The following is a letter, excerpted and edited for publication, from Valiant Evans, the straight spouse in a mixed-orientation marriage, to a member of his family, after that family member expressed disappointment about his and his wife’s decision to get a divorce. It is published here with permission of the author and his wife Kim.
Every family’s situation is unique, and the decisions that individuals make about relationships and family are very personal. This letter is presented as an example of one family’s journey.
Thanks for emailing…. Kim has seen your email, but I thought I would respond too. I have thought a lot about our conversation when I was in Utah, and I realize from talking to other people about this subject that I haven’t done a very good job of explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing and how it is affecting us and our family. I have done a good job of telling people that Kim and I love each other, but I think this has been more confusing than clarifying, since the obvious question that this love we have for each other raises is “Why then are you getting divorced?” And I think we owe it to everyone to explain ourselves a bit more clearly.
When Kim told me she was gay, the choice to end our marriage was easy to make, but the path to ending our marriage has clearly been difficult and often painful for both of us. There are reasons for this that people who aren’t in the situation perhaps can’t ever completely understand.
It’s easy to assume that the pain is coming from either Kim or myself demanding to end the marriage or that one or the other of us feels that the whole world is coming to an end and that we don’t know how we’re going to salvage our lives. In reality, Kim and I really do feel that our relationship is better than ever and that our relationships with our children are also as good as they have ever been.
That isn’t to say that everything is simple. For example, it is hard for the kids to find people to talk to about the situation, in large part because everything is a bit unorthodox and they feel that other people won’t understand. In fact, in many ways the only people that could possibly understand the situation in its entirety are other members of the Church, but the Church is in many ways the least likely place to find someone who might lend a sympathetic ear.
When Kim told me she was gay, that was a huge turning point in Kim’s life. She had been “struggling with same-sex attraction” her whole life. The last 10 years of our marriage have been particularly difficult for her, and that made our marriage challenging for both of us. I am so grateful for the love that kept our marriage together to that point, but the time that was the easiest for Kim and me to grow our relationship was the time I was working in the Middle East. And it would be hard to make a case that enjoying an extended absence from each other is a good sign for a marriage.
So when Kim told me that she was gay, the struggle ended for her and we both knew and understood who we really were for the first time in our marriage. And I loved Kim so much for telling me. But I realized that my love for her had always been a bit selfish and self-righteous. In my ignorance of the truth, I had felt that I loved Kim in spite of an obvious lack of sexual desire and so I had felt a bit “holier than thou” and I realized that I often hadn’t been very kind to or compassionate to her and really had in some ways wanted her to be someone else or to be fixed in some way. My love for her had been filled with a lot of “but”s and “in-spite-of”s that had driven wedges into our relationship that I needed to repent of.
So there has been a process of uprooting the love that I thought I had for Kim that was really not completely true and sincere. Part of that process was apologizing to Kim, and I’ll be forever grateful to her for how freely and truly she forgave me. And now that I know the truth about her I feel that I have been able to plant a new love for her that doesn’t have any wedges in it. And now I do love her just the way she is, and she doesn’t need to be fixed or changed in any way, in this life or in the next, other than the way we all need to be fixed or changed, which is becoming more charitable, kind, compassionate and understanding. And Kim doesn’t really need much of that kind of changing at all anyway.
And so this is why we’re ending our marriage: because we love each other now just the way we are. I think it would be very difficult for us to stay married without implicitly telling each other that we love each other “in spite of” our difference in sexual orientation. The marriage relationship naturally has, as a fundamental part of it, a physical and emotional attraction for each other that binds a couple together. Our marriage would have to be celibate, because I could never ask Kim to do something that she finds repulsive just to make me happy. And I can’t ask Kim to be celibate and to be in a relationship that isn’t as fulfilling as possible because I just don’t think that you ask that of people you love. You certainly wouldn’t wish that for any heterosexual people that you love. And people who are homosexual have the same needs in a marriage that heterosexual people have. I want Kim to have a marriage that is fulfilling for her in every way possible and she wants the same for me. We want these things for each other because we love each other just the way we are.
To stay married would be telling Kim that she’s broken and needs to be fixed. Kim has felt this way for far too long already and I can’t possibly keep putting her through the guilt and feelings of inadequacy and everything else she must have been feeling. And she loves me far too much to ask me to continue going through the frustration and pain that I have felt as well. In short, we are ending our marriage in order to preserve our relationship. I don’t think it would be possible for us to truly preserve our relationship without ending our marriage.
