Question: Was “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” drafted by lawyers in Hawaii in response to legal concerns the Church had over the legalization of gay marriage?

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Question: Was “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” drafted by lawyers in Hawaii in response to legal concerns the Church had over the legalization of gay marriage?

The main concern of Church leaders, and the only one that they seem to have had in consciousness when they first started drafting the proclamation, was a conference held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994 on the family that did not mention marriage

It is claimed by some that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was drafted by lawyers in Hawaii in response to legal concerns the Church had over the legalization of gay marriage.[1] Mormonr.org documents how "[i]n 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing a case on gay marriage, known as Baehr v. Lewin (later Miike).[2] In 1994 the brethren begin the process of writing the proclamation in a 'revelatory process' with members of the Quorum of the Twelve."[3]

Dallin H. Oaks' biography In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks (2021) authored by Richard Turley provides additional context:

During the fall of 1994, at the urging of its Acting President, Boyd K. Packer, the Quorum of the Twelve discussed the need for a scripture-based proclamation to set forth the Church’s doctrinal position on the family. A committee consisting of Elders Faust, Nelson, and Oaks was assigned to prepare a draft. Their work, for which Elder Nelson was the principal draftsman, was completed over the Christmas holidays. After being approved by the Quorum of the Twelve, the draft was submitted to the First Presidency on January 9, 1995, and warmly received.


Over the next several months, the First Presidency took the proposed proclamation under advisement and made needed amendments. Then on September 23, 1995, in the general Relief Society meeting held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle and broadcast throughout the world, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” publicly for the first time.

During the period that the proclamation was being drafted, Church leaders grew concerned about efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Hawaii. As that movement gained momentum, a group of Church authorities and Latter-day Saint legal scholars, including Elder Oaks, recommended that the Church oppose the Hawaii efforts…[4]

The above quotation from Dallin H. Oaks' biography notes that the initial impetus for drafting the proclamation came from Boyd K. Packer. Boyd K. Packer related the following about the origins of the proclamation at a devotional given at BYU in 2003:

The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued a proclamation on the family. I can tell you how that came about. They had a world conference on the family sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing, China. We sent representatives. It was not pleasant what they heard. They called another one in Cairo. Some of our people were there. I read the proceedings of that. The word marriage was not mentioned. It was at a conference on the family, but marriage was not even mentioned. It was then they announced that they were going to have such a conference here in Salt Lake City. Some of us made the recommendation: "They are coming here. We had better proclaim our position.”[5]

Similarly, Elder M. Russell Ballard related:

Various world conferences were held dealing either directly or indirectly with the family…In the midst of all that was stirring on this subject in the world, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could see the importance of declaring to the world the revealed, true role of the family in the eternal plan of God. We worked together through the divinely inspired council system that operates even at the highest levels of the Church to craft a proclamation that would make the Lord’s position on the family so clear that it could not be misunderstood.[6]

We note that the United Nations indeed held a conference in Beijing, China (the Fourth World Conference on Women) from the 4–15 of September 1995 and one in Cairo, Egypt (the "Cairo Conference on Population and Development") from 5–13 September 1994. The Beijing Conference probably had little to no impact on the drafting of the proclamation given that the proclamation had already been drafted, substantially edited, and was about read to the Church by Gordon B. Hinckley on 23 September 1995. The Deseret News reported on 14 March 1995 that the United Nations was holding a conference celebrating the International Year of the Family that week in Salt Lake City.[7] The U.N. had designated the year 1994 as the International Year of the Family. The First Presidency released a statement on 1 January 1994 endorsing the U.N.'s designation.[8] 5 days after the Deseret News' report on the UN coming to Salt Lake, they reported the alarming speech of a member of the John Birch Society before a gathering of about 400 in Salt Lake City. The speaker, William Grigg, warned of what he perceived were the United Nations' attempts at "redefining the family out of existence[.]"[9]

Thus, this is the potential timeline/narrative that arises:

