Origins of the Family Proclamation

Was the proclamation on the family written by attorneys to support the fight against gay marriage in Hawaii?

Sort of, but sort of not. As far back as 1831, the Church had articulated key principles found in the proclamation,[1] before gay marriage became a legal question. However, the legal issue may have prompted the need to articulate these principles in one place.[2]

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing a case on gay marriage, known as Baehr v. Lewin (later Miike).[3] In 1994 the brethren begin the process of writing the proclamation in a "revelatory process" with members of the Quorum of the Twelve.[4]

But wasn't the proclamation on the family written by a BYU law professor?

No. Lynn Wardle,[BIO] a BYU law professor known for his opposition to gay marriage, consulted[5] on the Church filing in Hawaii's Baehr v. Miike case.[6] He may have also consulted with drafting the family proclamation, but there is no known evidence to support this.

Was it used directly in the Hawaii gay marriage case?

Yes. The family proclamation was included as an appendix to the amicus curiae brief filed in Baehr v. Miike in 1997.[7]

Was the proclamation on the family really inspired if it was written up to fight gay marriage in court?

Yes, probably. Revelation is often catalyzed by pressing questions or issues.[8] Elder Dallin H. Oaks[BIO] specifically described the process of developing the family proclamation as revelatory and inspired.[9]

Does the proclamation have any new ideas or doctrines in it?

Not really. It's more of a compilation of teachings that have been taught for many years within the Church.[10]

Is the proclamation on the family official doctrine?

Yes, probably. Since its publication, it has been widely cited, widely taught, and consistently emphasized.[11] It's also a formal statement signed by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency.[12] However, the proclamation on the family has not been submitted for the sustaining vote of the Church as canon.

Is the proclamation on the family sexist?

Arguably. It defines men's and women's roles within the family, with men "presiding, providing, and protecting" while women are "primarily responsible for the nurture of their children."[13]

However, Church leaders have consistently maintained that men and women are "equal partners" in raising families.[14] Additionally, the family proclamation allows for "individual adaptations" as circumstances require.[15]

Is the proclamation on the family only about same-sex marriage and gender roles?

No, it is intended to address a broad range of issues related to the family. When introducing the proclamation, President Hinckley also addressed various social issues related to families, including out-of-wedlock births, welfare dependency, violence in the media, adherence to civil laws, and marital fidelity.[16]

Have any of the "calamities" that are mentioned in the proclamation happened?

Maybe?[17] Ancient and modern prophets have foretold all sorts of calamities,[18] and they are often vague or symbolic in nature.[19] On an individual basis, Church leaders have occasionally drawn links between the family proclamation and calamities.[20] Institutionally, the Church generally avoids assigning causes to specific disasters.

Some People Say . . .

"The Family: A Proclamation to the World is inspired scripture and has nothing to do with lawyers."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • The principles of the proclamation have been taught since the beginning of the Church.

  • The Quorum of the Twelve began working on the proclamation about a year after the 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage.

  • Lynn Wardle, a BYU law professor, consulted with the brethren on their filing on Hawaii's Baehr v. Miike case.

  • Lynn Wardle may have consulted on the proclamation, but there is no evidence to support this.

  • The proclamation is widely cited, taught, and referenced by the Church.

  • The Church has not canonized the proclamation.

Our Take

The Family: A Proclamation to the World can be a difficult topic for many—especially for those who identify as LGBTQ+. And there are perfectly reasonable questions to be asked about this document, including how it was written.

Was the proclamation simply a legal brief that "became" a revelation? Is this a valid process for receiving modern revelation?

The proclamation came at a time when it was legally relevant, and it's entirely possible that attorneys were involved in the process. Many modern revelations, including many in the Doctrine & Covenants, were simply letters that were canonized or were revelations prompted by inquiries about specific issues. There isn't a set method or format for receiving revelations in the Church.

It's okay to wrestle with concerns or doubts about the proclamation or about the principles that it addresses. It's important to have patience and trust that Heavenly Father reveals truth through his prophets and apostles. It’s also important to remember our heavenly parents love all their children, and we need to love them too.

What's Your Take?

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  • BIOLynn D. Wardle

    Lynn G. Wardle (1947-) is a former professor of law at the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark School of Law. Wardle played an instrumental role in the Church's advocacy against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

  • BIODallin H. Oaks

    Dallin H. Oaks (1932–present) was born in Provo, Utah, and became an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1984. After the death of his first wife June Dixon Oaks in 1998, he married Kristen M. McMain in 2000. He graduated from Brigham Young University (1954) and the University of Chicago Law School (1957). After practicing law and teaching law in Chicago, he became the president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980. He was then a justice of the Utah Supreme Court (1980-1984) before resigning to become an apostle. He was made the first counselor in the First Presidency and president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018.

