Friday, December 3, 2010

Changes to LDS handbook re: " homosexual feelings." Can we call it progress?

A Mormon friend of mine recently shared this article with me and asked me for my thoughts on the matter. The title of the article is "Homosexual Thoughts and Feelings Not a Sin, Says New LDS Handbook." Apparently new handbooks are being distributed to church leaders which now instruct them not to discipline gay Mormons for their thoughts and feelings. The following was my response:

As Joanna Brooks points out in her article, the revisions do indicate a tiny bit of progress. She seems to think the new handbook will give hope to gay LDS youth, since it decriminalizes (in "spiritual" terms... which to me is a cruel oxymoron) their human impulse to love and share their lives with someone. The paradigm, however, remains firmly intact, and this is a paradigm in which gay people can have no hope whatsoever for finding love, companionship and fulfillment... at least in this life, which let's be honest: this life is the only one we can be sure about.

So while Marvin K. Jensen can be "sorry" about the damage his church did to thousands of families during Prop 8 (and I don't doubt that he is), and while Mormon leaders can be encouraged to feel "sorry" for the gay members of their wards instead of fearing and ostracizing them, the sympathy we're talking about here is ostensibly back-handed and condescending. While it's nice that now they're being instructed to put on soft gloves, they are still punching impressionable gay youth in the face.

While I can appreciate their slow, gradual efforts to tone down the hysteria and cruelty of their anti-gay rhetoric in an attempt to deal with the decades-long epidemic of Mormon youth suicides, the fact remains that if you ingrain into someone's mind that somehow their human impulse to find love and companionship is immoral, then you leave them with very little to live for. While I'm sure that NOT reading in official church literature that they are "latter-day lepers" or that it "were better [they were] never born" can only help lessen the blow to gay youth, the message is still clear: everyone else's need for love is legitimate and godly. Your need for love, however, is an abomination. In order to be acceptable to God, you need to resign yourself to a long life of solitude and self-loathing, and if you're lucky, we'll even give you a church calling like a "normal" person! See how loving and accepting we are [smiley face / most fervent attempt at a Christ-like countenance]?

So, progress? A little, I guess, but extremely minimal. Warm, furry gloves on a dogmatic fist. Hope for gay youth and suicide rates? Again: minimal. With such an ultraconservative crowd (referring to Mormon leadership, although it is having to become more moderate to remain relevant), I'll take every millimeter I can get, but these cosmetic "changes" do very little to solve the problem. If anything, they only help the LDS church look more politically correct on paper, and I think that's really what it comes down to, although it is nice to see some debate going on within the Mormon hierarchy about the gay "problem" (remind me again why love should be viewed as a problem?). Mormon institutional perceptions of gay people are deeply rooted in not one, but two deep-running anchors in Mormon culture: puritanism (which demonizes human sexuality in general, making sexual diversity all the more offensive) and sexism (if gender didn't matter, they'd have no reason for denying women the priesthood). But that's a whole different essay I have tucked away, and you didn't ask me about that. :-)

Suffice it to say, I don't see much light at the end of this tunnel. Gay Mormons are going to have jump ship if they are looking for hope and love. If they can survive on compassion alone, then I guess the forecast is a little more optimistic now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Love Is Not "Immoral"

Today Boyd K. Packer, addressing all Mormons during their televised semi-annual conference, referred to love between two people of the same gender as "immorality." My argument is simple: love is not immoral. God is love. How can someone claim to speak for God and then speak out against love?1 Having faith can be a great thing, but we need to remember that institutions are made up of human beings, and consequently, the flaws and cultural biases that come with them.

Two consenting adults loving, supporting, and committing to each other; realizing their capacity to love and fulfilling the basic human desire to share life's joys and sorrows . . . this cannot be immoral. The impulse to love is at the core of everyone's being and is what makes us human. Calling that immoral or unnatural is not only ridiculous: it's cruel. It exposes what is really behind these attacks: cultural prejudice.

This is the same kind of cultural prejudice that a couple of decades ago had many God-fearing people condemning interracial marriage as immoral. After all, the logic was (not just in Mormon doctrine, but in others as well) that God had created different races in order to keep them separate and that two people of different races marrying each other was meddling with God's "natural" order. It was common sense (just like the world being flat was common sense for centuries) and it could be backed up with scripture (like slavery or the unequal treatment of women). Their love was not to be allowed if God's natural order was to be maintained.

Only not so. God is love. How can anyone claim to speak for God and at the same time speak out against love? In retrospect, we now realize that the moral opposition to "non-traditional" (i.e. interracial) marriage was not rooted in "God's law" or nature but rather in cultural prejudice.

Packer declared that voting for same-sex marriage would be like voting against gravity: that it defies eternal principles and nature itself. First of all, going back to the theme of this post, love is an eternal principle, so two consenting adults who love each other don't defy this principle: they embody it. Secondly, for some of us it is not in our nature to seek love and companionship with members of the opposite sex, and God created us just as much as everyone else.

