30 June 2010

What a Day, What a Place

The twins are starting to realize why I have been raving about New York City for the last few years. Their jaws drop as they look up and down the streets and see row after row of countless buildings stretching in every direction, all of which are taller than the ones they see downtown back home. The hum, the vibrancy, the constant activity, the sheer staggering size of this place is nothing they've ever imagined. They both agree it's the most amazing city they've ever seen. Fortunately the heat's starting to abate a bit too. Daytime high should only be 80 today, instead of the mid-90's we saw on Monday.

Yesterday at Boy Twin's insistence, our first stop was the Empire State Building. For a kid as acrophobic as he is, I was surprised he wanted to go all the way to the top. Though I've been to the city numerous times, I never managed to make up there till yesterday. What a view. What a place.

Next we headed to SoHo, I wanted them to see what NYC looked like during the Civil War. Cobblestone streets, old brownstones, that sort of thing. It's quite gentrified now and is a unique and eye-poppingly expensive part of town. But beautiful to look at and wander round.

Then over to Chelsea Market on our way to Ground Zero. But thanks to their jet lag, we'd gotten kind of a late start, and by the time we got to Chelsea it was already pushing 4 pm. We were due to meet the distinguished author of the Moving Horizon blog just east of the park for dinner, so at that point we headed back to the Upper West Side where we're staying with friends, refreshed, then took a cab through the park to Serendipity, which I'm told is one of the latest "uber-NY" spots.

We spent the nearly hour long wait for a Serendipity table at Dylan's Candy Bar just up the street, another place like we've not seen anywhere else. Three floors of every possible kind of candy you could imagine, plus all the peripherals like t-shirts, pillows with huge Reese's or M&M logo's on them, even a brand of candy called Toxic Waste. Which most of it is, anyway. The twins went ga-ga, and I have to admit, it's the most unique candy store I've ever seen. I had to get some marzipan and almond-crusted English toffee. But only a little.

Serendipity was unique as well. Imagine a TGI Fridays, Victorian style, with everything white. Lots of old stuff hung on the walls. And wait staff from India & Pakistan. Amazing desserts. Lemon cheesecake with vanilla bean ice cream, fresh peaches & blueberries, fresh lemon zest and whipped cream? On a 90+ degree New York day? Who could resist that? Fellow blogger Moving Horizon was delightful, and afterward took us to his office for a wonderful evening view. Along the way he pointed out a rare phenomenon called Manhattan-henge, where if you time it right you can see the sun setting exactly between two walls of buildings down one street, lined up perfectly just like Stonehenge. It was very cool. He was wonderful company and is flying home tonight to have The Talk with his parents. It was amazing how similar our experiences have been to this point and I pray his parents react more positively than my family has.

It was a beautiful evening as we walked around midtown. We stopped at St. Pat's for a look but they were already closed. Today, perhaps. Then on to the theatre district to meet up with friend with whom we're staying, and thence we enjoyed a stroll home; at past 10 pm it was cool and refreshing and the city was active as ever, streets filled with people, everything still humming at 100 mph. Summer nights in New York. Irresistible. Wish I could have stayed out longer. When we got home I fell asleep almost immediately. After spending all day on your feet, who wouldn't?

And now it's Wednesday morning, the twins are still asleep (resisting any adjustment to East Coast time), so I have laundry going in the basement and am about to wake them so we can get going again. I didn't bring them to New York to sleep half the day! In a little while we're meeting up with another MoHo family member for more amazing NYC fun, then tonight we'll see Billy Elliot. I love this town.

28 June 2010

The Big Trip

Massachusetts was great. Green and beautiful. Thursday was the first wedding day. We met the Arizona boys on the beach in Sandwich and they were dressed perfectly for a beach wedding: Madras beach shorts, polo shirts, even a white hat. We stood on a rock jetty and they exchanged simple vows, no doubt these were two of the few weddings ever where the ceremony was read from an iPhone screen! It was delightful! Afterward we celebrated at Seafood Sam's, a local spot that hands out those coaster thingies that buzz and flash lights when your table is ready, only theirs were shaped like lobsters. It was a wonderful morning. That afternoon the twins and I went out to Provincetown (or "P-town") at the very tip of Cape Cod. It's like Castro Street only bigger, a bit less in-your-face, with a seashore and buildings all centuries old. Charming! I can see why people love to visit and live there.

