Due to the significant controversy surrounding the upcoming TLC show entitled, “My Husband’s Not Gay,” and (more importantly) due to the very high stakes surrounding the topic of LDS Mixed-Orientation Marriages (defined in this case as a gay, lesbian or bisexual person marrying a heterosexual person), I would like to share a few of our findings from our study of 1,612 LGBT/Same-Sex Attracted Mormons. These findings relate directly to the central point of the “My Husband’s Not Gay” show, which is that many believing LGBT Mormons continue to seek out mixed-orientation marriages primarily based on their devotion to the LDS church, and/or based on their association with Ty Mansfield’s North Star organization (both of which encourage either celibacy or mixed-orientation marriage as the two viable options for active, believing LGBT/SSA Mormons).
Study Background: In 2011 Dr. William Bradshaw (BYU, Biology), Dr. Renee Galliher (USU, Psychology), Dr. Katie Crowell (PLU, Psychology), and I (John Dehlin — USU, Psychology) obtained approval from Utah State University’s Institutional Review Board to administer a survey to LGBT/same-sex attracted Mormons with the intent of better understanding their life experiences. This study was advertised primarily through: 1) the Associated Press (over 100 newspapers worldwide), 2) every known Mormon LGBT Support group (over 20 in all, with particular attention paid to pro-reparative therapy and mixed-orientation marriage-affirming organizations such as North Star and Evergreen), and 3) social media including blogs, podcasts, and Internet forums. In total, 1,612 Mormons and former Mormons completed the survey, which on average took between 1 and 1.5 hours to complete per participant.
1) Our Sample: We openly acknowledge that our findings are not based on a random sample. Although random samples are generally better, they are prohibitively complicated and expensive in this kind of research. Social scientists are often required to rely on less random sources of information, doing our best to get as broad a range of responses as possible, with the largest sample size that we can muster. To our knowledge, this study utilizes the best dataset (as in largest, and most representative) of LGBT Mormons (and possibly LGBT individuals of any religious group) ever assembled to address topics such as mixed-orientation marriages, celibacy, reparative therapy, religiosity, etc.
And while some people who are uncomfortable with the results of this study have attempted to dismiss it for its non-randomness, I would like to offer two pre-emptive responses: a) journal articles from our study have now been accepted in at least six respected, scientific, peer reviewed journals including the Journal of Counseling Psychology (one of the American Psychological Association’s flagship journals), the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Journal of Homosexuality, the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, and Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research. We feel like this broad endorsement speaks very well to the quality of our sample. In addition, b) To my knowledge, there has been no better sample ever assembled (Mormon or otherwise) that deals directly with the issues of LGBT religiosity, reparative therapy, mixed-orientation marriages, celibacy, etc. In reviewing the data we present you will find that we have included numerous active, believing Mormons (a full third of the sample) as well as inactive and former Mormons. This allows us to compare the outcomes of those who have chosen paths that are more approved by the church at present (celibacy and mixed-orientation marriages) with those who chose same-sex relationships. When helping young people make decisions that will have such huge consequences, we should give them the best information available. The experiences of 1600+ people is far more valid than the anecdotal experiences of a few acquaintances or a few high-profile individuals. Any health professional knows that it is better to rely on broader research than on anecdotes, even if these anecdotes are very famous, or come from cases they are personally familiar with. This is a basic premise of both modern medicine and modern psychology.
Consequently, while we do not expect people to make blind choices based on these data, we do feel as though it is irresponsible to dismiss these data out of hand, or to intentionally withhold this information from people who are trying to determine what choices they should make with regards to MOMs, celibacy, and same-sex relationships.
2) Self-Determination: While I absolutely affirm any individual’s inherent right to enter into a mixed-orientation marriage or celibacy, and believe that these individuals deserve only love, support, and compassion once this decision is made, I feel very strongly that young, impressionable Mormons should not be pressured to make choices having been unduly influenced or manipulated by emotion, social pressure, or by select anecdotes that can inspire false hope. Instead, I believe that these individuals should be given as much information as possible when making such crucial life decisions. I do worry that mixed-orientation marriages and celibacy are still being held up as a standard for young LGBT Mormons, and that this will contribute to people entering into marriages or celibacy based on social coercion and/or low self esteem.
