Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Well Wishes for the New Year

In the last week I've been called delusional, a liar, manipulative, a giver of false hope, someone akin to Jewish Nazi collaborators, and a victim of Stockholm syndrome. I am maligned by faithful, orthodox Mormons and defenders of the LGBT community alike.

The one thing all my detractors have in common is that they think they know everything there is to know about Mormonism and being gay. Fortunately I don't know anything about either of those things. All I know -- and these things I know with unshakeable certainty -- is that I am gay, that the Church is true, that my marriage to my husband is a blessing from God, that God loves me fiercely and is the vital presence in my life, and that all will be well: for me, for my husband, for our families, and for the Church. All will be well (even when things don't go well) in this life and in the next, if we have a mustard seed worth of faith, hope and Christian mercy for each other. These things God has assured me, and I am determined to prove them, not through skillful argument but through a simple life. Whether it is proven in my lifetime or not I trust God in any event.

I wish well to all, including all of you who have said some very uncharitable things about me. I wish for you only what I wish for myself, namely, peace and love in this world and in eternity.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Truth, Lord, Yet the Dogs Eat of the Crumbs...

My initial reaction to the new LDS Church Handbook of Instructions' directives regarding the children of gay couples was something akin to horror. Excommunicating individuals in same-sex marriages was one thing, but why exclude the kids? Wasn't that directly contradictory to the Savior's own teaching regarding children, that his disciples should suffer them to come unto him?

But as I began to reflect more deeply on precisely what the Church is doing through this policy clarification, it dawned on me that this situation is far more complex than it appears either to conservatives or liberals in Mormondom. The piece of this policy which is new -- the policy excluding children of same-sex couples from membership in the Church -- is the piece that both conservatives and liberals have had the most difficulty understanding. Many conservatives have leapt to the defense of the policy by suggesting it is about protecting children from confusing contradictions, or because the children of gay couples are analogous to the children of polygamists. But as I will explain briefly in a bit, neither of those explanations really hold up to scrutiny. Liberals, on the other hand, have viewed that part of the policy as a desperate attempt on the part of Church leaders to insulate the Church from pro-gay thinking, though, as I will also explain, that also doesn't really hold up either.

There are scriptural texts that read on this policy, and they are neither Matthew 19:13-14 ("the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, suffer little children...") nor Declaration No. 1. They are Mark 7:25-30 / Matthew 15:22 -28. These are texts which I think neither conservatives nor liberals will be inclined to read on the new policy on children, even though it seems to me the text most analogous to this situation.

Matthew and Mark both offer an account of a Gentile woman who comes to Jesus seeking a blessing for her daughter, and being rebuffed and refused by Jesus, who explains to her that "it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs" (Mark 7:27). Here's the full version of the story as recounted in Matthew:
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (emphasis is mine)
This perplexing story doesn't fit the nice, liberal paradigm of a fuzzy, warm Jesus who blesses everybody regardless of race or sexual orientation. In fact, it's hard not to read this text without cringing at Jesus' seeming insult to the woman based on her nationality. But neither does it fit the conservative paradigm of Jesus loving everybody while drawing a hard line against sin. Here, sin has nothing to do with Jesus' act of exclusion. And Jesus, in the end blesses the child because of the woman's persistent and humble faith (though he might not have blessed, if the woman had not persevered). Liberals will fret about this text, because to them it looks like Jesus is unnecessarily toying with or testing someone rather than immediately giving her what she needs for the well-being of her child. Conservatives will reject the application of this text to the new policy on the kids of gay couples because the scope of the Church's work was eventually broadened to encompass Gentiles, something they refuse to consider as possible in relation to gays. But I say, what if what is going on here in terms of the new policy is more complex (and wonderful) than what either liberals or conservatives are willing to countenance at the moment?

Something dawned on me one morning as I reflected on the question: "But... Why the children?" The argument about protecting the children from contradictory and confusing messages makes no sense. There is not a single child in the world who is not already bombarded by a host of messages that contradict what they learn in the home. America has always been roiled in controversy about what kids are taught in schools. Kids learn stuff on the playground, on TV and on the Internet that horrify most parents, gay and straight. LDS parents, of all parents, should know that you simply can't protect kids against contradictory messages. It makes even less sense given that LDS leaders have said children of gay couples are certainly welcome to attend church; just not be members of it. How will that not send a confusing or contradictory message to these kids?

Nor does the argument about kids of gay couples being analogous to kids of polygamous couples make much sense. The reason for that earlier prohibition was rooted in the Church's complicated history with polygamy, a practice based on a doctrine which the Church has never formally disavowed. Kids of gay couples are not going to grow up and enter same-sex marriages (unless they are gay). There's no need for them to "disavow" the practice in order guarantee that they won't enter into it themselves.

Liberals have been arguing that since neither of those rationales for the policy make sense, the only reasonable remaining explanation is the LDS Church hierarchy's animus against gay people, and its desire to keep pro-gay sentiment out of the Church. Exclude the kids and you will not only drive the parents away, but also prevent members of the Church from seeing that not only are gay couples normal, but their kids are just as well adjusted and happy as everyone else's.

I do not find that liberal argument compelling first because of personal experience with the Church's hierarchy that persuades me they in fact hold no animus against gay people: quite the contrary. But also, because I know that growing numbers of Church members already view their gay family members and neighbors in very positive terms, and I do not believe that Church leaders are naive enough to think it will be possible (or even necessarily desirable) to prevent pro-gay attitudes from spreading in the Church.

Defining same-sex marriage as apostasy has also upset liberal Mormons and the LGBT community. The upset is understandable, given the extremely pejorative connotations of the word "apostate" in Mormon circles. But in the strictest sense, the term apostasy is used by the LDS Church simply to differentiate between what is doctrine and what is not. Its purpose is to uphold the teaching authority of the Church, not to classify people in negative terms. And what this policy clarification does is simply to affirm what Church leaders have repeatedly stated in every major recent pronouncement on this subject: that same-sex marriage stands outside the official doctrine of the church. No one should be surprised by this. This is not news.

But in the flurry of arguments about whether the policy relating to the children of gay couples is discriminatory or not and whether it was motivated by animus, people have failed to recognize that the new policy, by addressing the status of children, seems to be the church's first ever recognition that gay couples and their children constitute a family unit. It is albeit a family unit that stands outside the doctrine of the Church. But this recognition, to me, is the only thing that makes sense of the policy as it relates to children.

This simultaneous strengthening of the doctrinal position and the recognition of a kind of integrity of gay families is particularly poignant, given the LDS Church view of salvation as something that happens in and through families. Does this point to a gap between the doctrine as it is currently articulated, and the fullness of human experience, as manifested in gay families?

If it does, this is where Biblical texts related to the New Testament "grafting in" of the Gentiles (such as the story of the "woman of Canaan") become interesting. Mormon liberals frequently compare today's LGBT concerns to the LDS Church's problem of blacks and the priesthood. But in terms of the theological challenge, the relationship of LGBT people to the Church looks much more like the relationship between Gentiles and the Church in ancient times. Unlike the exclusion of blacks from Priesthood ordination in modern times, Gentiles were not excluded in the ancient Church on the basis of race or lineage. Gentiles could join the Church, but in order to do so, they had to submit to the Mosaic law and be circumcised, among other things. What was momentous about the revelation Peter received in Acts 10, and the subsequent baptism of the Gentile Cornelius and his entire household (everyone who claimed his home as their primary residence?), was that it set aside the law that the Church abided at that time. (The Lord to Peter: "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.") The subsequent confusion caused by Peter's precipitous baptism of Cornelius was later clarified at the Council of Jerusalem (described in Acts 15). It was no longer necessary for Gentiles (or anyone) to submit to the Mosaic law in order to be a member of the Church.

Like pre-Jerusalem-Council Gentiles, modern gays can be members of the Church, but in order to do so they must submit to ecclesiastical law that forbids them from having intimate relationships or legal same-sex marriage. The only scriptural law currently prohibiting homosexual behavior is found in the Book of Leviticus, part of the very law that the Council of Jerusalem set aside.

I don't think Christ in the Mark 7 / Matthew 15 texts was merely testing the faith of the woman of Canaan. He was making a clear cut statement about the scope of his ministry, in much the same way, I think, that the LDS Church's current handbook policy regarding gay families does. The exchange between Jesus and the woman about bread, children, crumbs and dogs revealed that saving faith was not confined to the children of Israel; and it was at the point where the nature of this particular woman's faith revealed itself that Christ literally could no longer withhold the blessing from her. "Her daughter was made whole from that very hour."

