Letter to a Stranger

By Gretta Whalen (this will be cross-posted today to her blog sayitwithasmirk.blogspot.com)

This is a private message I sent to a friend’s friend on Facebook at his request. The thread was pretty Mormon-y, and so is my response. The context: you can’t be Mormon and support gay marriage. My argument: yes you freaking can.

Also, in this post, I admit to the most shameful thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been keeping it a secret because I’m so terribly remorseful about it. It has been weighing on my conscience for nearly five years. I feel that in order to make restitution (and to not be a hypocrite), I need to confess. To my gay friends and family, I am deeply, deeply sorry. I made a mistake.

Hi Stranger,

I support gay marriage because while unions between a man and woman (or a man and several women as some have and many still believe) may be ecclesiastically sanctioned, what our society views as marriage is socially constructed. My marriage with my husband as it is recognized by the state allows certain privileges—like hospital visits and health benefits—but it ends at death. My temple sealing involves many more promises, but does not necessarily help me pay for my health care. My point is, the temporal and the divine can meet in places, but are generally two separate realms, especially for people who have different understandings of divinity. It seems morally wrong to say that I deserve the right to use my husband’s health benefits, I deserve the right to visit my dying husband in the hospital, but that my gay friends and family should not enjoy similar basic civil rights.

I sustain the LDS church leaders because I believe they are doing their best to further God’s work on Earth. I do not think they are perfect, because no humans are. To sustain means to support, not necessarily to agree with. In fact, I’ve read several biographies that document major disagreements between the brethren, even regarding “doctrinal” issues like the priesthood ban. (I put doctrinal in quotes because, according to David O. McKay, the priesthood ban was a policy issue, not a doctrinal one.) Recently, the LDS church changed its position on homosexuality, asserting that people do NOT choose their homosexual orientation. This is a major shift.

I believe the leaders of the LDS church are good people who are also entitled to opinions and personal revelation, just like I am. The inspiration I’ve received for myself is to support gay marriage. I live in California. I agonized over how to vote on Proposition 8. Ed note: To my non-Mormon friends, this might seem silly. Vote how you want to, right? But institutional pressure looms large in a church like mine and situations like these are presented as tests. I went into the voting booth having convinced myself that Proposition 8 was some sort of trial of my faith and obedience, as if GAY MARRIAGE had anything to do with me, a straight, married woman. When it came down to it, I voted “yes” in order to be obedient, and as I walked out of the booth, I could not control my weeping. My heart, my guts, my instincts all told me I had chosen incorrectly. I truly believe I should have voted “no” on Proposition 8.

When I went in for my temple recommend interview, I told my ecclesiastical leaders where I stand on gay marriage. They *still* issued me a recommend. That’s why I find statements that suggest I’m not worthy, or that I’m somehow being dishonest by calling myself a Mormon and sustaining my leaders, so unbelievably hurtful.

I respect your right and privilege to receive your own inspiration. I believe you practice your religion with integrity. I hope you can do the same for me.




Gretta Whalen is a graduate student, writing tutor, and Young Women advisor in Los Angeles. When she finishes her thesis on Religion, Boredom, and Modernity, she hopes to watch a lot more television.

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