Thursday, March 28, 2013

Response to Greg--The Role of Government in Marriage Equality

The primary area where I believe Greg has gone wrong in the role of the federal government and marriage equality is that he has defined marriage equality as an issue of morality rather than as one of liberty. His primary premise is that government should not have a place in determining morality. It is because I agree with him that I support marriage equality. In fact, it is in the status quo, where homosexuals are denied marriage equality, that the government is mandating morality.

Greg begins his response by claiming that "it is not the place of institutions of the federal government to prescribe laws regarding individual morality." The question is not whether or not the government has a role in mandating morality, but whether or not the government ought to recognize multiple moral systems. I agree with Greg that "the government is not the arbiter of morality," and so I stand against definitions of marriage as being between a man and a woman and disagree with the Defense of Marriage Act. These constitute a government arbitration of morality.

If the court were to strike down Proposition 8, it would not be a mandate that everyone be forced to believe that homosexual marriages are valid, moral, or correct. It is not a judgment of morality, but rather a declaration that all, regardless of their moral beliefs on the issue, are equal before the law, as guaranteed in the 5th and 14th amendments to the constitution.

Greg argues that "ANY type of marriage amendment or Congressional law regarding the definition of marriage would be legally odious" (emphasis added.) And so my question is this: by that same declaration, are not amendment and acts that define marriage as being between a man and a woman then legally odious? Recognition of same-sex marriages forces no one to redefine their individual definitions or beliefs concerning marriage. It has nothing to do with the arbitration of morality. In recognizing same-sex marriage, no one is forced to do anything immoral. It merely opens up room for differing views on morality, which ought to be conducive to a society in which, as Greg claims, "the government is not the arbiter of morality."

After some explaining, Greg says that "to a certain degree, marriage is sanctioned and regulated by the legal system, and rightly so." Here he is completely denying his former claim that government should have no place in arbitrating morality, because while equal recognition of same-sex marriages by the state inhibits no one from acting on their moral beliefs, denying or banning same-sex marriage recognition by the state denies the rights and benefits associated with marriage on moral grounds. If you are going to make the argument that government ought not to arbitrate on morality, then the libertarian conclusion that the state should have no role whatsoever in either heterosexual or homosexual marriage seems much more logically consistent than the conclusion that marriage "rightly" "sanctioned and regulated" "to a certain degree."

In his explanation of why marriage is regulated, Greg explains that "equality of protection and guarantee of individual rights does not entitle every individual to all legal statuses, protections, and titles possibly enjoyed by an individual or other social unit." I absolutely agree. Equality of protection does not guarantee all possible legal statuses to everyone. This point, however, is moot as it is a complete red herring. No one is arguing that all possible political statuses should be granted to everyone. And so the question is not general, but specific: why is it that recognized status of marriage and its entailed rights and protections granted only to heterosexual and not to homosexual couples (of course not covering here the perhaps more important question of what gives the state the right to grant statuses, privileges, and protections in the first place). Greg's specific argument is that the current legal definition of marriage is a contract between a man and a woman (which seems to me to be a legal moral mandate of the sort we ought to oppose).

Greg gives three reasons as to why this legal definition ought to endure, all of which are either irrelevant to the question at hand or in direct contradiction to his own premises. The three reasons he provides are "the propagation of the species, correct socialization of children, and morality promoted via families..." The first point, as to the propagation of the species, is completely irrelevant to the question at hand. The legalization of same-sex marriage will have no impact on the propagation of the species, because homosexual individuals will continue to be homosexual either way, and heterosexual unions will continue either way. Marriage equality is simply the recognition of unions that are already taking place. This will not impact the propagation of the species. This point is completely irrelevant. Any degree of research will show that homosexual unions are not new and have existed throughout history, and yet the species continues to propagate. A much more persuasive argument is that economic development slows down the propagation of the species as families in developed countries have far fewer children than those in developing nations. If the continuation of the species is our concern, perhaps a more apt target would be modernization and economic growth, and not homosexual unions. As for the "correct socialization" of children, this argument presupposes that the government's role is to mandate what this correct socialization ought to be. The multiplicity of cultures and sub-cultures within the United States necessitates an argument already established at the beginning, when Greg so succinctly states that the "government is not the arbiter of morality." As for morality being promoted via families, I believe that the subject of children raised in families of same-sex couples deserves its own post, so lets put that to the side for now. Though I will say that it is unfair to call my argument, which is also backed up by research and studies, "naive and ultimately very weak." The only actual evidence he cited was the effects of divorce. Divorce is the exact opposite of same sex marriage, and so I don't quite see the relevance. I will address this in my next post.

