08 November 2015

It would be better that a millstone ...

It has been a busy weekend with back-to-back scientific conferences in two states. It has been a tiring few days, but in my spare moments I have been thinking a lot about the LDS Church’s new policy towards children of same-sex parents. I’ve absorbed what I could on-line: denunciations of the policy by critics of the Church, stories of families affected by these changes, and even a few defenses of the offensive policy. I’ve tried to assemble some thoughts early this morning, on a flight, and now at the PDX airport.

The new policy targets LGB people and their families in a few ways. First, it establishes that same-sex marriage is an offense of apostasy, and therefore requires mandatory Church discipline. (Note that not even actual serious crimes like child abuse mandate automatic church discipline.) It is a clear message to LGBT Mormons that the Church condemns the relationships that are most likely to bring them happiness. It sends a message to bishops that they cannot just let the nice gay couple in their ward sneak under the radar without punishment. Second, the policy sets out administrative rules for the children of parents that are (or have even been) in same-sex relationships. These children now cannot receive the main saving ordinances of the Church, including baptism, until they are 18. At that time, they cannot not reside in a same-sex household, they must attest that they do not accept the legitimacy of same-sex relationships (including mom or dad’s), and they must have permission from the highest authorities of the Church to then be baptized.

One has to seriously question any notion that this policy is needed to clarify church doctrine. If there is one thing anyone in the United States would know about the Mormons these days it could very well be the fact they are opposed to same-sex marriage. If that wasn’t obvious from Proposition 8, consider that it is repeated ad infinitum in general conference talks, press releases, stories by news media and by faithful members as they post their views on social media with family and friends. In fact, the Church’s anti-gay marriage position may be so well known that it could run the risk of drowning out the message that Mormonism should really focus on bringing to humanity – following Jesus’ example of love and service to transform one’s own soul.

As I’ve thought about the possible motivations for issuing the policy, it is impossible to surmise the actual intentions of Church leaders. Perhaps it is a way for church leadership to assert its relevance into questions of gay marriage and gay relationships that the Church has been solidly losing in the courts and in public discourse. One blogger thought the motivation might be a simple act of flexing institutional power, an assertion that wouldn’t seem inconsistent with other moments in Mormon history. Mostly, it seems very controlling to me. But regardless of the motivations, the potential for harm is great. True, for many Mormon or ex-Mormon individuals and families, this will have little relevance. For others it will result in disruption and conflict. In the end, it serves the interest of the Church only and few else. That is a sad indictment of a religion that claims to speak for God.

In my present circumstances, I don’t think the policy directly affects me or my children. I am still married to my wife (and not in a same-sex relationship) and my spouse and children only partly attend church. But we very well could be affected directly under different circumstances, especially as life evolves into the future. Thursday evening as I read the breaking news flooding over social media as I walked the isles of the supermarket, I felt a lot of anger. I felt hurt again, like an old wound was yet again being opened. Not content to leave us in peace, the Church needed to remind us of our “sin” yet again. The Church needed to remind us that God doesn’t approve of gay relationships yet again.

I do know of former gay Mormons who are much more likely to be impacted. These are friends and others who have previously been in mixed orientation marriages. They have divorced and left the Church, but their still-believing spouses wish to raise the children in Mormonism. These are among the families affected by this policy and these families are not necessarily a small minority in the LGBT community. I could write volumes about how difficult mixed orientation marriages are for everyone involved – straight spouse, gay spouse, and children. My own experience, which is no where from nearing its end, has involved years of navigating sorrow, disappointment, and confusion.

If I could articulate the root of my anger, it might be the repeated insensitivity of LDS church leadership towards the broader LGBT family, and especially towards those of us working through the complexity of mixed orientation marriages. Indeed, it was the doctrine and culture of Mormonism that created an environment in which these marriages were more likely to occur in the first place. Now, our complex and trying circumstances are left scattered over the battlefield Mormonism has waged with the LGBT community and we are largely abandoned. There is no official apology: “We are sorry to have once encouraged you to marry; we apologize for teaching false information about homosexuality; we regret that our doctrine on the family has been so narrow; we are sorry that you felt so much pressure to conform to a heterosexual ideal that doesn’t fit who you are.”

