King Canute and the Tides of Natural Law

There is an old story told so often it’s now almost trite.  But recent events have convinced me that it bears repeating. The story goes that during his reign1 King Canute wanted to teach a lesson to his flattering courtiers. They were saying that since he ruled over the entire area that included the North Sea, he should be able to ride on it without getting wet. For the rest of the story, I quote Henry of Huntingdon’s Chronicle:

[H]e commanded that his chair should be set on the shore, when the tide began to rise. And then he spoke to the rising sea saying “You are part of my dominion, and the ground that I am seated upon is mine, nor has anyone disobeyed my orders with impunity. Therefore, I order you not to rise onto my land, nor to wet the clothes or body of your Lord”. But the sea carried on rising as usual without any reverence for his person, and soaked his feet and legs. Then he moving away said: “All the inhabitants of the world should know that the power of kings is vain and trivial, and that none is worthy the name of king but He whose command the heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws”. Therefore King Canute never afterwards placed the crown on his head, but above a picture of the Lord nailed to the cross, turning it forever into a means to praise God, the great king.

This lesson, that the laws of men cannot override the laws of nature or God, should be obvious, but, sadly, they are not. Perhaps our good sense, not to mention our morals, have been addled because many of us are taking our cues from song lyrics and television sitcoms instead of more timeless sources.

01-king-canute-on-the-seashore-a-famous-legendThis fact hit home to me a few years ago when I saw the cover of People magazine, which had on its cover the picture which purported to be of a pregnant man.  Reading the article, you will discover that this story is not as newsworthy as it appears. The “man” is not a man at all, he is a woman living under a legally sanctioned fiction that he is a man. In contrast to pregnant men, women getting pregnant is quite unexceptional, even if some of those women may appear quite mannish. To me, what’s newsworthy is that this is news to so many people. If I were writing the headline to the story, it would read: “People Magazine readers surprised that biology, laws of nature have more force than legally imposed falsehoods.”

PregnantManYou can tell where this is heading. It is not altogether surprising that, for the time being at least, gay “marriage” is legal in Utah. I am surprised at the speed with which it has been imposed. What has been not only surprising, but disheartening, is the number of friends who are self-described believing Latter-day Saints who have hailed this ruling as a good thing.

I have been pondering why people who consider themselves believing Latter-day Saints would celebrate this action, particularly the specific means by which it was imposed in this case, which has some fairly dire implications for religious freedom. I think there are two reasons for it. First, these people believe that homosexual sex, under at least certain circumstances, is not sinful. Secondly, these people believe that there is no qualitative difference between homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships. These premises are both wrong, however, and I will discuss each in turn.

Homosexual behavior is a sin

I really think the great divide over gay marriage, within the Church at least, is whether homosexual behavior is sinful. This belief will never be volunteered, especially at first, because then the actual basis of the person’s (hopefully partial) apostasy will be clearly revealed. (I am grateful to Blake Ostler for this insight.)

Ostensibly, the legalities of gay marriage are a completely separate issue from the moral question. There are plenty of things I think are wrong that I do not believe should be illegal, after all. I do not think homosexual practice or partnering should be illegal, even though I believe, with my Church, it is wrong.

However, I have taken Brother Ostler’s advice and asked Latter-day Saints who support gay marriage whether they think homosexual activity is wrong. Some of them will refuse to answer the question. “Who am I to judge?,” they say.

“I am not asking you to judge a person,” I reply, “I am asking you to give me your judgment of an abstract principle.” They still won’t tell me. Others will straight up admit it. Conceding that, for example, in the context of a committed, monogamous relationship, they do not think there is anything wrong with homosexual sex.

Homosexual behavior is included among many kinds of sin that God considers wrong, according to scriptures that Latter-day Saints claim to uphold, and confirmed by many Prophets and Apostles they claim to sustain. I will agree that sometimes there is an overly hysterical reaction to homosexual sin where heterosexual sin is often winked at (“ah, young people in love!”), but my point is, you don’t see it winked at in scripture, or over the pulpit at General Conference.2

Another set of people will say that the Church will eventually come around to blessing homosexual unions, just like they did with blacks and the Priesthood, perhaps the precedent being the now-discarded practice of adoption sealings that were performed in the early restored Church. There is much more to say about this issue that I will do in a future blog post, but for now it will suffice to point out that it would have been wrong to ordain a black person in May of 1978, even if you knew with a certainty that is changing the next month.

The specific observances and rituals God asks His people to observe have changed over time, no doubt about that. God used to command animal sacrifice. The shedding of animal blood was done away with upon the death of Christ.  The Book of Mormon tells us that after the sign of Christ’s birth was given, some people didn’t think they needed to observe the law of Moses anymore. After all, it had been long predicted that Christ would usher in a new law, so now that Christ was born, they didn’t have to keep it anymore, right? “But in this thing they did err,” the Book of Mormon explains:

But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults.