Thirdly, Packer seems to be alluding to the old argument that cites the biological impossibility of procreation among same-sex couples as being proof of Nature's (and therefore God's) disapproval of homosexuality. The "common sense" logic goes something like this: if your relationship is biologically incapable of producing offspring, it can't be called marriage because it goes against nature. How is it then, that my mother was allowed to marry post-menopause? It's biologically impossible for her relationship to result in children. What business does she have demanding an equal right to marry? Or infertile people, for that matter?

Because God is love: not just a baby factory. Marriage isn't always about producing children: it's about two people committing to each other and sharing what's left of their life so they don't have to be alone. It's also about ensuring legal protections for said commitment.

That's why marriage is not universally a religious institution: it is a civil institution (which is what makes this a civil rights issue). This is why marriages are performed "by the power invested in me by the state of [pick your state]." Marriage is a legal definition. Some people, according to their various beliefs, add an optional religious aspect to it, which is just fine. But to quote a woman in the recent documentary on Proposition 8: "I'm not asking to go to their church, but I sure won't have them block the entrance to City Hall." In most countries, if a couple decides they want a religious ceremony, they must first go through a separate civil ceremony. In the US, people have the option of combining both, which explains some of the confusion over the separation of Church and State when it comes to marriage.

This is why some people believe equal rights for gay people infringe on their religious freedoms (religious freedom has also been used as an argument against interracial marriage, desegregation, etc.). Our country was founded on the separation of Church and State, which is why as a citizen who is taxed equally, I am entitled to equal treatment in civil matters. This is an actual case of taxation without representation, but for some reason the recent Tea Party movement has failed to bring it up. When it comes to private, religious matters, churches have always reserved the right to refuse to perform or host a ceremony for a couple. Contrary to outright lies that were circulated when Prop 8 was on the ballot, this will not change when gay couples are granted civil equality.

If you don't like that marriage is a civil institution, then feel free to spit on your marriage certificate (which comes from the your state: not your church), your tax break as a marriage couple (again, a benefit provided by the State: not your church), and on the "Big Fat Goverment" that has gotten involved in what you personally consider to be a religious matter. Keep in mind, however, that it is this very separation of Church and State that allowed your church to come into existence. It is what has allowed Mormon marriage to receive equal legal recognition despite the fact that they are vastly outnumbered in this country by Catholic and Protestant marriages.

There are very "peculiar" things about Mormon weddings that cause moral disapproval from the religious majority in this country, but thanks to the separation of Church and State, they cannot impose their moral subjectivities onto your marriage and ultimately onto your relationship: onto the private matters of your heart. That's what was so ingenious about the founding of the US: it provided a model that allowed for diversity and coexistence. Naturally, this is an ongoing endeavor, which is why equality for women, for black people, and for gay people (among others) have been hard-fought battles against cultural prejudice. The US isn't strictly a majority-rules democracy. It has a system in place to defend minorities against oppression from the majority, which is why 1) Mormon marriages receive the same legal recognition as majority marriages, and by the same token, 2) Proposition 8 was judicially overturned and ruled unconstitutional.

I really didn't mean to babble on like this, but since I'm going, I might as well get it all out. Going back to marriage being a legal (and not a universally religious) definition, it has also been argued that if we allow for this definition to leave out gender as a determining factor, then we must also leave out number. In other words, if we legalize same-sex marriage, then we must also legalize polygamy. Here's where "immutable characteristic" comes into play as a legal term. Being gay is an immutable characteristic. As BYU experiments in the 1970s on their own gay students confirm, not even electric shock or induced nausea therapy can change it. I'm not gay because I want to be gay any more than I'm tall because I want to be tall. I can't change my sexual orientation anymore than you can. I know this because I tried and tried and tried for a decade, hating and loathing myself the whole time instead of embracing love or even accepting it as a possibility: as something I was "worthy" of. I lost out on an entire decade of love and human potential.

Love is not immoral. In this lifetime of solitude and sorrow, why would we ever want to discourage--much less demonize--love?

The nature vs. nurture debate is irrelevant because either way, sexuality develops during childhood as a natural, unconscious process. Children do not choose their sexuality: it develops within them. If sexuality were a choice, why do you think so many gay youths who are convinced that their impulse to love is immoral are driven to suicide? Wouldn't it be less painful to just choose to be straight? It's not an ideology or a choice. Polygamy, however, is. No one at the age of 10 feels instinctively drawn to one ideology or another as a result of their natural physical and psychological development (as is the case with being instinctively drawn to one gender or the other). Do you really think a 10-year-old can be held "morally" responsible for "choosing" their sexuality: the natural driving force that will eventually cause them to seek love and companionship? This is a process that is as natural as "gravity," to quote Packer again. The fact that some are naturally drawn to their own gender does not make their love morally inferior or unnatural.

