Dallin Oaks Demands Special Rights: He Doth Protest Too Much

It’s impossible to miss the stench of hypocrisy.  For years now, religous conservatives have been screeching that gays and lesbians want special rights.  This weekend Dallin Oaks comes out and declares that religion should get special rights

If I were cynic, I’d say his speech is entirely about the fact that religious conservatives are losing in the marketplace of ideas and he’s mounting a last ditch defense to maintain cultural privilege.  Among people under 30, gay marriage is completely uncontroversial.  Among the general population, 75% favor legal protections for same sex relationships (support is divided between civil unions and marriage).  Each year, more and more Americans support the idea of legalizing same sex marriage.  It was therefore unconvincing when Oaks said:

Although I will refer briefly to some implications of the Proposition 8 controversy and its constitutional arguments, I am not here to participate in the debate on the desirability or effects of same-sex marriage.

His statement would have been more convincing had he not later spent a sizable chunk of his speech mis-leading his audience:

Religious preaching of the wrongfulness of homosexual relations is beginning to be threatened with criminal prosecution or actually prosecuted or made the subject of civil penalties. Canada has been especially aggressive, charging numerous religious authorities and persons of faith with violating its human rights law by “impacting an individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance.”29 Other countries where this has occurred include Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.30

He then added this passage:

In New Mexico, the state’s Human Rights Commission held that a photographer who had declined on religious grounds to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony had engaged in impermissible conduct and must pay over $6,000 attorney’s fees to the same-sex couple. A state judge upheld the order to pay.31 In New Jersey, the United Methodist Church was investigated and penalized under state anti-discrimination law for denying same-sex couples access to a church-owned pavilion for their civil-union ceremonies.  A federal court refused to give relief from the state penalties.32 Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for expressing personal convictions that homosexual behavior is sinful.33 Candidates for masters’ degrees in counseling in Georgia and Michigan universities were penalized or dismissed from programs for their religious views about the wrongfulness of homosexual relations.34 A Los Angeles policeman claimed he was demoted after he spoke against the wrongfulness of homosexual conduct in the church where he is a lay pastor.35 The Catholic Church’s difficulties with adoption services and the Boy Scouts’ challenges in various locations are too well known to require further comment.

In these cases, he did not provide his audience with the context of the situation or with enough background to assess his claims.  In the New Mexico case, the state has a law specifically banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the photographer stated she would not photograph a wedding because of the sexual orientation of the persons involved.  In the New Jersey case, the pavilion in question had been rented out for a wide variety of uses – dances, family reunions, weddings, anniversary parties etc; it had been well established that it was not a “church” only location but rather a public accommodation. 

In the Wisconsin case, the professor in question sent an anti-gay email to a student – it wasn’t part of the professor’s job as an instructor, it wasn’t part of a class; it read, in part:

I decry attempts to legitimize [homosexuals’] addictions and compulsions. These, our fellow humans, deserve our best efforts to help them recover their lives. We only hurt them further when we choose to pretend that these walking wounded are OK the way they are, that their present injuries are the best they can hope for in life.

In the Illinois case, a professor sent students in his class an email:

In early May, Howell wrote a lengthy e-mail to his students, in preparation for an exam, in which he discusses how the theory of utilitarianism and natural law theory would judge the morality of homosexual acts.

“Natural Moral Law says that Morality must be a response to REALITY,” he wrote in the e-mail, obtained by The News-Gazette. “In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same.”

He went on to write there has been a disassociation of sexual activity from morality and procreation, in contradiction of Natural Moral Theory.

When you read the email, it’s clear the professor, Kenneth Howell, moved from explaining Catholic theology to attempting to proselytize his students.  Of course, Oaks left something important out – the professor in question was reinstated to his teaching position.  This post at Chicago Now is a pretty smart examination the kerfuffle. 

In the Georgia and Michigan cases, both students violated long standing professional ethics and failed to meet program guidelines.  In both cases, the standards were spelled out in advance and the students in question refused to meet them.  Both sued and both lost.  As the judge in one case wrote in the ruling:

 . . .the university had a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.

There are actual, valid issues in each of these cases.  With the photographers in New Mexico, I think the state overstepped (if the photographer had agreed to shoot the wedding and then backed out at the last minute when she discovered it was a same sex wedding it would be different).  However, I also believe there’s a valid case to be made that if you open a business, you are a public accommodation.  And there’s a real issue that Oaks and other religious conservatives tend to studiously avoid: harm.