Another core principle of the Gospel that applies in this situation has to do with the Lord's declaration that he is "no respecter of persons." Regardless of our status in or out of the Church, we are all equal in the sight of God. The happenstances of race or lineage or economic station or gender or sexual orientation or whatever other incidentals that make differences between us in this world are all part of the "person," the outward aspect, that God does not look upon. "For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). In D&C section 1, the Lord says "I am no respecter of persons," but he contrasts that declaration with a world order in which "the devil shall have power over his own dominion," before the Lord "shall reign [in the midst of the Saints], and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world" (vs. 35-36). Does the Lord remind us that he is no respecter of persons here to emphasize that one of the primary sins of the world upon which he shall come down in judgment is its elevation of the outward over the inward, of the superficial over the substantial, of the "person" over the eternal? Perhaps a necessary precursor to the Lord's coming down will be to eliminate those worldly distinctions from our midst, a work still in progress.

The LDS Church hierarchy has named members of the LGBT community "apostates," something on a par with Jesus referring to Gentiles as "dogs." There may still be, even in the wake of this policy clarification which has cut so many so deeply, LGBT Mormons in same-sex relationships who are willing to persevere in faith within the LDS community. My sense is that if we do, there will be blessings Christ cannot possibly withhold from us or, for that matter, our children.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Prayer of a Gay Mormon Son, Brother, and Dad

Dear Father in Heaven:

I thank you that I always have recourse to you, that in time of pain and trouble I can turn to you and you are always there for me, a never-ending source of light and love in my life. There are times when I know that I could not go on if it were not for you, and this is one of them.

I thank you that you have filled my home with light and peace in this difficult time. At a moment when I might have felt abandoned, I have felt your resplendent presence here in our home, guarding and protecting me and my husband and anyone who comes through our doors in peace, to remind me that it is you who decides who belongs to you. Thank you for making our home your temple.

I thank you that in this moment of uncertainty, people of faith and love of every race, creed and walk of life, humble and kind and wise people, have reached out to me and my husband and our family in love and concern. I thank you that I am surrounded by friends. Please make me a better friend to those who need one.

Thank you for your Spirit, which has given me words of comfort and kindness to speak to those who are mourning right now, and which has lifted me up and given strength to my limbs so that I might reach out, lift up, embrace and love. Thank you for your light unfailing that shines brighter when we share it.

Please bless our son. He has been a light to us, and we are so grateful that he has grown up to be strong, wise, and compassionate. We are so proud that he knows who he is, and is not afraid. We are so proud that he has chosen a profession of service to others, and that his greatest desire is to protect the weak and the voiceless. We are so grateful that he has found someone to love him and be his companion through life, who cares for him and strengthens him. We are thankful for our son-in-law, who is gentle and kind and joyful, and who brings joy to everyone whose life is touched by his. Please bless them both, protect them against life's dangers and challenges. Show them the way of life.

Please comfort our straight parents and siblings, all our family and friends who are afraid and confused and in mourning right now. Please reassure them so that they will know we are OK. We have been trying to reassure them, but they are still grieving. So please reassure them, because if it comes from you, I know they will finally be comforted. Let them not lose faith in you, or in your capacity to take sorrow and turn it to joy, to take pain and turn it to strength, to take misunderstanding and turn it to light, to gather in all the scattered and claim them as your own, to overcome hate through your love.

Please forgive those who, at this time, feel the need to heap judgment and condemnation on others. Please forgive those who think you are defended by their words of condemnation, as if you need to be defended. Please forgive those parents who are cutting off their own flesh and blood. Please forgive the ex-spouses who are now trying to tear custody of children away from their gay ex-spouses as a result of this. They know not what they do.

Please pour out your Spirit on all your gay, lesbian, bi and transgender sons and daughters. Light the path ahead of us so that we can see, even when the world is dark.

Please help us know how to comfort, strengthen and protect those of our children who are now filled with confusion and doubt as they are being told by pastors of your church that they no longer belong to your kingdom. May our constant love steady them and reassure them. May our faith and hope comfort them. Please fill them with light and make them know that you will never forsake them.

You have responded to this situation with a surfeit of love and light so that I might know that this is not about me. It is about teaching us to love each other better. Thank you.

Please teach us to love, even as your Son loved us.

In his name, Jesus Christ.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Children Think

When I was eleven years old, my dad was a stake missionary, and he would take me with him on his assignments. It was happy times for me. I loved being a missionary with my dad.

We visited a family, a single mom and her kids. Her name was Sister Martinez. She was black. She had a son named David, who was eleven years old, like I was. David was kind of shy, but I immediately liked him and wanted to be his friend.

I was eleven years old, so I was getting ready for priesthood ordination, and the first thing I thought of in relation to David was how important it was for him to get ready to be ordained too. And when I brought that up with my dad, that was when he had to explain to me: David will not get ready to be ordained. He can't be ordained. Because he's black.

There's no reasonable way a father can explain to his son why something like that is the way it is. I was eleven years old, and somehow I still hadn't learned to dislike someone or think they were less than me because their skin was a different color.

Dad couldn't explain it, and he didn't really even try. I was left to try to figure this one out for myself. A tall order for an eleven-year-old, even one getting ready to be ordained a deacon.

That one took me a few years, and a lot more maturity.


Mormon parents now get to explain to their children:

Why that little baby can't be blessed.

Why that eight-year-old child can't be baptized. (Doesn't matter how much she loves the Gospel.)

Why that eleven-year-old boy can't be ordained.

Why that nineteen-year-old young woman can't go on a mission.

I'm sure a lot of people are thinking they won't have to deal with this, because those children aren't going to be seen around church any more. But that's not the way the human heart works. By the logic of 1974 Mormonism, 11-year-old John never should have looked into the beautiful face of 11-year-old David, and wonder why the one should be ordained a deacon and the other not.

We are all interconnected, and the edicts of Handbooks don't change that.

And children do think about these things.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The New Handbook

I would not have been surprised by a change in the LDS Church's General Handbook of Instructions that required Church discipline for individuals in same-sex marriages. Many of us have actually been waiting for that shoe to drop.

I guess I was a bit surprised to see being in a same-sex marriage labeled as apostasy.

What really made my heart sink was to learn that the child of a gay couple cannot receive a name and a blessing in the Church. A child of a gay couple cannot be baptized or confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service unless they are of legal age and do not live with their parents, and unless, in an interview with a Church leader they disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.

It is almost as if same-sex marriage has now been officially labeled an infection that must be cut from the body at all costs. If the children can't be separated from the infected tissue, then they are cut off too.


A dear friend of mine messaged me minutes after the news hit the queer Mormon social media. "Talk me down," she pleaded, "Lots of angry tears right now."

For the first time, it was hard to see even a glimmer of a silver lining anywhere.

What really upset me was the children.

Surely the Church would never prioritize boundary maintenance over ministry to children.

I hear Jesus upbraiding his apostles, "Forbid them not to come unto me."

That to me was the sign that there must be something wrong with this. This can't be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a culture of fear. It is cultural war.


Shock and the hurt... I was on the phone with my husband. Verbally, he shrugged his shoulders. What should I expect? I ache right now at the thought of a husband and a son permanently alienated from the Church that I love. I am shocked that because of our love, they might be forbidden to come unto Christ.

And yet, I can't feel hopeless or despondent about this. A lot of people I know were hoping to see the Church's stance on homosexuality change gradually toward greater openness, with a first step being bishops simply welcoming same-sex couples to worship without excommunicating them. I have always known, deep down inside, that progress would not occur in this way.

There has been deep and dramatic change in the LDS Church in relation to this issue: not in terms of policy or doctrine, but in terms of attitudes. Mormons have crossed a threshold that is making it increasingly impossible for them to think of their gay family members, neighbors and friends as "other," as "apostate." A critical mass of Mormons know first hand that our love doesn't look that much different from theirs, that our families are as much a shelter from the storm for us as theirs are for them. They've seen our hopes and dreams, and our faith, our love for Jesus Christ intertwined with our love for our families. They've only just started to come to grips with the cognitive dissonance that realization is creating.

The cognitive dissonance just got a lot worse.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hobbit Love

One of Göran's and my more memorable activities was reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings together, from cover to cover. The reading was usually before bed time. I would read dramatically out loud, while Göran would snuggle up against me or rest his head on my shoulder or chest. He loved my impression of the ent Treebeard. (Ents were a magical race of giant tree-like beings that cared for the forests, and that spoke very slowly. Göran thought my version of Treebeard was better than the movies). He was also impressed by my fluent reading of Elvish text, which he attributed to the fact that I grew up speaking Finnish, the idiom that provided the template for the imaginary language that Tolkien created for his books. But what delighted us most was the hobbits.

