Thursday, May 3, 2012

Homosexuality: A thoughtful discussion between two agreeable but disagreeing Mormons

A thoughtful Mormon responded to my recent op-ed advocating an LDS embrace of same-sex marriage. The following is our dialogue, for those who are interested.

"Dear Brad,

I read your opinion piece in the SL Tribune:

It is clear to me that the spirit and intention of your article and efforts on behalf of the LDS-gay community are love and compassion.
> Thanks for so recognizing. <

I share in your desire to show compassion to a group that is often shunned, bullied, and mistreated.
> I can tell already we have a lot of common ground. <

The way so many people, who profess to be disciples of Christ, mistreat others who ‘sin differently than themselves’ is sad and filled with hypocrisy. I grew up in San Francisco and was exposed to every type of diversity imaginable. I have always been friends with people of all walks of life and tried to be a loving Christian in my interactions with all people.
> That's cool. <

I’ve never been perfect, but I have never bullied, shunned, or been unkind to anyone.

My profession is mental health and marriage/family relationships.
> Awesome <

As an active Latter-day Saint, I am not a ‘typical Mormon’. Depending on the topic and context, I could be considered moderate, liberal, or conservative. Personally, I don’t like any labels because there is not one that is all-inclusive and would adequately portray me and my perspectives.

With that very brief background, I want to share with you several concerns that I have with the homosexual movement and why it would never make sense for the LDS Church to sanction homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This email is not written in the spirit of contention or malice. It is written in brotherly love and a desire for mutual understanding.
> I'm open <

I am not intending to refute every tenet of your article or anything like that. I am simply giving you my perspective on this 'hot button' issue with the hope to show you why many fellow Latter-day Saints disagree with your underlying premises.
> Fair enough. I affirm your perspective. To the extent that you're inviting a dialogue, I will answer some of your arguments below in brief, but please note that I have addressed most of your points in greater depth in my book, Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective, which you can download for free ( Chapter 5 is especially relevant to our discussion here. <

Doctrinally, the acceptance of homosexuality and ‘gay marriage’ completely undermines the core of LDS theology.

The most important doctrine of the church is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The next most important doctrine is Agency and with Agency comes Accountability.
> I agree at least that these doctrines are significant. I include a detailed discussion on Atonement, Agency, and Accountability in the context of homosexuality in my book (, chapter 3. <

Religious history (both canonized and historical) has been clear about sexual sin. Sex outside of marriage has always been considered sin. In the history of humankind, marriage has never included same-sex partners, among the covenant people. The only known form of marriage among God’s covenant people, starting with Adam and Eve, is man-woman marriage. ‘Neither the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.’ The only exception being plural marriage, but even that has always been man-woman, multiplied.
> Even if you're correct about the history, that tradition does not preclude the possibility of same-sex marriage anymore than a 2-person marriage tradition precluded plural marriage. God can always change what is and is not sin, and has done so numerous times through history, including recent history. <

Homosexual sex acts have always been a sin for at least two reasons: 1) God has never sanctioned ‘gay marriage’, therefore 100% of those who have had homosexual sex have done so out of wedlock, which is a sin. 2) Sodomy, the preferred sexual act of homosexual men, has been labeled a sin-among many other sexual perversions. So, even if society allowed ‘gay marriage’, the sexual act would still be sin. I'm being simplistic here, but God really has established homosexual sex as sin throughout the history of religion.
> That assertion is overbroad, as there is historical evidence for permission of homosexual acts in several religious traditions. Even within an LDS or LDS canonical analysis, there is significant and well-founded debate on the origins, consistency, and application of the per se sinful tag you associate with homosexual acts (see chapter 5 of my book for greater depth on this score, especially the scripture section). ( Finally, I would ask whether lesbian sex is proscribed under your construction of sexual morality. Thus far you have focused on the sexual act between men- would you proscribe sexual/physical intimacy between women, and if so where would you draw the line and what's your doctrinal basis for doing so? What does lesbian sex even look like? <

