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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “14b – Dallin Oaks”

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14b – Dallin Oaks


“[p. 17] The major objective of the gay rights homosexual movement is to win legitimacy and public approval for the homosexual ‘sexual preference’ or ‘lifestyle.’  Nothing would accomplish that objective as effectively as legal recognition of homosexual marriages.…

[p. 18] Recognition of homosexual marriages would entitle homosexual couples to such diverse privileges as child adoption, tax benefits, right to court-enforced support, alimony and property division upon divorce, social security benefits, property rights such as intestate inheritance or spouse’s indefeasible share, citizenship privileges, right to sue for wrongful death, access to housing that is restricted to married couples or unattached singles, and pension and group insurance benefits, to name only a few.

In my opinion, the interests at stake in the proposed legalization of so-called homosexual marriages are sufficient to justify a formal Church position and significant efforts in opposition.  Such a position could make the following points, which are stated here in secular terms appropriate for public debate on proposed legislation [Footnote: We therefore do not mention that, in religious terms, homosexual ‘marriages’ would be a devilish perversion of the procreative purposes of God and the earth life He has granted His children.  Homosexual relations are wholly deviant to the procreative purpose of sexual relations.  Homosexual marriages are wholly deviant to the patriarchal family.]:

  1. We speak in defense of the family, which is the bulwark of society.
  1. [p. 19] The legal rights conferred on marriage partners are granted in consideration of the procreative purpose and effects of a marriage between a man and a woman.  (Even marriages between men and women who are past the child-bearing years serve this procreative purpose, since they are role models for younger, child-bearing couples.)
  1. Cohabitations between persons of the same sex do not meet the time-honored definition and purposes of ‘marriage’ and therefore should not qualify for the legal rights and privileges granted to marriage.
  1. One generation of homosexual ‘marriages’ would depopulate a nation, and, if sufficiently widespread, would extinguish its people.  Our marriage laws should not abet national suicide.…

[p. 20] This whole subject of homosexual rights in relation to the family is more complicated than first appears.  For example, a difficult case likely to arise is whether the law’s traditional favoritism for parental rights would allow a natural parent who is homosexual to raise his or her child in a homosexual environment, advocating a homosexual lifestyle?  Or, in the alternative, would the law’s traditional hostility to homosexuality prevail over parental rights and require the child’s custody to be given to a non-parent?  The issue is mentioned here since it would be used by the opposition to suggest that in opposing homosexual marriages the Church was also opposing parental rights.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals,” August 7, 1984)


“Mar 1995: Apostle Dallin Oaks begins work on an article on same-sex attraction (personal communication) that will be published in October.” (Richley H. Crapo, “Chronology of LDS Involvement in Same-sex Marriage Politics,” 1997)


“How should we respond when a person announces that he is a homosexual or she is a lesbian and that scientific evidence ‘proves’ he or she was ‘born that way’?…

What we call gender was an essential characteristic of our existence prior to our birth.…

Our eternal destiny—exaltation in the celestial kingdom—is made possible only through the atonement of Jesus Christ (through which we became and can remain ‘innocent before God’ [D&C 93:38] and is only available to a man and a woman who have entered into and been faithful to the covenants of an eternal marriage in a temple of God.…

Persons who desire to do what is right but through no fault of their own are unable to have an eternal marriage in mortal life will have an opportunity to qualify for eternal life in a period following mortality, if they keep the commandments of God and are true to their baptismal and other covenants.…

Applying the First Presidency’s distinction to the question of same-sex relationships, we should distinguish between (1) homosexual (or lesbian) ‘thoughts and feelings’ (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) ‘homosexual behavior’ (which is a serious sin).

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote the condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.…

In contrast to our doctrinal approach, many persons approach the problems of same-sex attraction solely from the standpoint of current science. While I am not qualified as a scientist, with the aid of scientific literature and with the advice of qualified scientists and practitioners, I will attempt to refute the claim of some that scientific discoveries demonstrate that avowed homosexuals and lesbians were ‘born that way.’…

Wherever they fall along the spectrum between outright rejection and total acceptance of biological determinism of sexual orientation, most scientists concede that the current evidence is insufficient and that firm conclusions must await many additional scientific studies.… (Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 1995)


