Brigham Young on Marriage

It wasn’t difficult to find words of the prophet Brigham Young about the role of government in defining marriage. What will be difficult is for the Church to reconcile its position on Proposition 8 with these teachings of one of its greatest leaders, while he was the President of the Church and God’s mouthpiece for His faithful on Earth. These are written in the Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, pp. 266 ff.

Who knows but the time will come when the inquiry will be made in Washington, by the President, by the Congressmen: “Are things any worse in Utah than in Washington: than they are in New York? or in any State of the Union? are they more unvirtuous, are they more disloyal to the Government? But then there is polygamy.” That has nothing in the least to do with our being loyal or disloyal, one way or the other. But is not the practice of polygamy a transgression of the law of the United States? How are we transgressing that law? In no other way than by obeying a revelation which God has given unto us touching a religious ordinance of his Church. And the anti-polygamy law has yet to be tested, as to its constitutionality, by the courts which have jurisdiction. By and by men will appear in the departments of the Government who will inquire into the validity of some laws and question their constitutionality.

Above, Young implies that the anti-polygamy law did not need to be obeyed as it had not yet been tested in courts with appropriate jurisdiction. One would further infer from this that Young would be (justifiably) concerned if an anti-polygamy law were upheld as constitutional in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Young then immediately continues (emphasis added),

Marriage is a civil contract. You might as well make a law to say how many children a man shall have, as to make a law to say how many wives he shall have. It would be as sensible to make a law to say how many horses or oxen he shall possess, or how many cows his wife shall milk.

Young opposed a law that stated that a man could only marry one woman — not a far cry from “marriage shall be defined as the union of one man and one woman.” The words of this latter-day prophet are unequivocal: marriage is a civil contract. It is not a function of the government, and government’s role in protecting the “traditional meaning of marriage” didn’t carry a whit of weight to Brigham Young. Clearly, the tradition cited by LDS opponents of same-sex marriage is not as old as their relatively young church (no pun intended).

Young meant that if a man wished to marry five women, and those women desired to enter into those marriage contracts, they should be entitled to do so without the interference of the government. But this logic also means that if two women wish to marry each other, those two individuals should be entitled to enter an equivalent civil contract that a man and a woman might wish to enter into. Young’s point is that the government should not make laws about individuals’ rights to enter into civil contracts.


31 Responses to Brigham Young on Marriage

  1. Anon says:

    Please note that domestic partnerships provide all the same rights as marriage. So, just like Brigham Young wanted, there is a civil contract in California that provides all the same rights as marriage for anyone.
    As you can see in the first line Domestic Partnerships are “an equivalent civil contract that a man and a woman might wish to enter into.” My friend, homosexuals have just as many rights as hetrosexuals as defined by california law.

  2. lds501c3 says:

    Unfortunately, even if that were true, people wouldn’t be making such a big deal about it. Your argument is tantamount to the “separate but equal” doctrine surrounding race upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson and finally struck down in Brown v. Board of Education.

    Marriage equality means that any two persons, irrespective of their genders, may enter into exactly the same civil contract that the state defines as “marriage.” If you want domestic partnerships, then have California do away with marriage entirely and only perform domestic partnerships, and let marriage rest entirely in the domain of the churches.

  3. Anon says:

    Just because people make a big deal about how rights are not equal doesn’t mean that rights in California are not equal. is a good example of how rights are equal. It says specifically in the law that was passed that “As of 2007, California affords domestic partnerships all of the same rights and responsibilities as marriages under state law.” (taken from the Wikipedia article). Just because people complain that they don’t have the same rights doesn’t mean that they don’t.
    Your second point is interesting and I have yet form an opinion on it. I know that essentially they do something like that in France, where you have to get married civilly before you are married religiously. Maybe that could be a good compromise if marriages are religious things, domestic partnerships are civil things. What do you think?

  4. Anon says:

    Just to be more specific I went and found the actual part of the California Family Code that states what I was talking about: “297.5. (a) Registered domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits, and shall be subject to the same responsibilities, obligations, and duties under law, whether they derive from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law, or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.” The section continues on to talk about all other other people who get this same benefit.

  5. Mike says:

    Hi Anon,

    Wrong and wrong. Heterosexual couples have some pretty important marriage rights that domestic partnerships do not. Please educate yourself before copy and pasting.