If the Church wanted to really help our families, policies that might further divide families should be the absolute last thing it would consider. It would provide resources to help us through family adjustments or through divorce; it would replace its false teachings about homosexuality and gay relationships with sound research on sexuality; it would plead with God to reveal a healthy and sustainable path for LGBT people within the Church. It would not issue a policy that only makes it harder for some of our families to reach a place of peace and reconciliation.

I don’t believe anymore, and for many reasons, not just because I’m gay. In many ways this chapter of life is over. Yet through extended family and close friends, because of a decade and a half of life dedicated to the Church, and through the cultural imprints that will continue to influence me in even small ways going forward, I won’t ever know a time when I’m not touched in some way by the Church. In many respects that legacy has been positive. But on sexuality, the Church is dead wrong. It owns a long legacy of incorrect teachings about homosexuality and it bears much responsibility for the damage that has caused to individuals and families.

The best outcome now for me is to part peaceably from the Church. I have done so all but officially. But, the Church needs to leave us alone too. If church leadership consistently chooses to turn LGBT issues into a cultural war, they will lose. If you look at the emerging science of sexuality and gay relationships, you will know they have lost. If you get to know a gay person, and see their struggle and humanity, you will know the church has lost. And if you consider the un-severable bond between parents and children, even gay parents and their children, you will know they have lost. Only a fool would think to stand between a mama bear and her cub.

To my LDS friends: please speak up about this policy. Please speak with your local Church leaders or write to Church leaders. Please support the LGBT Mormons and ex-Mormons in your lives, and especially the children of these individuals. 

29 October 2015

39 questions for the World Congress of Families

What exactly is it about same-sex marriage that threatens a straight marriage? How specifically does your gay neighbor’s marriage negatively impact your straight neighbor’s marriage? Won’t allowing gay people to marry increase the stability of society overall? Are loving gay relationships really more threatening to the stability of families than war, economic inequality, lack of educational opportunity, and environmental degradation? Is acceptance of gay relationships harming American society more than crime, unemployment, racism, public health crises, growing economic disparity, or worsening political gridlock? Can you cite any data that show a direct link between acceptance of same-sex marriage and heterosexual couples losing interest in marriage or having children? If gay marriage leads to the unraveling of society, why are European nations that have embraced marriage equality still prospering?

What exactly is a “traditional” or “natural” family? Which tradition is it based on? Is it a one male-one female marriage, or a male-female-female-…-female marriage traditionally present in some religious societies? Are traditional societies that accepted homosexuality in their culture wrong? What empirical evidence do you have that gay and lesbian couples are, on average, worse parents than straight parents? Can you cite any major peer-reviewed studies that support your position that haven’t been discredited by the scientific community? Is it more important for children to have two parents that fulfill specific gender roles or to have two loving parents (regardless of gender) that bring important personality differences to a family? Are families led by a single parent or by grandparents less than ideal too?

If marriage is principally for raising children, should older individuals or those who can’t have children be allowed to marry? Should a heterosexual couple that isn’t interested in having children be permitted to marry? Should a marriage just be dissolved once all the children of the family have moved out of the household to live independent lives? Don’t gay and lesbian marriages strengthen communities when they adopt children that heterosexual parents chose not to raise? To reduce foster care and strengthen communities, shouldn’t governments promote adoption of children by all qualified couples, including gay couples? How are the children of gay parents affected when their parents aren’t allowed to marry or their parent’s relationships are attacked?

What data do you have to show that LGBT people are not born exactly as they say they are? If sexual orientation is a conscious choice, why do virtually all gay conversion therapies fail to turn people straight? Would you, as a straight person, choose to be gay for a week just to prove to us that sexuality is chosen? If there is no genetic basis for sexuality at all, why are identical twins of gay men much more likely to be gay themselves? If one or more biological factors ultimately cause homosexuality, is it just or ethical to discriminate against an entire community for something that is innate?

Do you believe that religious freedom means freedom for all, including non-Christians and non-believers? Do you want freedom to practice your religion in your own homes or communities, or the special privilege of having your beliefs encoded in law? If your conferences aim to strengthen families, why do speakers spend so much time demonizing LGBT individuals and their families? Why are LGBT “activists” viewed as the enemy of the family? Why do your conferences and events include speakers that sometimes have very homophobic views? Why do attendees and speakers at your events work to help foreign governments pass harmful anti-LGBT legislation? Why does the WCF oppose hate crime legislation? Shouldn’t a just and free society protect fellow LGBT citizens from harassment or discrimination even if others don’t agree with them?