For us there was never any question that the relationship at the center of the epic -- the relationship between Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee -- was really a gay relationship. The mutual devotion and sacrificial love of Frodo and Sam became a role model for us, an example of the kind of love we felt for each other. We knew that if one of us were ever called to go to the ends of the earth on some great adventure, it would not be possible without the other by our side, and that neither of us would hesitate to give our life for the other.

One of the really emotional moments in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of the epic for me was the scene where Frodo, wanting to spare Sam the danger of the journey into Mordor, attempts to strike out on his own by stealing a boat and paddling out across the great Anduin River. Sam finds Frodo and heads out to catch up with him, but can't swim. As it seems Sam is about to drown, Frodo reaches down and heaves Sam up into the boat where they collapse into a tearful, loving embrace, while Sam swears undying devotion to Frodo. Where you go, I will go, Sam says. From the moment I first saw that scene, it electrified me. It reduces me to a lake of tears every time I see it. That is what our love is like, I thought. Frodo and Sam was Göran and I.

I remember subsequently having a friendly argument with Sam Welter, a close friend of the family, specifically about that scene, and about hobbit love in general. Sam didn't think there was a gay subtext in Lord of the Rings. He insisted I was reading too much into Tolkien's story. (Tolkien was, after all, a devout Catholic, and married with children!) We ended by agreeing to disagree, though Sam acknowledged that he could see how gay men might read those themes into the story.

But now, a recent review by English Literature Professor David LaFontaine in The Gay and Lesbian Review, makes the case in very persuasive terms that, not only was there a gay subtext in the Lord of the rings, but that J.R.R. Tolkien himself may have experienced same sex attraction and likely felt a bond with his friend C.S. Lewis that had homoerotic elements. Those of you who are interested in reading the details of his argument should buy the November – December 2015 issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review. I'm happy to lend my copy to anyone who's interested in reading it! I won't recapitulate the specifics of his arguments here, but he points out that not only does the text have clear homoerotic themes, critics of the day ridiculed Tolkien's work precisely because of this, and Peter Jackson's film adaptation deliberately muted these elements in the text.

I remember watching the film The Fellowship of the Ring with Göran and being disappointed (though not surprised) that Jackson elided the hobbit bathing scene (which was a part of the book Göran and I very much enjoyed). But, in The Return of the King, when Sam finds Frodo with pants on in Cirith Ungol, instead of completely naked as he was in the book, Göran and I were taken aback. Why did Jackson make that directorial decision, when he could easily have found a tasteful way to portray the story as it was written? The film version makes us forget that in the book before Sam does anything else, he lovingly cradles his naked Frodo in his arms.

But what really takes the cake is the scene outside of Mount Doom, famous among gay fans of Tolkien as a portrayal of same-sex love and devotion. Again, Frodo is being tenderly cradled in the arms of Sam, as they prepare to die, and all of a sudden, Sam is going on about "Rosie Cotton dancing." What the heck....???  There's no Rosie Cotton dialog in the book. Jackson almost certainly added it to disperse the undeniable homoerotic element in the pinnacle expression of same-sex love in the three films. (Well, that and Boromir's death scene.)

If the movie, in other words, had portrayed in a more straightforward manner what was told in the books, the film almost certainly would have aroused the same homophobic wrath that Tolkien's books apparently unleashed when they first came out in the 1950s. Jackson, wanting to avoid that, tweaked the film version enough to allow plausible deniability of homo love in the films, while leaving enough in to keep gay fans of the film (like me and Göran) coming back again and again.

Last June, when Göran and I were in Oxford, England, we made a point of visiting the Eagle and Child pub, where Tolkien and Lewis met to discuss their writing projects. Little did I know that we were visiting a place that maybe ought to be listed in the gay tour books!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Of Mormons and Bridges and the World Congress of Families

In June 2012, a group of about 350 Mormons astonished the world by marching in the Salt Lake City LGBT Pride parade under the banner "Mormons Building Bridges." The sum total of their message was "We are Mormon and we love you unconditionally." It was not the most radical of messages, though to those of us in Mormon circles accustomed to a rhetoric about LGBT Pride that made it something akin to the Devil's Christmas, the gesture was revolutionary. It signaled something brand new in the relationship between the Mormon and gay communities.

2012 was a pivotal and contentious year in LGBT politics. Three states were facing ballot initiatives that would have banned same-sex marriage. Previous to that year, no such measure had ever failed. To many in the LGBT community, Mormons Building Bridges was taking the easy road by refusing to comment on or take a stand on the issue of the day: marriage. Some accused MBB of being a propaganda tool of the LDS Church, and of trying to co-opt the gay rights movement. Taking fire from both sides, it took courage for MBB to stand up.

This past week, Mormons Building Bridges did something equally momentous. With the arrival in Salt Lake of the World Congress of Families, notorious for the extreme anti-gay rhetoric of some of its leaders and for its support of extreme anti-gay legislation in Russia and Nigeria (HRC and the Southern Poverty Law Center have labeled WCF a hate group), MBB decided to organize groups of individuals who could attend and be a presence at the conference. Their core message was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ inspired them to stand up for inclusion of LGBT people in our families and in society. They went with the stated intention of engaging in dialog -- both listening for greater understanding, but also sharing their unique perspective on LGBT issues.

Of concern to many was the high profile way in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be participating in the conference. Elder M. Russell Ballard was a featured speaker at the opening plenary, and the Tabernacle Choir was going to perform at the conference. Of course the presence of the conference in Salt Lake meant that large numbers of Latter-day Saints were going to attend and participate.

In the week before the conference, Erika Munson, a member of the MBB community, published an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune criticizing the "natural family" rhetoric of WCF. MBB members attending WCF wanted to engage in dialog about the ways that "natural family" rhetoric could harm and exclude LGBT people. Showing up at the conference identified by yellow MBB stickers, they wanted to be a visible presence in support of LGBT inclusion.

I was able to be a part of this amazing, tiny band of souls, and what I witnessed was truly amazing. I was one of several LGBT participants in MBB's contingent, including Kendall Wilcox, Berta Marquez, and Samy Galvez. There were not huge numbers of us, but MBB's presence had an impact far out of proportion with our small numbers.

My impression of the conference was that it consisted of a very large number of people with concerns that had nothing at all to do with same-sex marriage or LGBT rights. Many -- perhaps most -- of the conference participants were concerned primarily about things like children growing up in poverty and in single parent homes, divorce (and it's disproportionately negative impact on women), and social ills like drug-abuse and homelessness that are the consequence of failed homes and parental neglect. They were concerned, in other words, about many of the things that I and other members of MBB are concerned about.

The Mormon participation in WCF actually seemed to be a kind of moderate leaven in the mix. The most virulent and hateful anti-gay rhetoric at WCF was coming from non-Mormons like Raphael Cruz (the father of the presidential candidate) and Brian S. Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage. Elder M. Russell Ballard's opening plenary talk emphasized the importance of compromise (much in the vein of Elder Dallin H. Oaks' address exactly one week previous), diversity and fairness for all, and acknowledged the LDS Church's support for legal protections for LGBT people (he used the term "LGBT"). Notably, Elder Ballard avoided the use of the loaded phrase "natural family." Mormon speaker Wendy Ulrich was applauded by MBB participants for her gender inclusive language. She as well as Linda and Richard Eyring, other LDS speakers at the conference, were appreciated for staying away from same-sex marriage, and focusing on the principles that make for any successful marriage -- principles that all applied as well to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex couples.

MBB members were listening to talks to get a sense of what people's primary concerns were, and were striking up conversations with conference participants that remained friendly and open, even as the conversations occasionally broached areas of disagreement. During the question and answer session of one of the panels, Berta Marquez introduced herself as an LGBT attendee, and invited individuals to come speak to her in person afterwards if they wanted firsthand experience with an actual LGBT person, rather than third party information. Eleven conference participants took her up on her offer. Six exchanged contact information with her, and three set up lunch dates.

MBB members actively participated in the question and answer sessions at panels, especially where an anti-gay message was being promoted. There was at least one instance of an MBB member being subjected to hostile and intimidating behavior by other conference participants. During a question and answer session at a panel, she asked "What advice would you give to parents if their child tells them he's gay?" She was shouted down by some attendees and then after the session was surrounded by people taking photos of her credentials and her MBB sticker. A woman who identified herself as a member of the organizing committee of the WCF asked this MBB member why she was being disruptive, and then began denigrating Mormons Building Bridges. Though the MBB participant tried to leave the conversation politely, this woman continued to harangue her for about half an hour. After this she and a number of other MBB participants were being followed by security who backed off when the MBB women spoke with them, and they realized that they were not being disruptive nor a threat.