Which leads me to another argument I've heard: if sexual attraction can't be controlled, then that's just a perfect alibi for pedophiles, now isn't it? Sexuality must always be subject to a society's moral judgment! My response is to refer this type of argument back to the textbook for Psychology 101 (at least the one I had at Eastern Arizona College), wherein abnormal sexuality is defined as causing harm to oneself or to a another person. This is why pedophilia--a relationship in which a child is too young to give consent and is harmed by an adult--is abnormal, and homosexuality--a relationship between two consenting adults--is not. A lack of understanding of this basic difference, along with good old fashioned cultural prejudice, has allowed homosexuality to be improperly (and unjustly) conceptualized as abnormal.

Who is hurt by two consenting adults loving each other? No one. What is gained by two consenting adults loving each other? A lot. To those two people, it means everything. It means their life: their happiness, their humanity, which brings me back to this posting's thesis statement. Love is not and cannot be immoral. Any statements to the contrary are rooted not in God or nature, but in cultural prejudice, and let's face it: the history of the Mormon Church has not been spared from cultural prejudice (i.e. their pre-1978 stance on Black people).

I'm not writing this to attack my Mormon friends or belittle their religion. I'm writing this to defend my civil rights as a tax-paying US citizen. Some might point out that Packer's words weren't directed at me (since I'm not Mormon), so what right do I have to criticize him? Two reasons, really. 1) Because he holds leadership in an organization that continues to raise millions and millions of dollars to literally wage a holy war against my civil rights, and 2) because there are thousands of impressionable Mormon youth listening to him who are gay and who are being taught that their human impulse to love is immoral: that they are to renounce their need for love if they are to achieve salvation. I know of two such gay youths from my hometown who took their own lives, and I can't help but suspect that being subjected to this rhetoric influenced their conclusion that it would be "better [that they] were never born" (to quote Spencer W. Kimball, referring to openly gay men in "Letter to a Friend" [1971]). With five gay youth suicides documented in this country as a result of excessive soul-crushing bullying in the past week alone, how can spiritual leaders continue to spiritually bully--arguably worse than schoolyard bullying--young people for their impulse to love? If you take away love, life becomes meaningless. Why would we ever want to take away or discourage love? Love is humanity. Without it, we cease being human.

I'm being relentless, I realize this--bringing up some of the ugliest parts of Mormon history--but I'm doing so not to attack the church, but rather to defend myself against the church's attack and to point out that the uglier parts of its history are now repeating themselves. I need for my Mormon friends to consider the fact that their church has a serious and occasionally deadly problem with homophobia. That is not to say that institutionalized homophobia plays a part in the suicide of all Mormon youths or that all Mormons are consequently homophobes (because I know for a fact that not all of them are, as evidenced on this Mormon's blog and this article on Marlin K. Jensen's apology last month to Mormon families hurt by Prop 8), but by the same token, being friends with me doesn't magically cleanse you of homophobia.

If you think I'm a great guy but that my sexual orientation is a legitimate legal basis for discrimination against me when it comes to civil recognition of my (up-to-now-non-existent) relationship, well, that is prejudice against gay people. My love is not inferior to your love, and deep down, you know that's true. If you listened to Packer and felt that something just didn't sit right with the way he talked about gay people (because you know me, for example, and you know that I have an equal right to love and be loved) and it sounded more like the cultural prejudices and phobias of an old conservative man than like the loving voice of God, then I think you're onto something. If you just accepted it as God's word and that's that, I'd appreciate it if you thought about this a little more, examining the cruel, illogical contradictions that are inherent in the "common sense" anti-gay rhetoric that I have just pointed out.

If you think that I'm great but that my love is just inferior in the eyes of God and there's no getting around what Packer cites as "God's law," I'm sure you're able to console your conscience by referencing your friendship with me as evidence of your open-mindedness; your loving acceptance; your Christ-like tolerance. I hate to break it to you, but if that's the case, we're not very close friends. I don't need friends who "tolerate" me--how insulting is that? Really: think about how you would feel in my situation. I have plenty of friends who consider me to be an equal US citizen, which is kind of a basic prerequisite. In the words of the great Lauryn Hill, "respect is just a minimum." Your absolute loyalty to your church's leadership wouldn't normally enter into our friendship at all, but now that your church's leadership has entered, more than any other institution, into the political battle for my civil rights--rights that ultimately strike at the very core of my humanity: my capacity to love and share my life with another human being and gain the same civil protections for my relationship that yours has--I have to defend this heart of mine from the cold, back-handed embrace of tolerance.

This debate is infinitely more personal to me than it is to you. How can I fully accept your love if you really believe that mine is inferior or even immoral? Would you allow yourself to become emotionally close to someone who votes against your civil rights? I'm not saying that I don't consider you a friend if you vote against mine, but what I am saying is that I certainly can't consider you a close friend, because that would just be too painful for me. If you've bothered to read this far, however, then it's highly unlikely that I'm just one of your token gay friends who makes you feel better about your homophobia. If you've gotten this far, you're genuinely concerned for what this all means to me, so thank you.

