Can you be a gay Mormon?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 17 2008 6:20 PM

Can You Be a Gay Mormon?

Yes, but only if you don't have sex.

Since the passage of California's Proposition 8, which repealed the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, the Mormon Church has been dealing with widespread protests of its support for the measure. What is the official Mormon policy on homosexuality?

That orientation is distinct from practice. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued several position statements about homosexuality—or "same-gender attraction," as the church calls it. One of its most recent publications, a 2007 pamphlet titled "God Loveth His Children," states: "If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction." Being a practicing homosexual can be grounds for excommunication, but gay Mormons who remain celibate can continue to be members in good standing, allowed to worship in the temple and assume positions of leadership. (However, gay and lesbian Mormons who publicly acknowledge their orientations—even if they don't act on them—may face informal disciplinary measures from their congregation bishops.)

On the nature-vs.-nurture issue, the church has declined to speculate. But though Mormons believe that gender is a fixed, eternal construct that's set before you're born and continues after death, homosexuality is seen as something that only exists during a person's mortal lifetime. Mormons believe that after you die, your soul moves on to a spirit world, taking with it the knowledge and memories it gained on Earth. According to "God Loveth His Children," Mormons who cannot overcome their same-gender attractions in this life will have their "feelings and desires … perfected in the next life."

The Church of Latter-day Saints places great doctrinal emphasis on family and sexuality, which makes homosexuality a particularly complex issue for Mormons. Mormons subscribe to the concept of eternal or celestial marriage—the notion that marriage covenants performed and "sealed" within the temple are binding in the afterlife. Section 132 of the church's Doctrines and Covenants records God's revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith that those who enter into the celestial marriage will, after they die, "be gods," with the "angels … subject unto them." (This same scripture also says that these Mormons will experience a "continuation of the seeds forever and ever," suggesting that these couples will procreate in the afterlife as well.)

Marriage is intimately bound up with the church's concept of salvation: Heaven is organized into a series of families, and only those Mormons who are sealed in a temple ceremony are eligible to enter the highest of its three levels, the Celestial Kingdom. Yet homosexuals—like single, heterosexual Mormons who don't find partners in this lifetime—will have the opportunity to be sealed to a husband or wife in the afterlife, provided they live chastely and righteously in this one.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Donald L. Boisvert of Concordia University, Michael Falco of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond, Jay Johnson of Pacific School of Religion, and David Melson of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.

Nina Shen Rastogi is a writer and editor, and is also the vice president for content at Figment.