“[p. 81] To resist social policies that undermine family unity and to support policies that promote it, Elder Oaks served for twenty-five years on the board of directors of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. A private re[p. 82]search and information organization based in Rockford, Illinois, the Howard Center defends the traditional family as the source of individual liberty and virtue. In 1996, the Howard Center initiated the World Congress of Families project, holding the first World Congress in Prague, the Czech Republic, in 1997.  In 1999, in conjunction with the World Family Policy Center (formerly NGO Family Voice) at BYU and other cosponsors, the Howard Center convened the second World Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.…” (Dallin H. Oaks, interviewed by John Pottenger on July 14, 2000; in John R. Pottenger, “Elder Dallin H. Oaks: The Mormons, Politics, and Family Values,” Jo Renee Formicola and Hubert Morken, eds., Religious Leaders and Faith-Based Politics: Ten Profiles (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001)


Greg: You mentioned Dallin Oaks.  Do you see him through this as an attorney who is arguing his client’s stated interest, or do you see Oaks as an independent thinker trying to work through this?

Rich: Both.

Greg: Is that why we see different Dallin’s at different times?

Jan: Yes.

Rich: When I’m sitting here talking with him, he sounds like he’s trying to work it through.  When I read these documents, he sounds as though he is there, trying to defend the Church, as legal counsel, to a position already taken.  Where it joins is “religious freedom.”  He does have a very strong and committed view toward religious freedom.  But some of his arguments are bogus.

Greg: I thought his remarks at the January press conference were embarrassing.

Rich: Some of what he says in these documents went into his article that I worked with him on, the one in the Ensign.  What happened is that I am sitting here dealing with the stuff on the other side.  We have these conversations and he says, “What is the science?”  I say, “You look at this, you look at this, you look at this.”  So he had done a lot of reading on the side.  So when he comes and sits down with me, he says, “There is no position science can take on this, except that it is an interaction between biology and learned behavior.  So what happens after birth and the genetics, the interplay between those two, is how this thing turns out.  But it’s a complexity that can’t just be resolved with simplistic responses.  So as a church, we can’t take a position that we know the cause.”  I said, “That is true.”  Fortunately, he was consistent with not saying, “We can determine the cause.”  He fought for that.

(Richard Ferré, March 29, 2015)

Jay: The mid-80s is where you probably want to begin.  They started focusing on marriage initiatives in 1986.  I think Dallin Oaks, in 1984, wrote a big essay, probably within two months of becoming an apostle, about marriage.  He keys in on homosexual marriage in that.  I see that as kind of a starting point, with Oaks coming in.  He kind of put legal thought to what people in the Twelve were already feeling that they wanted to do.  They had just finished with the Equal Rights Amendment, and this was the next big thing that was going to be up front, and they started pushing for it.

(Joseph Jay, June 15, 2014)

Ord: So in 1986 [it was actually 1984] Dallin Oaks drafted a memo—this is where the Church comes in—on what the Church’s response was going to have to be with respect to the legal rights that homosexuals were trying to reach in California, and particularly in San Francisco.  Anybody who is familiar with the LDS Church knows that it has always had a strong position in San Francisco.  It was Mormon engineers who laid out the entire west side of the city.  It was Mormon pioneers who discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill.  It was the Mormons who helped build the entire area.  It was Mormon irrigation engineers who developed California’s irrigation system, which is probably the most complex in the world outside of Utah and Israel.  So Mormons are very integral in California, particularly in the Bay Area.

So when gay people became so influential on sexual issues, the Mormons were right there next to them, saying, “Wait a minute!  Hold on!  We can’t allow queers to get a foothold in our community.”  That became a struggle that the LDS leadership was fighting long before it became mainstream for them to be doing so.

So in [1984] Dallin Oaks drafted this memo saying, “We’re probably going to have to concede housing and hospital visitation.”  It took the Church another almost thirty years to concede on those two issues.  That didn’t happen until last year during Utah’s legislative session.

Prince: I have a copy of that memo.

Ord: I was going to send it to you if you didn’t.  That memo became the foundation of the Church’s strategy for dealing with homosexuals for the next thirty or forty years.  They’re still using that playbook.

(James Ord, February 2, 2016)

Pearson: Our stake conference was moved from April into March.  Dean Criddle was told that we were going to have a General Authority, even though we had a General Authority just last September, and it was going to be Dallin Oaks.  Those of us who knew about this figured out in our heads, “This is bad news.  This is very bad.  He is coming to release Dean, and find a company man who can guide the Oakland Stake back to where it should be.”  So we were worried.

But Dallin Oaks came, and nothing happened except that he was just so uninspiring.  He didn’t even call us to repentance.  We thought surely he would want to set this very liberal stake aright.  But he didn’t even have anything prepared.  He just kind of flew by the seat of his authority.