  • 17 December 1990: With the encouragement of William E. Woods, a gay rights activist, three same-gender couples applied for marriage licenses at the Hawaii Department of Health.
  • 12 April 1991: The three couples are denied the marriage licenses
  • 1 May 1991: The three couples file the lawsuit.
  • 1993: The Hawaii Supreme Court begins to hear the case.
  • 1 February 1994: The First Presidency releases a statement saying "[w]e encourage members to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender."[10]
  • 5–13 September 1994: The United Nations holds their conference in Egypt.
  • Sometime between mid-September to December 1994: Boyd K. Packer read the proceedings of the conference in Cairo in 1994. Concerned about the conference coming to Salt Lake City in March of the next year, he and others (likely the Church's representatives at Cairo) provided encouragement for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to write a proclamation.
  • Christmas and New Years 1994: The initial drafting of the proclamation takes place by Elders Nelson, Faust, and Oaks with Elder Nelson as the principal draftsman. During this time, Church representatives grow concerned over the efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii and, with the encouragement of Latter-day Saint legal scholars and Dallin H. Oaks, decided to formally oppose those efforts.
  • 24 February 1995: The Associated Press reports that the Church had announced its petition to intervene in the case.[11]
  • 4–15 September 1995: The United Nations' conference in Beijing happened and Church representatives attended the conference. Sometime in the eight days after their being at the conference, they may have reported on their findings to top Church leaders. Minor edits (at best) would be made to the proclamation.
  • 23 September 1995: Gordon B. Hinckley reads the proclamation at the Relief Society meeting in response to these concerns.
  • 3 June 1997: The Church includes the proclamation as part of an amicus curiae brief regarding the case to the Hawaii Supreme Court.[12]
  • 3 November 1998: The state of Hawaii passes a constitutional amendment reserving marriage for man-woman unions.
  • 3 December 1999: The Hawaii state Supreme Court dismisses the case on the grounds that reserving marriage to man-woman unions does not violate the state's constitution.

It's certain that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve knew about the efforts in Hawaii prior to Packer providing the initial impetus to draft the proclamation. But, according to the documentable accounts of President Packer, Elder Ballard, and President Oaks, those efforts probably weren't in leaders' immediate consciousness when initially beginning to draft the family proclamation. They weren't the main concern on leaders' hearts when beginning to draft the proclamation.

Economic and Social Concerns with the Breakdown of the Family in the 80s and 90s Motivating the Proclamation

Another Latter-day Saint, Walker Wright, wrote an insightful post outlining the economic and social costs of the breakdown of the family including the rise of fatherless homes and the amount of people on welfare being observed in the United States in late 80s and 90s that likely influenced the final shape of the proclamation.[13] Elder Gordon B. Hinckley stated in the October 1993 General Conference:

We in America are saddled with a huge financial deficit in our national budget. This has led to astronomical debt. But there is another deficit which, in its long-term implications, is more serious. It is a moral deficit, a decline in values in the lives of the people, which is sapping the very foundation of our society. It is serious in this land. And it is serious in every other nation of which I know. Some months ago there appeared in the Wall Street Journal what was spoken of as an index of what is happening to our culture. I read from this statement: "Since 1960, the U.S. population has increased 41%; the gross domestic product has nearly tripled; and total social spending by all levels of government [has experienced] more than a fivefold increase. ... "But during the same ... period there has been a 560% increase in violent crime; a 419% increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate" (William J. Bennett, "Quantifying America's Decline," Wall Street Journal, 15 Mar. 1993).[14]

Elder Neal A. Maxwell decried the rise of illegitimate children, children not having functioning fathers more and more, the large percentage of juvenile criminals coming from fatherless homes, less children being born today and living continuously with their own mother and father, the rise of adolescents contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and the percentage of children that had both of their parents or their only parent in the workforce in the April 1994 General Conference.[15]

Leaders couldn't have been concerned with just same-sex marriage. The proclamation addressed a wide range of issues. Wright concludes:

While the Proclamation dedicates considerable space to heteronormative marriage and gender essentialism, it also focuses on the rearing of children: “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations…Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (italics mine). The portion on father/mother responsibilities is typically interpreted as a mere restatement of traditional (or outdated) gender roles. However, the concept that “fathers are to preside over their families…and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families” may stem from the political and public discussions revolving around fatherless families and welfare-dependent mothers (recall the absent father from Moyers’ documentary). “Work” is listed among multiple “principles” upon which “successful families and marriages are established…” On an even more dire note, the Proclamation warns “that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God” (italics mine). The language surrounding parental responsibility and specifically working, present, faithful fathers fits quite well into the national politics of the day. Statements similar to the Proclamation’s final line could be pulled from any of the above cited works: “We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked by a reporter what his greatest concerns were as President of the Church as he celebrated his 85th birthday in June 1995. He replied: “I am concerned about family life in the Church. We have wonderful people, but we have too many whose families are falling apart. … I think [this] is my most serious concern.”[16] Just three months after, he read the family proclamation to the General Relief Society Meeting. "It was no coincidence[,]" writes Bruce C. Hafen, "that this solemn declaration was issued precisely when the Lord’s prophet felt that, of all the subjects on his mind, unstable family life in the Church was his greatest concern."[17] President Hinckley decried the breakdown of the family in society in the October 1995 General Conference.[18] He placed the rise of the welfare state and the breakdown of the family close to same-sex marriage as among the social ills the Church should combat.

How bitter are the fruits of casting aside standards of virtue. The statistics are appalling. More than one-fourth of all children born in the United States are born out of wedlock, and the situation grows more serious. Of the teens who give birth, 46 percent will go on welfare within four years; of unmarried teens who give birth, 73 percent will be on welfare within four years. I believe that it should be the blessing of every child to be born into a home where that child is welcomed, nurtured, loved, and blessed with parents, a father and a mother, who live with loyalty to one another and to their children. I am sure that none of you younger women want less than this. Stand strong against the wiles of the world…There are those who would have us believe in the validity of what they choose to call same-sex marriage. Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and our sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others.

