The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.
Galadriel, “The Lord of the Rings”
I still remember my very first pep rally as a freshman at Orem High in 1982.
In the middle of the day the entire school emptied into the gym where we assembled together in the bleachers by graduating class. Suddenly at the cue of the cheerleaders the senior class started chanting to the drums, “Eighty three! Eighty three! Eighty, eighty, eighty, eighty, eighty three!” Then they pointed to the next class who followed even louder, “Eighty four! Eighty four! Eighty, eighty, eighty, eighty, eighty four!”
The excitement was contagious and we realized as freshman we would soon get a chance to show our class pride. As we yelled our ‘86 chant as loud as we could the gym erupted into laughter. We were freshmen and our voices were still high and almost childlike compared to the others. But we didn’t care!
The classes continued round and around each chanting their graduating class year. Each time we shouted even louder until at last the Orem High tiger mascot finally pointed to the winning class who showed the most spirit. It was here I learned to be proud to be Class of ’86!
Let me introduce you to another ‘80s class of which I am a member. Instead of calling it a class, I will call it a generation. I am the last generation of LDS youth who were officially taught to get married as a remedy for and therapy to overcome “homosexual inclinations.”
In 1986 I awkwardly confessed my homosexuality to my Bishop. There I made a pledge cementing my obedience to council to chart a course to mixed orientation marriage and never speak of my homosexuality again.
Shortly thereafter in 1987, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced in April General Conference that, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices.” This reversed decades-long church policy formulated by Spencer W. Kimball.
It took a while for this cultural shift to take hold on a local level. Mixed orientation marriages continued to be blessed and encouraged through the 1990s despite Hinkley’s 1987 policy announcement.
In the early 1990s researchers with LDS backgrounds started to collect data from my generation of mixed orientation marriages and began to seriously examine the phenomenon of the church’s mixed orientation policy and the results of encouraging homosexuals to marry straight spouses.
From the data conclusions such as this began to emerge:
“One of the reasons so many homosexuals enter into such high-risk marriages is that they are encouraged to do so by many LDS counselors, therapists, and ecclesiastical leaders who are ill informed about the nature of homosexuality and the dangers of homosexual-heterosexual bonding. Far too often, these marriages end in broken homes and with broken hearts. It is imperative that those who are in a position to council with homosexuals and the heterosexual partners with whom they are considering marriage know the facts about choice and the persistence of homosexual feelings along with the risks of homosexuals marrying heterosexuals.”
This leaves us with an interesting question in the church. Where are these LGB youth, guided into mixed orientation marriages, today?
You knew us ten, fifteen, twenty years ago as your young men’s and young women’s presidents. We were your Elders Quorum, Primary, and Relief Society presidents. We were in your bishoprics and high councils. We taught your gospel doctrine classes. We were your Bishops. We organized your ward Christmas parties and pulled handcarts on your pioneer treks. We gave you comfort and aid and magnified our callings. All while managing our sexual orientation in ways that a straight person never has to do and will never understand.
Today most of us are divorced and we are none of those things.
A recent 2014 peer reviewed study concluded that up to 70% of LDS mixed orientation marriages end in divorce.
Some of us are still hanging on to our mixed orientation marriages. That same 2014 study confirms that those who identify as bisexual tend to have a higher success rate in a mixed orientation marriage. On a sad note for many in my generation who are still in their mixed orientation marriage, most reported a very low quality of life rating (lower than people who report having lupus.)
We were such a huge part of your community while we were in our mixed orientation marriages. We had a huge impact on your spiritual life and journey. Why do you not see us now?