  6. lds501c3 says:

    Thanks Mike. While you are indeed correct, even if a “domestic partnership” carried every single right “marriage” does, the two would still not be equal because they go by different names. Inequality remains as long as the “civil contract” of “marriage” (I’m using Brigham Young’s words here) may be entered into by any two consenting parties.

  7. Anon says:

    Mike, honestly, I don’t see how I can be wrong. I quoted from the law that says they are equal. I don’t see how you can tell me they are not. I would appreciate if you could elaborate. I am not trying to be confrontational, I just really want to know what rights marriage has that domestic partnerships do not. The only different I can see is the name.
    Also, my question in my other post I think is relevant. I am not here to flame you guys or anyone I just want to start a conversation so I can understand the debate better. I would appreciate hearing back from you.

  8. nonA says:

    The “Separate But Equal” argument is flawed. It is meant to be applied to forcing one group to go to different schools, use different bathrooms or drinking fountains. It does not apply when two ideas (in this case marriage and civil unions) are identical (afford the same rights), but are called by different names. Gays cannot marry because the word marriage means the union of a man and a woman. It can’t be marriage otherwise. What gays have tried to do is change the definition of a word so that it can apply to them. The term “civil union” refers to the union of same-sex couples and everyone else. It is not “Separate But Equal” because fundamentally, gays cannot ‘marry.’ A man cannot take maternity leave, b/c BY DEFINITION, maternity leave refers to the woman who gave birth. Thus, men take paternity leave.

  9. lds501c3 says:

    There is no basis for the claim that “marriage” must mean the union of one man and one woman. It means whatever the entity who legalizes or solemnizes the union says it means. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and a number of other countries in 2008, it means the union of exactly two adults. In Utah in the mid 1800’s, it meant the union of a man and at least one woman.

    Let me be clear: I am a proponent of two things in this blog: everyone must have equal protection under the law, and religious organizations who obtain a tax exempt status must not engage in substantial involvement in attempting to influence legislation.

    I would be perfectly happy if California decided not to extend “marriage” to anyone and instead to call all civil unions, whether between a man and a woman, two men, or two women, “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.” That would also be equal. But we have a significant minority who opposes your narrow definition of marriage, and to deny them the right to marry whom they choose carries an implicit stigma that they don’t have the same rights as heterosexuals.

    Imagine if people argued that the word “vote” meant a white landowner casting a ballot, and so extending suffrage to women meant that we had to call their casting of ballots “election participation” because only white landowners could “vote”. That’s your argument. The insistence of maintaining different names for two groups of people exercising the same right perpetuates a perception of inequality.

  10. joebob says:


    While I completely agree that the words used to describe our relationships, both outside the law and within its purview, have an important impact on general, public perceptions of social equality/inequality, I do not think that your view is incompatible with what Anon has been saying.

    He/She is basically indicating that a marriage and a domestic partnership are equal in the eyes of the law – which appears to be substantively true.

    I do see one potential snaggle within that view, that being the fact that while a domestic partnership and a marriage are currently considered technically equivalent with respect to California state law, there is no guarantee that this equivalency will be maintained in future. Specifically, I would imagine that, given that ‘marriage’ and ‘domestic partnership’ are referred to legally by different names, new (and old?) legal precedent governing the application of one might not immediately be applicable to the other. The flipside of this of course is that legal precedent/case law could eventually lead to the complete dissolution of any remaining differences in these two designations.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a truly pathetic travesty that prop 8 was passed, and frankly I have difficulty comprehending how anyone can get so upset about gay people – or polygamists for that matter – forming consentual unions with each other. However, I had never heard of the ‘domestic partnership’ and I was actually rather relieved to read that California law provides a currently viable alternative. In the short time, it seems that that is better than nothing, and perhaps could, correctly used, provide a platform for further action on the issue.

  11. Anon says:

    This has really been hashed out enough. It’s up to the courts now. Your time will be better spent taking away the LDS tax exempt status. Indeed! We can also pressure the FBI to take a greater stance on the current polygamy sects, and if the LDS has that much money to through out perhaps it’s time to take a look at where their money is coming from….

  12. kim says:

    The “separate but equal” argument is very valid. It excludes 1 group from enjoying the benefits the more prestigious name confers. Marriage is more respected than domestic partnership. DP doesn’t sound as permanent as M and if they are exactly equal why have 2 separate names. 1 name, equality for everyone. Yes this is off topic.

    I do think an investigation should be led into political undertakings to advance religious doctrine into government. Prefer tax status should be for humanitarian benefit and keeping these institutions going.

