationships. The approach I’ve most often heard is to insist that, contrary to the theology of heterosexual exaltation, homosexual orientation is an eternal characteristic. This approach is intuitively appealing to many gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints. It accords with their own experience of their sexuality, which seems inherent to their identity rather than a temporary condition. Given the constitutive role of sexuality in identity formation this is unsurprising. As a heterosexual male, I confess that I have difficulty making sense of what it would mean for me to continue to be me but instead be a gay man. Such a person it seems, would be not me but someone else. Understandably, many gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints feel the same way about their sexual orientation. Furthermore, for many gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints the hope of sexual transformation held out in the eternities is not particularly attractive. Again, as a heterosexual man there is nothing especially appealing to me about being transformed after death into a gay man. I understand why a gay man might have a similar reaction to the prospect of post-mortal sexual transformation. If sexual orientation is an eternal characteristic, so goes the argument, then same-sex unions should be sealed in the eternities, and we must re-imagine the imitation of God without any commitment to the unique necessity of heterosexual marriage. Call this the theology of eternal homosexuality.
One of the striking things about these two theologies is their certainty. They both rest on a specific vision of the role of sexual orientation in the eternities. They also go well beyond any teachings that are explicitly contained in the Standard Works. This is easiest to see in the case of the theology of eternal homosexuality. It reasons theologically from gay and lesbian experience but lacks any clear revelatory warrant. There is simply nothing in the canonized revelations of the Church to suggest that homosexual orientation is eternal. Perhaps less obviously, the theology of heterosexual exaltation rests on a similarly thin foundation in the canon. The idea of heavenly parents is not contained in the scriptures. The sexualized, procreative vision of divine spiritual parenthood is nowhere explicitly set forth. To be sure, references to God as father are ubiquitous, but the theological apparatus of spirit birth and literal eternal parenthood implicit in the theology of heterosexual exaltation isn’t to be found. Indeed, Jesus’s title of “only begotten son” (e.g. John 3:16) is the one place in scripture where a procreative derivation from God is explicitly stated, and it’s exclusive to Christ. Rather, the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of uncreated intelligences with no reference to ideas of spiritual procreation (see D&C 93:29).
Instead of defending one of these positions, I want to explore the implications of saying “We don’t know.” Both of the theologies sketched above rest on the assumption that we have a fairly clear understanding of what sexuality and relationships in the eternities look like. They assume that this tight vision of the eternities should inform how we think about marriage in mortality and the ordinances that we perform in the temple. I want to suggest that this assumption is mistaken. Rather, what informs our sealing practices is a basic uncertainty about the precise nature of eternal relationships. In the remainder of this essay, I will argue that this uncertainty lies at the heart of our current sealing practices. I will then argue that when the question of same-sex marriage sealings is seen through the lens of our uncertainty that there is a better way forward for the Church, one that could ameliorate the destructive internal contradictions in our current teachings, give to righteous same-sex couples the blessings of the temple, and integrate their sealings into the great work of Elijah and Malachi.
Kingdom, Lineage, and Family
When asked today to explain the significance of temple sealings, Latter-day Saints will respond by speaking in terms of happy nuclear families. Our greatest joy in this life comes from the love of husbands and wives, parents and children. Through sealing ordinances husbands and wives are bound together for eternity. Likewise, by being born in the covenant or through adoptive sealings, children are connected in the eternities to their parents. Thus, the earthly joys of families are carried forward after death and into exaltation. For all of its hope and truth, this is an incomplete description of how sealing ordinances function, both historically and today. Rather, they have never neatly mapped onto a model of the nuclear family. Careful attention to temple practices reveals that over the course of the Restoration there have broadly speaking been three distinct approaches to temple sealings. We can refer to them as kingdom, lineage, and family. While there is considerable overlap between them and no idea is ever fully abandoned, these three approaches follow a roughly chronological order, with kingdom dominating from the 1840s to 1894, lineage dominating from 1894 to about 1955, and family dominating from 1955 to the present. Each era has blessed temple sealings that depart from a model of the nuclear family.
For much of the 19th century sealing ordinances centered on what can be called kingdom theology. The focus was on using the sealing power to knit together post-mortal priesthood kingdoms. The basic idea was that exaltation consists of priesthood kingship with the goal of connecting everyone back to God as the divine king through a series of nested kingdoms created by networks of sealing ordinances. This can be seen most clearly in two now abandoned sealing practices: plural marriage and the law of adoption. Contemporary Latter-day Saints tend to assume that 19th-century Mormon polygamists shared with them a vision of eternal nuclear families but simply multiplied families. While some 19th-century polygamists spoke in these terms, it is at best an incomplete account of their theological vision. One of the main reasons people performed plural marriage sealings was to secure a place in an exalting priesthood network. This can be seen in the common practice of non-conjugal plural marriage sealings. Thus, women were sealed posthumously to Joseph and other dead Church leaders as plural wives. Some women were sealed polygamously to Joseph or Brigham while remaining married to another man. Finally, some women were sealed polygamously without having any substantial earthly connections to their “husbands.” In all of these cases, the sealings were less a matter of forming nuclear families than of becoming part of a royal priesthood network.
