This past Tuesday night, a Mormon woman appeared on “30 Days.” The theme of the episode was same-sex or gay adoption. Our Mormon mother was assigned to live with a gay couple who were raising four children that they got from foster care. It was, in a word, awkward. Extremely awkward. When Morgan Spurlock, the show’s creator and narrator, announced a few minutes into the show that this lady was “a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons,” my wife audibly groaned. I thought about reaching for a big tub of popcorn and a cold root beer. Fireworks- like the Fourth of July come early!
The Good- Kati (this sister’s name), to her credit, did not explicitly lay the responsibility for her beliefs about same-sex adoption on the Church. More importantly, she did not lay the responsibility for her stubbornness and lack of charity on the Church either. In fact, if it were not for Spurlock “outing” her (oh, the irony) as part of introducing the cast, it is likely that nobody would have known that she was Mormon. From what I saw, she could have been a member of any conservative Christian denomination. (First, consider the implications of that.) In one instance, she did tell the couple that she knew her beliefs were true because she had prayed about them and received an answer. In another scene, she attended the couple’s gay-friendly church, and could be seen to be holding a standard Quad. However, while setting off our Mo-dar, either of these two things would have completely eluded any non-Mormon watchers. I was thankful that her affiliation was kept on the down-low, not only for my own peace of mind, but, as I will further explore below, because I am not sure that opposition to same-sex adoption can be considered a Church position or doctrine.
The Bad- Kati would feel right at home with the maxim “When the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.” When asked to explain her opposition to same-sex adoption, she constantly fell back on the refrain of “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman” or “I don’t believe that two gay people should be raising children.” It was obvious to both my wife and I that this is not a subject about which she had reflected very much prior to this experience. In part, this fits well with the goal of the show, which is to expose people to new experiences, new ways of life, and new thoughts. However, it could not help but trouble me to see her be incapable of marshalling any better argument for her opposition than “I believe it’s not right.” Exclusively moral-based arguments, especially those rooted in subjective spiritual experiences (and by subjective I mean individualized, not false), tend to be unconvincing to those who do not share those beliefs or have not had those same spiritual experiences. My concern is that I believed she treated a general dislike of homosexual activity in the Church as a blanket license to not think seriously about the relative merits of our public policies and moral judgments about activities involving homosexuals, but which are not intrinsically linked with their homosexuality.
The Ugly– Completely unrelated to any Mormon elements within the show, what really made my blood boil was the attitude and behavior of the biological relatives (mother, aunt, uncle, sister) of one of the boys that the gay couple had taken in from foster care. Yes, they are alive. No, they were not in jail. The whole clan had a (temporarily) nice backyard cookout at the gay couple’s home, at which the family which had abandoned this child proceeded to berate Kati for her opposition to homosexual adoption, which would have deprived their little boy of a loving home. As my wife’s mission companion used to say, “Hey kettle, you black!” I understand that some people, despite their mistakes and failures, have the momentary clarity to recognize that a child, while biologically theirs, might be better off being raised with just about anybody else. I applaud that foresight, but doubt that the voluntary abandonment of a child, even if wise, gives one much moral high ground from which to cast rocks at others.
Does the Church’s opposition to SSM, as expressed in their recent letter to CA congregations, demand that we oppose same-sex adoption with equal vigor? This is far from obvious and to my knowledge, such a position has never been expressed clearly in any official Church publication, including a First Presidency letter. (I am open to being proven wrong on this point though. Same-sex adoption is clearly illegal in the state of Utah.) Indeed, I think there are strong arguments why same-sex adoption is deserving of our support and admiration, regardless of what we think about SSM or homosexuality in general. The foster care system is a mess, in spite of the best efforts of well-meaning social workers and generous families. There are simply not enough willing permanent home providers among the straight population to take in all the kids that might need it. Also, gay families (yes I said it), because they are generally not first-choice adoptive parents, don’t get the “cream of the crop” and end up taking more kids with disabilities, and other “un-adoptables.” And thus, we open up the opportunity to adopt to same-sex couples. Further, far from simply being a kind of “last resort,” gay parents have not proven to be demonstrably less capable of raising well-adjusted functioning children to adulthood in our society. It does not have a long enough history and the data are still out there. If they are able to do so, it may be even more laudable given the general opposition they face from the rest of us despite their best efforts.