On my most recent trip to Utah to visit my children who are living there now with their mother, my 17 year old daughter opened up her feelings to me about the divorce. She said she has been really mad at me, but has been trying to get past it. The divorce has been really hard on her, and she has been feeling something is wrong with her because her parents are divorced. She had a lot of questions for me about when I knew I was gay and about when I was dating women as a young single adult and eventually dated and married her mom. She wanted to know, if I knew I was gay, why did I marry her mother in the first place.
I explained that 22 years ago when I married her mother, things were very different and we didn’t know as much about sexual orientation as we do now. We just didn’t know back then how so many mixed orientation marriages would fail. I told her how I knew I had feelings for other guys ever since I was a child, but that I, like so many other gay members of the church, did not understand the concept of sexual orientation and what that would mean in my life. As I was taught in the church, I thought that I just needed to repent of my “impure thoughts”, and that once I was married those feelings would go away. I explained how I prayed and prayed intensely most of my life to have these feelings removed from me, and like so many gay members, I lived a life of hyper religiosity so I could be worthy of being changed. I told her that I had repented, and I diligently served an honorable and successful mission, and always strived to live the gospel with exactness.
After my mission, I was of course counseled by family and church leaders to get married as soon as possible. Even bishops who knew I was gay counseled me to date girls and to get married as soon as I met the right one, and they promised that my gay feelings would go away. I was also told by my bishop to not tell my future wife that I was gay, because once I had repented, the Lord remembered my sins no more, and I shouldn’t either. I now regret that I followed my bishop’s counsel. I should have told my then-fiance that I was gay, and given her the chance to opt out. It is this decision that is the core of my daughter’s anger toward me. In her view, I never should have married her mother or any woman. I would agree with her, but I can’t imagine a life not having my daughter or any of my kids in it. I will never regret bringing these awesome children into the world and into my life.
My daughter told me that I should never think about trying to get back with my ex-wife, because that would be totally unfair to her mother — that her mom deserved to be fully loved in a way that a gay man is incapable of loving a woman. I was a little hurt that she didn’t say that I also deserved to love and be loved by someone who could love me fully, but I get it. The current LDS paradigm is that same-sex love is supposed to be a “counterfeit”, so I can’t expect her to see it any differently.
I also explained to my daughter that over the last 22 years, the church has changed how it counsels gay members on marriage. Today the church no longer officially counsels gay members to get married as a way to “cure” their homosexuality. Too many mixed-orientation marriages in the church have ended in failure. Instead, bishops and stake presidents today are supposed to counsel gay members to live a celibate and chaste life, and abstain from marriage and any sexual relations, for the duration of their mortal lives.
This was all very unsatisfactory to my daughter. This whole situation has caused all of us so much pain and broken all of our hearts with the end of my marriage and the disruption of our family unit. She told me that my bishops should not have counseled me to get married. She said that I should have done what was right and not followed my bishop’s counsel, and that I should have remained celibate my whole life. She told me that homosexuality was wrong and that it just doesn’t fit into Heavenly Father’s plan. In tears she shouted that God does not change, and that there is no way that the church can ever accept homosexuality. She insisted that people are not born gay, but that it comes from Satan.
I totally understand the grief and pain my daughter is experiencing because of the end of her parent’s marriage. From her words, it became very apparent to me that much of her pain was coming from a dissonance between church teachings and the reality of same-sex orientation. Her own father is same-sex oriented, yet there is no place in the church’s plan of salvation for me. Either I am lying, or the church is wrong. I assured her that I am not lying about being gay — why would anyone lie about that?
This presents a significant doctrinal dilemma for the church that is not sustainable. One of the reasons that same-sex marriage is banned in the church is because it is claimed to be a counterfeit that will not bring exaltation. Exaltation is reserved for those who enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, which is currently reserved for only opposite sex couples. However, the prescribed celibacy for gay members also does not bring exaltation. Only those who are sealed to someone of the opposite sex can be exalted and attain the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Therefore, lifelong celibacy should be considered just as counterfeit and evil as same-sex marriage, because under the church’s current hetero-normative interpretation of gospel doctrine, neither can result in exaltation. It is therefore damning to the souls who practice either.
With this current interpretation, the only doctrinally sound counsel church leaders can give for gay members is to marry someone of the opposite sex. I am not advocating that the church return to promoting opposite-sex marriage as a cure for homosexuality, but I am only pointing out the dilemma. Clearly there must be a better path for gay members to exaltation than marrying someone of the opposite sex. It is this dissonance that is causing my daughter a lot of emotional pain right now, because she knows how opposite-sex marriage in our family has ended in disaster for all of us.
One way that some church leaders attempt to resolve this dilemma is by making the claim that if gay members remain celibate and keep their covenants, that at some future day beyond the grave, they will be cured of their homosexual degeneracy. They will become heterosexual and be able to eventually be sealed to someone of the opposite sex, and thus attain exaltation. However, the Proclamation on the Family itself promotes the idea that gender and sexuality are eternal characteristics. The concept of having one’s sexuality changed in the afterlife is contradictory to this doctrine. In addition, this is a dangerous teaching, as it unintentionally urges gay members to commit suicide. Many would rather end their lives than face a life of celibacy and struggling against their sexual orientation. I am certain that for these reasons the church no longer promotes this line of thinking, and all references to this teaching have been removed from church publications.
In my opinion, the only doctrinally sound position the church can take on this subject is to encourage all members to live the law of chastity, which is defined in the temple as abstaining from sexual relations outside of marriage. All members, both gay and straight, should be encouraged to remain celibate until marriage. Gay members who do not feel able to live lifelong celibacy should not be expected to. The Savior himself taught that celibacy should be a personal life choice, and only those who feel they are able to live celibacy should take that upon themselves (see Matthew 19:12). Individuals who do not feel they can live a celibate life should be encouraged to enter into a loving, stable, and committed same-sex marriage. It is far better to keep the law of chastity within the bonds of marriage than to lead a life of promiscuity outside of marriage.
If what I have described here was actual church practice, my daughter would have been spared so much of the pain she is feeling right now. The lives of countless people would have been spared similar suffering. Thousands of people who have left the church because of this issue would have remained in the church. Numerous potential converts who turned away the missionaries because of this issue would have embraced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and swelled the ranks of church membership around the world.
I continue to look forward to the day that “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (9th Article of Faith) will be revealed concerning the place of gay members in the church and the plan of salvation. When this further light and knowledge is received, we will see an end to an era of suffering and the doctrinal dilemma of same-sex orientation.