Greg fundamentally misunderstands the issues at hand when he argues that "to suggest that the legal "title" of marriage is essential for the pursuit of happiness even when same sex couples are allowed to be together and enjoy equal rights and protection under the law is to have a rather shallow view of happiness." The argument at hand has very little to do with happiness and the supposedly "shallow views" thereof (this coming from a religious tradition that teaches marriage is necessity for eternal happiness), and more to do with justice, liberty, and equity. 

My argument can be summarized succinctly: I agree that the role of the government is not to arbitrate morality, and so it ought to expand its recognition of different views of morality instead of only recognizing unions legitimized by one moral system.

The deep irony is that in arguing the government should not arbitrate on morality, those in opposition to marriage equality are actually upholding a moral arbitration.


I need to clarify some things. I think my rhetoric towards the end of my last post came off as very offensive to a lot of people, and for that I apologize. When I say that "doing as you're told" is not a sufficient enough reason to follow the prophet, I by no means am saying that any given member follows the prophet for that reason alone. There are a host of reasons beyond just doing as you're told to follow the prophet. And most of them are very respectable. I have deep respect for the Brethren and for people who follow what they say. All I'm saying is that I don't believe that one reason (of just obedience) is sufficient to follow them, for the reasons I outlined in my post. And I have to make it clear that if you disagree with me, I'm fine with that. I don't mean to offend people, merely to make the case of why I think the way I do.

Many responses (both here on my blog, on facebook, and through private messages) displayed exactly one point I was trying to make: that people have a deep, emotional connection to the infallibility of the prophet, and when you question certain policies and practices, people often react emotionally. The reason I think this is a problem is because there are many ways to interpret Mormonism. Many people find themselves in a position where they no longer agree with the all-or-nothing narrative of the infallibility of prophets, but still believe that there's more to the church than the explanation given by people who believe Joseph Smith was a fraud. I advocate for these people's position, and believe that they should not be ostracized by such emotional reactions.

Secondly, I would like to clarify that my argument is concerning the legalization of same sex marriage and about marriage equality within society. I am not arguing in my post that the church should change its beliefs about the morality of same-sex marriage--rather that I disagree with its position about same sex marriage in society. The former is a completely different argument all together. Many people responded to me privately, and a few publicly, as if I were making that argument. For example, Justin Hume responded to my suggestion of heterosexuals reflecting on the nature of their own marriage to ponder on the extent to which commitment plays a role in marriage that the commitment is found in Celestial marriage, which homosexuals cannot have. This, however, is ignoring the fact that temple marriages are the vast minority of marriages within society, and this argument is a society-level argument, and not specific to church doctrines, but rather the policies concerning the legalization of same-sex marriage.

I very much appreciate Greg's thoughtful reply. He did an excellent job of explaining why he disagrees with me and takes the position he does. Over the next few days I am going to respond to his arguments one at a time, beginning with his views on the role of government in determining marriage equality.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Morality, Mormonism, and Marriage Equality

Opposition to marriage equality never quite made much sense to me. In high school I vacillated back and forth between supporting gay marriage rights and opposing them. In 2008 when I heard that the church was lobbying for Proposition 8 in California, I decided that my deference for the leadership of the church ought to outweigh my personal concerns on the subject. Since that time, I have completely, and happily, changed my opinion on the subject. In fact, I find that opposition to marriage equality, while nominally based on the support of family values, is actually harming families and doing more to erode the basis of a family-centered society than gay marriage ever has. In order to examine why, we need to take a look at the relationship between church teachings and morality as well as what family values even mean.

Popular culture within Mormonism has elevated the words of the Brethren to a status of infallibility. While people nominally say we ought to question their teachings, anyone who, after questioning, comes up with answers different than the Brethren are looked down upon and feared. Generally people seem to me to feel that if prayer doesn't yield the results we feel it ought to, the only explanation is that the person is not praying right. I deeply disagree. I stand that someone can disagree with the Brethren, and still be a faithful member of the church. And I believe that the aura of infallibility that surrounds the leaders of the church presents an even greater danger than questioning.

