On Friday, a friend emailed me a link to Josh Weed's moving coming out post.
I guess I've spent enough time now forming friendships with Mormon gay men and lesbians in so-called "mixed orientation marriages" that the content of Josh's very personal and very sensitively written post didn't really come to me as big news or as a surprise. Anybody who's been following my blog regularly knows my views on the subject of gay men marrying straight women, or lesbians marrying straight men. Yes, I support people's right to choose these kinds of relationships, so long as both parties know well in advance what they're getting into. No, people don't (always) choose these kinds of relationships just because they feel "pressured" by the Church or society to marry. (Though that was certainly a phenomenon that Church leaders in recent years have been taking steps to remedy.) It goes deeper than wanting to conform socially. For many (most?) it goes to a profound desire (with which I empathize) to have and raise children of one's own. Finally, no, these relationships are not doomed to fail. Yes, there are challenges related to sexual compatibility, but the love between a gay spouse and his or her straight counterpart can be deep and genuine, and with work and commitment, sexual challenges in such a relationship can be transcended, and lasting (life-long) relationships can be forged.
And, no, just because some gay people choose to marry a straight spouse doesn't mean that it makes sense, is desirable or even possible for all gay people to make the same choice -- something that most people actually in mixed-orientation marriages (including Josh Weed) readily acknowledge.
I am just a bit concerned not about the relationships themselves, but about the way right wing religious people readily latch on to them for use as anti-same-sex-relationship propaganda. In order to do that, I think you have to over-simplify and distort and disregard a lot of what people actually in these relationships are saying about them. Given that we here in Minnesota and in other parts of the country are in the throes of a campaign to constitutionally ban same-sex couples from legally marrying, I am grateful when individuals in mixed-orientation marriages are willing to publicly express their support for my relationship with my husband, especially given how their relationships get used to suppress or ban or deny the validity of my relationship.
Increasingly, I'm seeing a consensus emerging among people -- both in more secular contexts, as well as within the context of the Church -- that these are choices individuals have to make for themselves. Each of us has the right and the obligation to make these very personal choices for ourselves, based on our knowledge of ourselves, based on our own knowledge of what we want and need out of life. And this growing support for individual freedom has deep, profoundly moral and spiritual ramifications.
Last night I was invited by a family in our ward to join them for Sunday dinner. The father wanted me to join them for dinner, specifically so we could talk about issues related to homosexuality and the Church. He was also interested in hearing my thoughts about the state marriage amendment, and about the Mormon contingent that is organizing to march in Twin Cities Pride this year for the very first time ever.
It's hard for me to adequately describe how the time we spent together that evening made me feel. First of all, let me say that the moment I walked through their front door, I felt something powerful. Entering their home was a kind of religious experience to me. I felt something intangible but powerful and real, like the presence of Christ there, just this incredibly warm, peaceful, unconditionally loving presence. Perhaps it is that the members of this family were just extremely kind and friendly and down-to-earth and welcoming. They made me feel instantly at home. Or perhaps there was something more to it. I've heard Church leaders occasionally talk about how a home can be a holy or a sacred place, if we consecrate it with prayer and love and devotion and respect for the priesthood. And if that is true, if that is possible and real, that definitely seemed like what I experienced last night.
As I got to know them better, it became clear to me that this was a family who are deeply committed both to the Gospel and to the Church. Our dinner conversation included faith-inspiring missionary stories. Mom shared some spiritual experiences she had had that bolstered her testimony of the reality of God and of his love for us. Dad talked knowledgeably about Church history, and about the importance of revelation in the life of the Church -- both collectively and individually. This was, it became very clear to me, a family deeply committed to the Church whose testimonies are founded on the bedrock of personal commitment and righteousness as well as personal spiritual experiences.
I don't mean to make them sound perfect. They, of course, have their own idiosyncrasies and imperfections. But they are imperfect in a delightfully perfect way! This was a family, it became clear to me, who, bottom line, just enjoyed spending time together. They love conversation! They love each other! And this love spills over to everyone they encounter. I was certainly the beneficiary of it last night. They were one of those salt-of-the-earth Mormon families we all in the Church know so well.
But what was also most powerful to me was how it became clear over the course of our dinner conversation that this faithful, salt-of-the-earth, testimony-bearing, devout Mormon family fully supported me and my husband being fully and legally married. Not only that, but they seemed to anticipate a time when my husband and I might even be sealed in the temple, and have our relationship recognized by the Church. They were very interested in participating in the Gay Pride march a week from Sunday -- their only concern with it was the conflict that the march's Sunday morning schedule creates for fulfilling their church callings. (Hear that, Pride Committee?! Any way we could try to schedule the march so as to create less of a conflict for people who have Sunday morning church commitments?)
