The intriguing and sometimes controversial relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the gay community – including those who are both gay and Mormon – has been explored by two prominent online resources this week.
Writing for Slate, an online magazine featuring coverage of current events, politics and culture, Max Perry Mueller asks: "Can you really be gay and Mormon?"
"The answer depends, to some extent, on how you define both these identities," writes Mueller, editor of Religion & Politics magazine and a PhD candidate in religious studies at Harvard University.
Mueller draws from a blog post last week by Josh Weed, a marriage and family therapist in Washington who wrote a 6,000-word essay about being an active Mormon who is happily married to a woman despite being gay.
"Sex outside of marriage – whatever the orientation – is considered sinful by Mormon theology, and the church has, or course, famously fought against legalizing same-sex marriage," Mueller writes. "Weed has chosen to abide by these dictates, in spite of what he refers to as his own natural attractions to 'the guys and unquestionably not the girls.' In the eyes of many he has sacrificed his identity as a gay man to his Mormon identity."
Others, however, like openly gay Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan, see it differently, according to Mueller. He quotes Sullivan, who wrote, "If some gays really want to marry women, and they are not deceiving anyone, it's totally their choice – and their right not to be mocked for it.'"
Mueller explores what he considers to be the history of "the Mormon position on homosexuality," beginning with the "deification" of heterosexuality through "the doctrine of a Father and Mother in Heaven – a divine, actively heterosexual couple paradigmatic of earthly sexual relationships," according to scholar Connell O'Donovan. He also quotes a number of others who have had different experiences with being both gay and Mormon – for both good and ill – and suggests that many people who are familiar with both communities are seeing positive signs of increased understanding despite ongoing differences.
All of which is ironic to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
"Having collided with enlightened American opinion 150 years ago over its deviations from the common Western understanding of marriage," Douthat wrote, "the Mormon Church could be facing a similar collision a century later for hewing too firmly to that same understanding."
Douthat writes that "one need not be a fire-breathing social conservative to note that the American family is in some difficulties at the moment." He documents some of those struggles, but then points out a number of Utah social statistics as "a notable exception to these patterns."
"An America that looked more like Utah would have more intact families, less child poverty, fewer abortions – and, for that matter, a better fiscal outlook as the Baby Boomers retire," he wrote.
"If the conservative case for gay marriage is correct," Douthat continued, "then such a view can and should coexist with a deep appreciation for the things that Mormon marital culture does well."