When our system of morality is downgraded to simply "do as you're told," we give up our own moral conscience. Particularly disgusting is the blaming of past inequities on God. I've hardly had a conversation about the pre-1978 ban on blacks holding the priesthood in which someone hasn't mentioned that God's wisdom is beyond ours and we cannot comprehend his ways. I refuse to believe that denying equality has ever or will ever be part of the ways of a God who "is love." The 2013 edition of the scriptures changes the explanation of the official declaration in which priesthood rights are extended to all worthy men regardless of color to say that the teaching that black people  couldn't hold the priesthood was merely a policy and that we're not sure how it crept in. It was not revealed by God. It was the mistakes of men. And yet we are so staunchly unapologetic that we blame our mistakes on the "wisdom of God" instead of taking responsibility.

Morality has to be something more than simply doing as one is told. If it were mere deference to religious leaders, then any member of the church who supported the abolition of slavery in 1852 when Brigham Young advocated its legalization in the state of Utah would be morally wrong in their advocacy. To find a moral qualm with the teachings or practices of the church does not mean that one has to cease believing in the divinity of the church. It merely confirms the scriptural declaration that we are wrong when we believe that "all is well in Zion."

Families are sacred for reasons far more substantive than executive mandate. To truly appreciate and advocate for families, we must understand the reasons behind their sacred nature. Is it simply the gender of the parents that determines the sanctity of a family? Is gender the essential factor in determining whether or not a relationship can be given the status of marriage? I argue that to believe so is, in reality, to undermine the true value of families and marriage relationships. There is something deeper that defines our relationships than simple biology.

The essential element that defines marriages and families is not gender identity or sexual orientation, but commitment. The familial ties between a single mother and her child are not related to gender, but to commitment. The loving bonds between parents and their adopted child have nothing to do with biology, but to do with commitment. The essential element that makes a family sacred and endows it with the power that Mormonism describes as saving is neither gender identity nor sexual orientation, but the loving bonds of commitment that family members share for each other.

And the importance of extending marriage rights is that the public commitment acknowledged by the state that occurs in marriage has been shown to increase the commitment between partners. Studies have shown that there is no difference in children raised by heterosexual and homosexual married couples, but that there is a difference in children raised in homes with no marriage commitment. Legalizing gay marriage will increase family values and family commitment throughout society, not decrease it. I think that heterosexual couples should reflect on their own relationship and ask this question--is the nature of your relationship more defined by your partner's gender, or by the commitment you share together? The extent to which your commitment reaches beyond gender is the extent to which you ought to support marriage equality.

In addition, qualifying family values with the adjective "traditional" hardly adds legitimacy to the argument. The traditional family was one in which the woman was treated as property and the utility of a child was either in its hereditary capacities or the economic value of its labor. In addition, traditions differ across cultures and civilizations. "Traditional marriage" definitively includes same-sex marriage for Native Americans, while including polygamous, polyandrous, and polyamorous relationships for a host of other cultures. In fact, the transformation of marriage from an economic union to one of love and commitment has largely been a product of the past two hundred years of popular culture. Modern heterosexual marriage is anything but traditional.

When marriage becomes something more to do with biology than compassion and as defined more by the physical characteristics of the persons involved than the nature of their feelings and commitments for one another, then the true, sanctifying power of marriage is trivialized. Opposition to marriage equality undermines the importance of marriage in a way more powerful than gay rights activists have ever approached to doing. And thus lies the deep irony that the defense of "family values" in opposition to marriage equality is actually undermining the very values claimed to be espoused.

This is perhaps a controversial argument, but it's one we need to face and reconcile. We need to be more thoughtful than simply doing as we are told. To do so is to place our own moral agency in the hands of others.

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Need for Change

Two years and a few months ago I was a missionary in the Isle of Capri ward in Goldcoast, Australia. In my first few weeks in the area, my companion and I attended a Priesthood Correlation in the meeting that really touched me. The Bishop, Daniel Shine, was an incredibly compassionate man, and he was discussing with the needs of individual members of the ward and how the ward leadership could go about helping them. The love in the room was tangible. There were multiple points where I was nearly moved to tears. It was obvious to me that these men cared deeply about the people in their ward, and were willing to do almost anything for them.

