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The LDS Church and homosexuality

Part 1: Past and current Mormon attitudes &
policies towards homosexuality.

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Past LDS attitudes towards homosexuality:

Homosexuality is not mentioned in the three uniquely Mormon religious texts which they consider inspired by God and authoritative in addition to the Bible. They are: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), or the Pearl of Great Price. 1

D. Michael Quinn is gay, an ex-member of the church, and ex-professor of history at Brigham Young University. He was excommunicated in 1993. Now an independent researcher, he has suggested that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), was relatively accepting of gay and lesbian relationships. 2 In 1996, Quinn's book: "Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans - a Mormon Example" was published. In 2001, it was sufficiently popular to be printed later in paperback format. 3

According to Quinn, 19th and 20th century Mormons endorsed physical and emotional intimacy between gays and lesbians. Two examples were:
bullet Evan Stephens (1854-1930) was director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the author of many church hymns. He never married. However, he maintained intense friendships with several young men who lived with him and were his traveling companions at different times.

bulletJoseph F. Smith (1899-1964) was a Church Patriarch and allegedly a homosexual. While an instructor at the University of Utah, he allegedly had a homosexual relationship with a student. He later allegedly became sexually involved with another young Mormon male.

Quinn concluded that the church tolerated homoeroticism until the mid-1950s. 3

Reviews of his research are mixed:

bulletBook reviewer, Duane E. Jennings, commented:

"With the meticulous record keeping of of the Mormon Church and its members, a lot of evidence is presented suggesting remarkable tolerance of homoeroticism until the mid-1950s both within the Mormon Church and Utah. Citing evidence from Mildred J. Berryman's earliest community study of Lesbians and Gay Men in America, that took place in Salt Lake City between 19161938, personal diaries, articles from official Mormon Church publications and other sources, one gets the idea that Salt Lake City was never as straight nor as straitlaced as some would have the world believe." 4

bullet David Azzolina of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries wrote in the Library Journal that:

"Quinn carefully sets the theoretical parameters of his work in the first chapters and then demonstrates, with thorough documentation, several examples of long-term relationships among Mormon same-sex couples and the environment in which they flourished. His extraordinary accomplishment is especially notable for the subtlety of his claims and the nuanced interpretation he gives them, all supported by exhaustive documentation."

bulletA U.S. Amazon.com reviewer, identified for safety only as "A reader from USA" commented:

"Excellent read, and hits the history of Mormon attitudes regarding same-sex dynamics right on the nail's head. As one who has had first hand experience with both Mormonism and same-sex dynamics, I can assure you this book covers the these topics with astounding factual evidence and is devoid of any biasing, or personal agendas."

bulletTwo other researchers, George L. Mitton and Rhett S. James, discount Quinn's study saying that,

"Quinn has offered his readers quotations that are sometimes obviously wrenched out of context and paraphrases that often distort the meaning of crucial texts." 5

Additional information about same-sex couples in the LDS can be found in Rocky O'Donovan's essay: "The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature: A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980." 6

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Current LDS attitudes towards homosexuality:

The LDS church is currently very strongly opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians including the right to marry. They maintain that their position has remained unchanged through their history.

Their current policy is to not excommunicate a member simply because they have a homosexual orientation, as long as they remain celibate.

Daniel Peterson, a professor at Brigham Young University and the author of many books and articles on church doctrine said in an interview:

"To be a practicing [sexually active] homosexual is something that will bring you into contact with the church court. To be a homosexual as such, to be of that inclination, there's nothing ex communicatable about that and there are lots of them in the church. It must be a terribly difficult road to walk." 7

However, church policies are not always interpreted consistently; ex-members are occasionally seen in social media describing how they were excommunicated from the church because news of their sexual orientation became public, even though they have never been sexually active.

The church expects the same behavior among heterosexuals, bisexuals, gays and lesbians. Daniel Peterson said:

"... the standard for a homosexual is the same as the standard for a heterosexual. No sexual relations except within [an opposite-sex] marriage. And if you violate that, that is one of the most serious things the church will look at. In that sense, there's no discrimination; there's a single standard that if a heterosexual male violates his marriage covenants, he's likely to be disciplined, whether it's with a man or a woman." 7

Mormons commonly refer to homosexuals as being "same-sex attracted." Their current beliefs are similar to that of most other conservative Christian churches. They believe that:

  • All homosexual activity is immoral and sinful, irrespective of the love, commitment, and sexual orientation of partners in a same-sex relationship.

  • Homosexuality is caused by dysfunctional parenting, typically by an overbearing mother and emotionally distant father.

  • It can be cured through reparative therapy, repentance, and prayer.

These beliefs are contradict statements by:

  • All of the main professional mental health organizations. One exception is NARTH, which is a relatively small group

  • All or essentially all human sexuality researchers,

  • Gay and lesbian organizations,

  • Liberal and progressive religious faith groups, and

  • Growing numbers in reparative therapy (a.k.a. conversion therapy) organizations who attempt to convert persons with same-sex attraction into having a heterosexual orientation.

The quality of data on conversion rates from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation is very poor. However, they seem to indicate that somewhere between 0% and 1% of reparative therapy clients are successful. However, a much larger percentage remain with an unchanged homosexual orientation but decide to remain sexually inactive.

In the past, the Church believed that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle. Now they believe that homosexuality is an unchosen, discovered sexual orientation.

The church's teachings could conceivably be altered at any time, as the LDS church believes in continual revelation from God. In the past, they have been able to adapt to two major upheavals of their social policy"

  • The first revelation occurred in 1890. It suspended, at least temporarily. polygyny as the preferred family pattern.

  • They received a second revelation in 1978 which reversed their racist policies against African-Americans. Prior to the revelation, males with an African American ancestor could not be ordained. The church policy towards ordination remains sexist. All women have been and remain prohibited from ordination.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Cindy LeFevre, "Homophobia as a Weapon of Patriarchy", 1993 Affirmation Conference. Online at: http://www.affirmation.org/
  2. Jeff Ofstedahl, "Their tithing dollars at work; a look at Mormon influence in America's gay political scene -a history of hypocrisy (Parts I & II)," Echo Magazine, Phoenix, AZ, 1996-SEP and OCT.
  3. D. Michael Quinn, "Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example," University of Illinois Press, (1996) A book review is available at: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/s The book can be ordered from: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/
  4. Duane E. Jennings, "Same-Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example - Book Review," at: http://www.affirmation.org/
  5. G.L. Mitton & R.S. James, "A response to D. Michael Quinn's homosexual distortion of Latter-day Saint history," FARMS review of books, 10/1 (1998), 141-263.
  6. Rocky O'Donovan, "The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature": A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980," at: http://www.affirmation.org/
  7. "The Mormon Church and Gays," PBS, 2007-APR, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  8. Katherine Rosman, "Mormon Family Values," The Nation, 2002-FEB-25, at: http://www.thenation.com/

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Copyright 1998 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-DEC-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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