The law of adoption had a similar function. Instituted in the Nauvoo Temple shortly after Joseph’s martyrdom, this was the practice of sealing non-biologically related adults to Church leaders as adopted sons or daughters. After the abandonment of Nauvoo, no new law of adoption sealings were performed until the dedication of the Saint George Temple in 1877. Thus, while these law of adoption networks operated as important social units during the Exodus, for decades the law of adoption was mainly a theological idea for understanding sealing ordinances. Like plural marriage sealings, these adoptive sealings referenced a family relationship, but their purpose was to extend exalting priesthood networks by providing a way of being sealed into the eternal kingdom of a high priesthood leader.
While vestiges of kingdom theology remain in the modern temple, most notably in the language of the endowment ceremony and the words of the sealing ceremony, temple theology underwent a revolution in the 1890s under the direction of President Wilford Woodruff. Most famously, he issued the 1890 Manifesto, which began the process of abandoning the practice of plural marriage. Less well known, but in some ways more significant for temple practice, in the April 1894 General Conference, he announced a revelation ending the law of adoption and counseled Latter-day Saints to research their family history and perform sealing ordinances for ancestors along family lines.
The emphasis in this new sealing theology was on lineage rather than kingdoms. The goal, according to President Woodruff was to “[h]ave children sealed to their parents and run this chain through as far as you can get it.” This was a new idea in 1894. The emphasis on the primacy of lineage can be seen in two ways. First, adoptive sealings along non-family lines were abandoned. When requested to do so, President Woodruff went so far as to formally cancel previous law of adoption sealings to allow sealings based on family lineages. Second, while there was an emphasis on intergenerational chains of sealings, there wasn’t an effort to ensure that sealing ordinances mirrored the structure of nuclear families. Until well into the 20th century, for example, the First Presidency did not routinely use its authority to cancel marital sealings in cases of divorce or remarriage after the death of a spouse. Rather, both men and women could be sealed a second time without a cancellation, regardless of gender or of how the earthly marriages ended. The same rule was applied to posthumous temple sealings. The result was numerous situations where men and women were enmeshed in networks of multiple marriage sealings that did not correspond to mortal family structures (including even polygamous households).
In the 1920s and early 1930s, when rules governing multiple marriage sealings were tightened under President Grant, the Church again did not seek to mirror nuclear families. Rather, rules harked back to 19th-century kingdom theology, with multiple sealings permitted to widowed or divorced men, but with a newly added requirement that women had to receive a cancellation of sealing after being divorced or widowed before a second temple marriage was possible. The obvious model here was 19th-century polygamy, and the resulting networks of sealed relationships did not mirror the structure of monogamous, nuclear families. After 1934, the same rule was applied to proxy sealings. Men were to be sealed to all of the women to whom they had been married while alive, but women were to be sealed only to their first husbands. Thus, throughout the post-1894 period, the emphasis was on inter-generational continuity rather than a tight ritual mirroring of an ideal nuclear family structure in the eternities.
After World War II, the Church began in earnest an ambitious program of international expansion. At the center of the successful missionary message of the second half of the 20th century was the nuclear family. The Church placed an increasing emphasis on strong marriages between husbands and wives committed to sacrificing together for the welfare of their children. The temple became central to the message that families can be together forever. This can be seen most dramatically after 1955 when the Church dedicated its first overseas temple in Switzerland. Prior to the 1950s, regular temple attendance was not emphasized as a part of Latter-day Saint devotional life. It was common for a member of the Church to visit the temple only once or twice in his or her lifetime. The international temples of the 1950s signaled an aspiration that regular temple worship be put within the reach of all Latter-day Saints, regardless of where they lived. The emphasis on temple worship went hand-in-hand with an emphasis on eternal nuclear families.