But mostly--and breaking this entire post back down to its essence--I'm challenging Packer's statement from today because something about it is inherently dissonant: something that resounds within my very core as a human being. Love between two people of the same sex is not immoral, because love cannot be immoral. God is love. Love is all we have in this life: it's what makes us human. Hopefully we can learn to identify and overcome the cultural prejudices that have sought to thwart love over the centuries: classism (the rich girl and the poor guy who fall in love but can't get married), sexism (women being treated as property and married off as business arrangements between men), racism (Ray Liotta and Whoopie Goldberg in "Corrina, Corrina"), and homophobia (me and my imaginary boyfriend). The definition of marriage has been evolving for quite some time, it turns out.


1 Packer’s talk today was actually mild in comparison to previous statements he has made about gay people. See his pamphlet "To Young Men Only", which is given to all Mormon boys at the age of 12. It explicitly advocates violence against gay people. While you're at it, check out the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet in which youths are instructed to stay away from gay people, described as "latter-day lepers" who engage in sexual perversion on par with "rape" and "incest" (at least that's what it said when I was a teenager). For those who are curious for more details and perspective on Packer's history of violent rhetoric against gay people, may I suggest this letter from the concerned Mormon father of a gay youth.

The following are more examples and documentation of illogical cultural prejudice in the writings of Mormon leaders when it comes to gay people (including the ones I have referenced in this essay), borrowed from Affirmation's website.

David Hardy's press release of quotes from LDS Church publications about homosexuality

Letter To A Friend © 1971 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Author: President Spencer W. Kimbal, past President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. First printing 1971, revised 1978; latest printing post-1996.

Currently distributed to Stake and Ward leadership for counseling parents and their children.

"The death penalty was exacted in the days of Israel for such wrongdoing."*

*Wow. Thank you for being so open minded as to not chop off my head with an axe.

"Perversion is forgivable."

". . .the sin is curable, and you may totally recover from its tentacles."

"Satan tells his victims that it is a natural way of life; that it is normal; that perverts are a different kind of people born 'that way' and that they cannot change. This is a base lie."

"Homosexuality . . . means waste of power, an end to the family and to civilization. One generation of it would depopulate the world . . ."*

*OK, seriously? We're not trying to convert the entire world to homosexuality. Or anyone for that matter. We're just asking for equal civil rights. That's really it. Honestly. We're much too busy to plot a world takeover or force people to complete the impossible task of changing their sexual orientation.

". . . you are one who has yielded to the enticings of evil people and Lucifer, the 'father of lies'. . ."

". . . you can recover, and you can become the man your Heavenly Father created you to be."

". . . know that your sin is vicious and base."*

*The basic human drive to love someone is vicious? How can two people loving each other possibly be described as vicious? I would use that word to describe unwarranted attacks against people whose only "sin" is love.

". . . you should now make the super-human effort to rid yourself of your master, the devil, Satan . . ."

"You do the bidding of your master."

"You are in abject bondage, a servant compelled to do the will of your master, the devil, Lucifer, Satan . . . Is your father the Devil?"

"These unnatural practices are . . . of the Devil, the master liar and deceiver who laughs as he rattles his chains . . ."

"God made no man a pervert"*

Actually, all human beings are intrinsically and inescapably sexual, and God made all of us.

"So long as you tolerate this 'gay world' and its degenerate people, you are in a very desperate situation . . ."*

*I'm degenerate? But I've paid my parking tickets and am finishing up a Ph.D.!

"Men who die may live again, but when the spiritual death is total, it were better that such a man were never born."

"REMEMBER: Homosexuality CAN be cured."

To The One © 1978 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (owned by the LDS Church)

Author: Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). First printing 1978; latest printing post-1996.

Currently distributed to Stake and Ward leadership for counseling parents and their children.

". . . it is unnatural; it is abnormal; it is an affliction."*

Nope. It's totally natural. It's love. See my comments or any psychology textbook about the definition of "abnormal."

"Is this tendency impossible to change? Is it present at the time of birth and locked in? Do you just have to live with it? . . . The answer is a conclusive no!"

"Some so-called experts . . . teach that it is congenital and incurable. They can point to a history of very little success in trying to put whatever mechanism that causes this back into proper adjustment. They have, to support them, some very convincing evidence. Much of the so-called scientific literature concludes that there really is not much that can be done about it. I reject that conclusion our of hand . . . The Lord does not work by exceptions. He works by rules. Put a moral or a spiritual test upon it and the needle flips conclusively to the indicator that says 'correctable'."*

*Actually, I think researchers and scientists who have dedicated years to this may be a little better informed than you are. If you're going to ignore the evidence and go with a gut feeling, though, why not go with love?

"Some who become tangled up in this disorder become predators. They proselyte the young or the inexperienced."*

*That's no way to speak about your missionaries.

