Question: Can a person openly identify as gay or lesbian and still be a Mormon in good standing?

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Question: Can a person openly identify as gay or lesbian and still be a Mormon in good standing?

People who use a sexual identity to refer to themselves are still allowed to go forward as do all other members

Standing in the church is based on adherence to the Law of Chastity, not choice in vocabulary. Nevertheless, leaders have seen the effect of the use of vocabulary and have given counsel to members regarding their vocabulary. The vocabulary applies equally to how members refer to themselves as well as how they refer to other children of God.

The church counsels against identifying oneself primarily by sexual feelings, regardless of the orientation of these sexual feelings

Those who identify as straight, gay or bisexual are welcome in the Church and can go on and participate fully the same as all other members. The church counsels against identifying oneself primarily by sexual feelings, regardless of the orientation of these sexual feelings, but a person's sexual identity does not affect standing in the church. The Church recognizes that a person's orientation is a core characteristic, but emphasizes that it is not the only one.

For members of the Church, the main aspect of their identity should be that they are a child of God

For members of the Church, the main aspect of their identity should be that they are a child of God. All baptized members of the church have taken upon them the name of Christ. The church teaches its members that their eye should be single to the glory of God. No matter their situation in life, members are encouraged to orient their thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the Savior. If the way a person identifies themselves interferes with their ability to take upon themselves the name of Christ, they should find another way to identify themselves. The church teaches that members should make clear by their actions and their words that they follow Christ and are not affiliated with groups whose values are incompatible with what Christ taught while on Earth about sexual morality. This counsel applies to all sexual orientations. If a single member identifies as straight and that leads to engaging in sexual behavior with someone of the opposite sex, it is considered just as much of a sin as if identifying as gay lead to engaging in sexual behavior with someone of the same sex.

Part of the confusion is that the terms gay, bisexual and straight mean different things to different people. For some people, these terms are limited to attractions. For other people, these terms include sexual behaviors. For yet other people, they entail values associated with a particular community of people.

For a detailed response, see: Same sex attraction and terminology

The key is whether an identity helps a member keep their covenants or not. All identities should be subordinate to the taking upon us the name of Christ. If any identity interferes with the ability to keep covenants, that identity should be avoided. Many members have adopted a gay identity while keeping their baptismal covenants. Others have chosen to shun that identity.

The counsel to not let sexual feelings become the primary feature in your life is much different than encouraging people to be closeted, dishonest or in denial. The church does not encourage people to lie or pretend to have another sexual orientation. On the contrary, the church recognizes that sexual feelings run deep and encourages those with same-sex attractions to share them, and for others to reach out to them, so that the members of the church can be unified with one heart, mind, and soul.

For a detailed response, see: Honesty and SSA

Critics argue that asking people not identify themselves primarily by their sexual feelings is harmful. However, there has been no evidence to support this claim. There is evidence that disidentifying with a gay identity helps people who want to maintain a healthy heterosexual marriage and those that want to avoid gay sex.

For a detailed response, see: Denial and SSA

People who identify as straight or gay are welcome in the church

In 1998, President Hinckley said:

People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.[1]

In 1999, President Hinckley taught:

As I said from this pulpit one year ago, our hearts reach out to those who refer to themselves as gays and lesbians. We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church.<refGordon B. Hinckley, "[https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1999/10/why-we-do-some-of-the-things-we-do?lang=eng Why We Do Some of the Things We Do," Ensign (October 1999).</ref>

While President Hinckley avoided directly labeling anyone as gay or lesbian, he was directing his welcome to those who did make use of the label. In no case did he say that only people who shun the label can go forward as all other members, but specifically said that those who considered themselves to be gay could go on as all other members. There was no request for them to hide their identity or to change their vocabulary.

Use of sexual identity terms by the Church or Church leaders

There have been some instances where the Church has employed the use of the terms gay and homosexual to refer to people with same-sex attraction or to people involved in homosexual behavior, or heterosexual to refer to people with opposite-sex attractions.

In the Divine Institution of Marriage, it reads:

The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women.

In response to backlash from Prop 8, the Church released this statement:

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are simply wrong. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians. Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.[2]

In response to a petition by the Human Rights Campaign, the Church made the following statement:

While we disagree with the Human Rights Campaign on many fundamentals, we also share some common ground. This past week we have all witnessed tragic deaths across the country as a result of bullying or intimidation of gay young men. We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason...

