A Research-Based Discussion of the Following Four Important Questions
Questions in regard to change, celibacy, and the feasibility for a gay person to successfully marry heterosexually or to be in a committed same-sex relationship are shown below. These are the most difficult questions for you and your teen or young adult to answer. It is important to see what the research within Mormonism shows us about these specific questions:
Will sexual orientation change efforts be successful?
Is lifetime celibacy a realistic goal?
Is heterosexual marriage feasible for someone who is predominantly homosexual?
What about committed same-sex relationships?
What does predominantly homosexual mean? The Kinsey Scale is a simplified way to describe the spectrum of sexual orientation. A person with a score of 0 is exclusively heterosexual and a person with a score of 6 is exclusively homosexual. People in the middle have varying degrees of attraction to both sexes. Those who have Kinsey positions in the mid-range of 2-4 are bisexual, and many can and do marry the opposite sex successfully–most are not even significantly troubled after the teen years (see the studies below for more details). A Kinsey Score of 5 or 6 indicates a person is predominantly homosexual. Although the Kinsey Scale has been criticized for being overly simplistic, it is still a useful framework in a lot of situations. It is helpful to understand that there is wide variation and a continuum of sexual orientation, including homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality. A person’s place on this continuum is very relevant to what options are available to them when answering these questions. The Kinsey Scale is the most often cited scale that quantifies the range of homosexuality versus heterosexuality, and your teen/young adult can begin to consider his/her position on the Scale here. There are other important considerations, a few of which are shared experience/history of the couple, religious values, beliefs, and spiritual experiences. So it should be noted that Kinsey position is not the only important consideration in such a marriage decision. However, if a person’s Kinsey Scale is in the heterosexual or bisexual range, then the issue of dealing with homosexual attractions in a heterosexual marriage is a much different experience than those who are predominantly homosexual.
Lee Beckstead, Ph.D., is likely the most prominent Mormon in the scientific community on sexual orientation. He completed a doctoral dissertation at the University of Utah in 2001 and later published his findings in a series of journal articles and presentations. Lee was a member of the 2009 American Psychological Association task force on the appropriate therapeutic response to sexual orientation. Lee’s dissertation looked carefully at the question of how people in the LDS community respond to formal sexual orientation change efforts. You can find here a summary of his findings for those who felt they had benefitted from such therapy and for those who felt they were harmed (Review of Studies on Sex Reorientation Therapy). You may find this summary easier and nearly as helpful as reading his 400-page dissertation or this referred article by him.
A more recent study has now been published in four different refereed articles which you can find at the following links:
- Psychosocial Correlates of Religious Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction: A Mormon Perspective
- Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Through Psychotherapy for LGBQ Individuals Affiliated With the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Among Current or Former LDS Church Members
- Specific Aspects of Minority Stress Associated With Depression Among LDS Affiliated Non-Heterosexual Adults
However, you can find an interesting and useful summary of this dissertation on LDS LGBT individuals (with a sample of over 1600 individuals) by John Dehlin and his advisors at Utah State University and BYU–2011. The summary is here—(Exploration of Experiences and Psychological Health of Same-sex Attracted Latter-day Saints: A Utah State University Research Project)
In 2015, John Dehlin, Ph.D., published his University of Utah dissertation, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, Identity Conflict, and Psychosocial Health Amongst Same-Sex Attracted Mormons, which includes a sample of over 1,600 individuals and concluded that, “active participation in non-LGBT affirming churches, being single and celibate, and mixed-orientation marriages—all of which are common beliefs and/or practices within modern, active LDS culture—are associated with poorer psychosocial health, well-being, and quality of life for LGBT Mormons. Conversely, biological beliefs about SSA etiology, complete disaffiliation from the LDS Church, legal same-sex marriage, and sexual activity are all associated with higher levels of psychosocial health, well-being, and quality of life for LGBT Mormons.”
Several similar surveys were conducted earlier with smaller samples showed essentially the same findings. These, along with therapist reports, the experience of a bishop who counseled gay members of the Church extensively, and others with experience with change therapy for Latter-day Saints, are included in The Persistence of Same-Sex Attraction in Latter-day Saints Who Undergo Counseling or Change Therapy by Ron Schow, Robert A. Rees, William Bradshaw, and Marybeth Raynes. One of these reports is a 1994 survey of 136 individuals. Another survey of 165 individuals, Homosexuality Among Highly Religious Mormons HAHRM, by Gary Horlacher, 2003 and 2007, is referenced by LDS Resources in discussing the science of sexual orientation from the Latter-day Saints perspective.
Based on the findings by Beckstead, Dehlin, Horlacher, Schow, et al, and others, we are persuaded that for adults eighteen and older who feel certain of their sexual orientation, such adult feelings of attraction do not generally go away. You can study this material and draw your own conclusions, but most sources, even conservative sources on this issue, agree with this conclusion that “the feelings do not go away.”