Latter-day Saints who believe that homosexual behavior is not sinful and may eventually be endorsed by the Church are also in error.

Same sex couples are not the same as opposite sex couples

Found at

The other thing you will hear from LDS advocates of gay marriage, among many other people, is that “same sex relationships are exactly the same as opposite sex relationships.” On its face this is so obviously false something else must be meant by it. Because if there is truly no difference between a man with a woman and a man with a man3, why do we even need to legalize the latter? If you replaced one of the partners in a gay male relationship with a woman, I am quite sure the other partner would notice quite quickly that things were not the same as before.

Perhaps what is meant is that gay couples love each other just as much as opposite sex couples do. I think that is true, from what I have seen. But what does love have to do with marriage?45. If love is all that is required for people to have the right to marry, how much love is enough? Must it be deep, passionate love, or merely fond affection will suffice? I love my parents and siblings deeply, and that love is not cheapened by the fact that I do not have the right to marry any of them.678

Perhaps what is meant is that while the types of genders involved in the two types of relationships are different, in all other respects they are identical. However, this is also false, both phenomenologically and empirically.

By phenomenologically, I mean, the way those relationships are experienced is very different.

In one sense of the word, we have had gay marriage for some time. I should know. I am in one. I experience same sex attraction, and yet I am married. In my case, however, I am married to a woman. True, there are many marriages like this that do not end well. We all know those stories, and there is no doubt that a marriage under these circumstances should only be undertaken with the utmost care. Not everyone who feels homosexual attraction is ready or able to do so. Nevertheless, I am indebted to my friend Josh Johanson, who has demonstrated that there are almost three and half times times as many men like me (experiencing same sex attraction but married to a woman), than there are men in a same sex relationship9.

As I can attest personally, it is far from a merely irrelevant and pedantic point to say that gay men already had the right to get married. In fact, there are far more of us married to women than there will ever be who are married to another man. We are not the exception, we are the rule.

As someone who has been in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, I can attest that they are very different. Before I got married, I was quite confident that I would be able to be happy in a gay relationship. I had much less confidence that I could be happy in a heterosexual relationship. But I was involved with both kinds, and I can confidently say they were very different experiences. While both types of relationship were rewarding and had their positive elements, they were far from the same.

When I say empirically wrong, what I mean is that by the things that we can measure or observe, all we see are differences between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. In the countries where it has been legal long enough to measure, in every single one homosexual marriages have a higher divorce rate than heterosexuals divorce in the same countries. There is more promiscuity and domestic violence in homosexual partnerships as well. While the data are very thin on the ground, and will be for quite some time, so far every study of children of homosexual parents shows that they are more likely to have sexual experiences earlier than other children, and they are more likely to experiment with homosexual behavior. Gay couples have fewer children than heterosexual couples. And I will be very surprised if, in ten or twenty years, studies fail to show a lower marriage rate as well among children of homosexual unions (though the deprecation of the special status of heterosexual marriage will cause marriage rates overall to also continue to decline). The biggest difference, rooted in biology, is that children in a heterosexual union can be produced with just the father and the mother, and this is how it happens for the vast majority. Gay couples who have children require at least a third person. If Heather has two mommies, for example, it means that Heather also has a daddy somewhere, and she is bound to be curious about him even if her two mommies refer to him merely as a sperm donor.

Do not misunderstand. I am not saying that all homosexual relationships are promiscuous or abusive, not at all, or that all children of homosexual parents will be lotharios. Nor am I speculating as to why these differences exist (homosexual relationships being more promiscuous could have more to do with the fact that it’s two men in the relationship than anything inherent to the same sex nature of the relationship itself). But if they really were exactly the same as heterosexual marriages, then the statistics comparing them would show no differences either, right? Whereas in actual fact, on every measure with which we can compare, they are demonstrably different.

As a thought experiment, imagine a man who is perfectly bisexual, he is truly indifferent to the gender of his sexual partner. Let us further imagine that he has two suitors, one of each gender, with whom he gets along very well, is attracted to, and is equally capable of loving. Which gender should he choose to be with? Which is better for him, for his children, and for society as a whole? Your answer to that question will determine whether you think government ought to encourage, through tax and other advantages, traditional, committed marriage over certain other kinds of relationships. This is exactly how marriage gained the status it once had in the culture and in the law.

Some people think the government should get out of the marriage business altogether. That may be right. But this case before us now is not about whether people are allowed to love each other and enter into private contracts with one another. It’s that we are henceforth legally required to equate a certain type of relationship with a completely different type of relationship.

I will not yield in my assertion that the best thing for any civilization is for its children to be born and raised by their biological mother and father in a committed, low-conflict marriage. And that governments and its citizens should be free to encourage and privilege such relationships over all others.