This may be further evidence that legalization of same-sex marriage in Hawaii was not the main concern of Church leaders when beginning to draft the proclamation.

Even if the proclamation were drafted with the Hawaii case being the primary concern to be addressed, two things must be kept in mind

Even if the proclamation were drafted with the Hawaii case being the primary concern to be addressed, two things must be kept in mind:

1. Legal documents can still be revelatory

The first of these is that legal documents can still be revelatory and authoritative. Some sections of the Doctrine and Covenants started out as (1) council minutes, (2) official statements of church policy written by lawyers like Oliver Cowdery, (3) letters written by Joseph Smith, (4) excerpts from peoples’ notes recording things that Joseph Smith taught. Examples include D&C 102, 122, 123, 128, 129, 130, 131, 134, and 135.

Those who are bothered by a revelation or doctrinal disquisition being first drafted by others may be comforted knowing that many different kinds of documents have been ratified as binding, holy, and authoritative even when they weren't traditional, dictated revelations.

Additionally, all revelations have a historical context in which they were given. No revelation comes in a vacuum. Just because the proclamation arose in an environment that had questions about marriage, sexuality, and their nature, that does not negate nor diminish the authority of the proclamation on our lives.

2. The doctrines contained within the Proclamation are doctrines long taught by the Church

The second is that the doctrines contained within the proclamation are doctrines long taught by the Church. We've addressed this in other articles on the FAIR Wiki. This shows that, regardless of how the doctrines were embodied in the proclamation, they have long been concerns that the Church has had. The doctrines of the proclamation were not created ad hoc in order to justify an irrational homophobia.

Notes

  1. The claim has its origins in Laura Compton, "From Amici to 'Ohana: The Hawaiian Roots of the Family Proclamation," Rational Faiths, May 15, 2015, https://rationalfaiths.com/from-amici-to-ohana/.
  2. Baehr v. Lewin (1993) was a case where three same-sex couples petitioned the Hawaii Supreme Court to recognize their unions.
  3. The Family Proclamation was published in 1995. Dallin H. Oaks explained that it was developed over the course of a year: "Subjects were identified and discussed by members of the Quorum of the Twelve for nearly a year. Language was proposed, reviewed, and revised. Prayerfully we continually pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what we should say and how we should say it." DHO offers an account of the Proclamation.
  4. Richard E. Turley Jr., In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2021), 215.
  5. Boyd K. Packer, "The Instrument of Your Mind and the Foundation of Your Character," CES Fireside (2 February 2003).
  6. M. Russell Ballard, “The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood,” (address at Brigham Young University, 19 August 2003). Cited in W. Justin Dyer and Michael A. Goodman, “The Prophetic Nature of The Family Proclamation,” in Latter-day Saints in Washington D.C.: History, People, and Places, ed. Kenneth L. Alford, Lloyd D. Newell, and Alexander L. Baugh (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2021), 142, 152n24.
  7. "World Focus on S.L. Gathering," Deseret News, March 15, 1995.
  8. "Year of family endorsed by the First Presidency," Church News, January 1, 1994.
  9. Marianne Schmidt, "U.N. IS ENEMY OF THE FAMILY, EDITOR SAYS," Deseret News, March 19, 1995. Yet another Deseret News article appeared on 17 April 1995 from one Scott Bradley in North Logan decrying the perceived ways in which the U.N. was undermining family. "U.N. GATHERINGS THREATEN FAMILIES," Deseret News, April 17, 1995.
  10. "First Presidency Statement Opposing Same Gender Marriages," Ensign 24, no. 4 (April 1994): 80.
  11. "CHURCH JOINS HAWAII FIGHT OVER SAME-SEX MARRIAGES," Associated Press, February 24, 1995.
  12. "Amicus Curiae Brief of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1997), Baehr v. Miike," Mormonr, accessed May 10, 2022, https://mormonr.org/qnas/NqoXl/origins_of_the_family_proclamation/research#re-0Z2bwi-L8jzYb.
  13. Walker Wright, "Family Breakdown, the Welfare State, and the Family Proclamation: An Alternative History," Worlds Without End, August 1, 2015, http://www.withoutend.org/family-proclamation-alternative-history/.
  14. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Bring Up a Child in the Way He Should Go," Ensign 23, no. 11 (November 1993): 58–59.
  15. Neal A. Maxwell, "Take Especial Care of Your Family," Ensign 24, no. 5 (May 1994): 88–89.
  16. Bruce C. Hafen, "The Proclamation on the Family: Transcending the Cultural Confusion," Ensign 45, no. 8 (August 2015): 51.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World," Ensign 25, no. 11 (November 1995): 98–101.