The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a press conference this morning affirming their support for LGBT rights in housing and employment. This was significant in many ways, not the least of which is that Elder Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the church who has spoken in vigorous opposition to gay marriage, used the acronym “LGBT” in describing the gay community. Church officials usually tend to address gay issues by relying on the term “same-sex attraction,” a description that tries to delineate between gay people and gay desires. I’ve always interpreted that as a signal that “same-sex attraction” should be viewed as an external affliction or disease that can be overcome with adequate treatment. Acknowledging that someone is gay, on the other hand, concedes that sexual orientation is a fundamental part of who someone is, and it can no more be changed than someone’s height or the color of their eyes. This strikes me as a self-evident truth, as I have yet to meet any human being who has ever made a conscious decision as to which gender they will find sexually attractive.
When an apostle acknowledges, then, that there are such things as “LGBT issues” rather than “same-sex attraction issues,” he is subtly affirming that the Church now rejects the affliction/disease premise, which is a significant and positive step. Indeed, over the past few years, there have been multiple acknowledgments of this truth by church leaders in a variety of forums, and while they may not be revolutionary, they clearly demonstrate movement in the direction of greater acceptance of gay Latter-day Saints.
The question, then, is how many more steps is the church willing to take.
It’s hard to believe that this is as far as we’re going to go. The debate over gay marriage, at least from a legal standpoint, is over. Gay marriage won. It is not going away. It is only a matter of time, and not very much time, before gay marriage is legal in all fifty states and in most countries across the world. At this point, debating whether or not it should be legal is a bit like debating whether or not we should privatize the fire department. Even if you have cogent arguments that fire departments ought not be publicly funded, no one is going to listen to you. Gay marriage opponents in the public arena are discovering that their position is increasingly anachronistic, and they will soon have no choice but to move on. For my part, I think everyone ought to focus on adapting to the new reality rather than trying to bring back the old one. That includes the church.
But applying this principle to our church creates a whole slew of problems that are unique to Mormon theology.
Most gay rights advocates will be satisfied with nothing short of the Church’s full acknowledgment of homosexuality as completely equal to heterosexuality, and they yearn for the day when two men or two women can be sealed for time and all eternity in a Latter-day Saint temple and be granted all the same blessings or promises given to straight couples. But for this to happen, both theology and biology will have to cooperate. So far, neither has proven willing to budge.
Acceptance of gay marriage has coincided with increased acceptance of gay parenting. If “Modern Family” has taught us anything, it’s that a gay couple can raise children just as well as their dysfunctional straight counterparts can. But the fact remains that a straight couple can make children, and a gay couple can’t. That’s not a bigoted plot to deny gay people their rights; that’s simple biology. And, at least on this score, biology is homophobic.
Mormon theology is built on the premise that the greatest joys of both time and eternity are to be derived from family bonds. The following quote from the Doctrine and Covenants puts this in very simple terms:
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
This whole idea of “increase” ties into the doctrine that we believe all people to be the literal sons and daughters of heavenly parents. Just as we have a mother and father here on earth whose union created our physical bodies, so we have a Heavenly Mother and Father whose union created our spirits. We are promised that those who inherit the Father’s kingdom will have the opportunity to create spirit children of their own. This has been the subject of much mockery from critics of the church who, in the words of the anti-Mormon film “The Godmakers,” argue that this condemns Mormon women to being “eternally pregnant,” complete with endless eons of bloating and morning sickness. I think that’s a crass assumption that presupposes that there are no differences in the experience of mortals and immortals.
But it’s also true that we don’t know what those differences are.
If the church were to follow the lead of the world and conclude that gay marriage is exactly the same as straight marriage, then they would be saying that gender will not be an obstacle in the creation of spirit children the way it is now in the creation of physical children. That would require us to ignore the precedent of mortal biology altogether and drastically change how we understand our relationship to our Heavenly Father.
To many, this may seem silly to even be talking about any of this. By raising these kinds of objections, I open myself up to the criticism that I’m hiding behind piety to justify my bigotry. I don’t think that’s what I’m doing, but I have to consider the possibility that I’m wrong, which I frequently am.
So, given the caveat that I’m probably an idiot, I will say that I think the church’s current position on homosexuality, while more laudable than what it was, is still untenable in the long run. Even if we can’t take as many steps as the world wants us to, I believe there are still more steps to be taken.
When I was growing up, I was told that my biological reaction to the opposite sex was normal and natural, but I still had to essentially ignore it, even when my hormonally-charged body wasn’t letting me think of anything else. But, not to worry, the day would come when I would get married, and the feelings I’d been suppressing throughout my adolescence would finally have a righteous outlet.
Gay Mormons used to be told their feelings were the result of their bad choices, but now the church is teaching them the same message they taught me, but with one crucial difference. Yes, we now recognize gay people’s feelings are normal and natural and not the result of any inherent wickedness on their part, but we still maintain there is absolutely no righteous outlet for them. If you want to remain a Latter-day Saint, those feelings must be suppressed and ignored throughout your entire life.
And in the meantime, your straight friends get to have marriages and families, and you will either have to marry someone to whom you are not sexually attracted or else walk through this world utterly alone. I don’t think it should surprise us when gay Mormons review those unpleasant options and decide that there is more happiness for them to be found outside the boundaries of the church.
So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I don’t think our theology will ever let us ignore all differences between gay and straight marriages. But I think the answer is somewhere to be found in that idea of a “righteous outlet.” I can’t say what that would be, and I think it will probably take a revelation to be able to define it. We’re certainly not there yet, but I think we’re moving in that direction.