Are you willing to sit with LGBT people and open your minds to their stories? Will you listen to proponents of gay rights without labeling them “sexual deviants” or pedophiles? Will you accept empirical research about sexual orientation and gay parenting even if it contradicts your belief system? Do you have any LGBT people in your immediate or extended families? Do you treat them and speak to them in a way than lets them know how fabulous and valuable they are?

25 October 2015

The World Congress of Families

This week the World Congress of Families (WCF) convenes its 9th international conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is the first time the organization, founded about 20 years ago, has had a conference in the United States. Scheduled speakers and attendees at the event include the governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, and one of the senior apostles of the LDS Church, M. Russell Ballard. Affiliates of BYU and BYU-Idaho are also scheduled to speak at various points in the conference. The event is hosted by the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based organization.

The mission of the WCF is to “provide … sound scholarship and effective strategies to affirm and defend the natural family”. The “natural family” is a nuclear family comprised of a married man and woman. Unfortunately through their actions, agenda and associations, the WCF has made it fairly clear that LGBT individuals and families are not just viewed as non-ideal in this worldview, but as the enemy. Here are some important considerations when weighing whether the World Congress of Families and its affiliates really work towards the benefit of all families:

- The WCF has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

- In 2009, the United Nations prepared a statement urging that homosexuality should be decriminalized (homosexual acts are illegal in many countries). The WCF opposed this measure.

- WCF’s past partners include the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, both anti-LGBT organizations.

- The WCF openly admits to opposing hate-crime legislation and to laws that ban reparative therapy even while it tries to defend its self as not hateful.

- The WCF calls those who oppose their narrow definitions of family and human sexuality, “sexual radicals”.

- The Sutherland Institute which is sponsoring WCF’s conference in Utah this year, is opposed to same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions, and recognition of LGBT people as a protected legal class. They also directly reject the idea that anyone is born gay.

- One of the plenary sessions of this year’s conference includes “The Future After the SCOTUS Decision”, a short series of talks that are quite unlikely to heap much praise on this landmark decision for equality in America.

- Another conference speaker is Professor Mark Regnerus, the author of a high-profile, but discredited, study that claimed to show the superiority of opposite sex parenting over same-sex parenting.

- Past WCF event speakers and organizers include Scott Lively, a rabid anti-gay activist who was intimately tied to the development of Uganda’s recent notorious anti-LGBT legislation that, in its original form, proscribed the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexual acts. Lively previously claimed that “homosexuals created the Nazi party”.

Unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has fairly strong links to the World Congress of Families. In addition to Elder Ballard’s planned keynote address during the opening day of the conference this year, there are other connections between the Mormon Church and this organization:

- Elder Dallin H. Oaks, another senior apostle in the Church, is an honorary member of the WFC board of directors.

-  LDS Apostles have apparently already spoken at past conferences of the organization.

- The renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be performing at the 2015 conference.

Of course every organization or individual has the right to peacefully advocate for their positions, but in the public sphere there is no free pass from the scrutiny of fact. While some WCF work probably does help some families, the organization’s activities and motives are suspect, and Latter-day Saints should seriously ask why their Church is affiliated with this organization. To the WFC and its supporters: If your “defense” of the family involves explicitly or implicitly tearing down other families, perhaps you are going about it all wrong?

Links to other perspectives:

- 3 Sept 2015 Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by a leader in Mormons Building Bridges, questioning whether the WCF really embodies Utah values.
- Inclusive Families Conference 2015 – held this weekend in SLC.

- A defense of WCF in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News.

04 October 2015

Why we leave

This weekend was general conference weekend for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I would still agree with many thoughts expressed in recent conference sessions on topics such as service and forgiveness, I no longer believe many of the foundational doctrines of the church. In an effort to promote faith in the church and retain membership, sometimes leaders and members tend to simplify the reasons some decide to separate from Mormonism. This is an open letter to give some collective voice to why some Saints leave the fold.

