LDS Actions Against Marriage Equality
LDS Rhetoric on Homosexuality
An open letter to Richard Wilkins
by Joseph Dallin
The Mormon Church has taken an active political stance on same-sex marriage during the last decade. They have donated funds to such campaigns and urged their membership to vote against measures extending legal marriage rights to gay couples. Recently, the leadership of the church issued a statement in support of the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And now, as California voters are going to the polls to vote on Proposition 8, the church is at it again.
Richard Wilkins, a professor at church-owned Brigham Young University, runs a website devoted to this agenda. The following letter is my response to his project.
Dear Bishop Wilkins,
I'm sure you remember me, Joseph Dallin. You were my bishop in the Canyon View 4th Ward during my high school years. I took your daughter out on her first date.
I am writing you in an effort to foster some dialogue and understanding between you and the gay community, of which I am a part.
Maybe it comes as a surprise to you that I am a gay man. After all, last time we talked I was still a very active Mormon. I was a deacon's quorum president, a teacher's quorum president, and a seminary class president. I graduated from seminary with a 4.0 GPA. During the two years prior to my mission, I studied the scriptures for two and a half hours daily, believing that I should offer 2.4 hours per day (a "tithe" of my time) to the Lord. I went on a mission to Houston, Texas, where I served as a missionary trainer three times and a district leader for 21 of my 24 months. I baptized approximately 25 people. (The average number of baptisms per English-speaking missionary in that mission was four.) I don't mention that number to brag, but to demonstrate how seriously I took the church and my callings. After my mission, I was accepted to BYU and attended a semester at BYU-Jerusalem.
While growing up, the church was essentially my life. I couldn't possibly have been more devoted in heart, mind, and activity. But during all that time I also knew – deep down – that I was gay.
Changing from gay to straight was my number one priority from age 13 to 22. I can't calculate the thousands of hours I spent in prayer and the hundreds of meals I skipped in fasting, pleading with God for "normal" desires. Frustrated with my failure to attain such by the time I was 18 led me to believe that I had to give ALL I had to the Lord – that two and a half hours per day wasn't enough – and that I could only do that on as a full-time missionary. With perfect child-like faith, I began my mission with the sincerest belief that I would return home as a heterosexual. Of course, things didn't turn out that way and I returned home the same as when I left.
Perplexed, without any sense of belonging, encouragement or explanation from church leaders, I maintained a strained activity within the church. I explained the situation to my bishop, (the first time I had ever admitted my gayness to anyone), who suggested therapy. By pure coincidence, I found myself in the office of a psychologist who had actually participated in the dreadful, electro-shock "reparative therapy" program at BYU. Ironically, the first thing he said to me was: "You need to realize that these feelings will never change."
Antidepressants got me through some of the darkest days, but they were a "band-aid" solution to a mounting dilemma.
I soaked up anything and everything the church had ever said about homosexuality. And Bishop, it only left me feeling like a damned soul. A "menace to society," a "danger to the church" [Boyd K. Packer], a default "failure in the home" [David O. McKay], I came to believe that suicide would be the most honorable thing for me to do. I would martyr myself for the Kingdom rather than pose a threat to the church. I was convinced it was appropriate for my situation.
I took it to God in prayer, fully believing that He would confirm that what I felt was an inspired decision.
Imagine my surprise when, instead, I was overcome with a wave of love so powerful that I literally fell to the floor. That night, I gained the realization that my existence wasn't some cosmic mistake; that my sexuality wasn't a spiritual curse; that I was an important part of the human family. "It is not good for man to be alone," Mormon teachings had declared. In that moment of insight, I realized that I wasn't an exception to that blessing. Just like everyone else, I belonged.
Bishop, I bear witness to you that my life truly began that day. Never having known real happiness before, I came to accept the person I was, and was filled with a sense of contentment that I'd never felt. True spirituality came to me, as I was now able to be honest and authentic.
I come to you with my story not to challenge your beliefs, but to explain that what you are promoting with your "defendmarriage.org" website is destructive. Where I have since been filled with light, the notions that you are advocating had filled me with darkness and despair. The erroneous information on your website imparts either a perilous false hope or a bleak hopelessness for gay people and their families.
Fighting against marriage rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples is simply unfair. Additionally, the arguments on your website are circular and inconsistent with both church history and contemporary scientific articulation. Below are some examples:
Bishop, you aren't a psychologist or a psychiatrist; a biologist or a geneticist; a social worker or a sociologist. Presumably, you're not gay either. Yet the way you so authoritatively declare your arguments, coupled with your social status as a BYU professor and a former bishop may create a false sense of credibility in the eyes of your website readers who might otherwise shrug off your conjectures as the amateur opinions that they are.
Strong families have always been the essential foundation of every successful society. And for millennia, traditional marriage, defined as the union of a man and a woman, has been essential to the creation and protection of strong families.1
Brigham Young said:
Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire ... Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers.... (The Deseret News, August 6, 1862)
- You say:
[A]ctivist judges will certainly impose same sex marriage on us.1
In the same way early Mormons imposed polygamy on the rest of American society?
