Micah Nickolaisen is a photographer and active, faithful Latter-Day Saint living in Chandler, Arizona. You can read more of his thoughts and story at FaithfulHeretic.com. Micah also manages and hosts the new Open Stories Foundation podcast A Thoughtful Faith
I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this post from my personal blog that I wrote last fall. The response to this has taught me that both my previous views on sexuality and subsequent journey to where I am now is very common in LDS culture. I feel my own experience is an archetype of similar paradigm shifts that we will hopefully continue to see in our Mormon community.
Be warned, I am not an academic, and don’t profess or pretend to be an expert on human sexuality. This has simply been my own experience, and I hope it will be of benefit to the readership here.
“. . . because of how you were born you must live your mortal existence denying yourself one of the most fundamental basic components of human happiness . . .”
My friend Scott recently sent out an email to his family and friends encouraging them to read and respond to this post on his blog. Since my response was growing far too long, I decided to post my reply here:
I have been attempting to reconcile my Mormonism with issues related to homosexuality since I was around 12 years old. It was at that age that I learned that my uncle, whom I love and respect, was gay. At the time, I didn’t understand at all what it meant to be gay, just that it was very strange (dare I say queer ), and that the idea of two men or two women loving each other in the same way my mom and dad did wasn’t fitting into my worldview. Over the course of my teenage years though I managed to meet a handful of other gay people besides my uncle and his partners, I was taught by ecclesiastical leaders and Mormon culture that these individuals were confused, indulging in sinful degeneracy, masturbated too much, were probably scarred from a sexual/psychological trauma, or simply didn’t have a strong enough father figure growing up.
While on my mission, my thoughts periodically returned to this issue, and when I would bring it up with my companions, I was often given resources like Miracle of Forgiveness, or something written or said by Boyd K. Packer. These statements made by earlier leaders essentially reinforced the previous notions I had received. At one point on my mission I stumbled across this talk by Elder Dallin H Oaks, which served as a subtle paradigm shift that shaped my views on homosexuality through most of my 20′s. In this talk, Elder Oaks explains that while we don’t know what causes homosexual “feelings,” such inclinations were not an excuse to engage in sexual sins. In his talk, Elder Oaks also encouraged the saints to have compassion for those who struggle with these strong “feelings,” but encouraged those who experience them to not let them define who they are.
Somewhere along the way I started using the same natural man theory that you have promoted in your post. This developed after discovering that more than likely homosexuality was in fact a natural sexual orientation that has always existed amongst all species. I also learned that there were well documented and peer reviewed studies that showed clear physiological evidence that gay people are born gay. In order to reconcile this I came up with the theory that homosexuality was no different than any other undesirable inborn trait that plagues humanity. Some people are born with a disposition toward alcoholism or other addictions. Some people are born with chemical imbalances that make them depressed, bipolar, or prone to other behavioral/sexual deviations. Does that mean that those things are okay? Of course not. Should we just accept somebody’s actions because they are predisposed to engage in harmful behavior? Of course not.
It was in the midst of all this that the Church started sponsoring local initiatives like Prop 8 and Prop 102. At the time I was very conflicted when the edict came down from Salt Lake that we were to donate our time and “means” to these initiatives. On one hand I agreed that homosexuality was a sin, and I believed what the Church said would happen if gay marriage was allowed. On the other hand, I felt very uneasy about a religious institution inserting itself into the political arena, and I also didn’t feel it was the government’s place to impose itself on people’s individual choices, especially who they are allowed to marry. Regardless of my reservations, I remained obedient and manned the phone booths and voted in favor of my local ballot initiative.
Things started to change for me about a year and a half ago, when I heard this talk by BYU professor of microbiology and molecular biology, Dr. William Bradshaw. Dr. Bradshaw came across not only as incredibly knowledgeable but also very humble as he explained some of the things I already knew, and many things I didn’t know about human sexuality. It was this presentation that shattered my assumption that somehow homosexuality was anything like a chemical imbalance or propensity for addiction or really any other evil associated with the natural man. In fact, the only natural human behavioral phenomenon homosexuality was similar to was heterosexuality. The same longing that I feel to connect emotionally, spiritually and sexually to a member of the opposite sex is the same thing that my uncle and other gay people feel toward their sexual partners. In fact, it is possible that our yearning for this kind of connection to sexual partners is a vital and essential need for a healthy human lifestyle. You can also hear Dr. Bradshaw go into much further depth here.
This new information has caused me to jettison any notions I’ve had in the past of what I thought homosexuality was about, and to start from scratch. Everything I have read and heard from other resources have reinforced this concept to me. Of course, the real lingering concern has been my religion (oh yeah, that whole Mormonism thing). How could I reconcile what the leaders of my Church were saying with what I had learned from vetted, reliable sources?
The first thing I realized was that the claims the Church had made about the implications of gay marriage were largely speculative if not blatantly false. We were told from the pulpit and from official Church statements that gay marriage would place “church and state on a collision course.” What the Church alluded to here was a battle between secularism and religion that would culminate in churches being forced to recognize and perform gay marriages. A minimal amount of research demonstrated to me that the arguments the Church was making were full of logical fallacies and other forms of misinformation. After all, the LDS Church has excluded people from its temples since the Utah period.
The next shift came less than a year ago, when one day while driving in the car I had an epiphany. As I revisited in my mind some of the Church’s previously-held-yet-now-
“It is a fact worthy of note that the shortest lived nations of which we have record have been monogamic. Rome…was a monogamic nation and the numerous evils attending that system early laid the foundation for that ruin which eventually overtook her.”
– George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 202
“The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious.”
– Prophet Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128
“…the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people.”