I’ll tell you as well that one of the great blessings in my life right now is that I can tell our children that I love their mother with all of my heart and without any qualifications. And I can tell you that sincerely telling our kids that I love their mother is in many ways more powerful than telling them that I love them. It helps to make them feel very safe and secure, because they know that no matter what happens Kim and I have each other’s and their best interests at heart.
In response to your suggestion that I look at the “MormonAndGay” website, I have looked at the website and I have read and watched the stories on the site that you recommended. To be honest, I found the website to be manipulative and potentially damaging to gays in the church. All of the stories are of people who have decided to either be celibate for their whole lives or to enter into a mixed orientation marriage. The options most likely to be successful for gay people in relationships are the same as for straight people: to be in close, intimate relationships where both partners are physically and emotionally attracted to each other. I don’t think this should be that hard to understand. Homosexuals long for the same things that heterosexuals long for. Many people suggest that for homosexuals to choose celibacy is the same as for heterosexuals to choose monogamy. The thought is absurd on the face of it.
When you combine the stories promoting impossible choices with the statements on the website of love and acceptance, homosexuals in the church are basically being told, “We love you so much and want very badly for you to be part of our congregations; we don’t judge you and hold you in the same esteem that we hold all of our heterosexual members—but there is something wrong with you that leads us to make the demand that you either never have a meaningful intimate relationship with anyone or try to have a monogamous relationship that is likely to end in the destruction of the marriage and the relationship on which the marriage is built.” The impossible requirements have to drive a wedge into the relationship between a gay member and the Church.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of the people whose stories are included on the website, but I know that it’s likely that many won’t be able to live up to what they have publicly committed to and that the stress this could cause could be emotionally damaging. Will the church take responsibility for that damage if it occurs? These are real people we’re talking about, and it just seems to me that the church is manipulating them, not to truly improve relationships with gay members, but to coerce gay members into thinking that these are really the best options for them.
To help you understand better how I feel about this, I just want to share a semi-hypothetical example and then a more personal real one.
I have a friend at work who is gay and married to her partner. They are raising two girls, 12 and 14. I haven’t yet met her partner and children, but I find her to be a really fine person as well as an exemplary boss and I hope that I can call her a friend. All of what I have told you is true, but in my imagination I see her meeting the missionaries, reading the Book of Mormon, and wanting to join the Church. And everything that I have ever learned in church about being kind and welcoming and accepting would suggest to me that the right thing to do would be to welcome her and tell her that her family is welcome and that I would love to have them as part of any congregation that I would attend. I would like to tell her that I think we could probably learn something from her about keeping a family intact in spite of real attacks on that family. And I would like to say that we might have something valuable to offer her that would make her family even stronger and would improve the relationships that she finds most precious in her life.
I feel strongly that the Church has taught me to say those things to her. But that same church tells me that I can’t tell her that. In fact, the Church tells me that I should say that she can’t come and be a real, equal part of our congregation unless she leaves behind the relationships she holds most dear, breaks up her family, renounces who she really is, and promises to never enter into another meaningful intimate relationship with someone who shares a mutual attraction with her. In short, the Church would ask her to commit what I think would be the most horrific sin—to abandon her spouse and children—in order to be baptized as a member of it. Because the church is telling me two completely opposite ways to treat someone, I feel I have to reject one of them. And 100% of me knows which is the correct one to reject. I know that I should be able to welcome my friend and help her and me to be better people.
In a real conversation I had with my friend, she told me that when she first met me and found out I was a Mormon, red flags went up for her and she felt that she was probably not in a safe place to tell me about her family. I can’t tell you how sad that made me. I would like to have told her that she was mistaken about the Church and that of course she could feel safe there, but I know, based on Church policy, that she was absolutely right to feel the way she did. And no teachings about eternal families or proclamations on the family or anything else can convince me that I’m wrong about that. If the concept of eternal families makes me ask someone to abandon people they love and who are dependent on them in order to join the Church, then we somehow need to change our understanding of the teaching. So I have come to the conclusion that I simply can’t reconcile conflicting Church teachings in my mind or in my heart. I have to choose one or the other, and I’m positive that I’ve chosen the right one.
The other example that I want to share concerns Kim and myself. As I said before, Kim and I have decided together that we are choosing the right path that will preserve the relationships in our lives that are most precious. In many ways, we feel that we are giving each other gifts of love and support in seeking new relationships that have the potential to be fully satisfying to the other. I truly want Kim to be happy because I love her dearly and she feels the same way toward me.
We are also both doing all we can to preserve our relationships with our children. We are trying to figure out if we can live in the same house indefinitely, each having our separate space of course, but being as close as possible so that our children will never feel like they have to choose between us. We are committed to raising our children to be kind and compassionate people who can also think for themselves and make important decisions in their lives and we both want them to feel safe and secure at home.