Stigma hides us
In a 2005 article researchers concluded from the data that the following myths, misunderstandings, and stereotypes were still pervasive within the church:
- Sex in a mixed orientation marriage will solve the problem or isn’t that important
- Homosexuality is a personal challenge only, not affecting the straight spouse
- Anyone with a basic capacity to marry should get married because “there is no other way”
- The gay lifestyle is one of wanton promiscuity. You can’t be faithful or successful in a gay relationship
- Homosexuality is not the same as homosexual behavior, just like heterosexuality is not the same as heterosexual behavior. Since we regulate heterosexual behavior by forbidding sexual behavior until they marry an opposite sex partner, the church is correct to do the same with the gays and regulate homosexual behavior by forbidding sexual behavior until they marry an opposite sex partner
- The cure for homosexuality lies in the healing power of the atonement
- Divorce means YOU as the gay spouse are a failure. You were not strong enough. You were not righteous enough. You must stay in a marriage that is not mutually loving and fulfilling because YOU made covenants even if they were based on faulty priesthood council
These ideas are so incorrect and harmful. These myths must go away. They haunt my generation. They will forever haunt my generation.
These stigmas create a shame that keeps a huge population of my generation hidden. Many hide after their divorce while many still hide in their mixed orientation marriage. Once essential to your wards and stakes, now gay AND divorced, we are the forgotten.
But all of this will soon be a moot point. The church is slowly erasing mixed orientation marriages and in so doing is slowly erasing the stories of my generation who were once in a mixed orientation marriage. We were so forgotten that when the exclusion policy came out, it was as if the church didn’t realize that my generation all had kids from our previous mixed orientation marriages who would have been cruelly affected by the policy. It was such an indignation to see our children, who were the fruits of priesthood guided mixed orientation marriage, now shut out of the church. After a week of public outcry the policy was revised to exempt our already baptized children from exclusion.
Yes, in 2017 we are at a turning point. Mixed orientation marriages are fading and a new age is upon us. My generation echoes the lament of Galadriel, “I will go into the west and diminish, and remain Galadriel.”
You will not see this huge population of mixed orientation marriages occur ever again in the church.
But what is this new age that is upon us?
It is a new and terrifying class of youth and young adults that are stepping into the space once occupied by mixed orientation marriage.
The celibate homosexual.
Anyone who spends time on social media or reading young adult blogs is starting to see this disturbing trend emerge.
I realize that what I have just said is extremely controversial. But before you pull out the torches and pitchforks please listen to the wisdom of one who is diminishing as your age rises. I do not speak flippantly.
Kendall Wilcox, co founder of “Mormons Building Bridges” notes: “The Church is no longer explicitly encouraging LGBT members to marry as a cure or fix for their sexual orientation.
Now that mixed orientation marriage is out of favor as a default “solution,” LGBT members are left with celibacy as the only remaining option – not because it is the preferred option but because it is the only one left.”
As this new age of celibacy rises, LDS LGB youth and young adults are openly celebrating their celibacy and speak of it as a litmus test for following the prophet and righteousness. The church has highlighted celibate role models on mormonandgay.org to show how to be an acceptable gay in the kingdom. While Bishops are counseling their straight youth to get married they are counseling their gay youth not to get married.
This generation of LGB youth and young adults are being so overwhelmed with the message not to marry that they simply do not see marriage as essential like those in my generation. It is interesting, even those who are now out of a mixed orientation marriage see the intense benefits of being married. Most who divorce from a mixed orientation marriage desire to marry again according to their orientation because of the great benefits and blessing of marriage.
Marriage is proven to be healthy in many ways. The United States Supreme Court in affirming same sex unions stated “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”
These perceptions about marriage are completely lost on many of our LDS LGB youth today because they are shielded from the concept of marriage all together. I have argued to no avail on social media (I know, never argue on social media) with our rising generation of celibate LDS LGB that celibacy is NOT equivalent to marriage.
This generation of LGB youth and young adults are leaving their bishop’s offices armed with the conviction that they will be celibate because that is what God wants them to do. This is frightening because I remember my generation left our bishop’s offices armed with the conviction that we would marry someone with a different sexual orientation because that is what God wanted us to do. The destination of this kind of thinking is not pleasant.
Celibate LDS LGB: In the church’s long term policy of handling confirmed homosexuals, you are the new “mixed orientation marriage” but in celibate form. And with the wisdom of age I foresee how this will play out. Serious obligations such as mixed orientation marriages and celibacy are very easy to make as a youth but devastating to unravel decades later as the effects begin to manifest themselves.
