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 narrative that arises:

  • 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.
  • Somewhere 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: This initial drafting took place, according to Dallin H. Oaks' testimony, during the Christmas and New Years holidays of 1994. 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 after their being at the conference, they reported on their findings to top Church leaders. Minor edits (at best) are made to the proclamation.
  • 23 September 1995: Gordon B. Hinckley reads the proclamation at the Relief Society meeting in response to these concerns.
  • 1997: In 1997, the Church included the proclamation as part of an amicus curiae brief regarding the case to the Hawaii Supreme Court.[12]

It's very likely that the Church knew about the efforts in Hawaii prior to Packer providing the initial impetus. But, according to the testimony of Packer and Dallin H. Oaks, those efforts probably weren't in leaders' immediate consciousness when initially beginning to draft the family 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 being observed in the late 80s and 90s that likely influenced the final shape of the proclamation.[13] Leaders couldn't have been concerned with just same-sex marriage. The proclamation addressed a wide range of issues. 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.”[14] 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."[15] President Hinckley decried the breakdown of the family in society in the October 1995 General Conference.[16]

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.

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. Bruce C. Hafen, "The Proclamation on the Family: Transcending the Cultural Confusion," Ensign 45, no. 8 (August 2015): 51.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World," Ensign 25, no. 11 (November 1995): 98–101.