There was an irony, however, in how the new emphasis on temple worship and eternal families impacted sealing practices. When temple worship went from an occasional to a regular feature of devotional life, the Church faced a logistical challenge. Temple work is only possible if the temples have the names of deceased persons for whom patrons can perform ordinances. However, by the early 1960s the temples were running out of names. The Church responded with the name extraction program. The problem was that at scale it was impossible to ensure that sealing ordinances followed the 1934 proxy sealing rules. With many of the genealogical records, for example, one cannot know if a woman has previously been widowed or divorced when she married the husband in the record being harvested. In 1968, these pressures led President McKay to change the proxy sealing rules to allow men and women to be sealed to all of the spouses to whom they had been married in life, even though such sealings can create networks of polygynous and polyandrous sealings that do not correspond to mortal family relationships. When faced with a choice between mass temple work and sealings that mirrored some ideal family structure, President McKay chose mass temple work.
The Complexity of Marriage Sealings
What are we to make of the layering of rules and theologies that govern marriage sealings? There are two sources of ambiguity. The first is the brute fact of multiple marriage sealings that seem to imply eternal networks that do not mirror nuclear families. Such multiple sealings are not an exceptional part of temple practice. Millions of such ordinances have been and continued to be performed for the living and the dead. There are a variety of possible responses. Although its popularity has waned since the Manifesto, one might affirm eternal polygamy on a massive scale. This is not theologically attractive to most contemporary Latter-day Saints and has been rejected by many high Church leaders. (President McKay explicitly stated his belief that polygamy was not an eternal principle.) In any case, it leaves unanswered the question of the status of multiple marital sealings by women. The contemporary Church has emphasized three points in answer to these questions. First, God loves his children and will order the hereafter in his infinite wisdom for their happiness. Second, no one will be forced in the eternities into a relationship that they do not desire. Third, despite these uncertainties, performing temple ordinances is vital to the Lord’s work. These points, while affirming the love of God and hope for the hereafter, do not provide any clear picture as to the nature of post-mortal relationships. In effect, the answer to the question of what eternal families will look like is “We don’t know.”
The second source of ambiguity is the diverse theological goals that have been offered for sealing ordinances. Sealings have been used to create non-familial networks of priesthood kingdoms centered on high Church leaders. They have been used to create huge polygamous households. They have been used to connect lines of descendants and ancestors that mirror family – if not always genetic – lineages. Finally, sealing ordinances have been used to continue the happiness of nuclear families on earth into the eternities. Contemporary sealing rules to one extent or another reflect all of these theologies. None of them standing alone accounts for the totality of sealing practices. It is not clear that these goals are all consistent with one another. At least in the cases of the law of adoption and plural marriage, President Woodruff very publicly announced revelations reversing earlier practices. On a quieter level, President Grant made major changes to sealing rules that were partially reversed by President McKay.
The theology of heterosexual exaltation also does not fit closely with sealing practices. That theology, recall, sees temple marriage as the solely legitimate imitation of a dyad of heterosexual heavenly parents. Right now we regularly perform sealings in our temples that do not reflect this model of a heavenly dyad. Consider one example: Widowed men can be sealed to multiple spouses while living. Likewise, women can be posthumously sealed to multiple men. Imagine Joe marries Jill in the temple and then Jill dies. In the meantime, Jane marries John in the temple, and John then dies. Jane and Joe then marry, and after their deaths their children seal them together with a proxy ordinance.
Such a scenario is explicitly allowed under current rules and presumably has happened numerous times. In this example, Joe is sealed to Jane and Jill, who is sealed only to Joe. Jane is sealed to Joe and John, who is sealed only to Jill. All of the sealings are equally valid. Whatever else can be said about such sealings, they do not, taken in their entirety, reflect the dyad envisioned by the theology of heterosexual exaltation. They cannot even be reconciled with such a theory by endorsing post-mortal polygamy because the multiple sealings are symmetrical rather than asymmetrical by gender. At best the theology of heterosexual exaltation can affirm that in some way that we do not understand this tangle of sealings will be resolved into heavenly dyads to everyone’s satisfaction in the hereafter, although if we assume that all three of these earthly marriages were happy and successful, it’s difficult to see precisely how this would happen. We just don’t know.
The proponent of the theology of heterosexual exaltation might be tempted at this point to affirm that Church leaders are fallible and reject sealing practices that diverge from that theology. Hence previous ordinances that diverge from the theory of heterosexual exaltation were simply wrong, as are current sealing rules that result in networks of apparently equally valid sealings rather a single heterosexual dyad in imitation of heavenly parents. Such an approach would render much of the sealing work of the Restoration invalid. Literally millions of ordinances have been performed under these rules. It would also be radically inconsistent with current sealing policies which are not – and never have been – premised on the requirement that only sealings mirroring a dyad of heavenly parents are permissible. Rather, the Church regularly performs multiple sealings of various kinds that do not conform to a model of heavenly parents and says in effect, “We do not know the precise significance of these ordinances in the hereafter.”