Friday we drove to Boston and enjoyed a guided walking tour of the Freedom Trail, saw Boston Common, the cemetery where Sam Adams and Paul Revere and John Hancock are buried, the old State House where the Declaration of Independence was first read in public, and the site of the Boston Massacre. Then out to Cambridge to walk around Harvard Law School where twin daughter wants to go someday. Then back to Sandwich. Next day spent slumming around locally, searching for dress shoes and a belt for him, and we lucked out! Found an outlet mall with a Bass shoe store running a "buy one get two free" sale, so we all got new shoes. Sweet. Call it another OGT to get excited about an impromptu shopping trip. Saturday evening dinner with the two families at Cafe Chew, which served a passable imitation of a "California" BLT with avocado. Sandwich is a beautiful town full of history and atmosphere, and in some ways I felt a lot more at home there than I do out West. The twins and I even talked about what it might be like to live in the Northeast in future years, in a place where Dan and Michael said being gay or straight was just never an issue. "SO nice," they said. As opposed to the homophobic cultural pressure-cooker called Utah.

Sunday was Dan & Michael's wedding. I won't steal their thunder except to say that it was beautiful, went flawlessly. It was so fun to stand up close right next to them and see the tears welling up in their eyes as they gazed and smiled at each other while I said the words of commitment and pronounced them married. My own eyes were more than a little wet too, I can tell you. Afterward while most everyone else went to their hotel rooms to relax, we headed back to the boardwalk and beach to do the last of the Massachusetts weddings, this one with Brandon & Michael. It was delightful, of course. Then to Seafood Sam's again for lunch at the twins' insistence to indulge their craving for popcorn shrimp. Then we went back to our cottage and I actually took a nap! Turns out I wasn't the only one. Sandwich is a charming, quiet village founded in 1639, and later that afternoon we took a stroll round to enjoy the cool fresh air and the quiet and the atmosphere. And met Dan & Michael on the street doing the same thing! Back to the Inn by 6:30 all dressed up again for the reception, which was a great party. I danced with my beautiful daughter who felt a bit self-conscious about it, especially when her brother took to the floor during one of the faster numbers and displayed his dancing prowess, which is considerable. Dat kid got da moves. Party broke up near 11 pm.

Monday morning we met Dan & Michael at the town clerk's office to record the marriage, which took only a few minutes. Said our goodbyes with big hugs and promises to meet again soon. Then Rob & Twins headed south and were in New York by 1:30 pm, to find it was the hottest day of the year so far. By 10 pm it had finally cooled down to below 80 degrees. Still, we had a great time walking from Lincoln Center to Sheep Meadow for a rest on the grass, then down 5th a ways and over to Times Square where the twins were wide-eyed to see such a barrage of light,
then took the train home again. Empire State Building, SoHo and Chelsea tomorrow, I think. I love this town.

23 June 2010

Today It Starts

The Internet is amazing. When I logged on to the blog this morning, someone in Nord Pas de Calais in France was reading it. Think about where technology was within living memory: vacuum tube radios, TV not even invented yet, space travel purely theoretical. Makes me excited to see what the next decades will bring!

But that's far in the future. For now, today starts The Grand Adventure. The long-awaited vacation that includes all those weddings. I'm doing my normal paranoid thing and worrying about what I'm going to forget to pack because I always forget something. But usually it's not fatal, just inconvenient. Anyway, watch this space for travel updates. It's gonna be great!

20 June 2010

In Which Rob Gets Called Out For His Prior Post, And Responds

Within hours after my earlier post today, "Same Tune, Different Words," I received a lengthy comment to the post from a good friend. Here's what he said:

"Rob, I respectfully must call you out on this one. I'm afraid you don't have all the facts, and hope once you understand a bit better, you will retract some of what you said.

First this fireside is the direct result of a gay LDS friend and my efforts. We planned the entire program, including the announcements, fliers, speakers - everything. After we planned the program, I took it to my stake president who took it to the three area authorities involved to obtain permission to hold it in the stake center by the temple and to announce it in all the wards of the 60 stakes.