– John Taylor, Millennial Star, Vol. 15, p. 227
“Monogamy, or restrictions by law to one wife, is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire….Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged. Thus this monogamic order of marriage, so esteemed by modern Christians as a holy sacrament and divine institution, is nothing but a system established by a set of robbers…. Why do we believe in and practice polygamy? Because the Lord introduced it to his servants in a revelation given to Joseph Smith, and the Lord’s servants have always practiced it. ‘And is that religion popular in heaven?’ it is the only popular religion there,…”
– Brigham Young, The Deseret News, August 6, 1862
“This law of monogamy, or the monogamic system, laid the foundation for prostitution and the evils and diseases of the most revolting nature and character under which modern Christendom groans,…”
– Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, page 195
“We breathe the free air, we have the best looking men and handsomest women, and if they (Non-Mormons) envy us our position, well they may, for they are a poor, narrow-minded, pinch-backed race of men, who chain themselves down to the law of monogamy, and live all their days under the dominion of one wife. They ought to be ashamed of such conduct, and the still fouler channel which flows from their practices; and it is not to be wondered at that they should envy those who so much better understand the social relations.”
– George A Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, page 291
“I have noticed that a man who has but one wife, and is inclined to that doctrine, soon begins to wither and dry up, while a man who goes into plurality [of wives] looks fresh, young, and sprightly. Why is this? Because God loves that man, and because he honors his word. Some of you may not believe this, but I not only believe it but I also know it. For a man of God to be confined to one woman is small business. I do not know what we would do if we had only one wife apiece.”
– Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses Vol 5, page 22
“Just ask yourselves, historians, when was monogamy introduced on to the face of the earth? When those buccaneers, who settled on the peninsula where Rome now stands, could not steal women enough to have two or three apiece, they passed a law that a man should have but one woman. And this started monogamy and the downfall of the plurality system. In the days of Jesus, Rome, having dominion over Jerusalem, they carried out the doctrine more or less. This was the rise, start and foundation of the doctrine of monogamy; and never till then was there a law passed, that we have any knowledge of, that a man should have but one wife. ”
– Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 12, page 262
“If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
– Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 10, pages 104–111.
“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn’t that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it.”
– Mark E. Peterson, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954
“Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world…are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they…”
– Joseph Fielding Smith, Relief Society Magazine, 3:367-368, July 1916
“Married persons should understand that if in their marital relations they are guilty of unnatural, impure, or unholy practices, they should not enter the temple unless and until they repent and discontinue any such practices. Husbands and wives who are aware of these requirements can determine by themselves their standing before the Lord. All of this should be conveyed without having priesthood leaders focus upon intimate matters which are a part of husband and wife relationships. . . . The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.”
– Spencer W. Kimball, First Presidency Letter, January 5, 1982
Upon realizing this, I asked myself, “why would I let the proclamations of a Church with such a checkered history with similar issues influence the way I feel about this?” If they can be wrong about polygamy, and wrong about interracial marriage, and wrong about birth control, how could I honestly trust what they tell me about this? It was at this point that what Church leaders past or present promote about this issue no longer had influence on my approach to human sexuality.
Still, after all this the last overarching concern for me has been Mormon theology in general, and the doctrines associated with eternal gender and families. If the current family structure of husband and wife is meant to last through the eternities, how does homosexual relationships fit into the Plan of Salvation? To my surprise, this question had already been thoroughly addressed. In his essay published in Dialogue,Toward A Post Heterosexual Mormon Theology, Taylor G. Petrey demonstrates how there is room in existing Mormon doctrine and theology for eternal relationships regardless of any human notions of gender. Ah, but what about the Family Proclamation? You can do the research yourself, but it’s pretty clear that this document is not scripture, not part of official cannon, and has never been presented as a revelation. Well, what about the scriptures? I would appreciate anyone being able to point me to any scripture outside of the Old Testament that clearly condemns homosexuality.
At the end of the day, I think our modern faith tradition in general is all too comfortable with what we perceive to be “certainties” about the Gospel. If Mormon doctrine teaches us anything, it should encourage us to never be satisfied with what we think we know is true, and to always be open to and actively seeking further light and knowledge. I also feel like we’ve repeatedly ended up on the wrong side of history, and eventually have capitulated to what the rest of society learned decades before us. What I do feel certain about now, is that the relationships that my gay friends and family members experience with their partners is no less valuable than the one I enjoy with my wonderful wife. I can’t find any reasons that don’t prey on people’s false assumptions, fears, prejudices, and conspiratorial imaginings that justify us or any government denying these people the same rights, privileges, and status that I do.
I think it is beyond a heterosexual person’s comprehension to imagine what it must be like to hear the Church you love so deeply tell you that you are less-than, and that because of how you were born you must live your mortal existence denying yourself one of the most fundamental basic components of human happiness. The suicide rate amongst LDS homosexuals is as embarrassing as it is utterly horrifying. So, in the same way that Governor George Romney actively defied the highest leadership of our Church during the Civil Rights movement, I hope to stand now for what I feel is right. You have referred to the Mormons for Marriage Equality as misguided. To me they are heroes, who despite the Church’s and Mormon culture’s demands for obedience and conformity have stood up for their mistreated brothers and sisters. Though I wasn’t able to march with these brave men and women, I certainly was with them in spirit.
I have consistently researched this issue since 2004. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but I happily defer to the intellectual heavy lifting that has been done for us by biologists, geneticists, and psychologists who possess the skill, training, and experience to thoroughly research this issue. I happily welcome you or anyone to engage in further discussion on this matter. I am completely open to being dead wrong about this or anything else. Regardless, as people continue to kill themselves or live in hopeless shame, this issue deserves our highest levels of thinking and dialogue to arrive at fuller awareness and truth.