“A Welding Link of Some Kind”
If we put both a faith in the necessity and power of sealing ordinances and the humility of “We don’t know” at the center of our theology of temple sealings, what might our vision look like? The Restoration began in earnest with the visit of Moroni and the translation of the Book of Mormon. Both emphasized the final verse of Malachi in which the prophet says that the earth will be cursed unless the hearts of the children turn to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers turn to their children (see JS-H 1:39, 3 Ne. 25:6, Mal 4:6). Toward the end of his life, Joseph interpreted this verse in an epistle to the Church subsequently canonized as section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants. “It is sufficient to know in this case,” he wrote, “that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or another between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or another” (D&C 128:18). In the epistle, he went on to associate the needed welding link with baptism for the dead. However, on other occasions, Joseph associated the welding link with the sealing power, and after his death succeeding prophets extended the logic of proxy baptisms to all temple ordinances, which are now available to both the living and the dead. The level of abstraction at which Joseph begins is striking. Notice that in D&C 128, the welding link is singular. Baptisms for the dead are part of the link, but they are not the link in its entirety, a fact emphasized by the later introduction of other proxy temple ordinances. Indeed, the welding link is not a reference to any particular ordinance. Rather “a welding link of some kind” among all of humanity is necessary to the salvation of God’s children as a whole, otherwise “the earth will be smitten with a curse” (D&C 128:18).
Latter-day Saints are accustomed to thinking of the sealing power in terms of two distinct ordinances: marriage sealings and adoptive sealings. As we have already seen, however, differing theological meanings have been assigned to these sealings over the history of the Restoration. An adoptive sealing between an adult man and Heber C. Kimball in the Nauvoo Temple had a very different meaning than the sealing of small children to their recently converted parents in a modern temple. Likewise, my temple marriage to my wife in 1999 had a very different meaning than a mid-19th-century polyandrous sealing of a married woman to Joseph or Brigham as a plural wife. The most explicit discussion of the sealing power in the Standard Works suggest that its scope is far more expansive than our current discourse suggests. The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” as coming within the power to “seal by the Holy Spirit of promise” (D&C 132:7). The revelation goes on to talk about a particular kind of sealing – plural marriage – as an instance of this broader power. Just as sealing practices manifest great diversity within the categories of marriage and adoption, scripture seems to contemplate a multiplicity of different kinds of sealings.
If we think of individual sealings as forging part of the single great welding link of which Joseph wrote, then the sprawling multiplicity of sealing practices becomes less bewildering. Law of adoption sealings, plural marriage sealings, sealings of marriages that end in divorce, multiple modern marriage sealings for the living and the dead; none of these ordinances are wasted. Each becomes another connection in the great link that will weld all of the children of God together and save them from the curse of their alienation and mutual forgetfulness. The answer of “We don’t know” ceases to be a dodge that leaves the efficacy and necessity of every sealing hanging. Rather, it becomes an acknowledgement that every sealing contributes to the welding link even if we do not know the precise configuration of post-mortal relationships. Such a view need not imply the abandonment of eternal families and the hope that doctrine holds out, but it does give meaning to the mass of other temple sealings that have been performed over the course of the Restoration. They too have a role in forging the welding link. This approach leaves the precise mechanics of salvation less clear than in the theology of heterosexual exaltation, but it has the virtue of better fitting current and past sealing practice and not relying on elaborate extra-scriptural ideas.
Same-Sex Marriage Sealings
This brings us to the question with which we began: same-sex marriage sealings. Against a background of the history of sealing practices, it is not true that one needs a precise account of a sealing’s meaning in the hereafter to be able to perform a marriage sealing. We already regularly perform sealings in the temple whose final eternal significance we do not purport to precisely understand. Indeed, the meaning and scope of marriage sealings has changed over the course of the Restoration. We have not had a single model of marriage. Furthermore, the sealing authority extends to “[a]ll covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” (D&C 132:7). The Church has never sealed same-sex marriages in its temples, but such unions could fit under the categories of “covenants,” “bonds,” “vows,” and “connections.” As to the precise theological status of sexual identity in the eternities, the Church could say, “We don’t know.” The Church currently performs marriage sealings where the precise meaning of the union in the eternities is unknown, but we are confident that “the power of godliness” (D&C 84:20) manifested in the ordinance will bless the couple, and the ordinance itself forms a part of the great latter-day work of creating the welding link of which Joseph prophesized.