This is not an effort by leaders in any way to control the agenda or send a message that we are second class citizens or need fixed.

If you find fault with the program, blame me, not the church. Hopefully you know me well enough to know that I do not condemn homosexuals or consider those who choose to live a life with a homosexual partner to be an abomination.

I am gay myself, have a gay brother, several gay family members, and tons of gay friends.

The purpose of the fireside is to educate leaders and family about the challenges gay members of the church face. It is to offer hope to those who are gay and want to maintain a close connection with the church.

We have a small support group here with about 2/3 BYUI students. It is very apparent that bishops and stake presidents lack understanding in helping gay members of their congregations. In this fireside, there will be breakout sessions for priesthood leaders, friends and family, gay men, and gay women. In each of these sessions, a priesthood leader will speak for 20 minutes and so will a mental health professional. Then we will have a 20 minute Q&A with those two and 2 or 3 of us who are gay. I will be on the panel in the priesthood leader group. It is a bit daunting to know that all of Eastern Idaho will then have the possibility to know that I, who work and live amongst them, am gay. It is somewhat of a risk on my part, but is worth it if one young man or woman is helped to know that they aren't broken, don't need fixed, and are loved and accepted by their church leaders.

After the breakout sessions, we will come together again, with Ty as the keynote speaker. We chose Ty, not because he is recently married and we are trying to use him as an example that if gay members hold fast to the church, they will be blessed with a spouse, but because he is a good man who truly understands the issues we face and is a good example of one who is doing his best to live faithfully as a gay member of the church.

Again, this fireside is solely the result of two gay men, my friend and me, who want to help church leaders understand our needs, and how they can best support us. I personally witnessed the heartbreak my family caused in my brother's life because we did not understand this issues he faced. This program will hopefully spare some from the shame and heartbreak he felt because of ignorance on the part of my family. It is also an opportunity to help those who are gay understand that they are loved, wanted and needed in the church, and that there is hope, that life is worth living, and that happiness can be found within the church.

I believe that those of us who have first hand knowledge of the difficulties gay Mormons face have the responsibility to do our part to soften hearts and open minds of fellow members. This is our attempt to do just that.

If you want to cast stones, throw them directly at me. I stand exposed and ready to receive them."

This friend is an honest, honorable, good-hearted man who I know wants only the best for everyone. He has had difficulties in his own life which have made him very compassionate for others and I believe him when he says he tries his utmost not to judge anyone, especially those who have chosen different things for their lives than he has. I have great respect for his efforts and his faith. Having read through his comment, I concluded that I should not leave it buried in the discussion thread for that post; rather, since he's called me out on some of my statements, the respectful thing would be to give his comment prominent coverage and then respond. So I have included his letter above, verbatim as he wrote it. And I'll now respond.

I sincerely regret if I gave any offense; that was never my intention. Please forgive me if I caused any. Here is why I wrote what I did.

1. As I already stated, I applaud any effort to increase dialogue and understanding. I recognize that this motivation for this event is a good and pure one, intended to promote communication and learning, reduce prejudice and misinformation, and, it's hoped, thereby improve life in the Church in eastern Idaho for God's gay children. These are praiseworthy intents and goals and I commend my friend for his efforts and putting his own reputation somewhat at risk with his commitment. This takes great courage. I hope I may be forgiven as I now explain why I think these goals will not be completely fulfilled.

2. The consistent use of the phrase "same sex attraction" throughout the announcement indicated that this event had official Church sponsorship and endorsement. I've stated elsewhere why I object to this term so much; I believe it is a deceptive euphemism that perpetuates damage.

I recognize that, political realities being what they are, any official statement even from local LDS leaders or with their approval about the topic of homosexuality would have to use this Church-approved term, and that such terminology may have been part of the price of securing their approval for the event. But that doesn't change the fact that the term carries certain connotations which intrinsically favor the official LDS line about the issue. That official line, even at its most benign, fosters an attitude amongst straight Saints that being gay is a tragedy, a burden, a mistake, an affliction, a flaw, a handicap to be suffered, struggled with, something to be pitied, wrestled with, and overcome.