  13. Heidi says:

    what the hell would brigham young know about marriage and it’s defination the [expletive deleted] was married to young innocent girls, hell he collected wifes

  14. Lizzie says:

    I believe the idea of this post is to point out the conflicts of opinion of the LDS as it relates to others versus themselves. This is an issue many modern day LDS have struggled with, but the dogma of the religion does not allow alternative actions of the LDS person from the official stance of the church. The church is the true church, the church nows, by talking to God, what you should do. If you follow another discourse, unless instructed by your religious leaders, then you are not of good standing in the church. We have been taught this for years. And it does create a certain hostility in an individual as opposed to the Catholic church, who carries similiar doctrine in that way. However, you may remain a member of the Catholic church, in good standing by using the confessional booth.

    As to the original post. If you read carefully, at the end of the legislation pertaining to religious entities using their money to influence legislation, it actually says to support or work against any CANDIDATE. What my issue is, is that there has already been an opion given by the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, on the marriage issue. I think the bottom line issue here is the right of the States to govern themselves, although I was surprised at the outcome of Prop 8 vote and think the courts ruling should be upheld.

    [Editor: If you read carefully you’ll notice there are two prohibitions: substantial activity attempting to influence legislation (which I made bold), and endorsement of or opposition to a candidate (which I did not). It is only the first part I am concerned with.]

  15. Amia says:

    Just calling something by a name does not make it equivalent. Under law, which is completely based on words, terminology matters and carries tremendous weight. One reason that marriage is often defined under the law as something different from homosexual unions with the same priveleges is that there are certain biological functions that accompany the marriage of a man and woman that are simply not possible for homosexual unions–particularly such unions between men. Adoption is not equivalent to live birth. The societal implications of the ability of families to bear children (not just raise them) is important. Just look at the impact of the demographics of the baby boomer generation if you don’t believe that biology influences society in very real ways.

    I have yet to see how calling a civil union a marriage (changing the definition of marriage to include couples that cannot perform the task that was the reason for government tampering with the union of people in the first place) is a civil rights issue.

    These arguments regarding biology, too, go to the polygamy question and how a polygamous marriage might be a marriage, while civil unions might still not be. That said, I don’t think that polygamy is marriage, it is polygamy. And bigamy isn’t marriage, it’s bigamy. If these things were to become legal (which I hope they never do), they should be called by different names because they are different things.

  16. Anon says:

    Honestly, it’s hilarious to see everyone bicker about how a “domestic partnership” can never be equal to a “marriage” due to semantics. Think about it, gays are never going to be synonymous with average heterosexuals! There is already an inherent difference between the two. They both perform sexual intercourse differently, and there is no possibility that a gay couple could naturally bear children.

    I’m sorry, gays are just going to have to get used to the fact that they’re different, and accept that that fact will never change. Homosexuals being different doesn’t bother me, they’re people too and deserve all of the love, compassion, and equality that everyone else has.

  17. DAVE says:

    Mormons destroyed my marriage and made us separated from society by a constitutional admendment. All I can say to the Mormons is: Remember the Mountain Meadow Massacre where your church members murdered over 150 men, women and children who were wanting travel by wagon train through Utah? What wonderful Christians you are!

  18. H says:

    So, Amia, would I be right in thinking that your logic means infertile heterosexual couples cannot get married, they can only get a domestic partnership then? And that allowing infertile heterosexual couples to be married, despite the fact that they cannot bear children, would have societal implications? Oh, and that heterosexual couples who wish to get married, but have no intention of ever having children, should be told that they cannot get married?

    As to why this is a civil rights issue, it’s simple: a right (that of marriage) was legally granted to homosexual people, in order to ensure that all citizens of California had the same rights regarding marriage. Prop 8 was designed to remove that legally granted right. Imagine now if a proposition had been designed to take away the right of blacks to vote, or the right of women to own property, or the right of any other minority group – would you be questioning whether that was a civil rights issue? I’m going to guess that you’re smart enough to answer no, you wouldn’t question, and so it should be with gay marriage.

    If anyone’s still struggling with why gay people can’t just be happy with domestic partnerships, go and attend a gay wedding somewhere (e.g. Canada), witness the emotion, the love, the hope, everything that happens in any marriage ceremony, and you’ll understand.