My hope in presenting these ideas is that they might provide a possible path forward for the Church that resolves the destructive conflict within our current practices and teachings around same-sex marriage. I long for a way in which gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints can live within the kind of faithful, covenanted, and committed companionship that the Church rightly holds out as the good life. Same-sex marriage sealings could enfold such lives into the Church and bless them with the power that comes through temple ordinances. At the same time, I take very seriously the need for continuity and loyalty to the Restoration. The ideas presented here also seek to engage respectfully with the theology of heterosexual exaltation without endorsing the theology of eternal homosexuality. Rather, my goal is to accommodate uncertainty on the precise eternal status of homosexuality. There needn’t be consensus on that issue in order to bless same-sex marriage sealings. It is enough to say that all sealings contribute to the great welding link and we do not know the details of the eternities. This is something that we already do in other contexts.
This essay has been long, but the change it contemplates could be easily and simply explained. The Church could say:
For many years we have struggled with how best to minister to gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints while affirming the importance of chastity outside of marriage, fidelity to husbands and wives, the priority of children, and the promises of eternal families made in the temple. After pleading with the Lord, we have received a revelation that same-sex couples may be sealed in the temple. Throughout the Restoration changes have been made under prophetic direction in temple ordinances and practices. Today’s change is the latest chapter in that continuing story. Like prophets going back to Nephi we “do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17), but we know that today’s decision will bless the lives of those who live worthy to be sealed in the temple and that all of the ordinances – past, present, and future – performed in the Lord’s House contribute to his great plan for the human family. The Church continues to affirm that sexual relations outside of marriage violate God’s commandments, and same-sex couples are subject to the same standards of behavior as opposite sex couples.
Whether this is what the Lord wants for his Church is not my question to answer. I believe that the Church’s current position creates corrosive contradictions that pose an existential threat to the continued vitality of the Lord’s work. In the past, the Lord has blessed dramatic changes in Church practices when the continuation of those practices threatened the future of the Lord’s Kingdom. I pray that he will do so again.
 I will also not address the public policy questions presented by same-sex marriage or the moral questions presented by homosexual relations. I have written about such issues elsewhere. Suffice it to say, that I do not find the claim that same-sex marriage poses a threat to the flourishing of earthly families or the vitality of marriage as an institution persuasive, and I believe that homosexual acts within the context of an ethic of chastity organized around marriage are moral.
 In many ways the current situation mirrors that prior to the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. This comparison is often made in an unhelpful way, particularly by those who glibly equate the Church’s teachings on marriage with vicious homophobic animus. However, at several points the underlying structure of the situations is similar. An increasing awareness of the evils of racism in the United States created enormous tension between the Church and the broader culture. The Church’s exclusionary position threatened the viability of the Church especially in racially diverse societies such as Brazil. Finally, the Church’s position created a terrible contradiction between the racist theologies used to justify the ban and the clear scriptural teachings that all of God’s children are equal in his sight (2 Ne. 26:33). These three elements are also present in the Church’s current position: A shift in moral attitudes, a threat to the continued vitality of the Lord’s work, and a wrenching internal contradiction in our theology.
 Ironically, the Church often presents its teachings on same-sex marriage as part of the Lord’s plan of happiness. For most Latter-day Saints directly impacted by these teachings – gay and lesbian members and their families – the teachings create grief and unhappiness. They are sometimes grimly accepted as a test of allegiance to the authority of the Church and its teachings, but I seldom see them joyfully celebrated.
 For example, there are no references to Heavenly Mother in the Standard Works.
 The idea of a “spirit birth” in which human spirits arise through a procreative process involving heterosexual heavenly parents that is analogous to pregnancy seems to have first been articulated by Brigham Young as part of his Adam-God teachings. It does not appear in the scriptures, was never taught by the Prophet Joseph, and is almost never explicitly articulated in official Church materials. For more on the historical background, see Jonathan A. Stapley, “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology,” Journal of Mormon History 47, no. 1 (January 2021): 68–86.
 Even this is doubtful. “Only begotten” translates the Greek word “monogenhs” (“monogenes”), which does not necessarily have a strong connotation of sexual generation or procreation.
 Elsewhere, I have provided a more comprehensive history of the development of marital sealing rules with accompanying documentation. My summary here is based on that research. See Nathan B. Oman, “The Development of Modern Latter-day Saint Marriage Rules” (William & Mary Law School, July 12, 2022), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4161021.
 Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992), 4:73.
 Prior to President Woodruff’s revelation, the practice was to adoptively seal non-Latter-day Saint ancestors either to a righteous Latter-day Saint descendant or else to a high Church leader. Seeking out one’s kindred dead was seen in terms of performing proxy baptisms rather than creating eternal connections via sealing ordinances that mirrored family lines.
 See The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2021), 18.104.22.168.
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