Major Findings from our Study that Relate to TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay”
Very Low Long-Term Activity Rates for LDS LGBT Mormons: One important finding from our study has to do with church activity rates of LGBT Mormons. Our study found that over two thirds of LGBT/Same-Sex Attracted Mormons from our sample had either stopped attending church, resigned from the church, been excommunicated, or been disfellowshipped at the time of survey completion. This finding is significant since many of the well-intended LGBT Mormons (such as those on the TLC show and in North Star) who enter into Mixed-Orientation Marriages and/or celibacy do so out of devotion to their LDS faith — and this religious devotion naturally becomes the foundation for these relationships/decisions. If these findings hold for modern-day samples, up to 70% or more of these newly-forming mixed-orientation marriages are at high risk of destabilization at some future point, if/when the LGBT partner decides that they are not able to remain faithful to the LDS church.
Divorce Rates for Mixed-Orientation Marriages: Our review of the literature found that in the United States, the overall “ever-divorced rate” rate is 23.3% for males and 27.8% for females — meaning that between 24% and 28% of all first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. U.S. Mormons have similar divorce rates — males = 22.0%, females 28.1% (Heaton, Goodman, & Holman, 2001).
Studies of divorce rates for Mixed-Orientation Marriages (MOMs) range between 50% and 85% (Buxton, 1994; Buxton, 2001; Wolkomir, 2004) — meaning that MOMs in the U.S. are up to three times more likely to end in divorce than are heterosexual marriages.
In our study, of the 1,612 individuals who completed our survey, 31% (500) reported entering into mixed-orientation marriages at some point in their lives, with 240 reporting to still be in a MOM at the time of the survey. This represented a minimum MOM divorce rate of 51% for our sample. However, since the average duration of these persistent MOMs from our study was 16.6 years, it is reasonable to expect that at least some additional MOM divorces will occur in the future. For example, since 37% (n = 99) of the MOM divorces in our sample occurred after the 16 year mark, a flat projection based on the entire sample would estimate the eventual divorce reach to reach at least 69% for our study. We have noticed, for example, that many mixed-orientation marriages end after the children have left home (often at the 20-25 year mark).
In summary, consistent findings from our study, and from broader studies seem to indicate that those who enter into MOMs are up to 300% more likely to get divorced than the U.S. average.
Bisexuality is Essential in Preserving a Mixed-Orientation Marriage: An even starker finding from our study is that 85% of the men who rated themselves as exclusively homosexual on the Kinsey scale reported MOM divorces. In addition, when comparing Kinsey sexual attraction ratings (0 = Exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, 3 = Equally attracted to the opposite and same sexes or bisexual, 6 = Exclusively attracted to the same sex) of those who were able to maintain their mixed-orientation marriages vs. not — our study found that those who remained in a mixed-orientation marriage reported an average Kinsey attraction rating of 3.75, while those who were not in a mixed-orietntaion marriage reported an average Kinsey rating of 5.1. This strongly suggests that bisexuality is an essential ingredient to preserving a mixed-orientation marriage, while those with exclusive or nearly exclusive same-sex attractions are highly unlikely to be able to make a mixed-orientation marriage work in the long term.
Mental Health and Quality of Life for Mixed-Orientation Marriages: Using an empirically supported Quality of Life Measure (Burckhardt & Aderson, 2003), we measured the overall reported quality of life for single individuals, those in mixed-orientation marriages, and those in same-sex relationships from our study. We found that those who were single, or who entered into mixed-orientation marriages reported quality of life ratings worse than those who have lupus — a debilitating illness which includes symptoms such as fatigue and fever, joint pain, stiffness and swelling, skin lesions, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, confusion and memory loss. Those who were single or in mixed-orientation marriages also reported significantly higher rates of depression, sexual identity distress, and internalized homophobia, and significantly lower rates of self-esteem.