Fortunately, there were other WCF participants who came to this MBB participant and apologized for what they perceived as horrendous behavior by the people who had harassed her. Despite this awful incident, it seemed that there were more instances of individuals having positive conversations and making positive connections, including with individuals and groups who expressed a desire to stay in touch and learn more about MBB.

I left WCF with a handful of literature that was passed out to conference participants, which included some fairly innocuous looking material about parenting and principles of a happy marriage, some libertarian political tracts, a copy of the Proclamation on the Family, a magazine with an article critical of Pope Francis for giving "confusing signs" about LGBT issues, and then a couple of really awful homophobic tracts. One was an advertisement for a book that shouted, "GOODBYE Marriage. GOODBYE Mothers & Fathers. GOODBYE Male & Female. In a World gone MAD, Children are in DANGER." Another described ways to identify victims of "the Sexual Revolution," which included "refugees" from "the gay lifestyle." This mix of handouts was pretty exemplary of what I and others witnessed at WCF.

My sense was that there were a lot of people at WCF with whom I and other LGBT rights supporters could dialog. There were many people whose genuine concern was the welfare of children and the promotion of marital stability and happiness, who didn't have a particularly anti-gay ax to grind. To the extent that they were worried about same-sex marriage, it seemed to me that it was because they had a lack of information or because they had only been exposed to lurid rhetoric about the gay lifestyle or fear-mongering about "religious freedom." In light of the language of compromise in Elder Ballard's keynote, it seemed to me that many of those folks might be moved once they realized that promoting stable, loving relationships of same-sex couples was actually part of the solution to the challenges facing families in the 21st century.

My sense was also that there are some hard-core anti-gay activists at WCF who do have an ax to grind, and who have made gay people the scapegoat for everything they think is wrong about the world. NOM President Brian S. Brown and Raphael Cruz were the standard bearers there for that hard-line position. The Mormon Church -- as conservative as it is on this issue -- is clearly not in the same camp with these folks. And I can't help but think that the anti-gay extremists will leave Salt Lake feeling frustrated by the lack of help coming to them from Mormon quarters. I believe that MBB had more in common with all the other Mormons at the conference than any Mormon had with many Fundamentalist Christians there.

MBB made an impression, for good or for ill. We were sought out by media, which gave us a platform to express concerns about "natural family" rhetoric, and to communicate a desire for families, churches and societies fully inclusive of LGBT individuals. We used social media to get our message out to WCF participants (using WCF hashtags as well as our own #StrengthenAllFamilies hashtag). We had powerful one-on-one conversations with like-minded as well as with other-minded. We participated in question and answer sessions to raise concerns whenever an extreme anti-gay agenda was promoted.

It was one thing for Mormons Building Bridges to march in Pride. That took courage, and it certainly was momentous. It was another thing entirely, and took a completely different kind of courage, to go somewhere members felt much less safe, in defense of their gay, lesbian, bi and transgender family and friends. Slow but steady, Mormons Building Bridges will help us win this race.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Colonizing Narratives/Annihilating Narratives

Historically the majority of social narratives about gay people have been social constructionist narratives.

This is different than saying the narratives have been socially constructed. Not a majority but all  narratives are socially constructed. But a social constructionist narrative about gay people says that gay people are not really gay. They are a group of people who have constructed a social identity that makes them gay. There is, lurking behind every social constructionist narrative of sexual identity, an essentialist premise about the nature of human sexuality. Strict social constructionists may deny that there is an essentialist premise behind their theories. But even if that were possible, the problem is that into the intellectual vacuum created by the denial that we can actually know what anything is in itself essentialist assumptions rush. Human nature abhors a vacuum.

There are two basic essentialist premises that have typically undergirded social constructionist narratives. One is that all human beings are by nature heterosexual. In this narrative, homosexuality is caused by a fault or a flaw: usually either perverse intention on the part of the homosexual him or herself ("this man/woman sinned") or because of failed upbringing on the part of the parents ("his/her parents sinned").

The other essentialist premise behind social constructionist theories of gayness is that all human beings are, by nature, bisexual. "Normal" upbringing will inculcate the heterosexuality required for the propagation of the race; while failed upbringing will cause people to fixate on homosexual yearnings. That was basically Sigmund Freud's theory about homosexuality.

In late 19th- and early 20th-century Germany we saw a third type of essentialist premise behind a social constructionist theory of homosexuality that was embraced by the masculinist wings of the German homosexual rights movement: that all men (they were really unconcerned with women) are by nature homoerotic, and that homoeroticism is therefore the basis of all higher civilization. There's a tragic irony in that particular story, as recounted by Robert Beachy in Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity. Masculinist homosexuals embraced the rise of Nazism, and many hailed Hitler as the charismatic, "homoerotic" leader their theories predicted would rise in any "Männerbund" or "male society." Hitler and the Nazis, of course, did not return the favor. Adolf Brand, a leader of one of the masculinist factions of the German gay rights movement of this era saw what was happening only too late: "The former [Community of the Special] members have now given their trust and support to the very person [who] has publicly declared that if the [Nazi] Party comes to power, all homosexuals will be strung up from the gallows" (p. 239).

Social constructionist narratives are by their nature universalizing and colonizing. They tell gay people that we don't actually know what we are. Philosophical types who want to deny that anybody can know anything I'm sure find this very intellectually pleasing. But in its final analysis, when imposed on others it is patronizing and disempowering -- even annihilating. As Friedrich Radzuweit, a German gay rights activist in the 1920s and 30s protested, "the claim that human beings shared a fundamental bisexuality... undermined not only the experience and identity of most homosexuals but also the moral and pragmatic arguments for legal reform" (p. 235). The Nazis, as Beachy points out, were only too happy to embrace a social constructionist narrative of homosexuality, to justify the murder of gay men and women in Nazi concentration camps (pp. 237-238).

Is there legitimate debate and discussion about the construction of gay identities? Absolutely! Again, citing Beachy's study of the late 19th- and early 20th-century gay rights movement in Germany, we see a number of competing views. One viewed homosexuality as a "third sex," i..e., homosexuality as a gender identity (of which gay rights activist Magnus Hirschfeld was an advocate). Another insisted that to be gay is merely a sexual orientation that has nothing to do with gender identity (of which Friedrich Radzuweit was a vocal advocate, and which Hirschfeld was willing to allow). I confess I don't have much patience for the homo-supremacist, misogynist and anti-Semitic theories of people like Adolf Brand or Hans Blüher. But I'm interested in (and love to discuss) the ways we create identities on the foundation of our sexuality as we experience it.

But gay experience deserves to be treated with respect. You can tell me that my experience of my sexuality as a gay man as something that is innate, immutable, and natural is merely a social construct. Please don't be offended if I protest that you are colonizing me, that your construction of my sexuality doesn't leave me a legitimate social space.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Inventing" Homosexuality

For my birthday, a friend gave me a new and highly acclaimed book in the field of gay studies and gay history, Gay Berlin: Birth of a Modern Identity, by Robert Beachy.

The book's title and the book's introduction clearly point to the author's analytical frame, which draws on the "social construction of homosexuality" model that has come to dominate much of the field of Queer Studies. The social construction model seeks to explain why there is no "gay rights" movement before the nineteenth century, not to mention no people identifying as openly "gay," no "gay community," etc. It also conveniently relies on the fact that we simply have no scientific data about sexuality that dates back any further than the late nineteenth century. Social construction theory focuses on discourse. It focuses on social ideas and images, which we can study from the period of ancient history on by examining literature, law and art. Radical social construction theory suggests that there is no scientific basis for "gayness" as an identity. Without discourse about gayness, gayness does not exist. And while social constructionists loudly protest that their work is misused by social conservatives who want to make the case that gayness should not exist, the truth is that the radical social constructionist argument readily lends itself to those uses.

But what I find fascinating about this study -- which is comparable to George Chauncey's Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 -- is that in turning a microscope to the "invention" of homosexuality in its historical specificity (not in the abstract, theoretical way in which Michel Foucault discovered it), we always find that homosexuality is not in fact "invented," but "discovered." We would never say that Columbus "invented" America, though one could certainly compellingly argue that the concept of "America" was an invented one, that it posited a mythical "Western" world conceived of as radically different from the "Old World," etc.