I've always been deeply impressed by the love that exists within the LDS church. And in many ways, church doctrine creates a cultural attitude that motivates people to lend a helping hand and to do good for those around them. Because of the deep respect I have for the people, I want to approach this post carefully. Since publishing my post last Tuesday, I've received so many loving, supporting messages from people. But I fear that in my last post I may have concentrated too much on the history of my own pain in regards to homosexuality and the church, and not enough on my purpose and what I hope to gain by sharing my story.

The Mormon community has a unique historical and current standing in the world of religious thought. Scars of its long history of being sharply criticized, violently attacked, and driven from place to place have a continuing impact on the way many members talk about and approach church doctrine and culture. There's an inherent defensiveness within Mormonism. Criticism evokes deep feelings and emotions, and there is a tendency in rhetoric to emphasize the positive aspects of the culture and to avoid anything that could be perceived as negative. There's also, sadly, a certain unapologetic aura and an unwillingness to apologize for past mistakes.

It's because of this cultural reality that I feel the need to clarify my love for the church and its culture before discussing the needed changes. I am very well aware that committees like the one I attended in the Isle of Capri ward meet weekly in wards across the world and do an incredible job of reaching out and helping those in need. But I'm also aware that "all is not well in Zion," and that things rarely change if we do not discuss them. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray that "each of us has heaven and hell in him." It's true of the church and its culture as well. I want it to be very clear that in pointing out the "hell" I am by no means ignoring the "heaven."

I mentioned in my last post about how when I first began to seriously research homosexuality and the church the thing that was most shocking to me was the amount of suicides and depression among LGBT members of the church. The greatest cause of death for Utahns aged 15-24 isn't drugs, alcohol, or disease. It's suicide. 89% of these early deaths are males. One third of these men are homosexuals. This means that LGBT people are the single largest group of suicides. Church News also reported that about a third of suicides among youth in the church can be attributed to "gender identity issues." Consider this-- any father, brother, son, or friend you have throughout the church is over 6 times more likely to commit suicide if he is gay (something you may not know if he is closeted, which is most likely) (most of this information came from a paper written by my good friend, Derek. You can check out his blog here). The Family Proclamation was absolutely correct in declaring that "gender is an essential characteristic." So essential, in fact, that when LGBT people try to deny the way they experience their gender identity and sexual orientation, the results are all too often deep anxiety, life-altering depression, and death.

And the factors that create this reality are still continuing. About 40% of Salt Lake City's large homeless youth population identify as LGBT. Many of them were kicked out of their homes when they came out. In the past, church rhetoric emphasized that it was better to die clean than to live unclean; Bruce R. McConkie, for example, taught youth that their parents would rather see them "come back home in a pine box with [their] virtue than return alive without it." Unfortunately, many have taken this teaching (which I regard as one of Mormonism's more harmful) a little too far, feeling that they would rather have their children leave than be gay. And far too many LGBT Mormon youth feel that they would rather take their own lives than continue to live with the constant pressures to conform to a system with which they feel incompatible.

With such astounding numbers, it seems to me to be a systemic problem. When the word "gay" is commonly used as a synonym for "stupid" instead of a respectful adjective to describe how a significant portion of humanity experiences their lives, it's indicative of cultural problems that need to be addressed and changed. It's countless how many comments I've heard among friends and at church in which homosexuals are portrayed as the paragon of wickedness and as an exemplification of idiocy. Unbeknownst to the speaker, the object of their derision can often be found in the untold identities of their siblings, parents, and friends. We need to take a close look at what our system and culture are producing, and ask ourselves whether or not the product is consistent with our values.

The answer should be an emphatic no. For a people whose call is to "mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort," we seem to be doing a marvelous job of pushing the issue to the side. Most times I've heard homosexuality mentioned in church, it has only been to warn of the dangers of legalizing gay marriage and the threat that it supposedly poses to society. I once asked another gay Mormon friend about whether or not he had told his parents that he was gay, and he responded that he had. And then with pain in his eyes, he quickly added, "but they never want to talk about it." Tears almost came to my eyes, because I had experienced the same thing with individuals I've told in the past. And that can be one of the most difficult parts of it all--not only that there is ignorance about the subject, but that there is an active ignoring of its discussion. And so my message is that we need to listen and learn instead of mindlessly perpetuating the cultural prejudices of the past. We need to truly wonder about the life experiences of people before we make a judgment as to whether or not what they are doing is wicked and destroying our society.