Challenging Questions and Choices for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Latter-day Saints
The following are three challenging questions that each person needs to answer for him/her self. Here are some initial thoughts and resources drawing from the science and other reports. You can use internet anecdotal reports on this site to review videos and essays that will help you and, more importantly, your teen/young adult to find what is feasible. Your child will eventually make this important decision so we consider it important that you know there are pros and cons to each of the three choices. We think this will help you appreciate the challenge they face in making this decision and we urge that you help and support them regardless of their choice, once they are fully committed to one of these paths. Their decision needs to be made with a lot of thought, education, and self-understanding. What is clear is that this decision needs to be made free of pressure and expectations. A teen needs to feel free to explore possibilities mentally, and try to come to terms with their own reality as far as sexual “orientation” which in the Oaks/Wickman interview is referred to as a “core characteristic of a person.” A teen needs to be supported as he/she dreams of the future and imagines different possibilities with their different consequences. If a teen or young adult feels undue pressure to pursue any single path they won’t be free to assess their own reality and the numerous factors that need to be taken into account.
Once you and your teen/young adult have confronted and pondered the question of change, he or she will need to consider whether a path of celibacy (single abstinence) is feasible. This is a challenging issue, but clearly it is one that must be considered carefully if your child wants to remain temple worthy and is predominantly homosexual. While celibacy is feasible for some, lifetime celibacy can be a sobering prospect, as can be seen by the quality of life measures in the Dehlin study (see presentation). However, in the “NorthStar” resources on this site you can view videos of some who speak about their celibacy experience and intentions.
One approach, when a teen is involved, is to simplify this daunting choice: Choose Chastity. Chastity is already the norm and equalizes LGBT and straight youth to the same standard. It postpones the decision of celibacy until adulthood. Such a lifetime commitment would need to be made later in life, in any case. But chastity is already the expected norm in the Church. It gets a child safely to adulthood. It focuses the child on monogamy which is a safer lifestyle whether they stay in the Church or not. It allows them to develop and maintain hope during their youth, and it permits them to serve a mission if they so choose. Most adult LGBT individuals found their missions to be positive and worthwhile experiences, regardless of the path they later chose in life.
Previously, heterosexual marriage, or what is known as mixed-orientation marriage, was frequently recommended by Latter-day Saints leaders to gay, lesbian, and bisexual members as a strategy for overcoming same-sex attraction. This is no longer the case; however, it remains an option and there is a community of Mormons who have made such marriages work with reasonable success and feel this is a satisfying option for them to meet their yearnings for intimacy, connection and family that also bring them life-long fulfillment and opportunities for service.
Elder Holland in 2007 counseled gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the church and their family members to “…recognize that marriage is not an all-purpose solution,” and that, “Same-gender attractions run deep, and trying to force a heterosexual relationship is not likely to change them. We are all thrilled when some who struggle with these feelings are able to marry, raise children, and achieve family happiness. But other attempts have resulted in broken hearts and broken homes.”
In 2006, Elder Oaks stressed, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices,” and that gay men in the church should only consider entering into a mixed-orientation marriage if they have, “cleansed themselves of any transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage.” It’s assumed that this counsel, albeit in the inverse, applies to lesbian members of the church in addition to gay male members.
In John Dehlin’s 2015 dissertation, he shares that “estimates put the divorce rate of [mixed-orientation marriages] somewhere between 50% and 85%.” The results of his study also indicated that mixed-orientation marriages where one partner is bisexual have a higher success rate. Discussing the findings of his study, he writes, “…nonbiologically-based views regarding the etiology of SSA, remaining active in the LDS Church, remaining single, and engaging in mixed-orientation marriages were all associated with higher reported levels of internalized homophobia, sexual identity distress, and depression, and lower levels of self-esteem and quality of life” (emphasis added).
Is entering into a mixed-orientation feasible for someone with strong homosexual attractions? Both the counsel from church leaders and the research indicates that mixed-orientation marriage may only be successful if both partners into the marriage with a full understanding of each partner’s sexual orientation and with a genuine attraction for each other.
Church leaders have expressed clear opposition to same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. However, a substantial number of LDS gay and lesbian individuals who are predominantly homosexual in orientation ultimately find this to be the most reasonable and satisfying way to meet their yearnings for intimacy, connection and family that also bring them life-long fulfillment and opportunities for service. APA research on gay relationships and parenting, as well as many of the personal stories you will find among the “Affirmation” resources on this site show this to be the case. It should be noted that Church leaders have stated that individuals in such relationships should be encouraged to attend Church, should be welcomed by LDS wards, and should be ministered to just like everyone else.
Many Mormons in this situation still have a testimony of the gospel and desire to live their faith, stay active in the Church and practice gospel principles, even when there are constraints on their membership and participation. For instance, a gay couple cannot expect to have temple recommends or serve in some callings and positions; however, more and more gay couples are now attending Church and finding ways to serve their fellow saints. Affirmation provides support for individuals in this situation through a group known as the “Prepare” group. You can find a description of the group at the bottom of the page linked here and see that the full name is “The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare” .
One important final comment in the gospel spirit of this site—is that all three options (celibacy, heterosexual marriage, committed same-sex relationships) are being chosen and that the LDS individuals who choose each of these options need to be supported and helped to maintain their faith and helped to keep the gospel in their lives.