SALT LAKE CITY — Five years ago, Lolly Weed co-wrote a blog post about how she fell in love with a gay man.
She didn’t anticipate that the blog would go viral or that she and her husband, Josh, would become the face of what she calls a “mixed-orientation marriage” — a happily married couple, one straight, one gay, who decided to build their lives together, independent of the fiery political discourse that often surrounds LGBT issues.
“We weren’t running … to be presidents of the mixed-orientation marriage club,” Lolly Weed told the Deseret News. “We were not expecting to get so much attention the first time around so we were just doing the best we can with the information we have and just trying to be the most genuine to ourselves and to God that we could be.”
News stories and TV appearances followed. The Weeds were both championed and condemned.
Last week, a blog post by her husband updated their journey under the headline, "Turning a unicorn into a bat: The post in which we announce the end of our marriage." The Weeds were getting a divorce, with a hope of staying close to each other to raise their children.
“We’re just doing the best we can and I’m sorry to anyone who’s been hurt along the way,” Lolly Weed said. “We never intended for anyone to be hurt by our message on any side but this is a complicated and messy issue.”
The 7,000-word blog post outlining the reasons for their divorce has been read more than 400,000 times and was shared more than 50,000 times on Facebook, the Weeds said, and came during the same month of the Sundance premiere of Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds’ documentary “Believer,” which explores the relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its LGBT members.
As news of the Weeds’ divorce began to spread, people both inside and outside of the LGBT community responded. Some celebrated their choice. Others mocked them with an “I told you so” tenor. Still others spent the following days grappling with what the Weeds’ decision meant for their own faith.
And then there was Laurie Campbell, who instantly worried about those who would struggle with the decision.
“There is just kind of this deep pit in my stomach where I feel like, ‘Oh man, this is going to be really hard for some people,’” said Campbell, who is no stranger to the struggles of an LGBT member of the LDS faith. Campbell, who said she did identify as lesbian and is now married to a man, is featured in a video on the LDS Church’s Mormon and Gay website.
Jim Mock has never met the Weeds, but the news was “heartbreaking.” Josh Weed’s post in 2012 “meant a lot” to Mock, a Latter-day Saint and a professor at Southern Utah University who is married to a woman despite being attracted to men.
“It really was sort of the catalyst for change for me where I started becoming sort of more public after that point,” Mock said.
Ty Mansfield, a member of the LDS Church who has experienced same-sex attraction and, like Josh and Lolly Weed, is a marriage and family therapist, expressed love for his friends of nearly a decade and his support for their right to agency. He also has concerns about their blog post:
“I love Josh and Lolly and want to honor them in any decisions that they feel like they need to make for their own journey. I also feel really concerned when they then move from their story into broad over-generalizations of these issues ... or projections onto every other relationship in a way that I think is irresponsible. It’s harmful and it actually heightens the very kind of distress that makes people more vulnerable to the kind of anxiety, depression, hopelessness and even suicidality that it seems they’re trying to combat,” Mansfield said.
LGBT members of the LDS Church face the challenge of reconciling their same-sex attraction with their faith, in a church that teaches that one's identity is in relation to God — we are all sons and daughters of God —and “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” Theirs is a journey of identity, agency and testimony, and as several interviews with traditionally married Mormons who identify as gay indicate, no two paths are alike.
Josh Weed came out to his LDS bishop for the first time when he was 16-years-old during the mid-1990s. He recalls his feelings being quickly dismissed as “confusion” or “admiration for other men.” From there he said he went to LDS Family Services where he began undergoing reparative therapy.
Today, Family Services says it offers the following: "We assist individuals and families as they respond to same-sex attraction. Our therapists do not provide what is commonly referred to as 'reparative therapy' or 'sexual orientation change efforts.' However, when clients self-determine to seek assistance for individual and family issues associated with same-sex attraction, we help them strengthen and develop healthy patterns of living. We assist clients who desire to reconcile same-sex attraction with their religious beliefs. Our services are consistent with applicable legal and ethical standards, which allow self-determined clients to receive assistance with faith-based or religious goals."