"Coming out" shouldn't be as difficult as it is for people in our culture. It's because of societal pressures and the way people think and talk about the issue that it's difficult and awkward.

We need to be what we claim we are--namely disciples of Christ who understand that inasmuch as we marginalize 5-10% of the population and create an atmosphere that so divests them of hope that taking their lives seems to them to be the best option, we are doing it to Him. Inasmuch as we are using words that describe their lives to mean "stupid" and "less than," we are doing it to him. As long as we are treating their experiences lightly, we are treating Him lightly.

So let's create a new atmosphere in regards to homosexuality and Mormonism. Let's create an atmosphere in which open dialogue can take place. Let's create an environment where people are not afraid to share such deep parts of themselves with the people that they love most. Let's create a system and a culture where the products are compassion and peace instead of ignorance and fear. Let's be mindful of the words we use and the effects they have on others. Let's truly mourn with those that mourn and feel their pain as our own.

This is my message: that the way church members talk about and approach homosexuality, and especially within Utah culture, needs to change. The many lost lives necessitate it. And the change begins by thinking and talking about it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Coming Out

Yesterday I sat down with one of my professors to talk about economic history. After briefly discussing the decline of the Netherlands in the mid 18th century, he paused and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said that I didn't know, and we discussed the possibilities of a graduate degree in economic history. I told him that I was interested in China because I served a Chinese speaking mission, and then he paused. "You're obviously Mormon," he said matter-of-factly. And then in an equally frank tone, he said, "and you're gay." I was shocked. How did he know? I quickly thought through everyone I knew that also knew him and wondered who had told him. I asked him how he knew, and he said that he had guessed. I was pretty shocked, because I didn't think it was all that obvious.

And that got me thinking. This random professor that I've only known for a few months knows more about me than many of my friends and extended family members. After doing a little pondering, I decided that it was time to come out-- to really come out of my closet once and for all and advocate openly for LGBT people. Hearing that I'm gay is probably surprising to many. It may even be shocking to a few people, and then there are probably lots of people who saw it coming. I'll endeavor today to tell my story the best I can, but first I want to say why I'm doing this.

I often hear people say that it bothers them when people come out publicly on Facebook. It's their own business, people say, and they shouldn't feel obligated to share it with the world. But I do feel obligated. And not because I think that my sexual orientation is anyone else's business, but rather because I am continually shocked at the brutality of our culture. Writing this blog post and publishing it on my Facebook page is my way of inviting everyone I know to reconsider the way they think about this issue and to please reconsider the way they talk about it. Estimates differ, but somewhere between 5-10% of the population is homosexual. That means that if there are 300 people in your ward, somewhere between 15 and 30 of them exclusively experience attraction to people of the same sex. They're scattered through your priesthood quorums, relief society groups, and sacrament meetings. And more often than not, things are said that are hurtful, simply because of ignorance. 

So now that I've explained why I'm doing this, let's move on to my story.

The first time I ever heard the word "gay" was at school. I figured it meant something along the lines of "stupid" or "dumb." One day I decided to call my sister gay because of something she did, and she kind of freaked out. It was explained to me that the word was filled with far more meaning than just "stupid." It meant, in fact, that two boys or two girls liked each other in the same way boys and girls were supposed to like each other. And it was very bad. And so, like many others, I built up an automatic emotional response to the concept of "gay." It was bad. It wasn't right. It was disgusting.

You can imagine how terrifying it must have been when I first started feeling sexually attracted to boys. All I could think of was how awful, terrible, and evil it was. The first time I really noticed was at my first scout camp. There were lifeguards that were a lot older than us, and they would stand by the water all day. Whenever we went to swim, I would steal glances at them. At first I didn't think anything of it, but the more I looked at them, the more I realized something was weird about it. It wasn't until a few months later, however, that I first connected those feelings to sexual attraction. It was close to the beginning of eighth grade, and I had met a boy in one of my classes that gave me those same feelings. Then Tuesday night for scouts, we went swimming at the local swimming pool. That boy was there. Seeing him and feeling those feelings all over again, it dawned on me what was happening. This was how I was supposed to be feeling for girls. Tears came to my eyes, and I began in my head the silent mantra of "I'm not gay. I'm not gay. I'm not gay." I couldn't be gay. Because to me, these feelings were evil. It was bad to be gay.