Take the case of the graduate students.  The defined course of studies in their counseling programs required them to prepare to counsel glbt persons – literally to treat them the same way they would treat a person of another race, economic status, gender or religion.  Both students refused to do the basics required by their academic programs citing religious objection without identifying any way in which meeting the requirements would harm them.  In one case, the school simply required the student to attend a pride celebration and report on what she saw and heard.  Too often, it seems, these religious objections amount to little more than claiming that treating lgbt persons equally offends the individual’s morals.

The Los Angeles police officer, he delivered an anti-gay sermon at a funeral for a fellow officer.   His remarks concerned the department:

“When it comes to enforcing the law, it has to be done impartially, treating everybody with respect,” said Maislin, who declined to comment specifically on Holyfield’s case. “We are concerned, clearly, about the type of speech our employees engage in.”

By definition, a police officer has to protect the whole community and every member of it.  If he is biased against some members of the community, does anyone doubt it would negatively impact his work with those persons?  If he were openly bigoted against African Americans, does anything think he’d still be a police officer?  Yet, in this case, he claims that his religion requires him to be prejudiced. 

I wanted to spend some time on these incidents precisely because Dallin Oaks did not.  If all you knew was what he said, you’d walk away with the impression that Christians are increasingly victims of a shadowy conspiracy to persecute them because they merely disapprove of homosexuality.

Oaks, like other religious conservatives, is forced to construct an elaborate argument in which opposition to gay rights is central to Christian theology.  Christian theology comes to hinge almost entirely upon its disapproval of gay people.  The six verses in the bible that talk about homosexuality are suddenly the sum total of what Christians want to talk about. 

In God’s Politics, Jim Wallis tells the story of going through the bible and removing all the sections about economics – what was left was so sparse it almost fell to pieces.  Read through the gospels and you see very few stories about sexuality but you see lots of stories about money and economics.  The Gospels never once mention homosexuality; but Jesus is abundantly clear in his denunciation of divorce.  Seems to me lots of Christians get divorced and the church never says “boo”. 

There’s an old joke – there are six verses in the bible about homosexuals and 300 about straight people.  It’s not that god doesn’t love gay people, it’s that straight people need more supervision. 

What Dallin Oaks and other religious conservatives are doing with regard to civil rights for glbt persons is the reason that young people are increasingly turning away from the Christian church.  Ask people under 40 and they’ll tell you that Christians are intolerant and anti-gay.  Ask people under 40 who attend church and the majority will tell you they believe the church is wrong in its stance on gay marriage.  Ask lots of people and they’ll tell you that you can be Christian and gay.  But for too many religious leaders, there is no compromise, no middle ground.  They cannot, they will not, bend. 

In the 1850s, southern preachers declared with equal vehemence that slavery was a biblical institution and doing away with it would be to deny God.  In the 1960s, racist preachers declared that segregation of the races was God’s will and doing away with it would be to do deny God.  Those same preachers taught that interracial marriage was a violation of Biblical truth.  Preachers used to tell their congregations that it was a violation of God’s will for women to vote or have jobs and they based it on the bible.  There has never been in American history an advance in civil rights that has not been passionately and vocally opposed by religious conservatives.  When Dallin Oaks stands up and as he did in this speech, declares that religious freedom requires opposition to the civil rights of gays and lesbians, he is standing in a long line of fiery American religious figures opposed to expanding civil rights.

  1. #1 by shane on February 7, 2011 - 11:30 pm

    I honestly don’ know if this story is apocryphal or not. But I do like it…

    Some time ago there was a movement to let women play in a golf tournament in Cali. that had never allowed women to play. There was a protest planned, and a counter protest. Someone called the golf club and said that they had a few hundred members of a local group that wanted to join the counter protest, and keep the women out.

    Turned out it was the KKK.

    When the club owners figured out the KKK was on their side, they let the women play in the tournament.

    Sometimes you don’t know where you stand until you see who it is standing with you.

    Seems to me, if Dallin Oaks was on my side, I would be looking into where I stand…

    The good news is that if HB220 passes, “…to do good is my religion” as Pastor Paine would say, and there is a lot of good that can be done in karmic retribution to some ignorant conservative religious types.