Josh Weed married his best friend, Lolly, and for the past 15 years the couple has shared what Josh described in his blog as "deeply wonderful, beautiful years, filled with family connection and love." Still, Weed wrote of "an undercurrent of pain" that they were initially unable to see clearly or acknowledge. After years of doing “all the right things,” Weed said he found himself thinking, “'Oh, it hasn’t changed at all.’”
Lolly Weed says the couple experienced a paradigm shift in their marriage when they began to think of Josh not as “a broken straight person” but rather as someone who identified as gay.
“As we started making mental shifts, that really did affect our relationship,” Lolly Weed said. “You’re no longer a broken straight person but you are gay, that’s what you are.”
Mansfield also experienced change regarding his self-identification when he was single, years before he married his wife, Danielle. Despite Mansfield’s same-sex attraction, he said he made a conscious decision to stop identifying himself as gay.
“I actually had a very strong spiritual impression that if I continued to identify as gay, I would limit my progression,” Mansfield said. “I don’t think of myself as being in a ‘mixed-orientation’ marriage. I’m in a marriage. I’m a man, my wife is a woman, we love each other and we’re married.”
Jeff Bennion, who is gay and an LDS Church member and a marriage and family therapist, is married to a woman. He said he understands how hard it can be for an LGBT-identified individual to feel a sense of belonging as a member of the LDS Church. However, he has found unity by placing one aspect of his identity above the others.
“If you’re more attached to your sexual identity than you are to your membership and your discipleship of Christ, if any of those labels come before ‘a disciple of Christ,’ then yeah, it’s not going to be easy for you in the church,” said Bennion, who is gay.
Love and Law
Lolly Weed, who serves in her LDS stake’s relief society presidency and said she is an active, temple-recommend holding member, has “grappled with this issue and the church and our marriage for 15 years and beyond that.”
“And it’s not an easy thing to understand, especially with a church that you love,” she said.
LDS Church leaders have counseled members to extend love to their LGBT brothers and sisters. Mansfield cites comments in a recent BYU devotional address by President M. Russell Ballard, now acting president of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as one example.
“I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and I recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do,” he said. “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home.”
Campbell says the church’s progress in discussing these issues is encouraging. But she also suggests that those in the LGBT and LDS communities who cling to a false hope of a doctrinal shift could create confusion and even increased pain.
"When it comes to homosexuality, we're talking about something that fundamentally challenges core doctrines, core teachings, core revelation from the church about the nature of marriage," he said.
Josh Weed is comfortable with the paradox he’s presented.
“I have absolutely treasured the 15 years of marriage that I had with Lolly...it was in so many ways so beautiful and wonderful and it’s something that still makes me cry,” Weed said. “It’s what I wanted. I married Lolly because that is what I wanted.”
However, in his blog post, Weed also wrote that “gay people and straight people cannot attach to one another” and “a gay person cannot choose to live the life of a straight person — not without serious consequences to their mental health that will endanger their life.”
He stands by his recommendation against the lifestyle he led, but also has a message for those who have chosen this type of marriage: “I love you, I honor your choices. You are your own entity and my truth does not have to be your truth. ...I also honor the complexity of life and I recognize my own inability to know the particulars of each and every story.”
Mansfield believes Weed’s story is important, and so is his, though they may currently be on different trajectories.
“We need more stories, not less,” Mansfield said. “And we need more cultural stories of people following a number of paths. ...Stories are powerful.”
Campbell said that the Weeds’ story is their own and does not represent the experience of others who, like herself, have found happiness in similar life circumstances. She hopes they will instead write their own stories.109 comments on this story
“Just as I have tried to help people understand and they have wanted me to help people understand that my story isn’t anyone else’s, Josh’s story isn’t anyone else’s either and nobody can make any assumptions on any other mixed-orientation marriage based on his,” Campbell said. “We need to be careful that because he felt it was built on a sinkhole, doesn’t mean anyone else’s marriage would be built on a sinkhole.”
Bennion sums it up this way: "Comparing pain only makes more pain...and more isolation. What we're hungry for as couples and what we're hungry for as human beings is connection."