It's impossible for me to explain in one post exactly what life was like for me in middle school and in high school. I don't mean to elicit pity, but to raise awareness of what it's like for LGBT people to grow up in a straight world. It's demolishing. You believe deeply that there is something irreconcilably wrong with you, because the reality you're taught to expect and the reality you experience are completely different, and the chasm that separates them is filled with a dissonance that makes you question the very purpose of it all. I can't just hand to you an understanding of what it was like to wake up every morning and go to school knowing that everyone around me had something that I could never have or experience and wanted so badly. But I know that everyone has deep pain, and I'm not so naive as to think that mine is any greater that anyone else's. But it's different. And expressing the differences in the way we experience life is important.

Of course, there were moments of light throughout it all. And I did learn to rely on God and to turn to Christ, and I'm very grateful for that. For such a long time I always wished that I could just go back and relive my life without being attracted to men, but there came a point when I realized that my pain had shaped the person I was, and I became grateful for it. I would never erase what I've been through.

My senior year of high school was especially hard. There was one night where I was driving home on a bus from a school activity, and I was completely consumed by it all. I couldn't stop thinking about how unlikely it was that I would ever get married, and how miserable it seemed to stare deeply into the abyss of a celibate life. I didn't want to spend my life alone, but it seemed that I would have to. 

The most common approach of LGBT people within the church is to increase personal righteousness as an effort to change their orientation. That's the approach I took for a long time. I thought, if I can just read my scriptures enough... if I can just pray without ceasing... if I can just be as righteous as possible, then God would surely take it away. There was a time during my senior year when I decided to fast once a week until the attractions would go away. They never did. And try as I might, I couldn't feel anything for girls.

The night we graduated from high school was one of the hardest nights, emotionally, I'd ever had. High school had ended. The rest of my life was staring me in the face. And I didn't want to face my problems. I wanted to run away from them. I wanted for them to go away and never come back. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't escape myself.

I left on my mission six months later. And I was so excited to leave. I loved my mission. I loved the people and the diverse experiences. I loved sharing with people that they mattered and helping them with their problems. But I was still ever haunted by the seeming demon of my attractions to men. I became so hopeful on my mission that everything would work out--that I would be able to come home and get married and have a family. Whenever it all became too much to bear, I would retreat into my imaginations of a future life freed from the ever-present attractions to men where I could be free to live the life I'd always been taught was the only right way to be.

In the first six months after being home from my mission, I tried so hard to like girls. I tried to date. But it I couldn't force something I didn't feel. Dates felt awkward, forced, and most of all, it felt like I was lying. I thought, maybe if I just find the right person I'll finally be able to feel something. But I still just felt empty and like I wasn't good enough--like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I did my best to bury my thoughts and feelings, but my thoughts and feelings wouldn't be buried. They wouldn't leave me alone.

It all came crashing down on me one Sunday afternoon. I was on a train ride with my incredible friend, Kelsey White, travelling from Beijing to Qingdao in China. I was listening to a General Conference talk, and suddenly I slid into a deep depression. All I could think about was how frustrated I was with my life and how I didn't want to live the rest of my life alone. The next night, Kelsey and I stayed up late into the night on the beach at Qingdao talking, and I told her everything (the picture at the top was taken that night). There was a moment when Kelsey off-handedly referred to me as gay, and I loudly protested. I couldn't identify as gay, because in my heart "gay" still meant "evil," "wrong," "not good enough."

The next few days, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It weighed on me more and more. And then one night in my hotel room, I stumbled on the BYU "It Gets Better" video. There's a part when one of them says that he finally stopped praying for it to go away, and asked God if he was meant to be that way, and he describes the peace that he felt. I burst into tears, and I felt that familiar warm, glowing feeling of deep peace that I'd come to recognize as God communicating to me. And so I prayed, and I asked God if I was okay the way I was. And I felt deeply that God was saying, resoundingly, yes. That he had created me this way for a reason, and that I was okay and that everything would be okay.

I finally felt at peace with who I was. But I was not at peace with the world around me. I started imagining telling my parents, my family, my friends, and it was just too much for me to handle. I spent my time in China deeply depressed and not able to stop thinking about it.