Similarly, homosexual people certainly existed prior to 1867 when the German term Homosexualität was coined. A plethora of concepts and ideas have been used to attempt to frame and tame the existence of gay people for public consumption and for a variety of political and social purposes, some beneficent and some maleficent. But gay people have always existed. The recency of a publicly articulated gay identity and gay rights movement is no more proof that homosexuality does not exist per se, than, say, the recency of Copernicus' heliocentric model of the solar system is proof that the sun actually rotates around the earth. Both are proof, rather, that human understanding is collectively capable of progressing, that we actually know more about the way the universe functions, just as we know more about human sexuality, by applying scientific methods.

I think the best evidence of the falsehood of radical social construction theory in studies such as Beachy's and Chauncey's is how the concept of homosexuality emerged in the modern world from two primary sources: first, from gay people themselves; and second, from the medical and social work professions that were among the first to seriously consider gay people's testimony of their own experience as a source of data about sexuality. Nobody told Karl Heinrich Ulrichs that his attraction to men was innate, natural and immutable. In fact, everybody in his life, his devout Lutheran family, his colleagues in the legal profession (which ultimately disbarred him), the editors of newspapers that derided him, and his political opponents (virtually everybody with power in the nascent German state) all told him exactly the opposite. It was in consulting his own feelings and his experience that he came to know they were wrong. And when he bravely spoke publicly about his experience, he became a laughing stock in German society at large, but a hero to other gay people or "urnings" (the name he coined for homosexuals by drawing on classical mythology), who understood and related very immediately and personally to his account of his experience.

The truth is that "homosexuality" or "gayness" became possible as a modern identity not so much thanks to the scientific professions (though science has validated the identity) but thanks to the rise of modern mass democracy and urban, industrial economies. "Gayness" has not existed till now not because gay people did not exist, but because familial and social structures prior to the late nineteenth century exacted too high a price for gay self-expression. The gay community exists today because liberal institutions allow gay people to express ourselves and to tell our stories, and they allow us to form relationships that make sense to us and communities that support us and our relationships. And the gay rights movement exists because liberal democracy allows us to have a say in the laws that govern us.

Much has been made in the literature on gay history of the "medicalization" of homosexuality.  I remember as a graduate student reading about Karl Heinrich Ulrichs' gay rights activism in Germany. At that time, Queer Studies was barely on its feet as a discipline. (I was one of the organizers of the third national queer studies conferences for grad students.) I remember reading about Ulrichs' quaint theory of homosexuals as a "third sex," an idea that was taken up by Magnus Hirschfeld and the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (based in Berlin), and that was rejected by other German homosexuals, who preferred a more "manly" definition of what it meant to be a man who loved men. At the time I too rejected the notion of gay men and women as a third sex. I felt it played too much to "stereotypes." Of course gay men could be masculine sports heroes, and gay women could be feminine nurturers. That in spite of the fact that as a boy I hated sports and preferred bookish and artistic pursuits, enjoyed playing house with my brother, fell in love with Judy Garland, secretly played with my sisters' Barbie dolls, and snuck into my parents' bedroom when they were gone so I could surreptitiously try on my mother's lipstick and high heels. Those kinds of stories are common enough among gay men and women, it's hard to deny that it points to something. Ulrichs and Hirschfeld were trying to make sense of biographical data that are striking for their consistency with what anybody familiar with gay men and women will still observe today.

What is also striking to me is how eerily similar to present-day understandings nineteenth-century gay rights activists' analysis of the problems gay people face in a heterosexual society and their proposed solutions are. They identified family rejection, social isolation, religious intolerance, refusal to recognize gay relationships, and the specter of suicide driven by extreme rejection. Ulrichs also engaged with religion, with the God of the Lutheran faith he was raised in. God must love gays, he insisted, because He made us.

Of course, ultimately, an "essentialist" view of gay history can't be proven much better than a social constructionist view. To do it we'd need data that we just don't have and can never get for bygone ages. But what we can see of the emergence of public homosexual identities in the nineteenth century to me suggests more of a "coming out" than a creation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Win Win

I've been having a lot of conversations the past week about Affirmation and the LDS Church.

Speaking of a time when she felt alienated from Affirmation and dropped out of activity in it, one individual said to me: "I felt like... I had been disowned by my family again. ... Affirmation means so much to me. It is my only family."

Toward the end of another conversation, I looked into the eyes of the person I was speaking with. This individual and I see things quite differently. We had been having a very positive, but also very difficult conversation about Affirmation and the Church. Toward the end of our conversation, as I looked into her eyes, she smiled, but I also noticed a glistening of tears that signaled deep yearning.

I am struck by the sacredness of each person's path through life. I am also struck by how much we mean to each other, and how desperately we need each other's love and approval. The idea of Affirmation as a people to whom LGBT Mormons (however variously defined!) can turn for unconditional love and support is powerful. And when people who have found that at Affirmation feel it threatened, the "fight or flight" instinct can kick in. And we can fight.

People have been brutalized by the Church. You can say, "Well that was just some people. They weren't really living the Gospel." And that may well be true. But there's also a core challenge that relates to Church doctrine and policies and procedures and mores. To experience excommunication because you have chosen to pursue something as core to human happiness as love and intimate human connection is brutal, no matter how kind a face you try to put on it.

And I understand how some people need Affirmation to be a refuge from that. And I understand how it may even offend some people to find themselves in the midst of individuals in Affirmation who, in a variety of ways, embrace the Church. I've been accused of having "Stockholm Syndrome." It's the only way some people seem to be able to explain how I would want anything to do with the LDS Church.

Others can speak for themselves, but I can say that embracing my faith as a Latter-day Saint and choosing to be active in a Church where I remain excommunicated is the opposite of masochism or self-denigration. For me it is a profound affirmation of my humanity. It is an insistence that I am a child of God and I belong in his kingdom. That I feel the Spirit at Church is a weekly reminder that God agrees. For the LGBT person -- despite all the obstacles and adversity they may face -- to be active in the Church is to redeem the Church from homophobia and transphobia. It is to insist that those things are not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about. I will not abandon my faith because of what other people think. I will not be moved for what anybody under Heaven thinks.

That affirmation of our humanity, of our divine heritage, and that redemption of the community from the worst instincts of our all-too-fallen nature is what I, in the core of my being, believe Affirmation must be about. If it isn't, we have sold ourselves way, way too short.

To affirm that, to insist on that, is not to denigrate another single soul in or out of Affirmation. I can hold fiercely to my faith, and still fiercely defend my brother or sister who, wounded in battle, has found it necessary to retreat.

What this means in practical terms for the organization, I think, is that holding to that core of faith is not about driving anybody out of the organization. It is not about valuing some in the organization more than others. It is not about saying that some are better or braver or have more faith than others. It is not about denying people their family. We must be loyal to each other. If we are not, we have misunderstood the Gospel. My life is built around commitments: my commitment to my husband, my commitment to my family, my commitment to God, my commitment to my fellow Saints in the Church, and if I desire to serve Affirmation as president, my commitment to you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why I Am Running for President of Affirmation

Up until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I would never want to be president of Affirmation. I served as senior vice president for two years, and have since been serving on the Board, and I have seen up close how hard Randall Thacker the current (and outgoing) president worked. I saw that to be president of Affirmation is pretty much to have a full-time unpaid job that involves a lot of travel at your own expense and that involves having one problem after another thrown at you – often the most painful kinds of problems one can try to solve. It means being constantly open to criticism not just from foes but from friends too. It means working to serve one of the most stressed communities it is possible to serve, a community that, among other things, is especially vulnerable to extreme depression and suicide, and many of whose members have experienced extreme rejection from family members and friends, including to the point of being turned out of their own homes. And lastly, it means serving a community that is sharply divided over what it means to be L, G, B or T or SSA and Mormon. How ironic that the identity that unites us often also seems to divide us so painfully!

Yet, it is precisely those challenges that call those of us who have served in Affirmation in its nearly four decades of existence to service. In the last few years, literally hundreds of individuals have answered that call – in local chapters, in regional and national gatherings, in organizing service projects and Pride marches, in working and dialoging with Church leadership, in managing social media and communications and virtual conferences, in organizing spiritual gatherings and leadership trainings. Randall has been the kind of leader who inspired people to answer that call. And that's another reason the idea of being president of Affirmation gives me pause. I worry that I might not be able to be the kind of leader who can inspire in the way he has inspired so many of us.

Affirmation is about service, and not just for ourselves. Yes, we are ministering to each other, within our organization. But we are also ministering to a larger community, many of whom may never attend an Affirmation event. Affirmation must be in the world about healing the injured, repairing the broken and gathering the lost. Affirmation should be about empowering LGBT Mormons for service in wide fields in the Church and in the world.