In reality, two men marrying each other has absolutely nothing to do with your household or your personal relationship with your wife. If it does, it's because you have chosen to make it your business.
- You say:
Governments and society have uniformly granted benefits and protections to men and women in marriage because of their biological potential to bear and effectively raise the next generation. Since homosexual relationships are based entirely on "feelings" and a particular type of sexual activity, rather than on producing and nurturing the next generation, legalizing same sex "marriages" would create a new standard by which a "right" to marry would be recognized.1
What about infertile couples? Should they be allowed to marry or not? What about aged couples past childbearing age? Interestingly, Utah state law allows first cousin marriage only in cases where the couples cannot procreate.2 Implicit in that law is a double standard in reference to your argument above. Gays can't marry because they can't have children; older first cousins can marry because they can't have children.
Additionally, I am reminded of an elderly couple in our ward who met through the obituaries of their deceased spouses. Already "sealed for eternity" to their previous partners, they married during the twilight of their lives only for "time," until they would be reunited at death with their original, eternal companions. For now, they had married each other purely for love and companionship. Why is that acceptable for them but not for gay and lesbian couples?
- You say:
…[T]he primary reason why homosexual activists are pushing to legalize same sex marriage is because it would constitute legal recognition of their sexual behavior…1
First of all, homosexual sex is already legal in the United States. More importantly here, stating that gays can only express feelings based on sexual activity, being incapable of the full experience of love, is an affront to our very humanity and a denial of the reality we experience.
- You say: if gay marriage were allowed…
We would then be opening the door to any kind of "marriage" which met this standard, such as letting any number of people "marry" each other, allowing close blood relatives to "marry," permitting adults to "marry" children, and so on.1
How so? Would Mormon polygamous marriage have had the same effect on society?
Is any gay couple promoting marriage between adults and children? I submit that you are resorting to imagined, groundless fear-mongering here to make your case. It is implausible to state that marriage between siblings or parents and children would logically follow the legitimization of gay marriage. In countries where same sex marriage has been allowed, has there emerged debate favoring other such unions? No.
- You say:
Studies show that the incidence of child abuse in same sex "families" is many times higher than in traditional families and that children in homosexual families are more likely to suffer emotional problems.1
Homosexuals are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the sexual abuse of children. While less than 3% of the population is homosexual, 30% of all pedophilia cases involve homosexuals.1
The American Association of Pediatrics, The American Psychological Association, the National Council for Adoptable Children, the Child Welfare League of America – and others – all disagree with you. According to the FBI, 95% of child molesters self-identify as heterosexual men.
- You say that by refusing to allow gays to marry, homosexuals aren't denied equal rights:
They have the same fundamental rights as all other Americans. What they are demanding is special rights based on their sexual behavior.1
I remind you:
There are over 1,000 rights that married couples receive under the law, even if they're wed in a drunken haze in Las Vegas.
To say that gays are seeking marriage only for sex is both disingenuous of you and irrational – many people have sex outside of marriage. If sex were all that gays wanted, they wouldn't push for marriage at all.
- You say:
…homosexual activists must bear the burden of proof that homosexuality is something one is born into. Unfortunately for them, there is clear evidence that people are not born homosexual.1
But then you show that your argument is inconsistent with your evidence by citing:
…studies of identical twins have found that when one twin is homosexual the likelihood of the other twin also being homosexual is only 50% or less.1
Of course, sexuality and genetics are both complex issues. But showing that an identical twin of a gay person is 25 times more likely to be gay as well (50% vs. your cited 2% of the general population) is unquestionably a very clear case for a genetic role in sexual orientation.
Why do you disbelieve an entire segment of society who says that they didn't choose to be homosexual? In a prejudiced manner, you dismiss our combined experienced reality.
Incidentally, by stating so unequivocally that homosexuality is not inborn, you have stepped farther than President Hinckley. On December 26, 2004, when asked by Larry King if people were born gay he answered: "I don't know. I'm not an expert on these things. I don't pretend to be an expert on these things." Bishop, are you prepared to say that you know more about the causes of homosexuality than your prophet does?
- You say:
Homosexuality is a symptom of a developmental disorder. The causes of this disorder are complex and not completely understood, but there is substantial and credible evidence that the environment in which a child is reared is a significant contributor.1
Then what about the myriad homosexuals who come from households like mine? You know my parents – have you ever known two individuals more devoted to their church and their children? Where was the breakdown in my development? Did the community of Orem contribute to my homosexuality? Did the Canyon View 4th and 8th Wards somehow falter? I was never abused in any way, and I was never exposed to any sort of homosexuality while growing up. I also do not come from a home with an overbearing mother; my father was anything but absent. Was I not valiant enough in the church? You were one of my leaders – did you fail to correctly oversee my development?
The fact is, I knew I was gay before I knew what "gay" was. There was never any homosexual suggestion shaping my developing mind. On the contrary, I was wholly immersed in a heterosexual world. If I wasn't born this way, how could you possibly explain how I became this way?
