August 2, 2011

On Mormon Patriarchy and Homophobia

A short essay for your reading pleasure:

On Mormon Patriarchy and Homophobia

By Alan Michael Williams

There are over two million mixed-orientation marriages in this country,* and I don't doubt plenty of these marriages are happy -- particularly if one of the orientations is bisexual.  The question of same-sex marriage has never been about people’s ability or inability to make a mixed-orientation marriage work, but rather why a mixed-orientation marriage, fraught with potential dysfunction, should be a person's only option when he or she wants to marry.

Although it might be difficult for Mormons to grasp how same-sex marriage might fit into their theology, I should point out that faith communities who insist marriage is only between a man and a woman are always headed by heterosexual men.  So while it might be true that man/woman marriage is “traditional,” patriarchy and homophobia are longstanding, too.

Faiths that okay gay marriage ordain women.  Faiths that ordain women take into consideration women’s desires when formulating policy, to include lesbian desire.  In the Church, lesbian desire hasn’t warranted a footnote in official discourse, which is to be expected when, at the top, only heterosexual men are speaking.  Church leaders have taken into account straight women’s desire when it comes to recognizing how a straight woman might suffer when she marries a closeted gay man.  But this concern appears rooted in making sure Mormonism’s heteropatriarchy (that is, a system in which heterosexual men are heard the loudest) stays strong. The reason I say this is because all LDS policy about gayness seems oriented toward how to continue to have men take wives, regardless of their orientations.

For decades, church leaders told the general membership that gayness could be overcome if the battle is well-organized and pursued vigorously.  The idea here is that nothing actually has to be "cured" if a person refuses to entertain evil thoughts.  This homophobic wishful thinking kept many in the closet to themselves and others, including their spouses.

More recently, as it has become clear that some are riddled with this particular kind of “temptation,” the hope is these people can learn to better compartmentalize themselves before marriage.  If everyone helps in this regard, as opposed to expecting those affected to do it alone in silence, then what is thought of as a “reduction in homophobia” is surmised to keep the overall culture intact.  The belief that homosexuality is a worldly aberration, cured in Heaven, is kept intact.

This too is homophobic wishful thinking.  If “families are forever,” as the Mormon mantra goes, then homosexuality can’t be a worldly aberration -- unless you want to disqualify many families from being families.

The Church is obviously interested in being a moral leader in the 21st century.  This means it will likely need to both ordain women and recognize same-sex marriages.  I understand neither might seem theologically possible at the moment, but there really is nothing special about sustaining patriarchy and homophobia.

*This estimation comes from Buxton, A. P. (2001), “Writing our own script:  How bisexual men and their heterosexual wives maintain their marriages after disclosure,” Journal of Bisexuality, 1, 157.

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