Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Enabling Power of the Law

Here’s a bit of somewhat old news I just noticed in my internet wanderings. On February 4, 2011, a member of the legal community received an award for positive contributions to the law and made the following statement to the group presenting the award: 

“Rather than seeing law as an instrument of domination, it is our mission to use it as an enabling power to help men and women achieve greater independence and ultimate potential.”

Sounds like the words of a champion of civil rights, doesn't it? Maybe even the words of a proponent of gay marriage? Nope.

The speaker was Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, and previously a lawyer in the banking and finance sectors. The award was given by the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, an association of mostly Mormon lawyers and judges. Christofferson went on to say:

“All man-made systems are imperfect and include elements of injustice. Still, you can strive to make the legal system in which you live and work come as close as possible to the perfectly just legal system of God.”

I'll admit I'm using these quotes out of context. But in what context can they be put that could reconcile them with the legal stance the (Corporation of the President of the) Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taken against gay marriage? I'm not talking about the religious stance. That's a completely different matter.

For over a decade, the church has unabashedly advocated a position on gay marriage that uses the law as an instrument of domination against people who wish to enter or who have already entered into same-sex marriages. It has done so in a ways that hinders their independence and limits their ultimate potential as equal citizens of their communities, states, the nation and the world. In many places in the United States, it has thwarted the advancement of justice in our man-made system. Divisiveness doesn’t help us to "form a more perfect Union" and seek a godly kind of justice in the lives of individuals and families of any configuration.

Other parts of Christofferson’s speech were more in line with what I have come to expect of the lawyers and former lawyers within the church hierarchy. Here’s a particularly rich example:

"Since all legislation is based on moral is not an imposition of religion or religionists to take part of discussion. There is no justice in one side of deeply held values sinking to silence the other because it espouses different values."

People of faith, just like all others, are welcome to contribute to the ongoing, difficult and sometimes painful development of the law. But it’s just a tad disingenuous for a Mormon apostle to assert that the church is being silenced in the public square when it systematically silences gay people, feminists and intellectuals within the church.

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