Chad: Hi all! Jenni and I are going to co-write another blog post about our experience in a mixed-orientation marriage. It has been a little over a year since we first wrote Our Story: On Being Gay, Married, and Mormon. The time after that has also been a time of growth and learning.
As we mentioned previously, one of the things that brought us most comfort when my wife and I were just starting to confront the question whether a mixed orientation marriage would work was precedent: knowing that others had been able to have successful marriages, raise children, and be happy together. Shortly after publishing our story online, Ty Mansfield contacted us to see if we would be willing to be interviewed for the Voices of Hope (VoH) project. VoH is a collection of essays and video interviews of fellow Latter-Day Saints who experience same-sex attraction and who want to share their stories. Jenni and I were excited, but we would also have to travel down to Provo, Utah to attend the Northstar Conference where the filming would be taking place. I had heard of Northstar, but wasn’t familiar with the purpose or organization. Up to that point, I was nervous to attend any support groups for LGBT Saints, because of previous experiences. I had previously attended a separate group down at BYU, and I knew that what started as a friendship could easily lead to stronger feelings. For the time being, I chose to distance myself as a sort of protection.
My wife and I decided to make the trip. We set aside a week away from work and school, and drove down to attend the annual conference. And we were so glad that we did! Perhaps you have heard of Tom Christofferson’s recent book, That We May Be One? Brother Christofferson was one of the speakers at the conference, along with a sister who had worked on the updated Church website mormonandgay. We were also to build new friendships with fellow couples and individuals. We exchanged and shared some of our stories, and were able to be strengthened by their own. We felt such strength in a community of saints.
We were able to do the interview too. But it was scary! The interviewer had to keep reminding me to look up, because I kept staring up or down as if lost in thought as I tried to recall certain aspects of our story. The video isn’t up on VoH yet, but we love this website for the strength that it is.
One of the themes that Jenni and I felt throughout the conference can be captured by a phrase that Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared in a conference talk: Lift where you stand. We wanted to be able to return home and be able to build up a caring community in our ward and stake. We knew that there were probably others in the area who could use the strength and support of a larger group.
Jenni and I first went to our bishop. This was a scary step, because we had not yet shared this with a bishop since we were married. Our bishop in the singles ward had been a great strength to both of us, but it seems like you get nervous all over again when you come out to a bishop (sometimes the phenomenon is referred to as “bishop roulette” due to the variable reactions some bishops give). Our bishop was perhaps caught a little off guard, but he did not react negatively. And when we asked permission to share our story with others in the ward, he had no objections. We were surprised, and we felt a little odd, because we didn’t really have a calling– just the bishop’s permission.
We eventually set up a monthly meeting, termed an Ally Night, to which we would invite members of our ward and stake that we thought could help members dealing with same-sex attraction. We would begin with a video from the mormonandgay website, followed by a discussion of impressions they felt during the video, and any questions they had. We shared with them lessons we had learned from the Northstar conference about what members could do to create an environment where our LBGT brothers and sisters can feel welcome (we posted some of the ideas here on our blog). We were happy to find that the members in our ward were ready and willing to help. Many had friends or family who were gay or lesbian, and so had some experience to bring to the table already.
In addition, we started a local support group for LGBT members that also meets on a monthly basis. By reaching out to the Northstar group, we found a few who lived in the area, and we’ve begun to build it from the ground up. We structure it kind of like a family home evening, with a spiritual thought, something fun, and of course, a snack (this month we’re watching “Hocus Pocus” for Halloween! Super excited!).
Jenni: This weekend we listened to LDS General Conference. As you may know or have seen in the media, there was a talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the Proclamation on the Family. In it, he talked about how the document was written and affirmed that the Church taught that marriage was between a man and a woman and how that doctrine was not going to change. While I support the things that Elder Oaks said and I know that it is important to make the Church’s stance clear, I could not help but have a few thoughts go through my mind. First was how this would make those who are struggling to stay in the church but are gay, how it would make them feel. Second was the fear that members of the church would use the talk a way to back up their belief and at the same time excuse their exclusionary and hurtful behavior toward those who may be struggling in the Church or for those who do not choose to follow it. I hope the members of the Church are better than that. The third thought was much, much more personal.