Dear leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Most of us do not leave the Church because we are offended or because leaving is easy.

We leave because we have diligently read the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures and found anachronisms; miracles that are difficult to believe; and conflicts with western hemisphere archaeology, modern anthropology, and DNA studies of Native American populations.

We leave because we value reason and find over time that our deeper inquiry into Mormon history and doctrine culminates in an irreconcilable conflict between the Mormon worldview and what we learn of the universe from rational inquiry.

We leave because we find that the typical church narrative about Joseph Smith is inaccurate and incomplete. We struggle upon learning that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision, that Joseph took over 30 wives when some were still teenagers or married to other men, and that the Book of Mormon “translation” was closer to methods used in 19th century treasure-seeking than one might expect in an inspired scholarly translation.

We leave because we are women, or men who believe that women can do anything a man can do, and yet find that in the church women have few substantive leadership roles; that they can never preside over a man in the modern church; and that there are numerous inequalities between how men and women are treated in the faith.

We leave because we are LGBT and after long and intense struggles to reconcile our internal truths with Mormon doctrine, we find that the Church has no fulfilling or empowering place for us in its doctrine. We remember the years of harmful rhetoric, condescension or misinformation at the hands of the church and ultimately conclude that a much healthier existence is waiting for us outside the church’s narrow understanding of sexuality and family.

We leave because we have long hoped for a church that more fully embraces a diversity of political viewpoints, but find instead that the institution has been more focused on using its social and political capital to obstruct civil justice for all Americans as it did with Proposition 8 in California.

We leave because despite our respect for many wonderful people in the faith, we are not comfortable with recent church priorities such as its obsession with modesty and pornography, the negative rhetoric about LGBT families, its efforts to excommunicate those who openly challenge church doctrine or practice, and its investment in billion dollar real estate enterprises. We cannot understand the lack of transparency in church finances or instances when church leaders have misled others. We ask why we hear more from Mormon leadership about tithing or temple attendance than about great societal problems such as poverty, economic and political corruption, or environmental destruction.

We leave because despite the great challenges this brings to us or our families, we find greater peace of conscience outside the religion. We respect your choice to stay, but we hope that in bolstering your own faith, you will not misunderstand or trivialize our motives for leaving.

27 September 2015

A modicum of middle-aged wisdom

This is a post that may be more for me than anyone else. As much as I’m not eager to get older, I’m now middle aged. Most of the time life seems too busy for much introspection, but I’ve been away from home for a week and have had a lot of time alone to ponder. Such breaks are welcome because I think that middle age is a critical time to make course corrections where needed. Life only seems to accelerate, and I’d rather not wake up in my later decades and regret that I did not live in a way that is courageously me. A few thoughts:

- Question everything. Questioning isn’t merely doubt. It is the foundation of all learning because it is the first step in the scientific process that leads to observation, experiment, and eventually, truth.

- Inner peace is tantamount to quality of life. I’m still working on the formula that leads to its outcome, but enticing alternatives like power, prestige, money, or relationship status seem to be inadequate substitutes for the genuine peace of being happy with oneself. 

- Relationships with others are one of the principal joys of life (and vital for most people) but it is even more important to enjoy your own company and thoughts. You live with yourself more than any other person.

- Human intimacy – whether in friendship, parent-child relationships, or romantic love – is a beautiful thing. With time it seems to become more elusive. I mean that in the sense of changing interactions in our contemporary society, and also in the context of chronological age. It seems harder to meet and connect deeply with others as I age. It also seems harder to meaningfully connect with others when many whom I care most about live far away, and so much communication happens via electrons.

- Individuals who significantly disappoint you once or twice are very likely to do so again. Its not that I don’t believe in the capacity for human beings to change, it’s just that most people do so only infrequently and slowly.

- One thing I’m trying to learn better is to stand up for myself. I’m usually soft-spoken, deferential, and introverted. But I value honesty and respect and feel genuinely hurt if those courtesies are not reciprocated. My character traits are sometimes fodder for being taken advantage of. The goal: being more assertive being a jerk.

- Nature is superior to virtually anything humans can create. As remarkable as our species is, we cannot beat 4.6 billion years of evolution. Most of modern society is a created beast, a mix of historical inertia and the good and bad of human intentions. It is a world of one species, but we share this planet with several million others. I think it is a gross error to spend so much time in the human world that the truths of biology and geology disappear from our collective conscience.