"In a strange way, this [homosexuality] amounts to trying to love yourself."*

*Wow. You're really obsessed with this, aren't you?

"This condition cannot as yet be uniformly corrected by emotional or physical or psychiatric treatment. Depending on the severity, some forms of these treatments are of substantial help in about 25 percent of the cases."

". . . the cause, when found, will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness."*

*How is loving someone else selfish?

"If one could even experiment with the possibility that selfishness . . . may be the cause of this disorder, that quickly clarifies many things. It opens the possibility of putting some very sick things in order."

"When one has the humility to admit that spiritual disorder is tied to perversion and that selfishness rests at the root of it, already the way is open to the treatment of the condition. It is a painful admission indeed that selfishness may be at the root of it . . ."*

*Wow. Please see the letter from the father of a gay Mormon youth (linked above) regarding all these accusations of selfishness.

"I repeat; we have had very little success in trying to remedy perversion by treating perversion. It is very possible to cure it by treating selfishness."

"Don't be mixed up in this twisted kind of self-love."

To Young Men Only © 1976 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (owned by the LDS Church)

Author: Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting-President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon). First printing 1976; latest printing post-1996.

Currently distributed to Stake and Ward leadership for counseling parents and their children.

This pamphlet was re-released in October 1999, at the same time as the Wyoming murder trial for the second of the two young men who beat Matthew Shepard to death. One of the two killers, Russell Henderson, was a young Mormon Priesthood holder (a little-known fact within the Church, but confirmed by reporter Paula Glover of the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle). This is not to say the Church was responsible for Russell Henderson's actions. The point is that through these pamphlets, a culture of fear, ignorance, and intolerance is permitted to exist within the Church. Russell Henderson pled guilty and thus avoided a trial. In the trial of the other young man, Aaron McKinney, one of the primary - but unsuccessful - defenses was "Gay Panic" ("he came on to me and I was so upset by his homosexuality that I beat him to death").

[On the subject of homosexuality; Elder Packer relating a personal experience]

"While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.

After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, 'I hit my companion.'

'Oh is that all,' I said in great relief.

'But I floored him,' he said.

After learning a little more, my response was "Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn't be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.'

I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself."

"Many of the world would, I am sure, be amused by this counsel. Let them be amused. They live by another standard, a lower one."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Heterosexual Questionnaire

Source: Hidalgo H., T.L. Peterson, and Woodman, N.J. (eds.). Lesbian and Gay Issues: A Resource Manual for Social Workers. Silver Spring, MD: National Association of Social Workers, 1985. 176-77.

This heterosexual questionnaire reverses the questions that are very often asked of gays and lesbians by straight people. By having to answer this type of question, the heterosexual person will get some intellectual and emotional insight into how oppressive and discriminatory a "straight" frame of reference can be to lesbians and gays.

1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

2. When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?

3. Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?

4. Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

5. If you've never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay lover?

6. To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies?

7. Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your lifestyle?

8. Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Can't you just be what you are and keep it quiet?

9. Would you want your children to be heterosexual, knowing the problems they'd face?

10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexuals. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?

11. Even with all the social support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?

12. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

13. Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual like you?

14. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don't you fear that the therapist might be inclined to influence you in the direction of his or her feelings?

15. How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality and fail to develop your natural, healthy homosexual potential?

16. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change if you really wanted to. Have you considered trying aversion therapy?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reconciling Mormonism with Prop 8

Alright, my friends. You knew this was coming: I couldn't let Prop 8 come and go without talking about it. I've been through a lot of emotions since it narrowly passed earlier this month, but I think I've gotten to a point where I can post a healthy essay on the subject. A (Mormon) childhood friend with whom I've had little-to-no contact as an adult has been going back and forth with me in an e-mail debate over Prop 8 (which she actively supports). She revealed to me that she felt qualified to speak on the matter because she herself questioned her sexuality at one point before getting married to a man. The following is an excerpt from my last e-mail, which begins with a quote from her last message:

"You are so incredibly intelligent, understanding, talented, and really gifted. Your sexual orientation doesn't change that one iota in my eyes."

Thank you for the compliments.

"But ultimately, do you really think that you will discover lasting joy in the life to come by pursuing this lifestyle?"

What lifestyle would you be referring to? Without sounding too accusatory, it sounds very much like you're tapping into that tired, intellectually bankrupt cliché that claims there is a heterosexual lifestyle (perceived as long-term commitment/marriage/family-centered) and a homosexual lifestyle (perceived as short-term/promiscuous/anti-family). My response to this claim is always: what do you know about my lifestyle? I have to laugh out loud every time I hear homosexuality referred to as "that lifestyle," because it is absolutely absurd to insinuate that sexual orientation is what defines a person's lifestyle.

