Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Callous Dumbing Down of Mixed-Orientation Marriage Issues


“I am so fed up, it's unbelievable. There is no simple solution. No single right answer. I have to answer to so many. A family who needs me, but I am dying emotionally, mentally, spiritually … Yet to leave my children, to cause pain to both them and wife - that is something that is not me, not something I would deliberately do, let alone choose to do. I would rather die. And so I am dying …”

~ Gay Mormon Man in a Mixed-Orientation Marriage

This is not a post about same-sex marriage. This is a post about Mormon mixed-orientation marriages. Specifically, this is a post about an op-ed piece that appeared in Sunday’s Deseret News that conflates mixed-orientation marriages with the issue of same-sex marriage by touting that mixed-orientation marriages are an alternative to “same-sex marriage.” 

In support of this proposition, the authors of the article – Michael and Jenet Jacob Anderson – do not point to extensive personal experience with or research of Mormon mixed-orientation marriages, nor to they point to statistical or academic studies. In point of fact, their piece is not only based on but liberally quotes from (without explicitly identifying the source, other than through an innocuous link) an amicus brief filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal in the Kitchen case.

The fact that the Ericksons take such an extremely complicated, emotional issue, i.e., mixed-orientation marriage, and use it for political purposes is repulsive to me. I lived in a mixed-orientation marriage for over 20 years. I know many Mormon men who either are or have lived in a mixed-orientation marriage. I know a fair bit about mixed-orientation marriages, and in every case of which I am aware, there has been a tremendous amount of heartache; the circumstances of each marriage were unique to the couple involved; and the sexual orientation of one of the partners was only one factor that played into how the marriages evolved and, in some cases, ended.

The fact of the matter is that many, many gay Mormon men of my generation entered into marriages with women because that is what the Church taught they should do. Marriage to a woman would fix their problem. Living the Plan of Happiness would fix their problem. But it didn’t. What it did was, sooner or later, to one degree or another, create a tremendous amount of heartache.

The stories of these men and their spouses and children are largely unknown to the general LDS population (something I hope to help change). Stories such as those of Miguel, Allen, Kurt, Gary, Mark, Scott, Sarah, Sean, Kennedy, Steve, Shawn, Dan, Beck, Jeff, and many others. Because of this obscurity, the issues these families face and have faced are not appreciated by the larger Mormon community. 

This highlights yet another reason I took issue with the Erickson’s piece. They point to a few stories of couples on the Voices of Hope website who are making their mixed-orientation marriages work, imply that these are the people whose stories have been suppressed and then callously use them for their own rhetorical/political purposes by claiming that “their lives dispel the myth that same-sex marriage is the only path to being free, equal and happy.” What nonsense. I would have to think that the couples whose stories are featured in Erickson’s piece would themselves be mortified at the use to which their stories were put.

There is yet one more aspect of the Erickson piece that offends.

Many, many gay and lesbian Mormons, at some point in their journey, have been asked by (sometimes) well-meaning friends, family members and ward members, “Why can’t you be like _____?” The blank represents someone who has “successfully” addressed their same-sex attraction and is a faithful Mormon. These well-meaning (but often ignorant) people point to websites such as ldsvoicesofhope.org as proof of their point; but what they often don’t realize is how complex same-sex attraction is and how offensive their “advice” is.

The Ericksons, in their piece, took this practice to a whole new level when they in essence applied it not to just one individual but to the entire community of gay Mormon men and women, implying that – if they wanted to – they could be like the people in the Voices of Hope videos. What the Ericksons did was ignorant, but I don't think is was well-meaning. It was callous, self-serving and offensive.

There are other voices available on the web that tell different stories from those found on Voices of Hope. Kendall Wilcox has collected and posted a number of these stories on his Far Between movie website. Stories of gay and lesbian Mormons who have chosen to live their sexuality with loving partners can be found at Voices of Love. In addition, I plan to republish a number of the posts I wrote about mixed-orientation marriages when I first came out, starting with one that I published earlier this month entitled “A Situation That Defies Our Nature,” from which the opening quote (above) was taken. 

The issues pertaining to mixed-orientation marriages are extremely complicated. There needs to be more awareness and knowledge of these issues in the Mormon community. But they need to be talked about in a respectful and sensitive way, not used for callous political purposes.

14 comments:

  1. Personally, any article that quotes the Kitchen amicus brief is automatically suspect, at best. In my experience, simple or blanket solutions never work for anything other than the simplest problems. I find it offensive that anyone would try to propose to someone else how to select a spouse, approach their sexuality or solve long-standing, deeply personal issues. This seems a bit like: "Holy God, .. thou hast aelected us that we shall be [straight], whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell .."

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Craig. I had to smile at your use of part of the infamous Zoramite prayer on the Rameumpton (Alma 31:17, Book of Mormon): "But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast selected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell."

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  3. I have been in a mixed orientation marriage for over 35 years, and I cringe at the thought that anyone would ever point to us as an example of what one should do.

    We stay married for some complicated reasons but I left the church long ago and I am a big supporter of marriage equality.

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  4. Joseph, you're well aware of my mix-orientation marriage situation, and from my personal experience, I would absolutely, unequivocally never recommend this to anyone.