I have been extremely blessed. Superabundantly blessed. This month my husband and I are celebrating our 23rd anniversary as a couple. We have owned a beautiful home together for almost twenty of those years, and are blessed with financial stability. We were legally married in 2008. The most meaningful thing we've ever done as a couple was to parent an amazing foster son. We are blessed with family acceptance. We are embraced by large extended family networks – by my devout Mormon family, and by my husband's devout Christian family in Iowa and in Memphis, Tennessee.

My greatest personal blessing is my testimony of the Gospel. From that testimony, and from living it to the best of my ability, other blessings have flowed: the Holy Spirit's guidance and presence in my life, and opportunities for learning and service in my LDS ward. My ward and my Church leaders love me and support me the best they can. Through my activity in the Church – despite being formally excommunicated – I have experienced God's love and presence in my life in a way I never imagined possible. That has provided a foundation of peace and joy in my life for facing all the various challenges my life continues to throw at me. Through my activity in the Church, I have discerned and continue to discern a way forward. I know that God loves his LGBT sons and daughters with a fierce love, and that if we go forward in faith – even through the most difficult spaces in this lone and dreary world – God will prepare the way for the ultimate reconciliation we all yearn for.

Sam Wolfe, a member of the Affirmation Board, suggested at our last Board meeting that I consider running for president of Affirmation. After that, I began to give it some serious thought, counting the cost for me personally and for my husband. I talked to my husband about the sacrifice I felt that kind of service would entail, and we discussed whether he would be able to sustain me in it. We talked about it over the course of about a week, and he has committed to sustain me. I prayed about it, and as I prayed, I received some light on the subject and felt great peace about it. My sense is that if the general membership of Affirmation agrees and will have me in this role, this is something I should do, and something that, if I give heart and mind and hand to it, I can do well. I have been richly blessed, so it is appropriate for me to give back in this way, if I can.

I believe that someday, there will be no more need for Affirmation. LGBT Mormons will be fully integrated into the life of our Church. There will be no more misunderstanding or ostracism. We, as a Church, will have received fully satisfying answers to the deep existential questions that have troubled so many of us. We will truly be a Zion people in relation to the issues that affect LGBT individuals and our families and loved ones. Everything in my experience as a person of faith, and in my experience the last ten years of activity in the Church teaches me that that is where we are headed. I believe that Affirmation can and should play a positive role in preparing for that.

In the meantime, I believe Affirmation's on-going priorities need to be:
  • supporting LGBT individuals in finding faithful ways forward as Latter-day Saints,
  • sustaining an inclusive, safe and healing community for those who have been injured by homophobia within the Mormon community, and
  • providing resources for dialog and for greater understanding among Latter-day Saints about issues that affect LGBT/SSA Mormons.
Randall has been working hard to strengthen Affirmation in the Intermountain West, where, demographically, there is the greatest need for the kind of work that Affirmation does, and has also worked hard to develop support systems for LGBT Mormons in Latin America. I feel strongly that Affirmation needs to continue to develop our organizational infrastructure in these places. I've asked Sara Jade Woodhouse, who has been one of the most dynamic and articulate leaders within the trans community in Utah if she would, contingent on my being elected, consider being my senior vice president. I've asked Adryán Sán Román, currently the president of Affirmation Mexico, if he would be my other vice president. Despite potential challenges of having an international and bi-lingual executive committee, Adry, Sara Jade and I feel a great sense of excitement about the possibility of working together in these roles. I hope we will be given that opportunity.

At some level, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't see signs of the Spirit at work both within the LGBT community and within the Church bringing about a kind of convergence. Members and leaders of the Church at all levels are really wrestling to understand better what it really means to be LGBT or SSA and Mormon. They are showing deep empathy and a yearning for LDS Churches and wards to be welcoming, nurturing places where their LGBT brothers and sisters can worship and love and follow Christ alongside them. 

LGBT people are feeling the Spirit drawing them to faith in general and to the LDS Church in particular. Ten years ago I never would have imagined it possible, but I am no longer surprised to encounter LGBT individuals who had no exposure to Mormonism growing up, but who feel the Spirit and convert. When we come to the Church, it's not always clear to us exactly how that is going to work, especially for those of us who are in committed same-sex relationships or marriages. So it's a remarkable act of faith. Nevertheless, as unconventional as it may be both from the point of view of many in the LGBT community as well as from the point of view of many in the Church, those of us who have gone in that path are finding something to nurture our souls and we are finding the Spirit.

Matt Price, one of the founders of Affirmation, once wrote:

Don’t forget the work of the Spirit. I don’t want to seem overly dependent on some ‘mysterious’ influence as to what makes Affirmation work, but there is a real need for prayer and reflection on what we are doing — reaching out to our Father in Heaven and to each other. We firmly believe that Affirmation had a place in the plan of our Father in Heaven and His Kingdom, and that the Holy Spirit is still with us, as individuals and as a group of His Children, guiding us in what we are seeking to accomplish. His Spirit is most reflected when we are working toward our goals, ever mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers, ourselves, and the working of our Savior in our lives and in our hearts.

I believe we are at a pivotal moment in the work of the Kingdom as it regards God's LGBT children. I believe there is indeed a role and a purpose for Affirmation that we ourselves may not see yet in its entirety, but that involves helping us to connect to each other, to the Spirit, and to the Church.

If you feel that too, consider connecting with Affirmation, and see what service the Spirit might have for you in the larger LGBT Mormon community, in the Church and beyond!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fundamental Rights

A Facebook friend of mine posted on her Facebook wall a link to a web site in which a conservative commentator blasts the Supreme Court for eroding American freedom in its ruling on same-sex marriage. The friend, a fellow Bloggernacle author, protested that she supports marriage equality, though she is concerned about the way in which it has been achieved with this Supreme Court ruling. Her claim is credible, since she's been a very public supporter of marriage equality on her blog. I engaged in a discussion with a friend of hers about the ruling. He insisted that the court had invented whole cloth a new "right to dignity" that had no constitutional basis. I pointed out that from what I had read, the ruling did not rely on a "right to dignity" but on equal protection. He countered that the ruling only claims an equal protection basis, but doesn't actually make the case for it. At that point, there was nothing more I could really argue without reading the ruling for myself.

The ruling makes for very interesting reading. If anything, to read a Supreme Court ruling for oneself dispels the myth of some abstract "objective" working of the law. The voices of each justice, their perspectives, values and beliefs, likes and dislikes are there, on display, preserved for posterity, reminding any who care to read for themselves of the human element in the workings of the judicial branch of our government, no less than in our executive or legislative branches.

Having read the majority opinion now, it seems clear to me that while the opinion does use language about "dignity" -- language that is likely to appeal to gay and lesbian people who have been subjected to our share of indignities in the whole debate over marriage equality -- the majority opinion does not in fact hinge on some mythical "right to dignity." That argument is a red herring. The majority acknowledges that the central problems in the debate over marriage for gay and lesbian couples are whether marriage is a "fundamental right" and, if it is, whether gay and lesbian couples can be reasonably excluded from that right. The latter question is important, if we are to explain why, for instance, adults shouldn't be allowed to marry children. If there are any circumstances at all under which it would be reasonable to deny marriage, it's reasonable to require explanation as to why a previously existing restriction ought to be lifted.

The majority and dissenting opinions alike agree that marriage is a fundamental right that deserves protection under the constitution. But there are core differences of opinion on the question of what, precisely, about marriage is fundamental. Majority and dissenters agree that marriage has evolved over time, citing, for example, the modern-day abandonment of the law of coverture, which subsumed a woman's rights in marriage under those of her husband. If you acknowledge that marriage has changed at all in its history (which is pretty much impossible to deny), you can no longer seriously assert that no change ever can be allowed. You instead have to determine what is the core or central idea in marriage, and make a determination as to whether a proposed change harms or strengthens that core idea.

Dissenting justices insist that regardless of changes in the institution of marriage, the "core" concept in marriage is related to the gender of the individuals entering into it. The majority, on the other hand, sees the core concept in marriage being the voluntary union of two people. The majority offered corollary arguments that marriage is best defined in legal terms by what it accomplishes socially: the creation and protection of a viable social unit that includes two loving adults and is capable of protecting and nurturing children. And they don't see how or why gay and lesbian couples could/should be excluded from such an institution. The dissenting justices accuse the majority of creating "new" rights or of making fundamental changes to the institution of marriage. The majority insist that they are not creating new rights at all, but simply allowing gay and lesbian couples access to ancient rights from which they can't reasonably be excluded.