I have plenty of straight friends who are at the bars every weekend looking for new, exciting sexual encounters. They are promiscuous and then some. They are not interested (at least at this point in their lives) in settling down, committing to one person, getting married, or having kids. Since you and I haven't been close enough to know about each other's "lifestyles" since we were in high school, let me tell you a little bit about my lifestyle. I haven't had sex in nearly two years, and that was when I was in a relationship. I am looking (and have been looking for many, many years now) for a long-term relationship: long-term happiness. I'm not interested in short-term happiness/fulfillment.

What I'm trying to do here is make you aware of the subtleties of epistemic violence against entire groups of people: referring to homosexuality as "this lifestyle" when you know nothing at all about my lifestyle. Sexual orientation is not a lifestyle. I've seen plenty of straight friends and family sleep around, do drugs, drink and drive, produce offspring in and out of wedlock, and traumatize that offspring in outrageously selfish attempts at short-term fulfillment. I am morally opposed to their lifestyle. Would it be fair or logical for me to refer to that as "the straight lifestyle?" That would be laughably absurd. Individuals determine their lifestyle--their sexual orientation has nothing to do with it.

“Aren't Heavenly Father's laws in place to guide us and protect us? Don't you think that we will be better off by obeying them than by seeking our own way around them? [. . .] You know my upbringing. You know me. I am no moral giant, but I do think that there is a plan in place and that we will be happiest if we stick to it.”

You do realize I’m not Mormon, right? I can appreciate your personal faith, but when you try to impose your doctrine on me, it comes across as disregard for my own personal/moral beliefs. I have no right to tell you you’re wrong, because the Baptists will tell you you’re wrong, and the Muslims will tell them they’re wrong, and the Jews will tell them they’re wrong, and the atheists will tell them they’re all wrong … it’s just one vicious, counterproductive circle.

Personal faith isn’t a topic for public debate, since faith is defined by believing in that which cannot be proven through logic. It is when this faith becomes institutionalized and then politicized, however, that we have a moral obligation to apply some critical thinking skills to the rhetoric that is being presented. Trying to contain this debate within the confines of Mormonism is not likely to create mutual respect or understanding. On the contrary: it only attracts unwanted scrutiny to your belief system and reinforces the widely-perceived stereotype that Mormons are narrow-minded, xenophobic, and dogmatic. Knowing as many Mormons as I do, I know this is not necessarily true (I often hear complaints about narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, and dogmatism from Mormons about other Mormons). There are plenty of Mormons who shudder at the mere mention of three particular letters in succession: BYU. By definition, stereotypes are inaccurate, unfair generalizations.

Interestingly enough, I believe the argument for equality can, in fact, be made from within Mormonism, just as there are Mormons who voted no on Prop 8 and Mormons who are Democrats--not in spite of, but because of their moral beliefs. The following three examples come to mind:

1) Establishing a homogenized master plan for universal happiness and discouraging free agency… I believe that’s referred to as “Satan’s plan” in Mormon pre-existence theology.

2) Article of Faith #11: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” There are churches that believe sexual orientation is not a legitimate basis for moral or legal discrimination. Some of them performed same-sex marriages in California while they were legal and continue to do so in states and countries where they are legal. As a church with a history of being persecuted and marginalized by mainstream Christianity, it seems a bit hypocritical for the Mormon Church to tell these churches they don’t have the legal right to perform and bless marriages “according to the dictates of [their] own conscience.” I think the 11th Article of Faith is a fantastic one. I would invite the Yes-on-8 Mormons to revisit it and contemplate the historical context and spirit in which it was written.

3) The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A central principle for any Christian, and decidedly the thesis statement of the Bible.

Since you have stated some your religious beliefs, I will state some of mine in the spirit of the 11th Article of Faith (that is, recognizing that neither of us has the right to speak from an absolute moral high ground). I believe that plurality and difference exist for a divine reason. Human beings come in different shapes, sizes, and colors for a divine reason: so that we can intellectually/spiritually rise above the differences our eyes perceive and connect with each other’s spirits.

Just as skin color falls upon a continuum, so does human sexuality. The majority of professionals in the fields of medicine, academia, and psychology agree that sexuality is not a binary concept. You yourself are a great example of this: you fall somewhere along this continuum that had you questioning/analyzing your sexuality at one point. Apparently, your position on this continuum is somewhere in between 100% gay and 100% straight. This position was moderate enough to where you were able to embrace the part of you that’s attracted to men and commit to a heterosexual marriage and find happiness in that. I think that’s fantastic, and I completely support you. I do not consider your sexuality to be superior or inferior in any way, despite the fact that it is different from mine (just like snowflakes, no two sexualities are completely identical).

Do rainbow flag-toting activists have the right to tell you that, since you were doubtful about your sexuality at one point, you’re obviously gay and that you would be happier if you would stop living in denial and just accept a prescribed gay sexuality? Of course not! Only you can make that call. It’s your happiness. Sexual orientation and happiness are extremely personal, individual matters. They are matters of the heart, and no one can see inside or judge your heart except for you. Can you see where I’m going with this? Can you see the problem with trying to subject me to a prescribed sexuality?