  • Since the Church's origins, the basic definition of marriage between a man and a woman has remained constant.

    For instance, Joseph Smith received a revelation in 1831 declaring that "marriage is ordained of God unto man."

    In 1899, apostle James E. Talmage wrote that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother both existed as discrete personalities.

    In 1903, the Latter-day Saint Millennial Star called marriage a "sacred ordinance between a man and a woman."

    In 1912, the First Presidency declared that spirits had a premortal existence as "sons and daughters of the Eternal Father."

  • Nearly 10 years before the Hawaii Supreme Court began hearing the case on gay marriage, Dallin H. Oaks, a newly-called apostle, wrote in an internal memo:

    In my opinion, the interests at stake in the proposed legalization of so-called homosexual marriages are sufficient to justify a formal Church position and significant efforts in opposition.
  • Baehr v. Lewin (1993) was a case where three same-sex couples petitioned the Hawaii Supreme Court to recognize their unions.

  • 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.
  • In a memo leaked to the press in 2008, Loren C. Dunn reported that Elder Dallin H. Oaks held a consultation with Wardle on the Church's legal strategy in Hawaii.

  • The Church filed an amicus curiae (Latin for "friend of the court") with the courts, which is something that can be filed by people or entities that aren't directly involved in the lawsuit, but that have an interest in the outcome. Amicus curiae briefs usually offer insight or information relevant to the case.

    The Church introduced the proclamation on the family in the amicus curiae brief to the courts, stating:

    Central to the teachings and beliefs of the Church is the family, which the Church teaches is the foundation of society and the crucial relationship through which children are taught basic values and public virtue.
  • In addition to the Proclamation text, the Church filing included many other legal arguments in the amicus brief. The brief concluded with the following:

    Homosexual relationships will not and cannot provide the essential benefits to society that the traditional family has, and therefore should not be accorded the preferential status of marriage. Recognition of homosexual marriage will trivialize the traditional family - the basic building block of society - thereby having deleterious effects upon society as a whole. At a time when the traditional family needs more protection than ever before, Hawaii's prohibition on homosexual marriage is surely narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.
  • For example, in 1891, Wilford Woodruff told a congregation his decision to issue the "manifesto" that ended the practice of polygamy was informed by legal and social pressure.

    To Woodruff, the continued practice of plural marriage was opposed by "the laws of the nation . . . the opposition of 60 million people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the <of our> the Temples."

    Woodruff said, "The Lord showed me by revelation and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice."

  • Dallin H. Oaks described the proclamation production process this way:

    It was a surprise to some who thought the doctrinal truths about marriage and the family were well understood without restatement. Nevertheless, we felt the confirmation and we went to work. 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. We all learned “line upon line, precept upon precept,” as the Lord has promised (D&C 98:12). During this revelatory process, a proposed text was presented to the First Presidency, who oversee and promulgate Church teachings and doctrine.
  • The proclamation on the family has been referenced over 200 times since its introduction in 1995.

    For example, the 2003 Eternal Marriage student manual pulls its "guiding principles" from the family proclamation.

  • The following members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who signed the family proclamation:

    Gordon B. Hinckley Thomas S. Monson James E. Faust Boyd K. Packer L. Tom Perry David B. Haight Neal A. Maxwell Russell M. Nelson Dallin H. Oaks M. Russell Ballard Joseph B. Wirthlin Richard G. Scott Robert D. Hales Jeffrey R. Holland Henry B. Eyring

  • The Proclamation states:

    By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
  • Church leaders have regularly celebrated that marriage constitutes a union of equality. The proclamation instructs Latter-day Saints that in family responsibilities "fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."

  • The Proclamation states:

    Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
  • President Hinckley introduced the family proclamation at the October 1995 General Conference, in the General Relief Society session in his talk entitled "Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World."

  • The Proclamation warns:

    The disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
  • In the book of Luke, Jesus prophesied that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven" (Luke 21:10-11).

    In 1833, the Lord warned Joseph Smith that if Zion "observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire" (D&C 97:26).

  • These "calamities" may have been expressed through Biblical types and symbols. In 1927, Orson F. Whitney observed:

    Do I err, then, in believing that the universe is built upon symbols, to the end that it may bear record of its all-wise Architect and Builder? God teaches with symbols; it is his favorite method of teaching.
  • For example, Tad R. Callister, an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president, submitted a piece to Church News claiming various social ills and disasters as symptoms of ignoring family values:

    If you were asked, “What is the greatest challenge facing our nation today?” how would you respond? The economy, national security, immigration, gun control, poverty, racism, crime, pandemics, climate change? While each of these is a valid concern and deserves attention, I do not believe that any of them strikes at the heart of our greatest challenge — a return to family and moral values. To put our prime focus on other challenges is to strike at the leaves, not the root, of the problem. It is, as some have noted, to put an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than a fence at the top.