27 July 2011

Marriage, gays and the Mormon Church: a tangled relationship

The Church and my marriage have a tangled relationship. I joined the Church shortly after high school.  I had a number of concerns about the doctrine, but I put those aside mostly during my first year following baptism. I returned from a mission and had a fairly strong testimony for the next several years.  Fundamentally, if I had not accepted Church teachings to the degree that I did in my early 20s, I may not have even seriously considered marriage. During this period, I wanted close relationships with others, but that effort was principally focused on close friendships with guys. There were also some female friendships as well.  I am generally comfortable around women and have formed some close relationships with females, but it has always been difficult to summon a profound interest in what they are doing and who they are. College and graduate school were a big part of life back then too.

The pressure to find an eternal companion during my mid-20s came from two sources: (1) Church doctrine and pressure from Church leaders (e.g., local leaders encouraging marriage during Sunday meetings) and (2) the fact that many of my close friends and members of my single’s congregation were either married or were actively pursuing that end.  Because this was a period of life were I was very much committed to the Church (and because I tend to be accomplishment-driven), much of my thought was channeled into meeting Church expectations and going along with the program of a typical Mormon male’s life: temple, mission, marriage, kids, and career. I knew something about my sexual inclinations in my mid 20s, but living life as a gay man with a gay partner was something I knew nothing about, so it was never an option in my mind at that stage of life.  I also didn’t want to be left behind as all of my friends began to marry.

So, I found a sweet, wonderful woman and got married.  Did I marry just anyone?  Definitely not.  I married a person with whom I had already formed a close friendship and with whom I was very comfortable on a personal level.  I was attracted to my wife spiritually and socially too.  Physical attraction was not strongly present, but neither was it completely lacking.  I sought out spiritual confirmation of my decision and marriage to this person felt right at the time.  It is interesting to think that perhaps my wife is the only woman I could have or could ever marry.

Today I find myself with a conscience much less sensitive to the pressure of the Church’s programmatic expectations. I have learned to let go of the guilt of disbelief and non-performance. That guilt did not serve to bring me happiness, though the things that I did in response to the guilt may still have brought satisfaction to me and others. Replacing guilt with a more beneficial motivation such as love would be a wonderful way to stay an active and productive member of the Church, but I still lack belief in so much of the doctrine, that I don’t think being too involved in the Church program is going to work for me presently.

If I disentangle the Church from my marriage, what happens? 

First, I think that some of the meta-physical motivations to remain married disappear for me.  For example, I don’t believe that marriage to a woman is required for either happiness here on earth or final admission to God’s presence.  I don’t believe in the extreme anthropomorphic conception of God prevalent in Mormon doctrine that posits the eternal nature of gender and a heavenly social organization that parallels the family structure of humankind.  Rather, as a gay man, I believe I have the potential to form a deep and meaningful union with a man should that opportunity be a part of my future.  That union has the potential to be every bit as edifying as the marriage between a straight man and woman.  Contrary to the narrow interpretation of happiness promoted by the Church, I am now open to the idea that a multiplicity of paths exist that can bring fulfillment to human beings.  For most gay individuals, maximum happiness in human relationships will probably involve intimate relationships with a person of the same sex.

Second, as long as we stay married, my wife and I can move beyond the Church’s heavy-handed role in defining the structure and nature of our relationship. As a mixed orientation couple, we do not have a typical marriage anyway.  Trying to stuff our relationship into the mold that works for some heterosexual couples is likely to bring unnecessary hardship.  For as long as our relationship remains a marriage (I worded that deliberately because I think we will always have a close relationship whether we are formally married or not), we need to make it our own. It needs to fit our needs and our limitations.  As I recall the spirit of the sealing ordinance, it appears that a temple marriage is really supposed to be three way relationship between two mortal partners and God.  Unfortunately, the Church inserts itself as a fourth-party, overseeing and micromanaging the three partners in the relationship.  I don’t really like that; I wonder if God is a little suspicious of the arrangement too.

Finally, if my wife and I decide to separate, we can move beyond the paradigm of failure that might be promulgated by some Church members.  In other words, free from the doctrine of a man-woman union as the only path to God, I would not be obligated to view our marriage as a failure because it did not last our entire mortal lives. As I mentioned above, I think that my wife and I will always have a special relationship.  It is possible that we may grow even closer in some ways as we decide to look for romance elsewhere but remain close friends and partners in raising our wonderful children.  We are totally in control of our reactions to future change, so we can define how successful and happy a potential separation might be.

In all of these thoughts about marriage, a key question remains: are my spiritual impressions to marry in my 20s (when I was in near complete ignorance of homosexuality) going to be necessarily the same kind of inspiration for me going forward?  I think that it is completely within the realm of possibilities that my spiritual promptings to marry my wife were valid earlier in life, but that my future may yet involve another path. I am changing and growing, learning and having new experiences.  And because I can only know the mind of God through my own opaque filters of limited experience and personal weakness, I can only obtain spiritual direction to the degree that I am prepared for the answers.


  1. As I read this post, I was reminded of why I tried so hard to believe and stay in the church. I was also reminded of the good things I did and received from fostering a strong connection to the church, even if the reasons for that weren't altogether healthy.

    Like you, I tend to think a lot and delve deeply into causes, motivations, outcomes and the lot. What I'm trying to discover is the way to make that something that enhances my life and the lives of those around me rather than it being a burden that keeps me chained down.

  2. Thanks for sharing your blog. I look forward to learning about your journey.

  3. I appreciate how carefully chosen your words are here. I'm looking forward to seeing your summaries and distillations of the books and blogs and research you have been devouring on these subjects this last year.