I felt so profoundly, deeply personally supported as a full human being. As I told parts of my story, told about how I had almost committed suicide, told about my testimony and my deep love for the Church, and told about the pain of remaining excommunicated because of my deep love for my husband, a number of them had tears in their eyes. I felt a level of just basic human empathy and kindness and support -- from the whole family. I'm just not used to this yet -- being able to have this level of heart-to-heart conversation with active, faithful members of my ward -- and getting the kind of support that I got from them. It literally just produces a kind of weakness in the joints, a sense of being overwhelmed in the face of a kind of love and community I never, ever in all my decades of struggle thought I could ever experience. I don't know whether to laugh or weep for joy.
That experience has abided with me long since we finally, reluctantly, bade each other farewell at the end of a long evening of conversation. And it's also left me with a vision of a Church where, someday, somehow, there are no obstacles at all between me as an open gay man in a committed same-sex relationship, and full membership and participation and acceptance in the Church.
Now, contemplating such a possibility, it dawned on me. Imagine a Church where there are no penalties for being gay and in a same-sex relationship. Where no one views me with a jaundiced eye, no one treats me differently, where, if I want my relationship to be blessed by the Church or sealed in the temple, all I have to do is present myself and my husband just as anyone else would present themselves. Imagine such a Church.
Then the onus of figuring out the ethical, spiritual, and personal dimensions of choosing a same-sex relationship versus an opposite-sex relationship would be totally on me.
Would that make such a choice easier or harder? I don't know. But would it instead allow me to focus on the qualities of each type of relationship choice, the inherent limitations and opportunities presented by one type of a relationship versus another, rather than social pressures? Yes.
For example, in the best of all possible worlds, where gay people are not disadvantaged legally, socially or religiously for choosing same-sex relationships, procreation would still be much more complicated for same sex couples. At best procreation would require surrogacy of some sort. It could not (at least not with current technology) ever be a choice to have children who would be direct offspring of both partners in the relationship. Parenting would be easier than procreation, but again, only possible through foster care or adoption. This is just a basic reality of same-sex relationships. In a world where we are not disadvantaged for choosing same-sex relationships, we still could not change this fact.
Similarly, a gay person might consider whether it is not selfish to insist on procreating. Nature has not designed us to bond with a person of the opposite sex; it has not designed us in a way that that added glue of sexual attraction and bonding really works well for us in such relationships. Maybe nature did that for a reason. Maybe not every person is supposed to procreate. Maybe there is social and ecological advantage in gay people bonding -- in experiencing the joy and stability of having a committed, intimate relationship -- but not procreating. So the question we might focus on is how can I best be of service to society in some more general sense? Can we be adoptive parents? Can we find other ways to invest the time and energy not required for parenting in the service of others?
These are the kinds of questions we would/could/should be asking ourselves in connection with our relationship choices. Not: Will I be ostracized or viewed as a pariah for choosing a same-sex relationship? Or: Will I have benefits of social acceptance and legal recognition for choosing an opposite-sex relationship?
Within a faith context, such choices might be required as well. Within one widely accepted Mormon theological framework, we might say: Which do you prefer? To procreate for eternity? Or to serve? How can I best honor my eternal nature?
It was impressed upon me that such choices should never be taken lightly. It's not a choice I could ever take lightly. Not one that I in fact did take lightly.
I had to make choices around this very important part of my life in a context that was messy. A perfect decision might be made with infinite knowledge. But we always make choices with less than infinite -- sometimes woefully inadequate -- knowledge. Sometimes we have to go with our gut. And we have to choose, sometimes, in a political and social battlefield, with mines under our feet and cross-fire over our heads. I realize that there is no perfect, best of all possible worlds for making choices. Choices are always messy and complicated. And part of the joy of life is seeing what happens when we make them. And developing, through the challenges of making choices, a basic foundation of self-love and self-acceptance no matter what.
Still, this is one reason why, ultimately, we have a moral obligation to love one another unconditionally: because love provides us a foundation for making better choices. So I'm thankful to this wonderful family who shared an evening of dinner and food and love with me last night. And I pray for us as a Church to become more fully and truly loving and supportive of one another, whatever choices we face.