Let me go back to how homosexuality undermines core LDS theology. Society wants all of us to re-label homosexual behavior as acceptable and not sinful.
> Again, the assertion is overly broad. There exists no universal directive from "society" (rather, societal messages are diverse), and many of the more moderate elements have softer requests (e.g. accepting marital homosexual behavior, but not all homosexual behavior). Also, I think even you would sanction some homosexual behavior, such as emotional intimacy between two lesbian women. As with heterosexuality and heterosexual orientation, homosexuality and homosexual orientation covers a broad spectrum of physical, spiritual, emotional, sexual, and romantic attractions and relationships that defy a reduction to sexual acts. <

Why? Because they want us all to embrace the ‘fact’ that they were ‘born this way’. In other words, if biology dictates it, then it can’t be wrong.
>This proposition mischaracterizes the reasoning of many who affirm same-sex marriage. Their ethical justification centers on equality and/or utilitarian considerations, and does not succeed or fail as a necessary consequence of biological determinism. That being said, homosexual orientation does exist, and homosexuals usually are, quite literally, born that way. In that limited sense your assertion is accurate- there can be nothing immoral about unchosen homosexual orientation. <

Therefore, biology determines ‘who I am’ and there is nothing I can do about it. This deterministic stance is antithetical to the core LDS doctrine of Agency. If I believe that biology determines 'who I am', then I should embrace it and so should society and the church. Therefore, if my biology is determining my behavior, there should not be any negative consequences. Not having a choice and therefore not having consequences takes away Accountability.
> This reasoning is overly simplistic, and caricatures the claims of many marriage equality advocates. There is a difference between embracing "it" (a sexual identity) and "it" (a same-sex relationship). None of us consciously chooses our beginning anatomy- our height, for instance, is not something we have much control over. You're not choosing to replicate DNA right now, but nonetheless your cells are doing it, and that on a grand scale, every moment of every day. A homosexual orientation is quite similar in its biological/non-chosen nature.
Many reasonable same-sex marriage advocates, myself included, don't adopt a biological determinism justification. What we do adopt is an acknowledgement of the reality that a homosexual orientation usually includes feelings of romantic, emotional, sexual, and spiritual attraction to a subset of members of one sex, much as heterosexual orientation does. We also observe that a loving, consensual, romantic/emotional/sexual relationship between two people can be very positive and healthy, and should be an available choice to adult homosexual individuals. The moral consequences of these couplings are more positive and significant than, say, a nonconsensual coupling between an adult and a shoe or an adult and a prepubescent child (two examples that you reference subsequently). The moral consequences are quite similar, in fact, to those we witness flowing from heterosexual couplings such as your own. I would anticipate that you would recognize that equivalence if you have unbiased experience working with same-sex couples as part of your marriage work. The members of a same-sex couple are accountable for the consequences of that relationship, as are straight couples. Thus the option of same-sex marriage expands agency, rather than limits accountability. <

So, if I must be determined by my biology (no agency) and I should accept the resulting behavior of my biological drives and urges (no true accountability), then my biology is also determining that this behavior is not sin. If biology and society determine that there is not sin, there is no need for a God and for an Atonement (the core doctrine of our church).

After the Atonement, Agency and Accountability, the next most important LDS doctrine is Eternal Marriage between a man and a woman.
> What is the basis for the doctrinal hierarchy you posit? <

D&C 131-132 make it very clear how essential this doctrine is throughout eternity.
> What is not clear, however, is how to discern between a man and a woman. This common-sense proposition, it turns out, is anything but. See my "Mormonism Beyond the Gender Binary" article ( and presentation ( The doctrine, even if vital, turns out to be wholly inapplicable because it is based on an unsupported assumption. I'll say it again. Mormonism's gender binary, based on a doctrine of spiritual sex, is inapplicable in the waking world because it necessarily relies on an unwarranted assumption that a spattering of photons of hitting our retinas (when our brains tell us, "hey that's a boy" or "that's a girl') proves an individual's spiritual sex. Check out the video presentation. <

‘Gay marriage’ cannot work in light of this fundamental doctrine and the natural and eternal result of having children-which is only possible (on earth and in the eternities) with a man and a woman.
> Your assertion is factually inaccurate. It is also somewhat ironic to weight biology so heavily here when you treated it so dismissively above in your Agency discussion. I have all the genes needed in my own cheek swab to manufacture a human egg. Already a mouse has been procreated with two and only two biological parents- two male mice. Human reproduction is entirely feasible absent both sexes (for greater depth see my narrated powerpoint presentation, Why Mormonism Can Abide Gay Marriage - I anticipate that you would affirm the postgender future that gives us more reproductive choice, since you have expressed allegiance earlier to the principle of Agency. In addition, your reasoning would also potentially exclude infertile man-woman couples based on their inability to have children on earth. Last, what is your basis for asserting that two women can't have children in the eternities, or indeed that we have anything besides speculation on the subject of the mechanics of spiritual procreation? <