I want to make it abundantly clear again that these are things that both of us are deeply committed to. And yet Kim’s gift to me, if I do end up being married again, would result in the Church welcoming me as a wonderful father in spite of all that I’ve been through, while my gift to Kim, if she ends up being married again, would result in her being excommunicated by the Church and called a great sinner. Again, I’m faced with a situation that I find to be irreconcilable. This situation absolutely does not make sense to me, that Kim would be punished and I would be rewarded for doing exactly the same thing with the same motives, just because she’s gay and I’m straight.
I want to make it clear that I don’t at all reject all the things that I’ve learned at church. On the contrary, I believe that the things I’ve learned in church are absolutely at the core of any ability I have to make sense of what is happening and make the decisions necessary to keep our family together. I believe all that I’ve said about the importance of being charitable, kind, compassionate, and understanding. I believe very firmly that we need to love and be devoted to our families, and that we need to take care of each other’s needs in every way that we can. I believe in God’s Grace and in the power of the Atonement to change us into better people. I believe that I wouldn’t have been able to deal with this situation in the way that I have without the lessons I’ve learned in church.
I also believe that Kim didn’t choose to be gay. I believe that my best self, my most Christian self, would welcome my gay friends and family fully into my life and my church and learn something from them rather than judging them and trying to remake them in my image.
I believe that when we put covenants ahead of relationships we distort the meaning of the covenant itself and turn it into a monstrosity that destroys the very relationship that the covenant was supposed to strengthen and protect in the first place. I believe that Kim and I are absolutely taking the correct steps to preserve our relationship, and that that relationship is absolutely at the heart of every other meaningful relationship that we have in our lives. I believe that the Church is absolutely wrong on this issue and I can’t reconcile how I know I should be treating other people with the way the Church asks me to treat them.
This has been an extremely emotional process for all of us and I’m really just now getting to the point where the emotions aren’t constantly boiling over for me. But I haven’t been feeling these emotions out of desperation or a feeling of gloom in my life; I rather have felt them just because of the natural process of needing to change my heart and feeling some remorse that it wasn’t changed more before Kim told me. And there is definitely a sense of loss and sadness, but I know that the sadness that I feel is only possible because I have so much to be happy about, and so I find the sadness to be comforting and see it as evidence that I need to be very grateful for my many blessings.
I also have felt emotional because I honestly don’t know what to do about my relationship with the Church. I feel extremely conflicted with what I think is the absolutely schizophrenic treatment of gays in the Church, exemplified by the “MormonAndGay” website.
Since Kim came out to me, this issue has become much more personal for me and when Kim makes a commitment to another relationship and is excommunicated for it, I feel that it will be extremely difficult for me to remain a member of a church that would do that to someone I know to be as Christlike and as committed to the church as anyone I know. I will never let go of the most important things I’ve learned in church, but I may need to find a place where the teachings about how to treat people and the way that people are actually treated are more in alignment with each other. But I also know that that decision, if I make it, will have some far-reaching effects in very important relationships in my life and I already sense how painful that decision would necessarily be for me. I don’t feel animosity toward members of the Church. My life has been centered around the Church for my whole life. But I don’t know how to reconcile my feelings that the doctrines and policies of the Church are making unacceptable demands on my conscience.
I want you to know that I really do appreciate your writing to me and Kim. Your email really prompted me to sit down and sort out my feelings and present them in a coherent form. The writing of this email has been a good opportunity to look at everything a little more objectively. I assure you that your assessment of our situation as a complete tragedy couldn’t be further from the truth.
You’re certainly welcome to talk to our kids and find out how they really feel about things. Kim and I talk to them regularly about all kinds of different subjects and find them to be doing very well at thinking for and taking care of themselves. I think you’ll find as I have that they feel very close to both Kim and myself and feel like they can talk to us about pretty much anything that’s on their minds.
I’m so grateful that Kim and I had children together. I feel blessed to have five wonderful reasons for Kim and me to stay extremely involved in each other’s lives. I love my family so much. My love for them transforms me, and I hope it continues to transform me into something better than I am now. I have faith that it will.
I sincerely hope that you can love Kim the same as you always have. I can speak from personal experience that love for her without any judgment has had real power to change my heart. I don’t know that I can promise anything for you—my experience is extremely personal and it’s very difficult to say what might happen for someone else. But I find it conceivable that loving her completely could do the same thing for you that it has done for me. Again, no promises, but it might be worth trying the experiment.
We love you very much, and are very grateful that you welcome our children so freely and warmly into your home and your lives.
Thanks again for your willingness to share with us.