Mental Health and Quality of Life for Same-Sex Relationships: Conversely, our study found that LGBT Mormons who entered into legal, committed, same-sex marriages reported the highest quality of life and self-esteem scores, and the lowest scores for depression, sexual identity distress, and internalized homophobia — by a large statistical margin.
Celibacy: Though slightly tangential, I felt it would be important to include information about celibacy, since both the LDS church and North Star support celibacy as the only possible alternative to mixed-orientation marriages for believing, active LGBT/SSA Mormons. Our findings indicate that those who were celibate had the lowest quality of life and self-esteem ratings of any major group in our study, along with the highest levels of depression, sexual identity distress, and internalized homophobia (again, worse than for those who have lupus). In short, it appears as though choosing celibacy is perhaps one of the worst major life choices that an LGBT person can make from a mental health/quality of life perspective.
Mental Health and Quality of Life of Straight Spouses?: While it is appropriate to consider the mental health and well-being of the LGBT/SSA partners in MOMs, it is also essential to not overlook the experiences of the straight spouses in these relationship. A current study is being conducted on the mental health and quality of life of straight spouses in mixed-orientation marriages. Results to-be-released soon.
Correlates to Well-Being for LGBT Mormons and Former Mormons: For LGBT Mormons and former Mormons who are trying to determine which life decisions will have the highest probability of leading to the optimal outcomes (from a quality of life and mental health perspective), the data from our survey suggest that the following choices are associated with optimal quality of life and mental health outcomes for LGBT Mormons and Former Mormons.
Conclusion: While we fully acknowledge that Mormon LGBT/SSA individuals and their partners are free to choose mixed-orientation marriages or celibacy (and affirm their right to self-determination), we believe it essential that individuals considering these “lifestyles” are made aware of the best available statistics that underly these decision. Based on our research, we have found the following:
- It appears as though approximately 70% of LDS LGBT/SSA individuals end up leaving the LDS church at some point in their lives.
- While the U.S. divorce rate for first marriages is around 25%, mixed-orientation marriages appear to have somewhere between a 50% and an 80% divorce rate. LDS mixed-orientation marriages appear to follow a similar trend, and by our research, have an estimated 70% divorce rate. This means that mixed-orientation marriages are somewhere between 200% and 300% more likely to end in divorce than are heterosexual marriages.
- Bisexuality appears to be an essential ingredient to preserving an LDS mixed-orientation marriage. Those who are exclusively or near-exclusively attracted to the same sex have extremely high (upwards of 85%) probabilities of eventual divorce.
- Self-reported quality of life scores for LDS LGBT/SSA individuals who enter into mixed-orientation marriages are lower than for those who have lupus (a debilitating disease). Rates of depression, sexual identity distress, and internalized homophobia are also significantly higher, and rates of self-esteem are significantly lower. Outcomes for celibacy are even worse.
- Celibacy is possibly the single worst decision that an LGBT/SSA person could make from a mental health and well-being standpoint, based on our analysis of the data so far.
- The health/happiness/well-being of the straight spouses of LDS mixed-orientation marriages should not be overlooked, and are currently under study.
- LDS LGBT/SSA individuals who enter into legal, committed, same-sex relationships report the highest levels of quality of life and self-esteem, and the lowest levels of depression, sexual identity distress, and internalized homophobia.
- The decisions that appear to correlate with optimal quality of life and mental health outcomes for LGBT/SSA Mormons are the following:
- Believing that their same-sex attraction is biological, not a choice, and not a product of familial, social, environmental, or experiential factors.
- Accepting one’s same-sex sexuality.
- Coming out to family, friends, and community once one feels safe to do so.
- Becoming sexually active, preferably in a long term, committed, same-sex relationship (especially when exclusively same-sex attracted).
- Leaving the LDS church, either through resignation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication. We have found important exceptions to this correlate, and we hope that someday most LGBT people in the LDS church will be as happy as those who have left, but currently this is clearly not the case.
For questions, please email:
- John Dehlin: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bill Bradshaw: email@example.com
- Renee Galliher: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Katie Crowell: email@example.com
- Psychosocial Correlates of Religious Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction: A Mormon Perspective
- Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Among Current or Former LDS Church Members.