Can You Be Both Mormon and Gay?
Why a religion notorious in the gay community might be “evolving.”
Josh Weed with his wife Lolly and their children
Photograph via joshweed.com
Last week, Josh Weed and his wife, Lolly, marked their 10-year anniversary by announcing together on Josh’s blog that he is gay. Josh works as a marriage and family therapist in Auburn, Wash. He and Lolly have three daughters, and claim to have a very successful marriage—one that includes, in their opinion, “a better sex life” than most heterosexual couples.
Josh remains, in his words, “very happily married to a woman” even though he has long identified as gay, because he also considers himself a “a devout and believing Mormon.” When Josh came out to his parents at the age of 13, his father served in the local stake presidency, meaning that he helped oversee several Mormon congregations. His parents nonetheless remained supportive of him—as did Lolly, who has been friends with Josh since the two were kids. Despite his homosexuality they have all agreed with his decision to stay true to the doctrines of Mormonism, including temple marriage, which can only be “between a man and a woman” and is “ordained of God” as one of the religion’s most sacred covenants. Weed says that this decision is an entirely satisfying one. “I am gay. I am Mormon. I am married to a woman. I am happy every single day.”
Since he published his 6,000-word coming-out post last week, Weed’s announcement has gone viral—it even got a vote of support from influential blogger Andrew Sullivan, who is himself both openly gay and Catholic. Yet Weed is hardly the first Mormon to declare himself both homosexual and happily married in a Mormon temple. Weed’s friend, Ty Mansfield, another Mormon father and husband—who also works as a family therapist—recently detailed his own experiences with what he calls “same-sex attraction” for the Mormon magazine LDS Living. After years of counseling focused on his depression and childhood insecurities—but not, Mansfield insists, on “reorientation” to heterosexuality—he “felt healthy and empowered enough that when I met my wife, it all came together.” Like Weed, Mansfield, who recently had his first child with his wife Danielle, does not identify as “straight.” “Why should I replace one socio-identity construct with another?” he asks. “My goal isn’t to be straight, but a man who is honoring my covenants and [has] a healthy relationship with my wife.” While Mansfield still experiences some attraction to other men, he says, “at some point you decide you’re going to commit to one person you love, just like mature straight men do. I don’t feel like I’m suppressing anything. I focus my energy into my marriage.”
Can you really be gay and Mormon? The answer depends, to some extent, on how you define both these identities. Sex outside of marriage—whatever the orientation—is considered sinful by Mormon theology, and the church has, of course, famously fought against legalizing same-sex marriage. Weed has chosen to abide by these dictates, in spite of what he refers to as his own natural attractions to “the guys … and unquestionably not the girls.” In the eyes of many, he has sacrificed his identity as a gay man to his Mormon identity. Others, however, like Andrew Sullivan, see it differently: If “some gays really want to marry women,” Sullivan writes, “and they are not deceiving anyone, it’s totally their choice—and their right not to be mocked for it.”
Until recently, many Mormons probably would have rejected the notion that you can define yourself as gay and still be a truly devout and fully committed member of the LDS Church. (The church even rejects the term “gay,” instead referring to those who “struggle with same-gender attraction.”) But LDS authorities appear to have accepted the decision by Weed, Mansfield, and others to follow that path. And that acceptance reflects a growing—though certainly uneasy—tolerance on the part of the Mormon Church. In the years since California’s Proposition 8, some members of the religion, upset that their church had become so closely associated with intolerance, have taken steps to advance what they consider a more “Christ-like” attitude toward gay men and women, Mormon and otherwise. And the LDS leadership has generally chosen not to tamp down these grassroots expressions of dissent as they might once have done.
Whether these steps will lead to a more fundamental change within official Mormon doctrine remains, of course, to be seen—and, for the moment, still appears unlikely. But for now, if only in small ways, a religion notorious for its role in the fight against gay rights seems to be “evolving.”
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Historically, the Mormon position on homosexuality is distinct from that of other Christian traditions—and perhaps even more resistant to change. For Mormons, human beings are literally, not metaphorically, the children of Heavenly Father. Connell O’Donovan, a scholar of Mormonism’s history with homosexuality, argues that Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, “deified heterosexuality when he introduced the doctrine of a Father and Mother in Heaven—a divine, actively heterosexual couple paradigmatic of earthly sexual relationships.” Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, taught that God “created man, as we create our children; for there is no other process of creation in heaven, on the earth … or in all the eternities, that is, that were, or that ever will be.” Mormons believe that they can progress spiritually by marrying in the Mormon temple, where they are ritually sealed to their spouses, not just for time, but for eternity. It is through the monogamous, heterosexual family that Mormons reach the highest levels of heaven.
Max Perry Mueller is a Ph.D. candidate in the Study of Religion at Harvard and associate editor of the online journal Religion & Politics.