There is a fundamental philosophical problem related to the accusation of changing the definition of marriage. In order to determine whether marriage is being changed or preserved, it is necessary to agree on a definition of marriage, and that is precisely what we have never, through the entire course of this debate, been able to do. Conservatives are incensed that the court's majority have defined marriage. This, they argue, no court should do. But conservatives themselves are defining marriage. It is impossible in a decision such as this not to define marriage. The question before the court is whether or not gays or lesbians should be granted access to marriage. And in arguing why they can reasonably be excluded from marriage, you must define it (as a union of a man and a woman), which is precisely what conservative dissenting justices did in their opinions. Dissenting conservative justices have defined marriage. What piques them is that a majority on the court disagree with their definition.

Roberts indignantly asserted that marriage can't be changed:
[T]he Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are? 
But he, inconsistently I think, suggests that it would be OK if marriage were redefined by legislative or electoral processes. He states that this is happening -- has already happened in many nations throughout the world -- and was on the verge of happening throughout the United States before the ruling. He acknowledges that supporters of marriage equality are winning the debate, that "the winds of change are freshening at their backs." But you can't simultaneously be galled by the fact that marriage is changing at all, and congratulatory of the fact that it is changing through legislative processes.

The argument that the United States and many other countries throughout the world are committing some massive blunder by fundamentally altering an institution that predates human history is belied by the ease and swiftness with which this "fundamental change" is taking place. I think that if allowing gays and lesbians to marry were such an earth-shattering change, it simply wouldn't be happening. People wouldn't accept it. Human beings are notoriously conservative when it comes to things intimately connected to their personal lives. What -- this ruling correctly points out -- is more intimate than marriage?

I think the reason people are accepting the notion of letting gay and lesbian couples marry is precisely because allowing gay and lesbian people to marry changes the core idea of marriage not one iota. The majority opinion alludes to this when it states that the argument that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will harm the institution of marriage "rests on a counterintuitive view of opposite-sex couple’s decision making processes regarding marriage and parenthood." What matters most to the typical heterosexual making a decision about marriage is that they be allowed to choose to enter into a lasting union with someone they love. Allowing gays and lesbians to do the same does not undermine that concept, it reinforces it.

Roberts also appeals to the supposed knowledge of the "person on the street" -- according to him, that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. But that "knowledge" only became necessary when the gay rights movement made it possible to suggest that a man and a man or a woman and a woman should be allowed to get married. That suggestion created initial homophobic revulsion. It was only at that moment in history that it became necessary to pass laws banning same-sex unions. The heterosexual majority simply didn't think in those terms prior to the 1980s. (There is evidence going back centuries, however, that gay people have always aspired to be able to marry the person they freely chose.) For the vast majority of human beings, marriage has been a loving union of two people who in some sense choose each other. That "core definition," that understanding, is not being changed at all by this ruling.

Another element of this ruling has to do with the conditions under which -- through precedent established by the Supreme Court -- the court can overrule state laws on equal protection grounds. Laws granting rights like marriage are, by their very nature, discriminatory. They establish criteria under which the rights can be granted, and then necessarily exclude those who don't meet the criteria. The 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection requires justices to determine if laws unnecessarily exclude individuals who are in similar circumstances to others who are granted rights under the law. Conservatives argue that precedent requires the court to establish that the groups being protected under an "equal protection" ruling are part of a protected class. Gays and lesbians, they argue, don't meet that criterion.

I'm not familiar with the more arcane aspects of jurisprudence that guide the determination of what constitutes a "protected class." The majority opinion does give a brief account of the history of homophobia in the United States. It discusses the fact that gay relationships were -- until Lawrence v. Texas (2006) -- criminalized, and explains why that criminalization was wrong, why the ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) that Lawrence reversed was wrong, and why the type of discrimination that made such criminalization possible is unjustifiable in the American legal system. The opinion is a very eloquent critique of American homophobia. And it makes the case that you have to find a better reason for excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage than that it's always been that way.
History and tradition guide this inquiry, but do not set its outer boundaries. See Lawrence, supra, at 572. That method respects our history and learns from it without allowing the past alone to rule the present.
Conservatives and liberals will continue to debate this ruling. Echoes of the debate that has raged around this issue for the last couple of decades appeared in the ruling. The majority responded to the arguments of same-sex marriage opponents that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will harm marriage, by pointing out that no convincing evidence of actual harm has yet been produced, and by showing how inclusion of gays and lesbians in the institution of marriage will be good for society. Dissenting justices accused the majority of trying to make policy through the ruling. But the majority ruling was not about why same-sex marriage constitutes wise policy. It addressed the policy implications because they had been raised by the opposition as reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. The LGBT community and their supporters were electrified by the ruling precisely because it addressed something far more fundamental than social policy.

Justice Roberts did issue a warning that resonated for me. He wrote:
By deciding this question under the Constitution, the Court removes it from the realm of democratic decision. There will be consequences to shutting down the political process on an issue of such profound public significance. Closing debate tends to close minds. People denied a voice are less likely to accept the ruling of a court on an issue that does not seem to be the sort of thing courts usually decide. 
Though I disagree with him that this ruling is not "the sort of thing" that the Supreme Court is supposed to decide (i.e., issues of fundamental rights, freedoms and equality), I recognize that not everybody sees it this way, and this ruling may, indeed, have some of the negative effects he warns against. It is precisely because Americans tend to prefer to make decisions through the electoral and legislative processes that OutFront, the leading state-wide LGBT rights organization in Minnesota, discouraged marriage equality law suits and chose instead a strategy aimed at convincing the public that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry was a good idea, and then seeking to address this through the legislature (which was how Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage in 2012).

But the Supreme Court could not make this decision based on what tactics they felt were appropriate. A question was brought before the court, and the court had to make a decision. One of the main reasons courts exist within our constitutional, democratic system is as a resort for those who have been harmed by unjust laws enacted by majoritarian rule. If you read the stories of the individuals involved in these cases, you will see that they were harmed and they had good cause to bring their cases to the Supreme Court. And the fact of the matter is that majorities in the states involved refused to make legal provisions that would have prevented the injuries that occurred. In the system of American constitutional democracy, individuals who have been unjustly harmed are not obliged to wait for legislatures to get it right.

Whichever way the court had ruled, it would have required some working definition of marriage -- as the minority arguments themselves show. It required a determination as to whether gay and lesbian individuals deserve equal protection. And whichever way the court ruled, it would have had profound implications for the destiny of LGBT people in America. Had the court ruled against us, it would have embedded anti-gay prejudice in the body of legal interpretation of the highest court in the land. It would effectively have ruled us second class citizens. We would have been harmed by such a ruling. Thank God it didn't do that.

Those who say this ruling represents an arrogation of power by the courts are perhaps insensitive to the power that has been used to disadvantage and harm LGBT people in this country. The court has power, power granted it by our constitution. Thank God, in this case, it used its power to protect the rights of the weak -- something the Supreme Court has occasionally famously failed to do, as in the Dred Scott decision or as in Plessy v. Ferguson or as in Bowers v. Hardwick. Isn't protecting the rights of the weak, of minorities, against the overweening power of majorities precisely what the Supreme Court is supposed to do? You can argue that gays shouldn't be protected. But don't argue that gays deserve protection, and then criticize the court for doing its job.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Love Conquers All

The much anticipated day arrived in my ward.

It began with Fast and Testimony meeting, which consisted mostly of members of the ward sharing some of their trials and struggles, and which ended with my sense that their testimonies of the Gospel were essential in helping them get through them. A young man shared his testimony of prayer, which revolved around an experience of a successful fishing expedition. A bit humorous, but it reminded me of the Apostle Peter, hauling so many fish into his boat that it almost capsized. In this case it was just one, good, healthy sized bass. A sister shared her testimony of eternal life, in light of her mother's death, which took place at 3 a.m. this morning. Church, surrounded by brothers and sisters who love her, is where she needed to be today, even with a loss so recent and feelings so raw.

In Sunday School, Brother B. from the Sunday School presidency arrived to make sure we arranged the chairs into a smaller, more circular configuration, so we could converse with each other more intimately. In a small group discussion, Sister S. and I discussed Mark 14:32-42 with each other. We talked about the difficulties of keeping watch with the Savior, even when we are not facing the imminent tragedy the disciples were facing in the Garden of Gethsemane. (In Luke it says they were "sleeping for sorrow.") Our conversation actually helped me. Sister S. helped me.