    Professors at state universities in Illinois and Wisconsin were fired or disciplined for expressing personal convictions that homosexual behavior is sinful.

    Forget the relevant details.

    I am sure that if I explained to my students that following LDS doctrine ( for example that skin color is a mark of Cain, that women can’t receive prophecy and that there was ever anything even remotely resembling the cultures in the book of mormon) was committing the sin of stupidity, the first person to testify that I should keep my job would be Oaks. Right?

  2. #2 by Richard Warnick on February 8, 2011 - 12:03 pm

    Shorter Oaks: “Religious authorities are the real victims, not the people we are victimizing.”

    Here’s an interesting post I saw today at AlterNet:
    No, Atheists Don’t Have to Show “Respect” for Religion

    If someone is wrong, we get to call them on it even if they are wrong because of religious belief.

  3. #3 by tl on February 9, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    Perhaps in a few decades the day will come when it will be illegal to even say in a church that homosexual behavior is sinful. Or it will be law to totally prevent Mormons or Christians from doing their own marriages if they don’t allow gay marriage in their churches. I wouldn’t put it past the militant gay agenda to sit their own kind in the judge’s seat to do that. It might take a few decades for it to happen, but it probably will.

    Then you might say, in 2030: “Back in the day around 30 years ago, Mormon bigots wouldn’t let gays marry in their temple. I am so glad the government has changed that!”

    Seems the trends are coming to that. But you probably secretly hope so, right?

    • #4 by Glenden Brown on February 10, 2011 - 7:32 am

      Two points:

      Catholic doctrine forbids divorce. Divorce is legal in the US and in fact quit popular among straight people who get end about half their marriage in divorce; yet no one has tried to force the Catholic church to change its doctrinal stance. Now, if something as common as divorce hasn’t been legally forced on the Catholic church, exactly what makes you think that same sex marriage would or even could be forced on churches?

      I believe in not so many decades that lots of churches will perform marriages for same sex couples – because they will have struggled with the actual theology and will come to the conclusion that their stances were based on bad information, the same way lots of churches struggled with interracial marriages or performing second marriages for persons who were divorced or ordaining women or performing liturgy in the vernacular rather than Latin or Greek or allowing women to speak and sing during worship. If you look carefully at the Hebrew Testament prohibitions concerning homosexuality, they are part of a larger body of purity laws, which have been abandoned and ignored by Christians, save of course the no gay people rule. Read, for example, the story of Jonathan and David; read the story of Ethiopian eunuch; read the story of the Centurion and his beloved boy and you have biblical accounts of same gender couples and sexual minorities reported in approving terms. The Ethiopian eunuch in particular offers an interesting take on what it means to proclaim one’s self a follower of Christ. The Christian church will continue to struggle with these issues but I believe in a few decades it will primarily be a non-issue. I could go into more detail but I have to get ready to earn my daily bread.

  4. #5 by Shane on February 9, 2011 - 9:39 pm

    Well, let’s see. Since anyone who performs religious ceremony now can refuse to marry someone, even without a reason, I call bullshit.

    In fact, while I think it is a infringement on rights to deny gay marriage, if anyone ever insists that a religious group that disagrees has to perform the ceremony, I will be right there protesting it on day one.

    Legally you not only have nothing to support your claim (see the several recent lectures to law schools by Martha Nuessbam for details) but when you make comments about “their own kind” on a judges seat, you look like an ignorant homophobic twit.

  5. #6 by tl on February 9, 2011 - 10:54 pm

    “you look like an ignorant homophobic twit.”

    Ah yes.Junior high playground language. Well, that does it. You convinced me.

    “their own kind”: left-wing, gay marriage supporters.

  6. #7 by james farmer on February 10, 2011 - 12:35 am

    Perhaps in a few decades the day will come when it will be illegal to even say in a church that homosexual behavior is sinful.

    Better yet, perhaps in a few decades, churchgoers – e.g., “tl” – will come to understand and acknowledge that homosexual behavior is simply not sinful.

  7. #8 by Uncle Rico on February 10, 2011 - 7:00 am

    I wouldn’t put it past the militant gay agenda to sit their own kind in the judge’s seat to do that.