I came back and started an intensive semester, and largely put the problems to the side for awhile. About five weeks later, however, I left with a group of classmates to Europe, and suddenly had time again to be with my thoughts. And that trip in Europe was the lowest time for me. I felt like each day there was a thudding pain all around me manifesting my deep fear that if the people around me knew who I was, they would never accept me. My deepest fear was still that I was somehow woefully flawed and deeply inadequate. Thankfully, I was with an amazing group of people, and many of them noticed what was happening and reached out to me, proving me completely wrong. But I knew that something was wrong, and that if I was going to live a healthy life, something needed to change.

A few weeks after getting home from Europe, I read an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled "Self-Reliance." It completely changed my life. The essay is about emotional self-reliance and the need to be at peace with yourself and to live honestly and integrally. There was one paragraph that changed the way I approached my problem. Emerson wrote about how we often use our good deeds as apologies to make up for the bad things we've done or for some deep inadequacy we believe about ourselves. And then he said "my life is not an apology, but a life." It dawned on me that for so long, I had been living an apology. I was apologizing to the world for something that I never chose. And I decided it was time to change that. I wanted to live a life, not an apology. After lots of pondering and prayer, I felt like I needed to start telling people. And so I came out to my closest friends and my family, and I was surprised at how supportive and helpful they were.

During this same time, and especially over the winter break, I began to do lots of research into the church and the history of its policies and practices towards homosexuality. I became aware of a deep problem in cultural attitudes, past and current policies, and certain doctrines. What shocked me the most was the high suicide rates among LGBT youth in the church. I was frankly disgusted by the way church leaders had approached the issue in the past. And so I began the process of deeply questioning everything that I had assumed.

This process of questioning has been painful, but enlightening, and I feel happier and more at peace than I've ever been. As I've reached out, I've discovered that I'm not alone. In fact, mine is one of the better stories I've heard. There are so many whose pain was so great that they ended their own lives. There are others whose families have completely rejected them (do a little bit of research about homeless gay teens in Salt Lake City, and you'll know what I mean). There are so many who don't have the incredible family and friends that I do.

I first had the idea of writing this blog post about four or five months ago. It came to me as I was praying and pondering about what I should do with my life, and I felt deeply like I needed to write this and share this message, because there are so many people out there in our community who are struggling with this on their own. And I've been there; I know how deeply painful it is. And I want to do my part to reach out to them and let them know that they are most emphatically not alone in this. And I want to invite everyone to question your assumptions about homosexuality and religion. The picture is so much more complicated and nuanced than it appears in dialogue among members of the church. Please get to know the lives of the people you are talking about before you prescribe what they ought to do or say hurtful things.

I'm going to keep writing on this blog. This is probably the only post I'll publish to Facebook unless there's a message I really want for people to see, but feel free to follow it if you're interested in future posts. 

I've hardly been able to say everything I'd like to say. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask. And if anyone reads this who's struggling themselves with these issues, whether because you're gay or because you have a family member or friend who is, please don't go through it alone. There are so many people out there who care. And I'm more than willing to talk to anyone who needs someone to talk with.

And that's pretty much all I have to say for now. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Families and Salvation

I'm currently in Washington D.C. with other students from my University, a few of whom I had never met before. Last night the topic of homosexuality and the church came up, and I quickly told them that I'm gay and disagree with the church's stance, and we had a really good and quite productive conversation about it on the metro on our way back to the hotel. As we left the metro, there was an older gay couple walking hand-in-hand, and I started thinking about gay relationships, families, and salvation.

Our conversation about homosexuality tonight started with talking about the Boy Scout controversy, and one of the guys said that he felt that homosexual relationships were contrary to family values, and so people in relationships with others of the same gender shouldn't be allowed into the leadership. That led me to question what exactly family values are, and we started talking about the nature and importance of families.Families are central to Mormon theology. They carry eternal significance because family relationships are saving relationships. There's something salvific about the family. 

So often in church we glorify the importance of families, but I don't think it's often enough that we examine carefully what it is about families that gives those relationships such power, potency, and relevance to our eternal destinies. What I'm going to endeavor to show in this post is that same gender relationships are not only in line with family values and partake of their saving power, but that opposition to same-sex marriage is actually harming the very values it's trying to protect.

The question at the heart of the point I'm endeavoring to make is as to the nature of the relationship between the gender of the parents and the saving power of family relationships. What is it that makes family relationships saving?