Like my generation, in 20 years from now the church will have a large population of celibate homosexuals who are struggling. You will grab the attention of LDS researchers and they will begin to collect data from your generation of celibate homosexual Mormons and begin to seriously examine the phenomenon of the church’s celibacy policy and the results of encouraging homosexuals to remain celibate for life.
I do not know what their conclusions will be about you, but I know what the conclusions about my obedient generation are. Pressures for you will be even greater because you will be living alongside a strengthening society that celebrates marriage as the highest form of human connection whether it be opposite sex or same sex. You will face the same struggles for human connection that those of us in mixed orientation marriages had, but in a different setting.
Yes, the age of the celibate gay is rising. My age of the mixed orientation marriage is diminishing and like Galadriel, I stand at the shores of the Great Sea ready to depart for the Land of the Undying. I now turn to you with hope and sadness with one last request:
Do not think of my age as weak because our mixed orientation marriages failed. We were once you.
We were once you.
For gays who stay in the church i see plenty of mixed orientation marriages happening. It’s more a eyes wide open thing though. Both spouses know instead of a hidden orientation.
I am not going to say those marriages are going to be amazing. Who knows, but i would think it is healthier to enter a MOM with both parties knowing as opposed to the keep-it-secret marriages of decades before.
Yes! Great point j4k. One of the most pernicious problems with the past (and current) recommendations of the church has been the prescribed secrecy. Hiding is toxic.
Great article Nathan! Now that it is clear that marrying someone of the opposite sex doesn’t change homosexual orientation, the only option left is celibacy. Yet I don’t see how from a doctrinal standpoint the church can justify promoting celibacy.
One of the reasons given for why same-sex marriage is prohibited in the church is because it does not lead to exaltation. Since exaltation is apparently only granted to those in an opposite-sex marriage that is sealed in the temple, celibacy also does not lead to exaltation. Opposite-sex marriage that is not sealed in the temple also does not lead to exaltation, yet the church continues to honor these marriages and authorizes bishops to perform them. Bishops are not only prohibited from performing same-sex marriages, but same-sex couples who marry are excommunicated and labeled as apostates. This is gross hypocrisy and bigotry.
According to current interpretations of church doctrine, the only way a gay person can be exalted is if they are sealed in an opposite-sex temple marriage. For this reason, I would not be surprised if the church returns to advocating opposite-sex marriage for gay members. To only allow the option of celibacy is condemning people to an eternity without exaltation.
Great thoughts, Nathan.
As someone else remarked, I think an “eyes wide open” MOM option still exists–not as a cure, but as an earthly holding pattern. In fact, if I just listen to the way GAs talk about the sanctity of marriage, I would conclude by process of elimination that MOMs are still the only reasonable path.
GAs say any arrangement that departs from opposite sex marriage is confederate, but how many of them spend any time in their talks openly admitting to the whole church that life-long celibacy–with all of its mental and physical health risks–is what they prescribe for LGBT members?
Even the Church’s mormonandgay website does not address celibacy as a life choice. Instead, it simply includes a reminder that God will reject anyone that has sexual relations outside of an opposite sex marriage sanctioned by an earthly government. The context and implications are ignored.
My perception is that it is among faithful Mormon support groups that celibacy is being idolized. Local leaders will pick up on that energy and carry the celibacy banner forward as the new obvious, easy, sanctioned solution for gay members.
In any case, I expect the results will be just as you project: in 20 years, the negative impacts of celibacy will become apparent and people will wonder what the heck we were thinking.
here i am 4 years after my last comment on this article. and i am different. I am a 40 year old celibate member of the church. this path has not brought me fulfillment and meaning, but loneliness and depression. To quote Bilbo Baggins, I’m like “butter over too much bread.”
i just don’t have the strength to escape. I don’t have the certainty that it would help. My employment is tied to my church membership. My family would see me as “the antichrist” if i were to marry a man.
and so here i am. I don’t know what will happen to me. But if someone is wondering if celibacy is the path for them. Please pause, please reconsider, there may be joy for some, but for many, it is hell.