30 June 2015

San Francisco Pride

Squid hats!
San Francisco was a sea of rainbows on Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many LGBT people in one place, let alone people period. There were flags on street poles, flags in the parade, flags in the crowd and visible gestures of happy pride from San Francisco businesses. There were even rainbow squid hats!

Over a million people were estimated to have attended the pride festivities this weekend. The parade lasted for some six hours. Civic Center was closed off for blocks and large crowds listened to music on several stages. Most of the day was celebratory and peaceful. Given a gathering of that magnitude (and that it was pride in San Francisco), there were also a few obligatory nude folks (it’s almost never the people one wants to see naked that are the self-appointed exhibitioners, right?), and a few other annoyances like excessive trash on the streets.

Some photos: 

Panorama of parade attendees along Market Street.
Jim Obergefell, who was the lead plaintiff in last week's Supreme Court case.
Civic Center
Many welcome signs.
Steve Grand performing at the main stage at Civic Center.
The Apple contingent in the parade They must have had 5000 marchers. It went on forever.
Happy pride!

27 June 2015

All over the map

It’s here! By a narrow 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court, gay marriage is now legal across the United States of America. Just 10 years ago, few would have been able to imagine this day.

Gay marriage did not arrive at our doorstep yesterday because of five “rogue” justices in the Supreme Court. In fact, in ruling after ruling over the last couple years, state and federal judges at various levels have overwhelmingly been on the side of marriage equality.

Gay marriage did not come to the country because LGBT people, who only represent 3-4% of all Americans, somehow pushed their minority views on the will of the majority. In fact, well over half of all Americans now support marriage equality, a rapid evolution in public sentiment over the last decade.

Marriage equality did not become the law of the land because there is some conspiracy to destroy “religious freedom”. Churches will carry on as they always have – First Amendment rights intact – but they each have been reminded by the court’s action that their specific moral beliefs cannot be imposed on others through law in a pluralistic society.

Rather, gay marriage came to America, because as slow as we can be to correct historical wrongs, justice usually finds its place in our society. As parochial as we often are in our politics, the greater American tradition we all share stands for equality, community, and respect for diversity.

Marriage equality is now here because many good Americans have come to better know the LGBT people in their lives. Gay people have been coming out, younger and confidently, to their friends and families. Our community has greater visibility than ever before, and in listening to our stories, our straight friends have chosen love and understanding over tired stereotypes and misinformation.

Personally, my awakening came later in life than some of my gay peers; I only came out to family and friends some five years ago. Of course like most gay people, I knew I liked, and even fell in love with, my same sex far back into my youth. But for too long, I feared my sexuality and the judgment that might come my way. My religion, which should have been a place of refuge, told me in subtle and unsubtle ways that homosexuality was evil, perverse, and could only lead to unhappiness. I didn’t confront these false ideas, but instead retreated inside. I married an amazing woman instead of a beautiful man. And so ... complicated as it is, we're doing our best to move forward.

On this weekend of gay pride, my thoughts have been all over the map. I’m truly happy for my gay friends who have, or who will soon, marry. Their relationships are no longer inferior in the eyes of the state. They have all the legal protections and benefits that the government confers on straight married couples. I am happy for the young people, including my sweet children, who are now growing up in a nation that shows more acceptance and more equality than a decade ago. I am happy that coming out today is easier for young gay people and that they have more hope than ever that their futures will be proud and bright.

Because my own path as a gay person has been unconventional, there have been other thoughts and emotions too along this journey. I admit to being a little envious of my gay friends who are married or in relationships. Deep down I want a loving same-sex relationship, the experience of having feelings of romance flow naturally. Observing the excitement of gay couples I wonder a bit: did history pass me by this weekend because I chose to suppress my sexuality for so long?

At a celebration at the California state capital last evening in the hot evening air, the crowd that gathered was reminded of the sacrifice of many LGBT pioneers who helped America reach this historic day. In thinking of my own journey, I’m glad to have participated in a tiny way in this conversation over the last several years. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t have enough courage to come out in high school, or college, or even graduate school, to embrace my own truth at a younger age. Perhaps I could have been an example for others who were struggling too. The generation of LGBT people that did come out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are largely unknown names to me, but they were pioneers who made today’s road much smoother.