There is a lot more that I could say, but I can only come to two conclusions, if an active Latter-day Saint believes homosexuality should be embraced along with ‘gay marriage’. 1) This LDS person does not have a clear understanding of core LDS doctrine and theology, or, 2) This person has not gained a converted acceptance of the core LDS doctrine and theology.
> A third possibility is that there are very good reasons for an LDS person with a converted acceptance to core LDS doctrine and theology to simply disagree with your interpretation and application of said doctrine. I hope you are not arrogant enough to claim that you are the final arbiter of LDS doctrine, or that yours is the only clear understanding. <

The entire Plan of Salvation is undermined by homosexuality.
> I wholly disagree, for reasons I've explained more fully in "Why Mormonism Can Abide Gay Marriage - <

That is why I respectfully and lovingly disagree with your opinion piece.
> I affirm your opinion, and appreciate your loving and respectful presentment. <

You come across as a great man with a lot of good to offer and I appreciate that. But, I ask you to truly study the doctrine and then decide what you are going to spend your time promoting.
> I'm open to altering my activities and my doctrinal interpretations. I'll admit though that I haven't found your arguments thus far very persuasive. <

If one of my sons ever came to me and said, “Dad, I’m gay.” I would continue to love them with all my heart. And I would also lovingly make it clear the act of homosexuality is a sin that truly can be overcome through the Atonement of Christ. Now, it would probably take therapy and possibly an acceptance that the tendencies would not completely go away in this life. But, I truly believe Christ when He says that 'His grace is sufficient'. I would never stop working to help my son understand that he has the agency to choose not to give in and act upon these tendencies, regardless if they are something he felt he was born with. Any other response from me, as a converted Latter-day Saint, would not be authentic and honest as one who embraces core LDS doctrine.
> I affirm your response to your son and the authenticity of your embrace of your understanding of core LDS doctrine. However, if you'll permit an evaluation, it could be seen as cruel and unnecessary to forbid an individual from forming romantic relationships. Can you imagine teaching your straight son that falling in love with and marrying a woman is sinfully giving in to a "tendency?" That the mysterious, wonderful, noble realities of human romantic and sexual love are evil because of the anatomy of your partner? Can you imagine the needless sorrow if we were tomorrow informed that heterosexuality is a sin? Would you be willing to describe your relationship with your wife as sin if tomorrow God truly reveals through President Monson that heterosexual behavior is a sinful? <

Furthermore, it’s essential to note that I have read the research and there are some who do seem to be ‘born with’ sexual attraction to the same gender.
> Some? If you've read the research, then shouldn't you conclude that at least almost all homosexually oriented persons are, as you describe, "born with" their orientation? <

However, there are also some who are ‘born with’ sexual attraction to their siblings, parents, prepubescent children, animals, and in other cases-objects such as manequins, shoes, and so forth. The problem with all of these sexual attraction deviations is our very bodies demonstrate what is sexually natural. A man and a woman naturally go together sexually.
> You are making a version of the naturalist argument Robert George posited in his article, "What is Marriage?" I made a (successful in my view) thorough excoriation of his reasoning at an academic pro-family conference in Provo ( Body-based naturalist claims are rife with inconsistencies- watch my presentation for the reasons why. <

So, from a biological perspective, if we accept homosexuality as another form of 'natural sexuality', we must accept everything else to remain truly consistent. If we do not draw a firm line with biology, then we cannot draw any line at all.
> Nope. There are, in fact, rather easy lines to draw that maintain consistency. Those lines are "adult human" and "consent." These lines include same and opposite sex couples but exclude the mannequins and animals you are concerned about. <

Any one of these people who have other sexual deviations from heterosexuality could use all the same arguments as homosexuals are using. “I am born this way.” “This is who I am.” “You and I must accept it and you must make sure I’m allowed to act on it because this is who I am.”