I posit that the saving quality of family relationships comes in the nature of the commitment that they entail. In Mormon theology, to be saved from sin is to become like God, and God is love. Family relationships teach us how to love each other in ways friendships aren't capable of doing. I would argue that commitment is central to the saving quality of families (if there's anything I'm missing here, feel free to bring it up.)

So the next question is this: what relationship does gender have in enabling commitments? If a family is defined by the commitment made by two people when they enter into the marriage, then in order for there to be a relevant difference in terms of salvation, gender needs to make a difference. The first point that comes to mind is procreation. It can be argued that if two individuals can procreate, then their children serve as a bond that enhances their commitment. But there are many heterosexual couples who can't procreate for a variety of reasons, and yet they are able to get married, and I assume that the commitment of their marriage still serves a spiritual purpose. There are also people who get married beyond the age of having children. Furthermore, countless people get divorced after having children. Procreation, therefore, does not serve as a unique enough argument for it to be an essential factor in the relationship between families and salvation. In addition, families that can't procreate biologically can still adopt, and both parents assume responsibility for the adopted child, creating the same obligations and commitments that exist in a biological family.

Gender, therefore, does not seem to be relevant to the salvific qualities of family relationships. If family values are those values that enhance commitment, and commitment does not necessitate certain genders, then I would argue that someone who espouses "family values" ought to espouse them everywhere, and not just in certain circumstances or instances. Opposition to same-sex marriage is opposition to same-sex commitment, and is therefore opposition to the fundamental quality essential to family relationships.
Many people also make the argument that men and women naturally complement each other in ways two men or two women cannot. I agree that men and women serve as great compliments to each other within marriage because of inherent differences. It must, however, be noted that there are distinct biological differences between straight men and gay men, and straight women and gay women (such as brain structure). If this is the case and their inherent qualities differ, then straight women do not necessarily complement gay men (or the other way around) the same way that they do in heterosexual relationships. 

So many people bring up God and His plan for families when they discuss gay marriage. Is God really so limited that He didn't make room for homosexual relationships in the eternities? I feel like the same God who made the rainforests and the galaxies is a God of deep complexity. He doesn't seem to me to be a God of black and white. Creating such a straight (no pun intended) plan where there is only one option for everyone doesn't seem to me to fit into the way he's always done things.

And so I think it's incumbent upon us to deeply question the nature of families and their role in the process of salvation. And I could be completely wrong and misguided on all of this, in which case I hope it's made clear to me where my mistake has been made. But to sum up my current view: the saving aspect of families is commitment. Gender is a non-essential part of commitment. Gender is, therefore, a non-essential part of the saving power of families.

Broken Lights

I took the name and URL of this blog from a few stanzas from Tennyson.

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, are more than they.

Perplext in faith but pure in deeds
At last he beat his music out
There lives more faith in honest doubt
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

These two stanzas have come to epitomize my views on Mormonism and religion in general throughout the process of coming to terms with my sexual orientation and attempting to reconcile my religious beliefs with my personal experience. I believe that the first step in approaching spiritual matters (and all matters, really) is to begin with recognizing the limits of our own understanding and questioning all of our assumptions about the world.

The motif of searching for truth is ever present in Mormon dialogue, but I am doubtful of how often it is actually pursued. Many seem to be satisfied with a few spiritual experiences, without really question deeply their assumptions on what those spiritual experiences mean or how they relate to their world view. I guess I can only speak for myself, and that was very much how I've approached faith in the past.

The problem with that method is that I've found it produces a lot of harms. I feel like a lot of church culture has become works-oriented and shame-producing. There are many negative harms to which we simply turn a blind eye rather than truly questioning our motivations, methods, and the consequences of our beliefs.

Our system, I believe, is a broken light. I believe that all institutionalized systems are. My purpose in this blog is to write through and express my thoughts about religion and spirituality, and especially about homosexuality and Mormonism. I love discussing, so if anyone disagrees or has anything to say, feel free to leave a comment or to contact me.

A New Blog

So I've decided to move from my anonymous blog to this one. The main purpose of this blog is to continue to record my evolving views on religion and spirituality, and primarily Mormonism and homosexuality. I'm excited to continue exploring these issues and discussing them with anyone who is interested. Hopefully I'll post regularly... but I'm not committing myself to anything : )