- You say:
Prevention, early intervention and treatment for homosexual behavior, while not 100% effective, does work. Such efforts to prevent homosexual orientation are most effective when this disorder is identified for what it is…1
You are touting false promises that will bring about untold frustrations and create senseless self-hatred and guilt when the attempts at change fail. You're right, such "treatment" is not 100% effective – it doesn't even approach that level, and it's deceiving to word your statement the way you have done. Church leaders have bragged of up to a 20% success rate in the past, although those cases are never followed over time and don't account for the many "ex-gays" becoming "ex-ex-gays" or the bisexual part of the equation. It also ignores the severe psychological damage that might come from the pressure to declare one's changed sexual inclination. If you're going to suggest reparative therapy, then be honest about the messy and generally unsuccessful effects associated with such, rather than misleadingly throwing the "100%" rate in the same sentence.
- You say:
As a class, homosexuals engage in behavior that is destructive both to the individuals and to society as a whole. Homosexual behavior is associated with a number of serious health risks, including HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.1
Mormon prophets also once blamed monogamy for society's ills and diseases. Apostle Orson Pratt said: "This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans..." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195)
Your and Brother Pratt's empty value judgments can simply be set aside.
On the AIDS issue, your argument is irrational, for the legalization of gay marriage would actually decrease the infection rate of AIDS by legitimizing relationships and thus discouraging promiscuity. It's a case of common-sense epidemiology: the fewer sex partners, the lower the rate of infection. Introducing marriage into the gay community could only increase fidelity between partners. Such has been the case in The Netherlands. According to the Dutch Ministry of Health, The Netherlands has reduced their AIDS transmission rates by 55% since instituting gay marriage.
Please be cautious in doing so, Bishop. At best, your presentation might create a dangerous false hope, perhaps pushing people into doomed marriages. At worst, it will foster horrendous despair for gay Mormons that all too often culminates in suicide.
Being raised in the Mormon Church instilled something positive in me: the desire to stand up for what's right. That's why I've written this letter. What you say in your website is wrong because: 1) it presents inaccurate information and faulty arguments; and 2) it vilifies gay people, promoting indignity towards a whole portion of God's creation.
You are encouraging an "us and them" mentality by your campaign, when, in reality, we're all fundamentally the same. As humans, we all desire to love and be loved. We all want those best parts of our humanity to be validated. Invalidating the experience of your gay brothers and sisters robs you of your potential to honor and accept them. That energy which is currently being used to divide could instead be harnessed to connect and heal our diverse human family.
I offer a plea to you for sensitive, non-inflammatory, responsible discussion on the matter. Be forthright about why you want to fight gay marriage! If you think that theocratic, Judeo-Christian codes should be the law of the land, then say so, rather than hiding your true motivations behind flaccid, unsubstantiated arguments.
Ironically, you as a Mormon should be receptive to a broader definition of marriage. Have you forgotten your own religious legacy? It must be awkward to be in the position of promoting "traditional" marriage when your own doctrine still considers monogamy inferior to a different kind of alternative marriage – a "relic of barbarism," as Abraham Lincoln judged – polygamy.
You have the right to your opinion, and you have the right to fight gay marriage just as 19th century anti-polygamists had the right to fight that sort of alternative marriage.
But if you do continue this battle, at least do so honorably. Put yourself in the position of your polygamous forebears. I'm sure they would have granted the American public their difference of opinion on plural marriage, but they would also have expected those disagreements to be articulated with integrity and respect. I remind you of your own religious legacy of alternative marriage and the plight of those early Mormon leaders that you consider prophets to urge – if nothing else – tolerance of others and what they hold dear to their hearts.
At the end of the day, what matters most is how we've treated others. Have we fostered understanding and respect? Have we minimized or alleviated suffering? Have we acknowledged and validated the humanity of our fellow man?
Ask yourself, Bishop, is your crusade one that brings the human family together, or is it one that divides and relegates a portion of God's children to the shadowy fringes of society where mental and physical diseases flourish?
I imagine, and hope for, a world in which this kind of energy is diverted to love and understanding. In my social circle in Hawaii, most of my friends are heterosexual people who feel free to celebrate my love with me. They are in no way threatened by the fact that I can love another man. Their relationships don't suffer because of whom I love. We are all free from those fears and we're all better off walking through this life experience together. Things are so mutually respectful in my little corner of the world that sometimes I forget about the conflict in which you are engaged. As someone who has "been there," I'd like to do my part to stand up for what I – through experience – know to be right.
Bishop Wilkins, I was your daughter's first date. She was a great friend to me and I valued her companionship. But a friendship is all we could ever have had. Imagine, for one moment, that our relationship had continued through the years all the way to the temple marriage altar. We would have entered a marriage in which my love for her would have been limited and our love life incomplete. Bishop, she deserves more than that. And you know what? So do I.
My sincerest wishes for your wellbeing and the reconciliation of our differences,
1. Defend Marriage, www.defendmarriage.org.
2. First cousins who are 65 years of age or older can marry without consent. First cousins who are 55 years of age or older will need to provide to the district court that they are incapable of reproduction before receiving consent to marry. (http://marriage.about.com/cs/marriagelicenses/p/utah.htm)
(This letter may be distributed freely.)