I was surprised—and delighted—to read the headline, “Salt Lake City Has Highest Population of Same-Sex Couples Raising Kids.” Surprised because it seems counter-intuitive and yet, according to the survey (conducted by the UCLA Williams Institute), “Metro areas with the highest percentages of same-sex couples who are raising children are located in socially conservative states with constitutional bans on marriage equality in place.” When asked why they have chosen to live and raise families in such states, according to Abbie Goldberg, a Clark University professor of psychology, respondents say it is because “They value family—and now they’re creating families of their own.”
Perhaps no religion puts as strong an emphasis on families as does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though the Church has traditionally been singularly inhospitable to gays and lesbians, it is affirming to know that in spite of that inhospitality, LGBT Latter-day Saints have a deep interest in creating and nurturing families that is similar to that of their straight brothers and sisters.
That is, all of the lessons taught in family home evenings, in primary and Sunday school, in the young women and young men’s programs, in seminary and institute on the sacred calling of parents, on the importance of raising children and on the eternal nature of families were internalized by gay and lesbian children as well as by straight children growing up in the Church.
In fact, as one talks with LGBT Latter-day Saints, one of their greatest sources of pain is that the barriers within both Mormon and American culture to forming family units have seemed so forbidding and intractable. This article suggests that, as Bob Dylan sang, the times are a-changing. Hopefully, Latter-day Saint families, congregations and communities will be accepting of these gay and lesbian families and welcome them as neighbors and fellow congregants.
Anyone doubting the profound wish by gay people to form families should read Greg Prince’s marvelous interview with Andrew Solomon in the current issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, “An Exquisite and Profound Love.” Solomon, a non-Mormon but with definite ideas about the Mormon Church’s policies toward gays and its involvement in Proposition 8, articulates in as beautiful a way as I know the deep desire gays have to be parents and the deep joy they experience in being so. These are among the eloquent and moving things Solomon says about his marriage to his husband John and about their four children:
“It seems so incalculably precious and rapturous to me, the experience of love and marriage and family.”
“No experience has felt to me as unqualified a good as this experience.”
Their marriage and “that feeling of the presence of God in the experience came together in a way that I had no ability to conceptualize until it happened. It made our love seem to be part of a much bigger and greater idea of love—a more exquisite and profound love that buoyed and buoys us enormously.”
Solomon’s exultation about having children is no less profound. When he and John have a daughter by a surrogate (a friend), Solomon says, “There was this child in the world who wasn’t there before, and who was going to have me as a father. . . . It was shocking for me to look at [my new daughter] and think, ‘All those years, I thought I would never have a child. And look, I have a child! I am a father!’”
Who would not want everyone in the world to have such experiences? Especially a world so bereft of the kind of committed, faithful marital love the Mormon Church holds up as heaven’s ideal, a world in which so many fathers and mothers neglect their primary stewardship of loving and nurturing their children, a world in which there are so many children with no one to love them.
When Andrew and John have another surrogate child, a son, George, Solomon speaks of the experience in a way familiar to every straight parent. He speaks of his love for his son “escalating toward rhapsody,” and adds, “Without these children, my life would have been only a shadow of what it is and will be. I am sure I am making a thousand horrible mistakes, because I think that’s the nature of parenting; but I like to think that George has given me this great joy, and that he enables me to give some of what I have to give, some of what otherwise might just have rotted away, unused.”
Solomon, who has strong feelings about the Mormon Church’s past policies toward gays and especially its involvement in Proposition 8, nevertheless says something that should resonate with every Mormon, gay or straight: “In coming to an appreciation of the Mormon Church, one of the things that has been most compelling to me is the Mormon understanding of family, which extends beyond the general injunction to be fruitful and multiply, and addresses the permanence of love relationships into eternity, and embraces the sanctity of having children.”
Solomon concludes that if it is possible to get past the Church’s negative image in relation to LGBT people and same-sex marriage, “it will bring enormous riches to the Church.” Solomon feels, as do a growing number of Latter-day Saints, that those negative aspects of the Church’s position on homosexuality and on same-sex marriage ultimately undermine the Church’s enlightened teachings on marriage. Repressive policies toward gay people make them “much less likely to enter into open, loving relationships. And they are also much less likely to have the self-esteem that is required to be monogamous and loving. And in consequence, they are much less likely to create families. So I think the Church is exacerbating the very problem that it seeks to erase.” He adds, “I hope the Church will examine what is good and what is ill, and what good would be achieved by getting the suicidal, self-destructive, possibly carnal, or celibate to move toward this experience of love. I don’t believe that there is anyone of faith whose faith would not be strengthened by those experiences of a family.”
In many ways, Latter-day Saints set a good example in the world. Mormonism’s emphasis on the good, the true, the virtuous, its call for its followers to be good parents, good citizens, good people, is one of its strengths. In a world crying for leadership and competence, Mormons often are pioneers, setting the example, blazing the trail, circling the wagons. What gay and lesbian Mormon parents are doing in creating and nurturing strong families is a reflection of what they have been taught in and by the Church. That’s something to celebrate.