Dallin Oaks and Marjorie Taylor Greene on heterosexual extinction
Thanks to a recommendation from BoingBoing, I just finished reading a Business Insider article describing a recent video in which Marjorie Taylor Greene:
predicted that identifying as heterosexual will be a thing of the past within a period of less than 200 years thanks to LGBTQ-inclusive sex educators, who she called “trans terrorists.”
More specifically, Greene was quoted as saying that heterosexual extinction would come about “probably in about four or five generations.” Referrring to “generations” in the context of a purported heterosexual extinction felt familiar to me. In fact, as horribly queerphobic as Greene’s message was, she was actually more optimistic than Latter-day Saint General Authorities have been in the past.
To prove the point, here’s a passage from Tabernacles of Clay, Taylor Petrey’s wonderful book on “sexuality and gender in modern Mormonism” :
In 1970, Spencer W. Kimball and Mark Petersen warned, “It is obvious that the world would be doomed by homosexuality for it can never produce a child. And without a continuing army of spirits coming to the earth to be embodied, the race would die out in one generation. . . . Proper marriage and family life is the only thing to save this confused world and if men waste their seed . . . certainly the race will disappear.” In 1971, Kimball declared that homosexuality “means waste of power, an end to the family and to the civilization. One generation of it would depopulate the world.” (p. 144)
Petersen’s language on “generations” wasn’t limited to homosexuality, either. In my mind, one of the most important contributions of Petrey’s book is demonstrating how 20th century Latter-day Saint racism was intimately connected to concerns about gender and sexuality. Thus:
For Petersen, LDS beliefs against ordaining black men to the priesthood sustained his segregationist fears. Invoking the Jim Crow legal blood quotient of “one drop” of “black blood” to establish ancestry, Petersen reflected segregationist racism. “If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children,” he warned, “they receive the curse.” After a few generations of acceptable intermarriage, “who could hold [the priesthood] in all America?” (p. 24).
For Petersen, legal and institutional racism and homophobia were necessary to hold at bay the existential and spiritual threats inherently posed by queer people and people of color. I don’t say this often, and I don’t say it lightly, but these statements from a Latter-day Saint apostle are clearly worse than what Marjorie Taylor Greene has to say.
Petersen died in 1984 and made both comments even earlier than that, so it’s tempting to write these off as past statements with no bearing on contemporary Mormonism. However, after Petersen’s death, Dallin H. Oaks—now number two in the Church hierarchy by a couple of measures—was called as an apostle. In an internal memorandum written before the year was out:
Oaks offered four justifications for making same-sex marriage a critical issue requiring political activity: (1) the church speaks in defense of the family, (2) marriage is for the purpose of procreation, (3) marriage is a time-honored institution that is greater than cohabitation of people of the same sex, and (4) “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.”
I think a lot about that description of marriage equality as “national suicide.” That said, it’s a line that hasn’t been trotted out in a long time. It’s impossible to describe Oaks as anything but a hard-liner on issues of gender and sexuality, but while The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still isn’t an affirming religion by any stretch of the imagination, it’s at least softened its rhetoric considerably. So, again, another temptation to brush these ~40 year old comments aside.
Here’s why I can’t do that. I’ve spent the past few weeks preparing for peer review a study I’ve done with my friend and colleague Amy Chapman of the DezNat movement of reactionary Mormons, and it’s clear that they have taken cues from this kind of rhetoric. In fact, in one tweet we reference in our study, one DezNat partisan quotes Spencer W. Kimball using language not dissimilar from Marjorie Taylor Greene’s comments:
When we see the depravity of numerous people of our own society in their determination to force upon people vulgar presentations, filthy communications, unnatural practices, we wonder, has Satan reached forth with his wicked, evil hand to pull into his forces the people of this earth? Do we not have enough good people left to stamp out the evil which threatens our world? Why do we continue to compromise with evil and why do we continue to tolerate sin?
Other DezNat accounts use their own words but describe queer people (and queer Mormons) in the same way that Petersen and Oaks have: a creeping, never satisfied threat. They don’t use Greene’s language of heterosexual distinction, but their concerns that “it will never be enough [for LGBTQ+ people]” speak to similar existential concerns. Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the most troubling figures in contemporary American politics, so it should trouble contemporary Latter-day Saint leadership that their and their predecessors’ words have—at times—been harsher towards the LGBTQ+ community than hers are. It should also trouble them that there are Latter-day Saints out there that have used their words to describe queer people and queer Mormons as existential threats.
- Dallin Oaks
- Marjorie Taylor Greene
- heterosexual extinction
- Mark E. Peterson
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Ezra Taft Benson
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