Question: Can a person identify as gay or lesbian and still be a member of the Church in good standing?

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Question: Can a person identify as gay or lesbian and still be a member of the Church in good standing?

The Church does not reject those who experience same-sex attraction. It is possible to experience same-sex attraction and be a faithful member in full fellowship. If those feelings take the form of an intimate physical relationship, then this is considered a sin in the same manner as when heterosexual feelings take the form of an intimate physical relationship outside of marriage.

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."

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."

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.

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.

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. [1]

Teachings of Church leaders

Church leaders have, therefore, consistently emphasized that such temptations and desires do not form a core or irreducible part of our nature.

In 1978, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

And so, now to the subject. To introduce it I must use a word. I will use it one time only. Please notice that I use it as an adjective, not as a noun; I reject it as a noun. I speak to those few, those very few, who may be subject to homosexual temptations. I repeat, I accept that word as an adjective to describe a temporary condition. I reject it as a noun naming a permanent one. [2]

In 1995, Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted:

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.

Feelings are another matter. Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of “nature and nurture.” All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior. [3]

SSA only refers to having same-sex attraction. Homosexual may be referring to attractions, identity or behavior. Also, same-sex attraction does not preclude the presence of opposite-sex attractions. A person who is attracted to both genders may identify as bisexual, but they still have same-sex attractions.

Definition of sexual orientation

The American Psychological Association gives the following definition for sexual orientation:

"Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions." [4]

The term sexual orientation in and of itself is ambiguous. There are many members of the Church who are primarily attracted to the same sex, but their sense of identity and community is more closely connected to a heterosexual lifestyle. Depending on which definition of sexual orientation that being used, the same person may have a homosexual or a heterosexual orientation.

Definition of homosexuality, homosexual, and gay

In regards to the terms homosexual, lesbian and gay, Elder Oaks stated:

We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

In regards to the term homosexuality, Elder Oaks stated:

"Thus, the First Presidency's letters condemning homosexuality are, by their explicit terms, directed at the practices of homosexuality."

How does this compare with the dictionary? The American Heritage Dictionary defines homosexual as someone exhibiting homosexuality. It defines homosexuality as:

  1. Sexual orientation to persons of the same sex.
  2. Sexual activity with another of the same sex. [5]

Both the dictionary and Elder Oaks show ambiguity between using homosexual to refer to thoughts or behaviors. Interpreting condemnations of homosexuality as condemnation of homosexual behavior rather than condemning a person is also inline with modern definitions. The usage of terminology within the church is standard English.

Avoiding using gay as a noun

With regards to using gay as a noun, Elder Oaks said:

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.

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style gives a similar warning against using gay as a noun:

Gay is often considered objectionable when used as a noun to refer to particular individuals, as in "There were two gays on the panel"; here phrasing such as "Two members of the panel were gay" should be used instead. [6]

According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media reference guide, many newspapers have also advised their newspaper writers to avoid using gay as a noun. [7] They cite the following examples:

New York Times:

Do not use gay as a singular noun. Gays, a plural noun, may be used only as a last resort, ordinarily in a hard-to-fit headline.

Washington Post:

When it is necessary to mention it, gay may be used as an adjective but not as a noun, except as a plural: gay man, gay woman, gay people, gays. Not a gay...

Often, simply reporting the facts obviates the need for labels. Describing a slaying, for instance, should suffice without referring to it as a homosexual slaying. Ask yourself if you would use the term heterosexual slaying. In a recent story, a man "charged" that his former wife "was a lesbian" as if it were a slur, when simply alleging an affair between the ex-wife and the other woman would suffice.

Be wary of using homosexual as a noun. In certain contexts, it can be seen as a slur.

Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 1995).
  2. "To The One," address given to twelve-stake fireside, Brigham Young University (5 March 1978); reprinted in Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified (Bookcraft, 1982), pp. 186–200, emphasis added; italics in original. GL direct link
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign (October 1995), 9.
  4. "Orientation," American Psychological Association (last accessed 27 November 2010).
  5. Definition of Homosexuality, dictionary.reference.com, s.v. "homosexuality," (last accessed 27 November 2010).
  6. [American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), 201.
  7. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media reference guide (last accessed 27 November 2010).