My assertion is backed up by over 30,000 outcome studies which show that this is the best (and cheapest) way to raise healthy, successful children. My position is also backed up by God’s word, as revealed through scripture and affirmed by his modern-day Prophets and Apostles. I’m with Peter in saying, we ought to obey God rather than men.

And speaking of prophetic, watch this Youtube video. Here are some excerpts from the transcript:

[M]ake no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21)…

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ…

If people are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear, in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold that grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would they be, anyway?…

When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?

Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even these, however, must leave a record so that the choices before the people are clear and let others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel… We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds—a majority which was, till then, unconscious of itself.

Hesiod taught us millennia ago that artistic creations “know how to speak many false things as though they were true.” That bears repeating. And our modern corollary to that principle is that the agents of the law can lie as well. Yet neither art nor law can stem the rising of the tide.


About Jeff

Jeff experiences same-sex attraction. You can call him “gay” or a “homo” or a “moho”, and it won’t offend him, but honestly, none of those labels feel like they fit. Most of the time, he thinks of himself as slightly bent. He also dislikes being described as “struggling” with same-sex attraction. While it can be a struggle at times, most of the time, there are five or ten other things in his life that are a much bigger struggle for him. He doesn’t believe God intended us to be in a state of constant warfare with our inner natures. The scriptures say, “bridle your passions,” not to eradicate them. He has an academic background in biology, chemistry, and psychology. His interest continues in those subjects, but being insatiably curious and a voracious reader, he also has interest in history, literature, and of course religion. He is married to a beautiful woman named Tanya and they have one son.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to King Canute and the Tides of Natural Law

  1. avatar Doug Knapp says:

    Very well put. It is interesting that even amongst our own members there are so many opinions. The scriptures and brethren are quite clear. Thank you for taking time to put this together!

  2. avatar J.M. Pennyworth says:

    Given the 30,000 outcome studies you mention, should divorce be illegal?

    Should it be legal for infertile couples to marry?

    • avatar Jeff says:

      Divorce should still be legal, but no fault divorce should be abolished, or at least made more difficult than it currently is, in my opinion.

      Regarding infertile couples: quite a few so-called infertile couples, it turns out, are in fact fertile. (I know some very well.) Because medical science is imperfect, they should still be allowed to marry. Perhaps the state could, or should, inquire about a couple’s desire to have children. But just because marriage requirements could be stricter than they are doesn’t mean that therefore we can’t have any restrictions at all.

      There is a category error being made by those who claim infertile couples invalidates the idea that marriage is about children. Chairs, as a class, have four legs. True, some chairs have a leg that is broken off so that it only has three legs. This does not mean that because a few chairs have three legs, therefore chairs are the same as stools. True, some heterosexual couples are infertile. But as a class, heterosexual couples produce children as one of their characteristics. As a class, homosexuals do not, absent the intervention of a third party.

  3. avatar Gwen Patel says:

    I would like to see the sources to support your claim that: “In the countries where it has been legal long enough to measure, in every single one homosexual marriages have a higher divorce rate than heterosexuals divorce in the same countries.”

    Because it is the complete opposite that is true in almost all cases.
    Sources against your claim:

    Please don’t make ridiculous claims without facts to support it.

    Thank you.

    • avatar Jeff says:

      Gwen: Unfortunately, none of those citations is peer-reviewed with proper statistical controls. And some of them are referring to heterosexual marriage. The whole field is complicated by the fact that gay marriage hasn’t been around very long, and in the states populations are so mobile it’s very hard to control for in-migration and out-migration. (For example, are gay couples moving to Massachusetts, marrying, and then leaving before they divorce?) So I’m not going to pretend that we have all the data here that we need. That would be absurd.

      Nevertheless, all the long-term statistically controlled studies show a higher divorce rate among gay male and lesbian couples. You may have to go to a library to look up some of these citations. Here’s one from Norway and Sweden, which have had gay marriage the longest: Gunnar Andersson et al., The Demographics of Same-Sex Marriages in Norway and Sweden, 43 DEMOGRAPHY 79, 89-90 (2006), available at demography/v043/43.1andersson.pdf. 51.(That URL is a paywall; your local library or university may be able to get you access.)

      Here’s another study summarizing research by the same researcher, though a different study:

      For a more accessible response to some of the articles you have cited, see these two:
      And see this paper by Lynn Wardle in a law review journal: which discusses this and many other issues. She makes a much more comprehensive case than I have attempted here.

