Sunday, June 23, 2013
Is the Mormon Church Promoting "Mixed Orientation" Marriages?
I want to talk about Josh and Lolly Weed.
First, let me acknowledge that I am massively (like, a year) late to the party on this. But as we wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to hand down two rulings on the constitutionality of gay marriage this week, now is as good a time as any to check in on the prevailing position on homosexuality in the Mormon Church--an institution that had actively lobbied against the legalization of gay marriage at the state and federal level for nearly two decades.
Since the backlash suffered by the Church due to its campaign to get Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008, LDS leaders appear to have backtracked significantly—failing to back similar anti-gay marriage initiatives in the 2012 elections. Although the Church quietly filed "friend of the court" briefs on the anti-gay side for both SP cases, there has been a simultaneous push by the leadership to remake the Church's increasingly problematic image of institutionalized homophobia.
To this end, the Church has launched a website, mormonsandgays.org, to openly encourage the membership to be tolerant of gay Mormons; they have also urged gay Mormons to come out of the closet.
For those unfamiliar with the historic position of the Church on homosexuality, they have the same basic position as all traditional religions—from conservative Christianity to Orthodox Jews to non-reform Muslims. This position: homosexuality deviates from God’s heterosexual plan. Their new-ish micro-reform is to separate the "sin" from the "sinner."
So far so good, right? Not exactly...there appears to be a new wrinkle in the Latter-Day Saint (LDS or Mormon) Church’s position on gay Mormons--a kind of Gay Policy 2.0. On second thought, it is less of a coherent policy than a trial balloon (perhaps one among many)--anything that gives them an interim work-around on this issue.
The Church appears to be promoting "mixed orientation" marriages between their gay and straight members.
"Mixed orientation" marriages are partnerships where the partners have differing sexual orientations--be they gay, bi, trans, straight or asexual.
The "new" deal is this: so long as you don't act on your "same-sex attraction" (for some reason, the Church now appears to favor the term "same gender attraction"), we will accept your gay identity and not try to change it (at least not through old school electro-shock or gay aversion therapy). In fact, there has been a meaningful shift in LDS doctrine on homosexuality in the past few years: some leaders now concede that being gay may not be a "lifestyle choice" or even a "mental illness" (which could, by implication, respond to therapy). In fact, they acknowledge that gay people may even have even been born that way. However. You must never ever never ever ever ever act on those feelings (psst: they also don't discourage reparative therapy).
Bottom line: you can be openly gay in the Church, but you must remain celibate. Eventually, God may help you sort out your same-sex attractions in this life, at which point you can try a heterosexual (or mixed orientation) marriage. If this fails, God will definitely fix you up in the afterlife (when you will have lots of straight sex with your straight spouse, make lots of babies, and hopefully populate new worlds).
How is this different from the old policy of pressuring gay people into straight marriages? The difference is that now gay people can be OPEN about the fact that they are in a sexually incompatible relationship.
A 2007 LDS pamphlet on the topic of gay people in the Church quotes Mormon authorities as saying:
"In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender. While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life.
"...As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children."
Got that? The Church is saying: you may have gotten your wires crossed about whom you are attracted to in this life, and you can try to address it (through methods that are hopefully more humane than electro-shock therapy). However, if this does not work, then don't sweat it, because in the afterlife, God will "perfect" you, meaning you will be opposite gender attracted, have an opposite gender spouse and have lots of babies with that spouse in the afterlife.
Which brings me to Josh and Lolly Weed. This time last year, Josh Weed became a minor celebrity when he blogged about how he was gay, was attracted to men and not to women, has known this fact ever since he was a kid, and decided to marry a female childhood friend (who knew he was gay) anyway. Today, ten years later, they have a very "satisfying" sex life, three daughters, and a loving family. They have since spoken publicly about their relationship and were recently featured in a VH1 show on unconventional marriages. Josh Weed is also a kind of LGBT activist who gives interviews and speaks about their relationship at events.
The charitable view on this is that (1) the Weed marriage works, (2) they are genuinely interested in telling their story but not to try to convince others to follow this path (as Josh assures us on multiple occasions), (3) the Weed “model” is not being implicitly pushed by the Church.
Who knows what to make of this marriage? I certainly have my doubts, as Josh makes it very clear that he is absolutely attracted to men and is absolutely NOT attracted to women. It makes their claims of having a "great sex life" (which is supposedly better once you get beyond the whole attraction thing??) pretty questionable. Still, their marriage is their business, and if it works for them, great.
The problem comes in publicizing their marriage. It would appear that the LDS Church is promoting this "solution" for gay people in the Church. In fact, there are other "personal stories" like Josh and Lolly's on the Church's mormonsandgays.org site. In "Ty's Story," a man talks about his gruelling journey with same-sex attraction; just as he resigns himself to celibacy in this life, he finds a woman who is his soulmate and ends up in heterosexual marriage through a lot of prayer, study, etc., etc. They now have a family, just like the Weeds.
More disturbingly, Josh Weed is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Although he claims not to want to change people's orientation (and believes this cannot be done), I would bet dollars to donuts that he provides some kind of "how-to" counselling for others who want to replicate what the Weeds are advertising: A perfect Mormon family for gay people. This means learning how to have romantic and sexual feelings for a person you are fundamentally not attracted to.
To see how messed up this is, straight Mormons need to imagine coaxing themselves into a romantic relationship with a gay person. Inconceivable, right? Maybe it can be done, maybe the Weeds are the real article, but the odds are against these "mixed orientation" relationships.
A study of 26 gay men showed that marriages between them and straight women have a "high probability of failure," tend to be motivated by "internalized homophobia," or a desire to reconcile their belief system with their personal relationships. Most of these marriages will end in divorce, usually after only a few years.
In the end, the problem is a belief system (or religious community) that insists on heterosexual marriage as the only acceptable romantic partnership one can have as a faithful member of the Church. Even though the Church has made the clearly positive step of actively reaching out to openly gay people in their community, gay Mormons are condemned to a life of (1) celibacy or (2) deeply incompatible sexual/romantic pairing.
This is not genuine tolerance or acceptance, it is asking gay Mormons to live only half a life. Their sexual orientation ("only one part of me," according to one) is relegated to the realm of things that they can "work on" during their mortal existence. In the worst case scenario, God will eliminate these flaws in the afterlife, making them into their "perfected" straight selves.
Nice try, but this ain't gonna cut it, Mormon Church. Next?