LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
So-Called "Reparative Therapy"
Struggling With "Same-Gender Attraction" in the LDS Church
D. Michael Quinn
D. Michael Quinn
Presented in the panel "The Dynamics of Power and Authority in the LDS Church." Sunstone Symposium, Salt Lake City, 13 August 2009.
Mormonism teaches that any sacrifice is worthwhile for service to God and the LDS Church. Spencer W. Kimball's 1969 Miracle of Forgiveness instructed each homosexually inclined male to just forget his desires and "force himself" to date the opposite sex and marry a woman in one of the sacred temples "for time and eternity." In 1971, the Church officially published his pamphlet New Horizons for Homosexuals (later called A Letter to a Friend), which had a section titled "Multiply and Replenish" as a step in repenting from homosexual activities.
In effect, such "counsel" has turned generations of females into therapeutic sex-objects to "redeem" homosexually oriented males, whose "Priesthood service" to the LDS Church is more important than the happiness of their wives on earth. Women aren't expendable in Mormonism, but their personal fulfillment is less important than male achievement.
Modern prophets and apostles are not unaware of or unfeeling about the unhappiness experienced by wives of gay men or by husbands of lesbians. Although LDS headquarters usually refuses accept those labels for people "struggling with same-gender attraction" (to adopt the authorized phrase), prophets and apostles have recognized this as a very real tragedy in the marriages and divorces of believing Latter-day Saints. More than twenty years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced in the official LDS magazine: "Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or behavior." (Ensign, May 1987)
Nonetheless, marriage and parenthood by homosexually inclined Mormons have remained the ultimate goals of every publication, every sermon, every counseling session, and every "reparative-therapy" technique offered by LDS leaders, by LDS Social Services, by Evergreen International, and by so-called "former homosexuals" like Erin Eldredge in such books as Born That Way? (published by Deseret Book in 1994 and unofficially endorsed by LDS headquarters ever since). She discussed the prospect of marriage in her chapter on "Repentance," thus making a man into a therapeutic sex-object on her own road to redemption.
Correspondingly, those same LDS outlets counsel against divorce by the unhappily married spouses of men and women with "same-gender attraction." Yet such unhappiness is the direct result of making heterosexual marriage the "achievable" goal for people like Erin and like me.
The blessings I received in fathering and raising four children to maturity were not worth the decades of unhappiness I brought into the life of their mother--even though I was sexually faithful to her. Husbands like me can father children we love, but the marital tensions in a gay-straight marriage also hurt our children. There are hundreds of members in an organization for Gay Mormon Fathers, and I think every one of them would agree with me on both counts.
However, the LDS Church has no monopoly on the kind of pressures, contradictions, and sadness experienced by homosexually oriented Mormons. Over the years, I've found remarkable similarity in the youthful experiences of same-gender-oriented Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, and members of other religious communities. If you think it's easier for young gays and lesbians raised by atheists, just ask a few of them. Throughout the world, there are subcultures that currently accept sexual diversity in their children, but these are few by comparison.
About 90 percent of human males share the same basic feelings about sexual attraction, and about 98 percent of human females share the same basic feelings about sexual attraction. They cannot even comprehend the question: "When did you decide to be attracted to the opposite-sex?" This makes it extremely difficult for them (and you)--whether parents, friends, or religious leaders--to understand the other kinds of sexuality that occur just as naturally and often as early within a very small percentage of humanity. I hope it is not asking too much of this vast majority of humans--for them (and you) to acknowledge that it's a living Hell to be different in such circumstances.
Most of us who are different in sexual orientation and desires have been willing to do anything to avoid confrontations with the heterosexual OTHER. We don't need your repressiveness to force us to try to fit in. But our quandary is how to live a lie and still be happy, especially when our social acceptance causes pain to a spouse we love. And to the children we produce in a gay-straight marriage.
Eventually, many of us decide to live honestly as gays and lesbians, rather than to live dishonestly as the sexually repressed people you want us to be. For some, that means never getting married, but to remain celibate. For others, it means remaining single and sexually active with those we find desirable. For some, it means cheating on spouses with furtive encounters of the same-gender. For many, it means a lifelong marriage of love mingled with sexual frustration for both spouses. For others, it means divorce--whether we have been homosexually celibate or homosexually unfaithful to spouses.