      Briefly, regarding how gay marriage may affect heterosexual marriages, I would expect that to take at least a full generation, perhaps two, to show up in the demographic data. Like with divorce, by then it will be too late to make a difference in the culture. I can’t make a prediction about whether this will show up in lower marriage rates, or higher divorce rates, or some combination. In Massachusetts, as mentioned in one of the articles you cite, the divorce rate overall has been declining slightly since gay marriage was imposed. However, the marriage rate has continued to decline, so the net result is fewer people in long-term, committed relationships.

      To see some articles discussing the effect of even debating gay marriage on heterosexuals, see these articles:

      While peripheral, because I didn’t take the time to include citations in my post, here is a review article that discusses same-sex parenting as compared to heterosexual parenting:
      Or, for the importance of fathers in particular (two thirds of gay marriages are lesbians), see anything by David Blankenhorn.

  4. avatar J.M. Pennyworth says:

    Hedging on the question of fertility is really avoiding the question. I’ve had a vasectomy, and my wife is post-menopausal. Like a same-sex couple, we can not and do not produce children absent the intervention of a third party. Does that invalidate our marriage? We literally have a mathematically zero chance of reproducing naturally, as do everyone in my wife’s “class”. Yet I strongly suspect you would not object, even for the most fleeting of moments, to us marrying, or to any other couple that had a mathematically zero chance of bearing children. If this is true, I’d implore you to think carefully about how this informs your position: clearly, you are not actually thinking about marriage as a way to encourage childbearing.

    • avatar Jeff says:

      I don’t think you’re understanding how I define “class”. And the class “post menopausal women” (who were once fertile) and men who have had vasectomies (which can be reversed) is not comparable to the entire class, as I am doing, of heterosexual couples and homosexual couples. This post was not intended to be a complete survey of the case against gay marriage. I discuss some of these points more completely here:

      • avatar Boo says:

        You’re defining “class” in the manner which will allow you to reach your predetermined objective of excluding gay couples from marriage. It’s not that difficult to understand.

  5. avatar Laurie Campbell says:

    Excellent Jeff.

    I realize it may be difficult for some to understand that many of us who have experienced same sex attractions care as much or more for those who are in gay relationships because we empathize while, at the same time, we support traditional marriage. I know something of the persecution that people in such relationships have suffered. I understand the desire to be considered equal and not mistreated. It makes it more difficult for me to support traditional marriage, from that emotional perspective. However, that does not change my conviction of the importance of supporting the prophet and society by setting apart, as the ideal, a union that allows for a mother and a father in the home.

  6. avatar John says:

    You made some very good points in your article. I know a lot of people who do not support same sex marriages; I know a lot who do. I know a few people in mixed orientation marriages; I know a few in same sex marriages. The one thing that I know is their experiences and mine are not addressed by your article. Although you state some statistics and note that blog comes mostly from your own experiences, you tend to extrapolate your experiences into those of everyone. For example, “Imagine a man is perfectly bisexual” … makes your point very nicely. But, out of all men I know (and I’d assume that you may know), very few (if any) are “perfectly bisexual”. How does this apply to the man who is mostly homosexual?

    I am an active (celibate) LDS male. My experiences are very different from most gay and straight people. Your experiences are, as well. Your own situation doesn’t need to be rationalized; neither does mine (or anyone else’s). And our role is definitely not one of judging others. Let’s all work to realize there may be more than 2 reasons why things happen. It will make us all a little better.
    – John

  7. avatar Oliver says:

    Jeff here are some statistics for you:

    The LDS Church has 15,000,000 members. MAYBE 60% of these members are active. That means that out of the 7.1 billion people on earth, 9,000,000 (at most) are practicing Mormons. That means that .126% of people on this planet share your beliefs. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what you believe God’s law is, because billions of other living people on this planet don’t believe God’s law is the same as what you believe.

    Also, LDS Scripture states: “We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:4)

    Ergo, you have no right to impose your version of God’s laws upon the world’s laws. You do NOT have the “responsibility” of making your belief’s dictate the laws of the land for the other 99.89% of people on the earth. Gay marriage (NOT in quotes like your insulting article) is one of those things that you don’t believe in (which is fine), but by YOUR OWN scripture, civil magistrates should “never control conscience…(and) never suppress the freedom of the soul.”

    I respect your opinion that gay marriage is wrong. However it is just that. An opinion. And your hateful marginalization of people who are so much like you in their inherent feelings is hurtful and is viewed by most of the world as you being “holier than thou.”

    So, believe what you want (you have every right to do so), but don’t expect everyone else to believe what you do (we have every right to do so, too).

    • avatar Jeff says:


      As should be clear from my opening paragraphs, this is a blog post specifically addressed to believing, faithful LDS people. Of course there are other points to make to people who do not believe. Here is my secular argument for people who are not LDS, and may not even believe in God, for why they should support privileging traditional marriage over gay “marriage”:

      Based on your perspective, it seems like that is the blog post you might want to respond to, rather than this one, which is specifically directed to a believing LDS perspective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>