I married a man who is gay. I am in what people call a mixed-orientation marriage. Now I am not going to go too deeply into the hurtful things people have said about those in mixed-orientation marriages coming from those both within the Church and without, but there has been a thought that has flitted in and out of my mind since early on in our marriage. It was this: What would happen to my marriage if one day the Church came out and said that they would allow same-sex marriages? I mean more specifically: What would Chad do? Would he want to leave me and go live in a same-sex relationship?
At this point I usually push the thought to the back of my mind, reassuring myself that the Church would never do such a thing so I need not worry. I mean honestly, if there was a talk that should dispel my concerns about this personal fear and worry, it should have been Elder Dallin H. Oaks talk, right?
Then I read this article by Gregory Prince. In it he gives an account of how the Church has dealt with homosexuality in the past, including, yes, unfortunately, curing homosexuality. In the article, he concludes that homosexuality must be biologically based and if this were so, how could the Church tell someone not to act on their natural inclinations? He then further concludes that the Church must eventually recognize same-sex marriage and he believes that the Church will one day….Now, I am not going to argue about his conclusions, I will leave that for others to do as I am sure they will, but for me it brought up the thought again. Is my marriage only based on the fact that the Church will not accept same-sex marriages? What would happen if that was no longer the case? Would that be the end of my family and everything that I had built with Chad?
Chad: This was a tough moment for us after conference; I could tell that Elder Oaks’s talk, coupled with the comments from Brother Prince, had gotten some of the wheels turning in Jenni’s head. By getting married, we were in effect sustaining and building our lives on the divine authenticity of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Calling it a gamble doesn’t give it justice. I could tell that my wife needed an assurance that our marriage would last regardless of a change in doctrine or policy or circumstance. Seems like a bad case of devil’s advocate, but it was one that I had already decided.
I told her that I would stay with her no matter what. I said that I didn’t marry her out of convenience to meet some social norm, and that I would love her and support her regardless. Perhaps we had conjured up unneeded worry, but I was grateful to be able to give that reassurance to my wife and restate my commitment to her.
Jenni: So I know what you are thinking. What else could he have said right? But the way he said it, was so sincere, almost shocked that I would be concerned about it. And on top of that it was so relieving to just admit the fear out loud that after Chad reassured me how much he loved me, I cried. But no worries, it was a happy cry.
I am so grateful for all of the support that we have received from so many. I hope our journey has helped others in coming to a greater understanding of those who experience same-sex attraction in the church and those who are in a mixed-orientation marriage. While I hope you have enjoyed reading about our experience, I would ask that our personal experience not be used as an example for which to pressure other members who may come out to you as gay to make the same choices that we have.
Not everyone will choose the path that we have, not everyone will be happy in it. Our choice, for both of us was a very personal one and while there may be loved ones out there hoping against hope to find a way to help their loved one find happiness within the Church, that happiness is not guaranteed by encouraging them to take the path we have chosen to take. Everyone is different and everyone who is a gay and a member of the Church must take their own personal journey and come to their own personal conclusion about what will work for them. I just hope we can all be Christlike and love them no matter what they choose.
Please understand, there is a difference between someone wondering on their own “Could this work for me?” and their loved ones telling them “Hey this is the choice that this couple made, why couldn’t it work for you?” The first scenario, I hope would take a lot of personal thought, study, honesty and prayer and the person would have to come to the conclusion on their own. The second scenario comes off more as either a painful dismissal or even worse as a condition of love and acceptance. What is most important is that you love the person and express that love to them, unconditionally because they are, first and foremost a beloved Child of God and nothing that they choose will ever change that. And we, if we truly loved them wouldn’t make them feel like that does.
P.S. a few more things I read recently that I have been thinking about while writing this. First, an article by LDS blogger J. Max Wilson Watchmen on the Tower: On the Limits of Prophetic Fallibility. Second, The Mormon Way to Love by Nathaniel Givens takes a look at the unique perspective Mormons bring to marriage. Although not explicitly about mixed-orientation marriages, I liked how it captured some of the ways Jenni and I have built our own marriage.