    Sucks when someone else takes a page out of the Christian playbook, don’t it?

  8. #9 by Uncle Rico on February 10, 2011 - 7:08 am

    “their own kind”: left-wing, gay marriage supporters.

    Connecting the dots:

    “their own kind” = “gay marriage supporters” = “militant gay agenda”

  9. #10 by shane on February 10, 2011 - 7:19 am

    you make a 3rd grade argument, you get a junior high insult. Frankly, you should be proud you traded up.

    Doesn’t change the fact that every single bit of precedence in the system says no church will be be forced to perform a ceremony they disagree with. Only that they can’t stop a civil ceremony. Because it isn’t any of their business.

  10. #11 by Uncle Rico on February 10, 2011 - 8:53 am

    Dangerous personal metrics:

    Married (22 and counting)
    Children (3)
    Employed (white collar)
    Nominal (very) Christian

    View on gay marriage: denial is unconstitutional

    Conclusion: proud conspirator in the militant gay agenda.

  11. #12 by brewski on February 10, 2011 - 12:34 pm

    The easy answer is for the government to marry no one. What business is it of the government if I am married or not? Churches could marry and not marry whom they please. All the other stuff is contractual.

  12. #13 by shane on February 10, 2011 - 12:58 pm

    I am not sure “easy” is the way to characterize the various things that the government would have to do in order to turn the civil parts of marriage into a pure contract system. But it might be a good idea.

    The problem is that basically that is what happens now.

    If someone disagrees with “gay marriage” they are saying that they are against:

    1) homosexual couples having those contractual rights and obligations, in which case that won’t make them feel better


    2)they are saying they don’t want their religion to perform the ceremony, in which case they fail to understand how marriages are performed, since that won’t happen.


    3) they are against the special word “marriage” being used to refer to recognition of a relationship, in which case they need to get out and protest things like Spears couple hour long relationships, Rush and Newt and various other rightwing blow hards, divorce, etc, etc, etc.

    None of those things will change if the government gets out of the marriage business.

  13. #14 by shane on February 10, 2011 - 12:59 pm

    Rico, all you have on me is a few years and one kid. Do you get the “gay agenda” news letter? I have been checking my mailbox for years now…

  14. #15 by shane on February 10, 2011 - 1:48 pm

    The Onion

    Upon learning that gay marriage actually had to go to the Supreme Court, where it barely passed in a controversial 5-to-4 decision, students from the class of 2086 speculated that “maybe people were just dumber [in the early 2000s],” at which point student Eminem Robertson began to loudly impersonate a bumbling Supreme Court justice from the turn of the century, eliciting loud laughs of approval from classmates.

  15. #16 by brewski on February 10, 2011 - 2:07 pm

    I don’t think it is true that those who say they are against gay marriage are also against gay couples having those contractual rights. Some do and some don’t. Also, those who say they want marriage to be done by churches and not governments will then get to choose which church they go to. If they want to choose a church which does, then they can. If they want to choose a church which doesn’t, then they can do that to. It’s called being pro-choice. Also, some churches will not marry any couple who has not completed a pre-marriage course, some of which are a year long, which would reduce the Spears phenomenon. Also, people like Gingrich is paying a price for his marital history, so it isn’t like people have forgotten about that.

  16. #17 by Uncle Rico on February 10, 2011 - 5:29 pm

    Do you get the “gay agenda” news letter? I have been checking my mailbox for years now…

    The militant gays are far more nefarious than that shane. The strategy is more akin to an alien abuduction, but instead of little green hued, almond-eyed guys in silver smocks, you get visited by a bunch of lispy queers in the middle of the night for the implant procedure. If you’re expecting the newsletter, you’re already a goner.

  17. #18 by cav on February 10, 2011 - 6:34 pm

    Dallin couldn’t cut it in the Church of Scientology.

    It’s true. Look it up.

  18. #19 by cav on February 10, 2011 - 6:44 pm

    Look down the class scale for somebody to blame rather than up.

  19. #20 by David from Sandy UT on February 10, 2011 - 8:01 pm

    >> “I wanted to spend some time on these incidents precisely because Dallin Oaks did not. If all you knew was what he said, you’d walk away with the impression that Christians are increasingly victims of a shadowy conspiracy to persecute them because they merely disapprove of homosexuality.”