These are some of my disparate thoughts at this season in life. I’m not sure how I will feel about all of this in a decade or two. I have even less certainty about what my life will look like. The road over the last five years has been difficult emotionally. But I’ve been immensely fortunate to be on that journey with my spouse, a best friend whose compassion has few bounds. Despite the challenges, there is much more to celebrate than to worry about. All over the map, Americans can celebrate, whatever their circumstances, on this historic occasion. 

03 June 2015


Sunday evening I attended a fireside given by Carol Lynn Pearson at the LDS Institute in Berkeley. A Mormon poet and speaker who was married to a gay man before his death, she is essentially the godmother of the Mormon LGBT community. In many ways I don’t consider myself Mormon any longer, but the Church was an important part of my life for many years and for both good and bad, it has left deep influences on me.

Carol Lynn read from, and spoke about, a short book she produced recently that is an allegory for the gay person who travels through Mormonism. Her allegory was structured after the hero myth articulated in literature from ancient times to the present. Concisely, the myth centers around the hero who leaves his or her tribe on a journey of discovery. Propelled internally to seek something more, the hero leaves the tribe for an unknown destination. Arriving in an unfamiliar place, he or she struggles and must choose to confront self doubt – the voices of defeat.

One symbol of the struggle is the sword – a weapon that could either be turned on oneself for destruction or that could be used to destroy the self doubt that brings darkness. Though not all people on the journey will necessarily gain the liberating self confidence they need, those that pass successfully through their own personal transformation could then chose to return to their tribe of origin to share their new understanding. The hero was transformed, and members of the tribe, also each on their own journeys of enlightenment, could be transformed too.

I’d like to share two points that impressed me from Sister Pearson’s words. The first was a simple concept – it was her advice that LGBT people strive to be so confident in their path, so fully at peace with themselves that others around them, no matter their views on sexuality, could not help but be impressed. In essence, to help change the culture of the tribe, the gay messengers have to be completely transformed themselves.

Her second point, surely more difficult than the first, was that to be successful the hero needs to return to the tribe disarmed. This was an admonition for forgiveness, for peace with those who may have intentionally (or unintentionally) wounded another. I think most gay Mormons could rightly say that they have been wounded by a Church (and a society) that at times acts more as an enemy than a refuge. But for the wounded gay person to find happiness and wholeness, forgiveness is required. 

I confess that right now I am not yet at such a place with respect to the Church. Perhaps I feel betrayed in a sense (and not just by sexuality, but by conflicts with history and science too). I feel sad that Church culture and doctrine are still such an unhealthy place for many gay Mormons. But moving beyond those negative feelings it is a worthy goal and the direction I want to go over time. When the sword of bitterness and hostility is tossed aside, again the tribe cannot but be impressed with who the gay hero really is.   

As I left the fireside meeting Sunday evening and began to browse social media on my phone, I quickly saw that two good gay Mormon friends of mine had just become engaged to be married. Since they’ve been dating seriously for several years, that wasn’t unexpected, but learning of the news really filled me with happiness for them. As we’ve talked over the years, I’ve come to know some about their own personal struggles of self acceptance, family acceptance and journey through Mormonism. So, it is wonderful to see them in a place of happiness and fulfillment. I feel a tinge of jealousy too when I learn such news - a happy same-sex relationship is a significant dream of mine. But I mostly feel happiness for my good friends, and I wish them the very best in the future.

As Carol Lynn noted Sunday evening, our tribe (Mormonism) doesn’t make it easy for us. Almost simultaneously coming out as gay, leaving the Church, navigating raw emotional experiences, and working through changing realities in a mixed orientation marriage is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In many ways gay people are not heroes. We are ordinary people with the same fears and need for love and acceptance as anyone else. But we go through an unusual journey, one not shared by most people in the world. To pass through that journey, emerging with greater self acceptance, maybe a partner at one’s side, and love in one’s heart is the best possible outcome for LGBT Mormons. 

