The Fourth Path: Gay, Mormon, Celibate
A fascinating discussion is taking place over at Mormon Mentality with regard to recent changes made to the BYU honor code on the subject of homosexuality. Most interesting to me is the news that a group of gay BYU students took an active part in initiating and approving the changes to the honor code. One of these students, a bright, articulate, self-described 'current, homosexual BYU student, [and] a committed Latter-day Saint,' named Tito took part in some of the meetings between the students and administration where this issue was discussed. He says, 'Since I'm choosing to remain committed to the Church, I obviously don't feel homosexual relationships are morally acceptable,' but goes on to explain that he supports his many gay friends who choose 'homosexual relationships for their path.'
I must admit that when I hear Tito's frank dual admission to be both a homosexual and committed Latter-day Saint, it makes my head spin in all sorts of dizzy, disparate directions, from feelings of admiration and wonder to feelings of sympathy and even pity. The dizziness comes from the difficulty I have in connecting the dots between the equally powerful need to both: 1.) Believe in something that gives one's life meaning; and 2.) Fully love (and be loved by) a partner. In the case of gay-but-committed-Mormons, these two life-infusing needs seem hopelessly incongruous. As such, gay Mormons would seem to have one of four paths to choose from:
1.) Reject the religion, choose/create a new faith/meaning, and enjoy a 'full' relationship with a same-sex partner. The examples of such people are endless.
2.) Enjoy a 'full' relationship with a same-sex partner and maintain belief in (and ties to) Mormonism, albeit on a more restricted/limited basis (i.e. no callings, temple, or priesthood privileges). Past Sunstone contributors Buckley Jeppson and John Gustav-Wrathall have both walked this path.
3.) Maintain belief and full membership in Mormonism and marry an opposite-sex partner. Ben Christensen is a good example.
4.) Maintain belief and full membership in Mormonism and remain single and celibate. Ty Mansfield, co-author of In Quiet Desperation, is a good example. (See also this excellent review of IQD by Robert Rees.)
This 'Fourth Path' is relatively new (or more openly acknowledged and accepted) and is made possible by growing awareness regarding sexual orientation in general, and by the Church's fairly recent position on gays that: 1.) Delineates between same-sex feelings (not a sin) and same-sex behavior (a sin); and 2.) Discourages opposite-sex marriage as a means of dealing with same-sex attraction. This leaves gay Mormons without a viable alternative other than the default option of perpetual singlehood and celibacy. To be sure, both the Church and many gay Mormons hold out hope that therapy and/or faith may lead to heterosexual marriage and family in the future for some, but both camps also seem to be equally pragmatic and stoic in the realization that such an outcome may be unlikely for many, and that the rewards of marriage and family may need to be put off until the next life. Same-sex attraction is likened to a Job-like or Abraham-like test of faith and endurance.
So it is this Fourth Path that fascinates me the most, and not simply for the head-spinning, at-odds competition between the powerful needs of faith/belief and romantic love mentioned above. And not just because of the striking incongruity that the Fourth Path of celibacy and singlehood offers when juxtaposed against the traditional Mormon cultural and theological standard/ideal of partnership and family?¢Ç¨Äù by far the most recognizable and emphasized aspect of Mormonism. Besides these aspects (and others), what interests me most is the unspoken political ramifications inherent in the success or failure of these gay, single, and committed Mormons. In fact, if the four paths above were represented as a four-man political race, without question all eyes, both gay and straight, both Mormon and ex-Mormon, would be on the man running in lane #4.
Certainly, from the point of view of the Church, until a successful therapy or 'cure' can be found for those who have same-sex attraction, its hopes are pinned on the happiness and successful integration of those who walk the Fourth Path. Otherwise, the gospel must either undergo a radical readjustment that accommodates same-sex marriage, or be content with being a gospel for only 90 to 95 percent of the earth's inhabitants. Those who support the Church (and/or believe same-sex behavior to be immoral) will be rooting heavily for the success of these individuals.
But what about those Mormons and ex-Mormons who do not think that same-sex behavior is immoral? What about Gays who walk the First and Second Paths? Are they as unequivocal and enthusiastic in their support of those on the Fourth Path? I'd imagine that most no doubt desire that all individuals who have same-sex attraction find happiness where they may, be it in Mormonism or out, be it in the arms of a man or woman, or out; in short, they want each individual to fulfill their maximum being or essence. Conversely however, the success of those on the Fourth Path will likely mean the continued opposition and/or disapproval and alienation of those who either walk, or support those who walk, the First and Second Path.
Therefore, given that this path or option is relatively 'new' (in that it bears the fairly recent mark of tacit official sanction), it would seem that the success of this new generation of young, gay Mormons, the Ty Mansfields and the Titos (assuming he chooses the Fourth Path), is possessed with a kind of latent political charge. Their success or failure will almost certainly play a part in the shaping of policy and even doctrine and revelation with regard to sexual orientation, gender, marriage, and family in the future.
(Note: The blog post at Mormon Mentality appears to have prompted a Salt Lake Tribune article.)