    I love my wife and I think I would die without my kids, but the pain and heartache involved with this arrangement is damaging in ways I couldn't even begin to explain. What a mistake it is to hold this up as any type of "solution".

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  5. Agreed. While I am happy for those who have entered mixed orientation marriages and are happy, I fret every time I hear of a new one. I fret because I know my own family has brought up that choice for me. I thoroughly swat it down as an option for me. But I also worry for those who enter into that kind of marriage out of a sense of guilt or shame instead of a true sense of reason and purpose.

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  6. Thank you, David, Utahhiker 801 and Trevor for your comments. And I'm so glad that you commented, Molly. As always, the voices of the straight spouses need to be voiced, heard and listened to. Thank you!

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  7. From the start, the article is problematic. Using the term "same-sex attraction," as you well know, makes it seem as if sexual identity and sexual orientation were simply an attraction. It lumps everyone into the same category, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning. While it pretends to be a voice offering alternatives, it, as you have stated, pushes a Mixed-Orientation Marriage as a path to follow for those who don't want to join the "lobby" for same-sex marriage (as if the fact that you are gay alone made you a lobbyist). The inability to recognize and appreciate difference is what is causing such contention (to put a Mormon spin on it) around the issue. I appreciate Kendall Wilcox's and others efforts to recognize that we are different and choose different paths. Having once been married to someone of the opposite sex, (and now in a relationship with someone of the same-sex) I recognize the complexity of the issue. I'm glad you do as well. Much support and thanks for speaking out about this.

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  8. Thanks, Alex. I am going to be republishing some of the posts I originally wrote on my Invictus Pilgrim blog. It seems that there is a need.

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  9. Joseph, after reading the Deseret News op ed piece and your post above, I concur with most of your key points. I too find it able that reprehensible DN would publish a political piece in opposition to marriage equality by going the route of exploiting/promoting MOMs as an alternative to Gay Marriage. I think this is irresponsible fodder for maintaining a status quo 'All is well in Zion' attitude that uninformed conservative Mormon viewpoints need to justify their continuing opposition. However, I feel that regardless of how different a story these folks may have than our own, putting light on the conversation is a good thing and all stories should be respected for their personal truths and insights. Your plan to share unsucessful MOM stories in future posts will hopefully bring some balance and clarity to an otherwise glossed over silence regarding Mixed Orientation Marriage.

    Tomorrow I celebrate 33 years of marriage to a wonderful woman, who despite our many flaws has chosen to remain with me and I with her. There have been anniveraries in years past when I wouldn't have used the term "celebrate." But times and seasons change, and we have weathered many storms together. I certainly acknowledge our mixed orientation marriage is unique and not the norm, and I wouldn't want our story to become the kind of ammunition used against others. My point is that we shouldn't dictate set options or outcomes to others. There are often multiple solutions to complex problems. I think we need to give folks the space to consider all their options, and for many gay LDS men in MOMs, along with their straight spouses, a cost/benefit analysis of their family's situtation may lead to appropriately staying together. Certainly, love has a lot to do with it too! Somehow my wife and I have managed to evolve into a very LGBT affirming attitude of love and acceptance for all couples, regardless of their orientation, and yet we remain together and active in our faith and participation in the LDS Church.

    The Affirmation organization has been promoting a 'safe space' for those who want to be BOTH openly gay and active LDS. There is a private facebook group organized for folks who fit this intersection in their lives, and it is named "The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare." There also has been an acknowledged need in Affirmation for a viable sub-group of MOM members, and we are working on a framework with several others at this moment. Surely there are LDS MOMs out there who need another growth option to either divorce or rose-colored glasses and quiet desperation.

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  10. GeckoMan, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and part of your story. You touch on several important points, first and foremost of which is that the "success" (I'm not sure we should be using that word; after all what is a "successful" marriage, even in a heterosexual context?) of a MoM depends very, very much on what the straight spouse knows, when she/he knew it and whether she/he is willing to stay in the marriage. Second, whether the marriage lasts does, as you point out, depend an awful lot on the love the two partners have for each other.

    You're also right that we as a community should not dictate. However, I think it is very important that the voices of those who have been through or are in the pain I describe in my post, be heard. This is particularly important for young gay men and women who are considering entering into a mixed-orientation marriage.

    So, happy anniversary to both you and your wife. And thanks again for your thoughts.

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  11. Having been mentioned in your post, I feel a need to reconnect and say "hi" again. It's been a while and it's good to catch up a bit with your blog. I've been silent for quite a while now, as I don't know what to really offer this blogging community. In so many ways, I have just shut down and given up the fight. It's easier to just exist, be content with what I have, stay busy... stay faithful... stay married - because that is what I'm supposed to do.

    It's so much easier to stay silent, live in anonymity, and "be a good boy" than to speak up or speak out or share a story of nearly 33 years of marriage. I'm not sure what my "voice of hope" video would say - that our marriage is difficult at best, and requires constant escapist avenues to keep us from facing the harsh realities around us every day, the sorrow and loneliness and confusion, yet in those moments of escaping reality, we find friendship and companionship and love - hopefully long enough until the next crisis comes... Is it possible for such a marriage to survive decades. Yes, but, our marriage indeed would not be one to emulate by the youth coming up and venturing into the possibility of MOMs.

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  12. Good to hear from you, Beck. Thank you for sharing a bit of your story.

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