09 January 2015

This husband IS gay

Discussion of mixed orientation marriages – marriages where one partner is straight and the other is gay or bisexual – has sort of exploded on-line lately in at least part of the Mormon community. Mostly this appears to have been prompted by a show that will air by The Learning Channel this weekend titled “My Husband’s Not Gay”. The program features several gay Mormon men who are in straight marriages and a single same-sex attracted Mormon who wants to marry a woman. Perhaps co-incidentally, NPR also recently featured an interview with a gay Christian pastor recently married to a straight woman.

Will straight marriages work for most gay people? Image source
I have mixed feelings about this topic. For readers not familiar with me personally, or some of my older posts on this blog, a bit of context is warranted. I’m presently in a mixed orientation marriage (MOM) myself. I’m gay, but I married heterosexually over a decade ago. I was deeply active in Mormonism at the time. While we were still dating, I told my wife a little (unfortunately way too little!) about my attractions to other men, but both of us had only a superficial understanding of homosexuality at the time. We didn’t discuss the topic much more and we got married. Though I knew since my teenage years that I liked guys, acting on those feelings in any capacity was strictly forbidden in the LDS Church. Also, growing up I never experienced anything close to a same-sex relationship – something that probably would have helped me figure things at an earlier age. Around the time I was married, I wondered if my same-sex feelings might change in the future. I just didn’t know, but it sure would have lifted a huge psychological burden. I had had a lot of shame about my sexuality for a long time. Why did I marry? The reasons were several and included everything from finding someone who was (and is) a wonderful friend and partner, to believing that I needed to marry to show my complete obedience to God. It also should be mentioned that my Mormon singles congregation at the time was bombarded repeatedly with well-meaning, but persistent, encouragement to get married! That’s supposedly what God wants Mormons to do.

I came out as gay a little over four years ago. Before that time, however, my beliefs in orthodox Mormonism were already fading. Today, I’m in a very different place spiritually. I now believe that Mormonism is deeply wrong about LGBT people. Its doctrines on same-sex attraction are not consistent with common sense, nor with sociological research. Many Mormon leaders and church members have treated LGBT people terribly in the past. Today the official stance has softened, but homophobia persists culturally in the Church, and the doctrine essentially leaves few fulfilling options for most gay people.

So, to my mixed feelings on MOMs. I think that on balance it is positive that mixed orientation marriages are being discussed publicly. Over the last few years, in the faithful Mormon community there have been a number of gay or bisexual men who have come out in a very public way about their heterosexual marriages. We can and should be respectful of the personal choices of some gay people to marry the opposite sex. Some of these couples married after discussing homosexuality with their future partners much more than I ever did; that honesty and openness can only be positive for all involved. The recent TLC show has generated a storm of opinions, including a petition to cancel the show. I just don’t agree; while I understand the frustration from gay people who are tired of being pushed around by society, I think having the discussion is healthier than keeping the existence of mixed orientation marriages in the dark.

I also recognize that human beings are complex and all the various combinations of belief, experience, sexuality, and personality make us unique. We can create categories that do an OK job of describing people as a whole – gay, bisexual, straight – but people are still very diverse and none of us fit perfectly into any constructed box. Some gay people are going to be very comfortable and happy marrying someone of the opposite sex. That option may be a very good one for many bisexuals. It is much easier socially, for sure, especially in the past when bigotry against gay people was more pervasive. It is easier to have children in opposite sex relationships. A straight marriage may make family relationships more harmonious.

But, there are a lot of facets to this phenomenon, not just happily-ever-after straight-married gay Mormons. From my own experiences, those of friends and acquaintances I’ve made since coming out, and some scholarly data on MOMs, there are many aspects that make me uncomfortable.

First, is the uncomfortable truth of statistics. Although precise estimates may not exist, most mixed orientation marriages end in divorce. This is true in the broader US population and of recently-surveyed gay Mormons. Estimates of divorce in MOMs range from about 50-85%, which is much higher than divorce rates among first marriages in the overall population. John Dehlin, a Mormon researcher, has compiled a summary of his work on same-sex attraction and MOMs among LGBT Mormons. His findings suggest that MOM divorce rates are 2-3 times higher than that broader population, and that individuals in MOMs tend to have a lower quality of life than gay people in same-sex relationships.