When religious and/or political groups start throwing around rhetoric about sexual orientation, it’s a very sensitive, delicate issue because it goes so much further than what we give the term “sexuality” credit for at face value. When you’re talking about someone’s sexual orientation, you’re talking about their heart: the very core of them--the part of them that seeks love, companionship, and happiness. Surely you can see why I take this extremely personally. When you support discriminatory measures like Prop 8, you’re saying that my heart is somehow flawed and inferior--unworthy of the same legal protections as your heart. You cannot support Prop 8 and truly regard me as an equal.

When it comes to our relationship as friends, other political issues are trivial in comparison, since political stances and beliefs are something that we choose. I did not choose to be gay. When we're talking about me being gay, we're not talking about what I believe in or what I chose. We're talking about who I am. Since you were brave enough to share your story with me, I’d like to share mine with you. As you have alluded to, my position on the continuum of human sexuality has never been as ambiguous or as moderate as yours. I’ve been very strongly attracted to guys from a very young age. At what point is it morally justifiable to marginalize someone because of their sexuality? When I was a sweet, loving, innocent 10-year-old who happened to be attracted to other boys, was I still too young to be legislatively marginalized? Is that attitude cruel when directed to a child, but morally sound when directed to an adult?

Every single birthday cake that came my way between the ages of 10 and 21 meant one thing for me: I got to make a wish. And every time, that wish was to not be gay. When I was 12 and the van carrying my Boy Scout troop to a Phoenix Suns game passed through the tunnel between Globe and Superior, I held my breath and silently wished to not be gay. I didn’t say a single prayer that didn’t involve a desperate plea to my Creator to take these immoral feelings from me and make me “normal” and “worthy.” Despite being an “incredibly intelligent, understanding, talented, and really gifted” person (to use your words), I allowed others to convince me that I was a terrible, immoral person because I could not force myself to be attracted to girls. There were even times when I considered killing myself to end the torment (I know of one Safford-area teenage boy who did just that). Suicide is probably the most “unnatural” act a human being can perform, wouldn’t you agree?

I finally took a moral stance, however, to stop hating myself, because God isn’t hate. God is love. I took a moral stance to be honest (see the 13th Article of Faith: “We believe in being honest”) about who I am. I took a moral stance and decided that I would not force myself into a heterosexual marriage by using deceit to fool some poor girl into marrying me when I could never be in love with her (much less have sex with her--yuck!). Our friend [NAME OMITTED] actually thanked me for being courageous enough to take this moral stance. She knows first-hand what kind of damage can be done when gay people try to force themselves to follow a prescribed path of happiness. Now she’s a single mother with two kids. In retrospect, she really would’ve preferred honesty from her ex-husband rather than obedience to “Heavenly Father’s laws” (to use your words again). How can God command me to be straight but also command me to be honest?

When I finally fell in love for the first time (at the tender age of 23), it was like I had at long last discovered the secret of life. When I fell in love with someone and knew that he loved me back, the experience was indescribable: life-affirming, transformative, spiritual. I finally understood what all those love songs were about. My entire life, I had heard countless songs about love: allegedly the most powerful force humans can experience. Powerful enough to cause immense happiness, immense sorrow, obsession, devotion... a whole range of powerful emotions that up until I was 23, I truly did not understand. It seemed like every singer and song writer was ridiculously obsessed with this thing called love. The whole idea of being in love with someone seemed so illogical to me: so alien. I felt like I was outside humanity looking in. When I met my first boyfriend, I finally understood the elation human beings feel from love. It was a positive, truly spiritual experience. My spirit doesn't have to live in solitude and self-loathing afterall!

You have used “nature” to justify your support of a proposition that adds discrimination to California’s state constitution. I would remind you that homosexual activity does occur within nature (dogs come to mind). But human nature is a little bit more complex, isn’t it? For me personally, I can’t think of anything more unnatural than kissing a woman. Nothing was more natural than kissing my first boyfriend. I believe God and nature are One. A certain portion of every human population finds itself so far along the continuum of human sexuality that they are naturally inclined to find love and companionship with members of the same sex. I believe this is God’s/nature’s way of 1) taking the edge off of exponential procreation, 2) making sure there are enough adults to take care of those unwanted children whose existence is a result of irresponsible heterosexual activity, and 3) encouraging spiritual evolution (just like with racial differences, challenging us to intellectually/spiritually rise above the differences our eyes perceive so that we connect with each other’s spirits).