  19. Joe says:

    It’s stunning to see the twisted logic from those who would deny others their basic human rights (and yes, the Supreme Court has defined marriage as a “fundamental right”). Gay couples have children and families just like straight couples do — there is no difference. I don’t see how people are so obsessed with the biological issues, are we human beings or baby factories?

    Domestic partnerships and marriage are NOT the same thing. The former gives far more rights than the latter, and until a large number of states allow gay marriage, there is no way that gay marriage will be recognized by the federal government.

    Simple example: I have a gay friend who has been in a 11 year long relationship with another man. One of them owns the house they live in. Married couples are allowed to transfer unlimited amounts of property between them and when a spouse dies, he or she inherits all the money tax free.

    One of them had much more money than the other, so he pays $800 a year for an insurance policy that would pay the taxes incurred if he died — otherwise his partner would be on the street after being forced to sell their house!

    Domestic partnerships don’t help with this problem, but legalizing gay marriage does.

  20. Jason says:

    Being a gay man, I have always said that if we had moved forward several years ago asking for civil unions that provided exactly the same rights both statewide and nationwide, I believe we would have them now. Marriage is even in my mind a religious term….the problem is it is so deep set in our country that marriage is the acceptable term. There would have to be a national acceptance of civil unions and marriage would have to be accepted as performed by churches. I would have no problem with that but it would be a huge undertaking. If you read the LDS letter you will see that they say they support our rights ….maybe we should ask them to start the movement. If what they wrote is actually true they would have to think it was a good idea….

  21. lds501c3 says:

    Jason –

    You make a good point. On one hand, obtaining “separate but equal” rights in the interim might have worked, and paved the way for greater acceptance over time. On the other hand, it could have set back true equality for decades in that the opponents of equal marriage would say “We already gave you civil unions, so stop complaining.”

    I’m not sure what the correct strategy is. While I oppose Proposition 8, I actually am of the opinion that now is not the right time to be pushing these court cases and ballot initiatives, and that in 10-15 more years the demographics will have shifted sufficiently in favor of equal marriage that it will make sense. Of course, Obama’s appointees to the Supreme Court may mean that the equal marriage proponents will finally argue Federal equal protection and/or full faith and credit, permitting certiorari.

  22. […] Marriage is a civil contract. Brigham Young himself said that. Millions of people get married every year without a single tie to a religious group, without the aid of a clergy person, without reference to any deity(s). People need to face the fact that not everybody gets married in a church, nor do they need or want to. Likewise the approval of a church is not required for people to get married, though many churches think they have the right to determine who can get married. Likewise, I am getting mad at groups such as the ACLU for supporting an effort to overturn Proposition 8. The ACLU’s very name — American Civil Liberties Union — implies that it stands for civil liberties for all Americans, right? Apparently not, if it supports the overturning of Proposition 8. A majority of voters exercised their civil liberties by passing the measure. To step in and violate voters’ civil rights for a second time only invites people like me to further exercise my civil liberties and file a class-action lawsuit against them for violating my rights as a voter. […]

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  24. Munga says:

    Who is anon, and why is Anon such and obvious idiot?

    Of course domestic partnerships are not equal to civil marriage, and they will not be until

    1. they are recognized by the federal government as interchangeable and thus all federal access and laws apply to them

    2. the federal government has a mechanism (law) that also equates domestic partnerships to marriage in all private affairs (this would be the domestic partnership version of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) without which private companies could continue to differentiate between domestic partners and civil marriage partners

    3. all federal and state governments recognize domestic partnerships as interchangeable to civil marriage regarding the robust and mature body of law that is civil marriage, thus granting domestic partnership an immediate maturity and hundreds of years of legal precedents to draw upon.

    Whenever those things are taken care of, it is possible that they will be equal. Until they are taken care of, domestic partnerships and civil marriage do not belong in the same breath.

  25. Munga says:

    And, Anon, gays are different, but that does not mean that they get unequal treatment before the law.

    It is the purpose and the job of the law to provide all comers equal standing.

    I think you would have been happier had you lived in the 1700s or 1800s, than today.

  26. Munga says:

    And one more question….

    If we all agree that we are creating something that is a civil contract that is equal, why are we bothering to try to make TWO things, instead of expanding the concepts of the first?

    I mean, think about it. If there were two cabins, and they had to be the same thing, all the time, whose job would it be to make sure that they were both the same, all the time??

    You want that job, anon? You want to run down any single moment of time where someone treats them differently, so you can waste your time correcting what should have never been set up so stupidly?

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