For however long a mixed orientation marriage lasts, it can be emotionally difficult. I wrote at length a few years ago about intimacy (not just sexual intimacy) in an MOM. The emotional difficulties in such a marriage may have nothing to do with the partners – both can be fantastic people – it is just that they are trying to fit themselves into a situation that isn’t quite right for them. For the gay spouse especially, straight marriage can just be a foreign place emotionally.

Separation is not an easy road. It is a very difficult process for all involved – straight spouse, gay spouse, children and extended family. These divorces can have a sort of unique sadness associated with them. Often the spouses still deeply love each other and are still great friends. But their marriages miss enough of the emotional, sexual, and physical connection that they cannot persist indefinitely.

For the small percentage of mixed orientation marriages that last long-term, the sociological research shows that several factors help them do so. First, in the surviving marriages, the same-sex attracted spouse is often bisexual, not strictly same-sex attracted. Secondly, many of these marriages become open marriages where one or both partners may have extra-marital relationships. I assume that arrangement may work for some couples, but it is not what many want over the long-term, and it is wholly incompatible with certain religions like Mormonism.

The second point I feel strongly about is how it seems precarious to ground so much of a marriage decision on religious tenets. I’m not talking about the religious tenets of love, forgiveness, or sacrifice. Rather, I’m talking about hard-line interpretations of ancient texts that claim to know more about human sexuality than modern science. Of the several mixed orientation couples that I have met (or know about), I can think of only two marriages that may not have been motivated initially in largepart by religious views. From my own experience, I know that spiritual beliefs can change over time. In the case of Mormonism – with its very unique worldviews and troubled history – a future change in belief can really mean a large change in one’s whole life. Maybe it took me too long to really learn this, but we marry a person, not tenets, and to mix the two inextricably can lead to pain down the road.

Third, I’m uncomfortable with the positive spin sometimes given to MOMs, because I can’t shake the impression that many of these marriages are fueled to some degree by homophobia. To illustrate, in both the NPR piece and among some of the publicly-out married gay Mormons, there is a trend that many of these men refuse to identify as gay. Acronyms like SGA (“same-gender attracted”) are invented, and labels are eschewed. Rather than identify as gay or bisexual and thereby emphasize the truth that gay behaviors and gay choices come in all flavors, many of these individuals tend to demonize the “gay lifestyle”. Most fundamentally damaging, I think, is the broader message that seems to be foundational to mixed orientation marriage advocacy: gay relationships are just inferior to straight ones. The research I’ve seen doesn’t support that belief.

I’m not wholly reading into the minds of others here. I know unequivocally that homophobia played some role in my decision to get married heterosexually years ago. (It certainly was not the only factor). One of my major motivations to be married was a religious belief that that life path was going to be most acceptable to God. If there were out and accepted gay couples in my church congregations years ago, would I have still have thought that being single or marrying a woman were my only future choices?

Fourth, the precedent. The positive side of stories like the couples in the TLC show is that young people today see that they have options. Because we discuss homosexuality as a society more than ever before, young people can find examples of gay people married to each other, gay people married to straight people, polyamorous relationships, etc. But there can be a heavy negative side too. MOMs can be used by religiously-motivated parents or church leaders to pressure young gay people into heterosexual relationships. They just don’t need the pressure! Statistically, a mixed orientation won’t work for most young gay people. If they are of the minority group that will eventually flourish in an MOM, let them discover that on their own journey in their own time frame!

Finally, I have to ask about the long haul. For the young gay/bisexual Mormons in straight marriages now, what will be of their futures? Where will the outspoken advocates of MOMs be in 10, 20 or 40 years? Personally, I thought I would never come out as long as I lived. But once I accepted my sexuality, I realized gay people have other options and that shifted the psychological dynamic of my marriage. We are disregarding a lot of common sense to think that MOMs are no big deal. If sexual orientation isn’t that important in the decision to marry, why aren’t millions of straight people actively looking for same-sex partners? (By the way, I think that is totally fine, but the fact that it is almost non-existent speaks volumes about the fact that homophobia drives a lot of the pressure for gay people to marry heterosexually.)

In summary, I think we can respect the individual choices of people in mixed orientation marriages, without supporting the institutional homophobia that enables and sometimes encourages gay people to enter into these marriages in the first place. This husband IS gay, and yours might be too.