And so what can an institution like the LDS Church do to aid those who are struggling with same-gender attractions, while the Church still maintains its core values? First, acknowledge officially that this struggle is not a choice. It arises spontaneously in a small minority of humans from a combination of genes, hormones, and environmental influences that are fixed before the age of eight--when each homosexually oriented child is "innocent” by LDS revelation. Second, LDS leaders should frequently urge those with this struggle to choose life on earth, not suicide. Third, frequently urge parents not to reject or kick out of the house their children who are struggling with same-gender attractions. Fourth, frequently urge parents not to reject their children who have decided to act upon those attractions. While maintaining a not-in-our-house rule, few parents of heterosexually active teenagers kick them out. Fifth, LDS leaders should frequently encourage all parents to be long-suffering, emotionally available, verbally kind, and non-violent with their sexually active teenagers, so as not to force these vulnerable kids onto the streets as abandoned children or run-a-ways. Are these things too much to ask of the compassionate men who are prophets, seers, and revelators of the LDS Church? I hope not, because none of the above recommendations violate any commandment or revelation of God.
Next is the more difficult question of altering LDS policies--whether traditional or recent, formal or informal. At the most fundamental level, I recommend changes which are absolutely consistent with all the commandments and revelations of God. First, change the General Handbook of Instructions to specify that there should be no punishments nor sanctions of any kind against Latter-day Saints who are struggling with same-gender attractions, without having engaged in sex acts. There should be no restrictions on Church service--including full-time missions--for simply being seriously tempted. Second, the General Handbook should specify that the consequences of same-sex intimacy should be no more severe or long-lasting than the consequences for opposite-sex intimacy. Third, the General Handbook should specify that, just as there are no penalties for male-female kissing by the unmarried, there should be no penalties for same-gender kissing in public or private. Fourth, the General Handbook should specify that physically attacking persons suspected of being bisexual, homosexual, lesbian, or transgender is as serious a transgression as physically attacking anyone else, including battered spouses and abused children. Fifth, at least once during each general conference, a speaker should restate the above changes during the first ten years after they are added to the General Handbook. Every one of them is completely consistent with the Gospel, and I hope I am mistaken in thinking they have not been added to General Handbook during the years since I last read it.
Now, as to marriage. First, despite President Hinckley's emphatic statement in 1987 and despite the dangers of unhappy spouses and of children living with divorce, most LDS leaders and members believe that it would violate God's will if they do not encourage every homosexually inclined person to enter heterosexual marriage. Rather than a change in Church policy, I ask all Mormons two questions: "Would you advise your daughter or granddaughter to marry a homosexually oriented man? Would you advise your son or grandson to marry a homosexually oriented woman?" If you cannot answer "Yes" to both questions, then you should not counsel Mormons in general to do so. Make this your personal decision, and leave the rest to God and His revelations to each individual struggling with same-gender attractions.
Second is the question of civil unions or legal marriage for persons of the same gender or same sex. I ask all LDS leaders and members with pioneer Utah ancestry to remember that the plural marriages of their Mormon ancestors had no detrimental effects on "the institution of marriage" or "traditional marriage" in Boston or anywhere else during the nineteenth century. The same is equally true for the legalized same-sex marriages now being performed and lived in New England, in Iowa, in Canada, and in much of Northern Europe. Historically, and to the present, the unusual marriages of a very small minority have not damaged the traditional marriages of the vast majority.
Let civil proceedings occur in "the land of the free" without interference by religious groups. After the legalization of same-sex marriage, religious officials can still decline to perform those marriages, just as Southern Baptist ministers were not required to perform interracial marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia. Ministers have the privilege to perform civil marriage, not the obligation to do so--even after being licensed with that authority. A licensed minister can decline to perform any marriage. As an attorney and former judge, Apostle Dallin H. Oaks knows this to be true.
Virtually every neighborhood already has residents who are cohabiting without marriage, and these fornicators don't diminish the stability of your marriage, nor its importance. Letting queers like me legally marry another queer won't damage your marriages, either. Please don't continue to use the LDS Church's money and organizational skills in political campaigns to deny civil rights and protections to homosexually oriented people. With regard to marital rights and privileges, we are now "the least of God's children" in America.
Remember the words of Jesus: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," and "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." (Matthew 25: 40, 45)