Finally, in my professional experience of working with families, the qualitative and quantitative research findings are undeniable. A child who is raised in a loving home with a mother and a father, (preferably their biological parents) are MUCH better off in every category than another child raised in different circumstances.
> This assertion is an absolute non sequitur. Your assertion targets a particular circumstance (same-sex households), and there are painfully few studies where that demographic was compared to others, such as the biological parent category you baseline. The studies that do exist conclude that very little about the number of genders in the parenting couple is important, though on some measures the children of lesbian parents "turn out" better than their counterparts in opposite-sex families. <

Additionally, these children overwhelming make the most postive contributions to society. Supporting anything other than marriage between a man and a woman, opens the door for families to continue to be redefined, opening a ‘can of worms’ to what society accepts as an appropriate family for a child to be raised in. Studies (and common sense) clearly equate deviation from traditional family with the demise of society.
> You'll forgive me from pointing out the delicious irony in your reasoning. "Supporting anything other than marriage between a man and a woman opens the doors to a slippery slope of redefining what society accepts as an appropriate family to be raised in. Studies clearly equate deviation from traditional family with the demise of society. We are then well justified in opposing Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and those damn polygamous Mormons." Your reasoning could have been lifted straight from an anti-polygamy tract in the late nineteenth century. Wouldn't it make sense, instead, for Mormons to show a little more tolerance for alternate marriage forms that they personally disagree with? Also, I am definitely going to call you on your general claim that studies equate not-traditional family structures with the demise of society. What studies? What common sense? What is the demise of society, and wouldn't that degeneration depend on the specifics of a particular "deviation?" I'd prefer the titles and authors, at least, of the studies you reference. <

So, from a core LDS doctrinal perspective, a biological perspective, and sociological perspective I cannot, in good conscience, support the acceptance or promotion of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage.
> And perhaps, after reviewing my presentations, book, videos, and responses here, your opinion has not changed. However, yours is no the only biological, sociological, or core LDS doctrinal, perspective. I assert further that yours is by no means necessarily the best supported one. <

Once again, I love all of my friends who proclaim themselves to be homosexual.
> Is there a reason you included the "proclaim themselves" phrase? I love all my friends who proclaim themselves to be heterosexual. Doesn't that sound a little off to you? Why not assume they're telling the truth and instead say you love your homosexual friends? Homosexuals exist, they really do. <

However, as a Latter-day Saint, and as a family relationship professional, and as one who wants our children to grow up in the best situation possible, I am committed to standing up for traditional marriage and natural sexual relations being saved for marriage.
> Sexual relations between two gay persons of the same gender are natural, and there are lower-hanging fruits you could target if you're interested in child welfare (such as teaching parents conflict resolution skills, early detection of drug and child abuse, economic stability for families, divorce, etc.). Very few, if any, of your pro-family values would be sacrificed by affirming gay marriage. When marriage is more universally available and expected (which is the outcome when gay marriage is accepted, since it makes a healthy marriage more available to gay persons who face risky mixed-orientation marriages or celibacy otherwise), it is strengthened. My embrace of gay marriage DERIVES from, rather than contradicts, my family advocacy. <

You seem to be a great person, full of love and compassion, and a desire to do good. I hope you decide to use your talents to promote things that will actually help society, instead of what I’m seeing in the underlying premises of your article.

Please know that this email is written in love and concern and a desire to truly be helpful.
> I believe it is. You strike me as well-informed, thoughtful, and caring. My position is doubtlessly flawed, and I appreciate your desire to be helpful. <

I wish you all the best in your life.
> Thank you.



  1. He did make a glaring error actually. The sin of Sodom was not anal sex, it was not caring for the poor. Selfishness and non-charity were the reasons that God wiped the city off the earth.
    "Sodomy" may be used to refer to anal sex, but there again, it's worth noting (according to authoritative sources like Kinsey), that a significant part of the heterosexual population engages in anal sex (sometimes she using a strap-on on him, yes this is straight guys). In fact, one source I saw said that A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF HETEROSEXUAL COUPLES HAD ANAL SEX THAN THE PERCENTAGE OF HOMOSEXUAL COUPLES WHO DID...(I guess maybe oral is more exciting?) In any case, it's a very poor argument, and falls apart under any real analysis.

  2. Money quote (Brad): "My embrace of gay marriage DERIVES from, rather than contradicts, my family advocacy."

    I feel the same way.


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