Further, while the Church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment.[3]

In 1997, President Hinckley said:

Now, we have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people -- provided they don't become involved in transgression, sexual transgression. If they do, we do with them exactly what we'd do with heterosexuals who transgress (italics added).[4]

Counsel not to label people

In general, Church leaders recommend against labeling anyone, including yourself. Labels detract from our divine nature as children of God. In 2010, Bishop Keith B. McMullin taught:

When I was a youngster, my mother discouraged me from using common language when speaking of sacred or special things. For example, instead of referring to an expectant mother as being pregnant, she encouraged me to say “she is expecting a baby.” In Mother’s view, the latter description was more respectful and reverential, the former more clinical and common. Her teachings have had a salient effect upon me. The older I become, the more meaningful is her wisdom. The more we see and speak of intimate things as mere biology, the less likely we are to view and understand them in the context of exalting theology.[5]

While we have been counseled not to label ourselves or others by their sexual feelings, it is not considered a transgression to do so

This counsel can also apply to using the label "straight" or "gay" to refer to children of God. In 1995, Elder Oaks taught:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.[6]

While we have been counseled not to label ourselves or others by their sexual feelings, it is not considered a transgression to do so. Elder Holland shares a story of one young man who identified as gay. He told him:

But knowing why you feel as you do isn’t as important as knowing you have not transgressed.

Even though he assured this young man who identified as gay that he had not transgressed, he still offered this counsel to the gay-identified young man.

You serve yourself poorly when you identify yourself primarily by your sexual feelings. That isn’t your only characteristic, so don’t give it disproportionate attention. You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you.[7]

It is important to note that the counsel to label applies to both how members label themselves and how they label other people.

Our true identity

Elder Wickman teaches that a person's orientation is a core element of one's identity, but not the only one.[8]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted a natural human tendency to use a single facet of our personality or experience as a large part of a self-definition:

I think it is an accurate statement to say that some people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence. There are also people who consider the defining fact of their existence that they are from Texas or that they were in the United States Marines. Or they are red-headed, or they are the best basketball player that ever played for such-and-such a high school. People can adopt a characteristic as the defining example of their existence and often those characteristics are physical.

We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us.

The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path.[9]

It is through obeying the commandments that we find our true identity. Elder Bruce Hafen taught:

The pain of a wounded conscience comes to us not just to cause suffering. It is an invitation for us to respond in a way that will ultimately lead to joy. To accept the invitation early, we simply need to stop—in midair if necessary—and turn away from whatever we were going to do. If it is too late for that, the invitation of an aroused conscience can still be accepted by a visit with the bishop and by a few other well-known steps of repentance. This approach will also stop the pain, but it will also leave you true to yourself and to the universe of God’s reality. At the same time, your capacity for joy will be undiminished—it may even be enhanced through newly discovered self-control. Then the next time the pain of conscience comes, it will come as the voice of a friend, to tell you those sensitive, painful kinds of things you would hope a true friend would share.[10]

Some use a self-identity as "homosexual" to imply or argue that acting on homosexual desires is an inevitable or proper outcome, since it is simply "who I am." The Church teaches, rather, that our sexual desires do not define who we are as children of God. Instead, members of the Church have taken upon them the name of Christ. Any other identity that conflicts with that identity should be shunned.


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "[https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/10/what-are-people-asking-about-us?lang=eng What Are People Asking About Us?," Ensign (November 2008).
  2. "Church Responds to Same-Sex Marriage Votes," LDS Newsroom (3 November 2008).
  3. Michael Otterson, "Church Responds to HRC Petition," (12 October 2010).
  4. Don Lattin, "Musings of the Main Mormon: Gordon B. Hinckley," San Francisco Chronicle (13 April 1998).
  5. Bishop Keith B. McMullin, "Remarks," given at 20th annual Evergreen International conference held in Salt Lake City, 18 September 2010.
  6. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 2005), 9.
  7. Jeffrey R. Holland, "Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 2007), 42-45.
  8. [citation needed] wickman.2007
  9. Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, "Same Gender Attraction," interview with Church Public Affairs (2006). off-site
  10. Bruce C. Hafen, "A Willingness to Learn from pain," Ensign (October 1983).