After Sunday School, her daughter M. came up to me and wanted to talk. She had seen my interview for the Far Between project on line. We talked for a while about Far Between and about Kendall Wilcox, and about my story. The subtext of the conversation was her love and concern for me and for others in my situation, and anguish about the predicament we find ourselves in in relation to the Church. She got a bit teary. I found myself reassuring her. "This is a great ward," I said, "Bishop C. is a great guy. This is going to be OK."

We went into the chapel and found our places. I sat down behind Sister J. and a sister I've never been formally introduced to, but whose testimony I admire, and whose missionaries stories shared in Sunday School have been an inspiration to me. They saw me sitting down, and smiled and reached out to me. They asked what I had been up to, and I briefly shared my experiences at Affirmation conferences in South America and Europe. They were very interested in what I had to say. More love, radiating in their smiles. The sister whose-name-I-don't-know-yet expressed her gratitude for the Supreme Court ruling. She expressed her happiness for me and Göran.

The meeting was called to order. We sang "Lead Kindly Light." I felt the words deeply. It was the right hymn for this moment:
The night is dark and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet;
I do not ask to see
The distant scene-- one step enough for me.
Bishop C. seemed a little nervous. He prefaced the reading of the letter by acknowledging that many members of the ward are struggling with this issue. He said he had met individually with members "across the spectrum" on this issue. He acknowledged that some were struggling with the Supreme Court ruling, some with the Church's response to the ruling. Then he read the letter.

After he had finished reading it, he bore his testimony of the doctrine of the plan of happiness. He shared his sense that the central thing here is to understand "God’s eternal plan for the salvation and exaltation of His children," that this was the key thing. I felt the Spirit, reaffirming that I have a place in that plan.

Then he opened the forum up for questions. Then, he paused to remind people that the purpose of the forum was not to discuss doctrinal issues. He encouraged individuals to approach him one-on-one if they had those sorts of questions. Then he opened it up for questions again.

Not a single person raised their hand. Bishop C. waited maybe fifteen seconds to see if a hand was raised, and when none was, he called the meeting to a close. But not until Elder Rulon Stacey of the Quorum of the Seventy (a member of our ward, and presiding at the meeting) offered his testimony that everything our bishop had told us was true.

After church, Bro. H., a member of the bishopric, chatted with me outside in the parking lot. He chuckled when I pointed out that the bishop hadn't allowed much time for hands to rise. But we both agreed that we didn't expect a lot of questions. I felt prompted to share what was in my mind.

I said that while there was seeming clarity in the doctrine of which the Bishop and Elder Stacey bore testimony, I am force to live in a world of unresolved issues. If my relationship of almost 23 years with my husband is sinful, why has it brought us so much joy? Why have I learned so many positive lessons from it, from being a husband and a father? Why, when I've prayed about it, have I felt blessed by the Lord in that relationship? I have a testimony of the Gospel. I can't deny it. It's why I'm here at church, why I been coming for almost 10 years now, why I'm living as much of the Gospel as I can.

I said that the contradiction I felt in listening to the presentation today isn't new. It's a contradiction I've been aware of every day of my life since I've been active in the Church again. I don't have an answer to that question. All I know is that I have a testimony, I am where I'm supposed to be.

He said he knew I had a testimony; that my testimony has strengthened his testimony.

I said I did have some sense in which this situation is part of the Lord's plan for perfecting his Church, and it's for us to love one another and stay faithful and learn what we need to learn.

Odd, but as I left I realized that I think everybody else in my ward was more nervous about today than I was. I've been practicing walking through this fire for ten years, and they're only just starting. It was reassuring to me. I no longer feel so alone in this. There are others in the Church who are now starting to wrestle with some of the contradictions I've had to live with my whole life. And the one thing that is crystal clear to me is that they want to do it in a way that is utterly harmonious with the highest principle of the Gospel: Love.

I think we're going to figure this out together.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

For the Days and Weeks Ahead

I'm blessed to have a husband who still loves me like crazy more than two decades after we first started to build a life together. We have family who love us like crazy: parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, and a vast extended clan of uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws; and an amazing foster son who's grown up to be an amazing young man, and his husband and his husband's family. We have so much family to love and to cherish!

I love my life. And I love the beauty of the world around me. The trees and the flowers all around our neighborhood. The way our cats meow at us outside the bedroom door early in the morning. The way my breakfast tastes! I love the poignancy and the nuance and the amazing intricacy of everything in my life. And I love the sense of purpose that has gradually unfolded at the heart of my life.

I love my faith. I love that it teaches me to look up and beyond our temporal horizons toward eternity. I love that it teaches me to trust that there is Good waiting to receive us, beyond the vicissitudes of life and beyond the pain and the heartbreak of death. I love that even in my darkest hours, my faith is there shining bright, giving me hope, showing me that all defeats are only temporary if we just love.

This is a tense moment for a lot of people I know and love in the LGBT Mormon community. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal throughout the U.S., the LDS Church has sent a letter to be read in congregations either this coming Sunday or the following Sunday.

There is nothing new in the letter, with one possible minor exception. This letter is the first one I've seen that explicitly states that Church officers may not use their ecclesiastical authority to perform same-sex weddings, and same-sex weddings may not be held on LDS Church property. I guess it's a reasonable clarification, given that under the law now LDS bishops throughout the United States could perform such marriages on or off Church property. Was that statement, perhaps, also an acknowledgment that there might be a growing number of bishops who would be willing to perform such marriages?

The supplemental materials at the end of the packet concluded with this very interesting statement:
Members who . . . have doctrinal questions should make a diligent effort, including earnest prayer and scripture study, to find solutions and answers themselves. Church members are encouraged to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost to help them in their personal lives and in family and Church responsibilities.
If members still need help, they should counsel first with their bishop. If necessary, he may refer them to the stake president. “. . . Stake presidents who need clarification about doctrinal or other Church matters may write in behalf of their members to the First Presidency.” 
I suspect that indeed growing numbers of Latter-day Saints will have doctrinal questions. And this advice is Mormonism at its best. Pray, study, and seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost. And then follow what the Holy Ghost tells you. And feel free to ask questions. Does anybody read this differently?

I think the most interesting word, doctrinally speaking, in the entire statement is the word "happiness." I think that word is going to be the grit in peoples' shoes as the membership of the LDS Church continues to seek understanding about this issue. Because here is what I know.

Happiness -- deep joy, in fact! -- thrives in families built on the marriage of a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. When two people learn to love each other and care for each other, and then that love expands to care for others besides just the two of them, there is no greater joy. And the gender of the individuals seems to have little to do with the capacity for happiness in that setting. This is verifiable. It's very obvious to Church members who happen to know deeply happy gay and lesbian couples. It will become more and more obvious to more and more members of the Church.

My relationship with my husband does not "deprive" me "of the blessings that can be found in family life." It has granted me rich access them! It would be conformity to the Church's expectations on this score that would deprive me of those blessings. I suspect that is why, in my ten years of activity in the Church, no Church leader has ever counseled me to leave my husband. In a recent interview with my stake president, he reassured me that this was not his or the Church's agenda. His exact words to me were: "The Church is not in the business of breaking up families."

I think my Church leaders would have taken a completely different tack with me if my relationship with my husband was a source of unhappiness. And if my relationship with Göran made me unhappy, it would be relatively easy for me to heed advice to end the relationship. The fact that this is not the case for me, nor for many thousands of other gay and lesbian couples, is the grit in the sandals if you must assert categorically that relationships such as ours cannot give joy because they fall in that category of "sin."

The statement says "All visitors are welcome to our chapels and premises so long as they respect our standards of conduct while there." OK, I'm excommunicated. I guess that makes me a visitor. "We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." I'm glad the Church I claim as my own says it will not disrespect me, and that it will stand with me in defending at least some legal rights that protect me and my husband. "We should . . . be good listeners." I want to be a good listener.

I have said my relationship with my husband gives me joy. But I can also say that in the absence of faith I think it could not give me nearly as much joy as it does give me. It is my love for God, and the fact that he has sought me out and invited me into relationship with him, and that I have sought him in turn, that has given me a perspective on my relationship with my husband magnifying a thousand fold the potential for joy in it. I cherish my husband and I cherish our love all the more because I understand who we are and what is the nature of our souls!

My obedience to God includes staying in relationship with a Church where there is little understanding of what it actually means to be gay. That's OK! I find joy in that particular journey. It keeps me humble. It keeps me on my knees. It keeps me close to God.

But I'm blessed. For many others, this will be a challenging time. A time to learn patience and prayer and lots and lots and lots of love? I time to learn how to seek out and rely upon the Holy Spirit?

It's part of the journey, a journey I am most glad to be on.