    In my never-humble opinion, the omission of details needed to help the listener understand the context of these “shadowy conspiracy to persecute” events is a deliberate deception.

    This fictional story illustrates my point.

    A frantic young man calls customer service to ask, “What time is the last train to Clarksville?,” adding, “My favorite aunt has end-stage cancer, and I want to be at her bedside before she passes.”

    The human equivalent of used toilet tissue would say only (yet truthfully), “The printed schedule says 5:00 p.m.”

    A person having compassion for the young passenger would add, “But the printed schedule is out of date. If you want to catch that train, be at the station no later than 4:30.”

    I assume the reader is able to draw his or her own conclusion about the intent and impact of Dallin “5:00” Oaks’ omission of important details concerning the events described above.

  20. #21 by Larry Bergan on February 11, 2011 - 8:24 pm

    Great post! Great comments!

    I’m late to this thread, but wanted to read it first before getting to the sequels and I’m a REALLY slow reader.

    Something tells me we’re never going to have a public debate between Glenden and Mr. Oaks.

    But I can dream.

    Fascinating and honest-to-the-bone discussions are what I hope this blog is all about, and this thread delivers! Does any other kind of discussion matter?

  21. #22 by shane on February 12, 2011 - 9:05 am

    brewski, the point is that if one of those three things is someones problem with gay marriage, then there is no reason the government getting out of marriage would make a difference to them, they would still protest gay marriage.

  22. #23 by Shangri La on February 12, 2011 - 9:25 am

    The issue is decided is Germany, all “marriages” are now civil unions with all the rights and obligations and paths executed upon termination of the union. This includes child custody and division of assets.

    If you wish to enhance your contracts with religious mumbo jumbo the State will duly note this in the drawn up civil union agreement.

    This is another mindless social issue with no purpose but to divide society into separate camps to enhance greater control and further fleecing.

  23. #24 by Larry Bergan on February 12, 2011 - 9:25 am

    David from Sandy UT said:

    I assume the reader is able to draw his or her own conclusion about the intent and impact of Dallin “5:00” Oaks’ omission of important details concerning the events described above.

    He misspoke. 🙂

  24. #25 by Larry Bergan on February 12, 2011 - 9:31 am

    75.70 or glenn or whoever from Shangri La said:

    This is another mindless social issue with no purpose but to divide society into separate camps to enhance greater control and further fleecing.

    Obama did it!

  25. #26 by Shangri La on February 12, 2011 - 12:31 pm

    Focus on being broke, marry the fencepost for all anyone cares. A mindless social issue.

  26. #27 by cav on February 12, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    Major part of what’s wrong with our politics (and our nation) is massive amounts of disinformation spread by professional right wing disinformers, The “puke funnel” runs 24/7, reverse peristalsis endlessly coming from conservative “think tanks” and now Fox News.

    Decades of right-wing puke leads people to “know” all manner of untruths. Tax cuts lead to higher tax revenue, Democrats are fiscally irresponsible, social security is a ponzi scheme, we have the best health care system in the world, Democrats are weak on national security, public employees are overpaid, teachers unions are to blame for bad math scores, on and on and on.

    So then we get a guy who has the most awesome platform in existence for public statements to conteract this garbage, and what does he do?

    He repeats it. He f*cking repeats it. Like today, saying “American families have to live on a budget, and so should the government.” And then he supports multi-trillion dollar tax cuts and SS payroll tax “holidays.” Thinks he’s cleverly co-opting right-wing memes, doing nine-dimensional jiu jitsu judo Star-trek chess or something.

    But all he’s doing is reinforcing the misinformed “understandings” of the American public, making it impossible for us to have meaningful discussions and solve our real problems.

    In a way I can’t blame the Teabaggers for their stupid beliefs. They have heard this shit all their lives, and now they hear the President reinforcing their stupid beliefs.

    Huge, huge, disappointment. Enormous missed opportunity, perhaps ultimately fatal to a democratic society. If our smartest leader repeats the opposition’s horseshit, what hope do we have?

    Surely there’s a library of Dallin Oaks speeches ready for download.

  27. #28 by Larry Bergan on February 12, 2011 - 1:46 pm

    Surely there’s a library of Dallin Oaks speeches ready for download.

    I’m thinking; no.

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