There was one meeting that I did not go to, but you’d be interested in what he said there.  This was a meeting that Dean got him to agree to, even though Oaks said, “This is highly irregular,” but he agreed to do it anyway.  It was an early Sunday morning meeting with all of the women leaders of the stake—Relief Society, Young Women, Primary.  It amounted to about one hundred women.  I was not there, because I’m not one of those leaders.  He agreed to have a question-and-answer discussion with them.

My good friend Diane Oviatt was in the Primary presidency of the Moraga Ward, and so she was able to go.  I had talked to her before, and I encouraged her to go for it.  As Oaks started the meeting he said, “I need to let you know that the Church does not do well with activism, and that the things that change in the Church are because of revelation to the Brethren, which is the way that the Lord works.”

He then turned it over to questions.  Diane did get the floor, and she very emotionally told about their son and about the two years that the family spent thinking he was possibly going to take his life.  She made a plea that Oaks would do something like give a major General Conference address and tell the parents of gay kids, “Don’t turn away from your kids, no matter what.”  Dean and his counselors were sitting up front, and while Diane was speaking she couldn’t see Dean.  But afterwards, one of her friends told her that while she was standing up and speaking, Dean’s head was bowed and his body was shaking with sobs.

After Diane sat down, Elder Oaks got back up and said, “Yes, that same-sex attraction.  That’s a tricky one, isn’t it?  That really is a tricky one.  Well, it’s a condition—what could I compare it to?  It’s a condition perhaps like alcoholism, or perhaps like kleptomania.”  He said “kleptomania” out loud, in front of all those intelligent people.  And this is the best we’ve got!  This is one of Christ’s Twelve Apostles, and this is the best we’ve got.  Kleptomania is as close as we can get to figuring out same-sex attraction.

(Carol Lynn Pearson, April 24, 2015)

Marv: So here we are, Greg.  We have three gay children—two grandchildren and our own son—and we don’t know how many more might show up in the genealogy.  We have a huge family, over fifty-five or sixty posterity now.

This has been a real situation with us.  We have been very closely associated with Elder [Dallin] Oaks, whose first wife, June, was my wife’s first cousin.  They were quite close.  We had a meeting with Elder Oaks at a family reunion twenty years ago, in about 1995.  We explained our dilemma about our son to him, how this was all coming down on us and how we were really fearful every time General Conference came along that somebody was going to degrade our son and other gays.  It was a fearful thing for us to sit down in General Conference, because we never knew what was going to come across the pulpit that would be something we would have to live with until another conference rolled around.  We had quite a discussion with him for over two hours.

Geneva: Greg, I don’t know if you remember the very first article that came out on homosexuality in the Ensign, by Elder Oaks.

Greg: Yes, I do remember it.

Geneva: That was precipitated because of this conversation that we had with him.  The letter in that, that he quotes in that article, was our letter.

Greg: Where did you sense that he was on the issue before your discussion with him?  Talk about how that discussion may have moved the needle for him.

Marv: I’ve thought about that often.  We feel very definitely that he was sympathizing and empathizing with us in our situation.

Geneva: It was at a family reunion that we talked to him.  We went over to another table and talked.

Marv: In another part of the park.  Nobody knew where we were.

Geneva: We were there for a couple of hours.

Marv: In fact, the reunion broke up and they were on their way home, and they were looking for where Elder Oaks was.

Greg: So do you think the effect of your conversation was more catalytic—to get him to go on the record—rather than turning his head on the issue?

Marv: I do.

Geneva: All three of us sat there and cried.  It was a very touching moment, and he was very empathetic.

Marv: He looked me in the eye and said, “Marv, what would you do if you were President Hinckley?”  I said, “Well, the number one thing I think I would do is not make it so tough on the parents who have gay children, and who have to listen at General Conference and wonder whether they are going to be embarrassed or not.”  Believe it or not, for the next three or four years there wasn’t any mention made of the gays, that we were aware of.  We definitely feel that Dallin Oaks had an awakening there that he didn’t realize before.…

But we felt that that 1995 article was precipitated by our conversation.  Someone from the Associated Press called me and introduced himself.  He said, “I’ve been covering church politics for years, and this is the first time in my recollection that anything has been said about homosexuality in the Ensign magazine.”  So it was quite remarkable as far as he was concerned.  He asked us a few questions about it and how it might have come about.…

Rulon Cravens, who was the secretary to the Quorum of the Twelve for years, was in our temple presidency.  I went in and had a chat with him.  He actually broke down in tears.  He said, “Marv, I never knew.”  I said, “Tell me something.  You have been in the Quorum of the Twelve for ten or twelve years as secretary.  Was this subject ever discussed much in there?”  He said, “Very little, and when it was, it wasn’t discussed very long.”  I said, “Who is the go-to man in the Quorum of the Twelve when they have problems dealing with law?”  He said, “Oh, Dallin Oaks.  Everybody defers to Dallin Oaks.  I think he is one of the most powerful General Authorities simply because of his connection with the legal profession.”