Those are my spiritual beliefs. You may not agree with them, which is fine. I believe in the 11th Article of Faith, which means that I shouldn’t impose my beliefs on you and vice versa. What a great country we live in: one that allows for plurality, coexistence, and equality. Despite suffering institutionalized marginalization in 19th Century America, Mormons are now free to engage in their own pursuit of happiness “according to the dictates of [their] own conscience” on a level (equal) playing field. Even though being Mormon constitutes making a choice and adopting a set of beliefs, as far as the law is concerned, they are equals. Other religions may (and do) continue to preach that Mormons are immoral, misled enemies of true Christianity. They are entitled to their opinions. As churches, the State has no right to force them to preach equality. As churches, however, they have no right to force the State to adhere to their discriminatory beliefs.

Seeing any parallels here? Despite current institutionalized marginalization, gay people are working towards a level (equal) playing field. The difference? Being gay does not constitute making a choice (other than choosing to be honest about one’s sexual orientation), nor does it constitute adopting any set of beliefs. Gay people are as heterogeneous as any other group when it comes to what they believe spiritually. Other religions may (and do) continue to preach that gay people are immoral, misled enemies of true Christianity. They are entitled to their opinions. As churches, the State has no right to force them to preach equality. As churches, however, they have no right to force the State to adhere to their discriminatory beliefs.


Yes-on-8 people have claimed that a marriage and a family are defined as "one man, one woman." I grew up with just the "one woman" part. Do I not come from a real family? Is my family suddenly invalidated? Were there adverse consequences to coming from a single-parent home? Yes. Many of the issues my siblings and I have stem from the fact that my mother--who is amazing and did her very best--was physically/logistically incapable of being there for us as much as we needed (a) parent(s) to be there for us. Would I have been better off in the system or in a foster home? No. Would I have been better off with two mothers? Without a doubt. The Tanner family on Full House had zero women and three men. Are you really going to tell Michelle Tanner that she doesn't come from a real family?

Can you take a look around you at some of the child-producing "one-man-one-woman" unions in any given supermarket and honestly tell me that their family environment is better for children than one I could provide, simply because I'm gay? Even if they're drug-dealing, welfare-collecting, hideous people? It's OK for them to make a family with kids because they're straight, but it's not OK for a socially-responsible PhD candidate to marry a like-minded person and adopt children (who would otherwise be in the system) to form a family simply because we're gay? It's even OK for them to get married while one of them (or both of them) is incarcerated, since they're straight? Really? What kind of message does this kind of institutionalized narrative send to gay kids everywhere?

Money donated to Yes-on-8 was used to propagate the lie that allowing gay marriage to remain legal would force clergy to perform same-sex marriages. Really? Church and State, people. Church and State. Only Mormon weddings are allowed to take place in Mormon temples. Can a Catholic sue the Mormons for not allowing him/her to get married in their temple? No! Churches have always had the right to decide whom they will marry.

There is a video from the “Family Research Council” (viewable at that erroneously states that, because gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, primary schools there are now forced to incorporate “gay marriage” literature into their curriculum. Blatantly false. It highlights the case of a Massachusetts family whose son was sent home from kindergarten with a book about two men who fell in love with each other and lived happily ever after (as part of a “diversity packet”). The parents were outraged, and the purpose of this ridiculously sensationalist video was to spread that rage and fear to as many people as possible and somehow connect the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts with the stance that particular school board took. This alarmist, dishonest video has everything to do with one isolated quarrel between two parents and their son’s school administration and nothing to do with a legitimate debate about gay marriage.

Having previously enjoyed a position of non-involvement, Yes-on-8 Mormons now find themselves uncomfortably associated with the blatant lies and misrepresentations launched by the religious right, with whom they have formed an unprecedented official alliance to support Prop 8. No-on-8 Mormons have found themselves doubly marginalized by the fierce anti-Mormon reaction that has followed the outcome. To reconcile Mormonism with Prop 8, I propose that those who are fighting against discrimination and bigotry be very careful with their reaction. We can’t fight discrimination with discrimination. Gay people did not appreciate being grouped into one homogenized category and targeted under a microscope. There are some Mormons who feel the same way now that they are under the microscope. The difference, of course, is that their civil rights aren’t at stake (while ours were), but labeling all Mormons as bigots is counterproductive and inaccurate. There are precious moderate voices from within Mormonism who are calling for reason, just as we are. I suggest we find common ground rather than subjecting anyone else to unfair generalizations.

And for my Yes-on-8 Mormon friends, I would like to leave you with a quote from the fantastic PBS documentary Anyone and Everyone, which highlights parents from several different religious and ethnic backgrounds and interviews them to see how they dealt with the news that their child was gay. Sister Lanette Graves, an active Salt Lake City No-on-8 Mormon, says the following:

"We all realize life is short. Life is precious. We need to not let doctrine or dogma divide us. What ought to be most holy of all are the issues of the heart. And as I said befeore, God is love. That is the Great Commandment. They said to Jesus (trying to trick him up), 'What is the Great Commandment?' and his answer was, of course, to love God and to love one another. The Great Commandment is the commandment to love. And so I decided long ago I'm probably gonna make some mistakes in life, and even on this issue, if I'm gonna make a mistake, I'm going to boldly make it on the side of love."