(Marvin and Geneva Peterson, March 3, 2015)

Schow: Oaks did a major article that was published in the Ensign in 1995 or 1996.  He was conferring closely with Rich [Ferré] during that whole process.  Rich told me that Oaks spent a whole year, and he read a lot of stuff during that period, like a Supreme Court judge would.  That led him to acknowledge in that article that there is a genetic component to this.  He read Dean Hamer’s book, for example.  Oaks got really into it in the mid-90s.  Rich told me that that Oaks wrote that article, but that it had to go through the Twelve several times.  My sense of that is that it got loaded down with some stuff that Oaks maybe didn’t particularly want there.

I was told that Oaks said, “You can only fight one of these battles every once in a while.  You can’t be doing it every year.”  So I think he waited for about ten years, and then he decided it was time to move again.  This is my estimate of what happened.  I’m pretty sure the major force on the other side was Packer.

What happened was that this thing that appeared on the church website in 2006, the interview with Oaks and Lance Wickman—Wickman is an attorney, a really bright guy—I think Oaks probably went to Wickman and said, “We need to play out some stuff.”  So they concocted this interview with the Public Affairs people, and out of the blue that appeared on the church website.  I don’t know exactly how that happened, but that was an interesting dynamic that occurred there.  In that interview there were some important things that really had not been the church position up until that time.  There was an apostle who somehow got the standing or got permission to do this interview, and in that interview they acknowledged that the Church does not have a position on “nature vs. nurture.”  That was a big deal.  Dean Byrd and the Packer forces—people like Bruce Hafen, who were in the pocket of Dean Byrd—had done their damndest for twenty years to say, “You are not born this way.”

Prince: So do you think this is the major point of contention between Packer and Oaks on LGBT issues in general, whether it is biological or not?

Schow: I think it is certainly part of it.  It still continues to be a point of contention between Affirmation and Northstar.  Ty Mansfield has gotten very much in the Evergreen/Dean Byrd camp with respect to whether you are born that way or not.  So there are a lot of people who don’t like what Oaks has done, because he has been back and forth on different parts of this.  I don’t know what the explanation for that is, whether he is ambivalent or whether he is trying to curry favor with Packer by saying certain things.

So Oaks and Wickman did this interview in July or August of 2006.  Those of us who were watching stuff like that saw it, but they didn’t really announce it.  Another thing that came out in that interview, which I think was crucial, was that Oaks and Wickman had a long discussion about whether therapy was going to fix people.  Wickman was the key spokesman there, and he said, “In some cases it looks like people have been helped in therapy, and in other cases not.  But this is not something that the Church gets involved in.  That’s a professional thing that is for therapists.”

I think it was in 1999 that Dean Byrd had gotten this article published in the Ensign, and through Bob Rees, I learned that Jeff Holland, who was monitoring the Ensign at that time, said to Bob, “That article appeared, and I never saw it.”  So Holland was blindsided, even though he was monitoring the Ensign and should have seen stuff like that.  But somehow Byrd got it in.  That article starts out by saying, “You’re not born that way, and you can change.”  And the damned thing appeared in the Ensign!

Then, he went on to say how parents can testify to their children that they can change.  Well, I think Oaks and Holland, because they had gotten so much stuff from us over the years, began to figure out that people could not change.  Of course, there is the whole history of what happened at BYU with electric shock therapy.  Oaks had to have been in the middle of that somehow, or at least got the feedback.

Prince: Except that he denied any knowledge of it having happened, even though it was on his watch.

Schow: And who knows whether he knew or not.  My sense is that Rich has had a major influence on Oaks.  I think that Oaks, in 1995, began to understand.  Because he is a judge, he looks at evidence, he looks at facts and science and so on.  So I think he, in 1995, decided that the Church had to begin to move its position.  He could only get so far because Packer was so strong then.

(Ron Schow, January 15, 2015)