While opinions amongst gay Saints differ, of course, I and many others find that attitude condescending and offensive. We refuse to accept that we are broken or flawed or afflicted, or that we have anything at all to "struggle" with. The difficulties come not from being gay; they are all externally imposed by a religious culture which believes being gay is all of the above and insists on treating us accordingly. If those attitudes would stop, the "struggle" would vanish.

3. I recognize that this event is intended for gay Mormons who want to live lives according to the teachings of the LDS Church as well as for their friends, families, allies and priesthood leaders who would want to support them in those efforts. That is all well and good. But it is a palliative. The announcement does not indicate any effort toward resolving the conflict between homosexuality and current LDS teachings. I know milk must come before meat, so that resolution is most likely beyond the scope of this event. I understand that. One can only bite off and chew so much.

3. But the irreducible truth is this: According to Mormon theology as currently understood, homosexuality should not exist, because everyone with sufficient understanding should want--and should have the capacity to try for--the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Were it otherwise, God would be a partial God, favoring some of His children above others. This result would be intolerable in LDS belief.

So when someone says in full honesty of heart that they do not want, cannot do, and could not imagine ever wanting or being capable of what the LDS Church says they must do in order to reach that reward, the LDS Church cannot answer or explain how that could possibly be. Such people simply don't fit and can't be made to fit anywhere in current LDS understanding of any map of the eternities.

There is no guidance in the Scriptures for answering this conundrum, and LDS general authorities have been all over the map about it for a century, as has Church policy and procedure. Inconsistency has been rampant, to the point of justifying anyone who concludes that the Church simply doesn't know what to think about or do with this subject.

4. Given such uncertainty, the best that can be done is to try to extrapolate from what is currently accepted, and try to make gay Saints fit there somehow. Hence the long years of General Authority advice to simply get married as a "cure" for what they saw as a "choice" that could be "fixed." Such men were sustained as prophets, seers and revelators and so this tragically flawed advice was taken as inspired. No new revelation having been received on the subject since then, there is no reason to expect that any current advice is any more trustworthy.

This is why I agree with commenter MoHoHawaii that featuring Ty Mansfield as keynote speaker will send a powerful unspoken message, perhaps despite my friend's intentions, that the Church really wants its young, trusting gay members to be like Ty and do what he did: acknowledge being gay, yes, but try to kill it off within yourself if you can and never give up hope of a temple marriage, meanwhile staying strictly celibate and following the instructions in "God Loveth His Children" which boil down to "exclude from your life every outward manifestation or reminder of being gay."

5. And that is the conundrum. At the end of the day, the Church still wants its gay members to squelch and smother this fundamental part of who they are as the price of being good enough. As long as it maintains that position, no matter how much it tries to "reach out in love" it will always consider its gay members as not quite measuring up, as problematic, as people to be monitored and watched and counseled and guided and corrected not because what they do but simply because of who they are. The Church treats nobody else with this level of suspicion. It creates this situation with its own teachings and then forces its gay members to make this impossible choice, sacrificing something significant of themselves no matter which way they go. No one else in the Church is asked to do this solely because of the way God created them. And the fact that this horrible choice is forced on them by an organization whose teachings about it have been demonstrably untrustworthy in the past is extremely frustrating; that is why I re-wrote the announcement as I did, to illustrate how absurd the Church's position would seem if only one basic data point were different.

6. So even after dialogue has increased, understanding has spread, love and tolerance have been enhanced, and local leaders are more educated about homosexuality, at the end of the day nothing will change. As long as the LDS Church holds to current teachings, its leaders in eastern Idaho or anywhere else can do nothing but what I've described above even after countless firesides. They will insist that the price of a gay person's continuing membership in the Church is to deny their own nature, deny themselves the happiness and fulfillment and intimacy that the Church urges on everyone else, and confine themselves to lives of loneliness in hopes that at some point after death God will change them to be something they never really wanted in mortality anyway.

Some may choose this path, and I will be the first to agree that such choices must be respected, as we must respect the choices of those gay brethren & sisters who stay in mixed orientation marriages and remain active in the church. The challenges of such marriages are extreme and those who make a success of them must be respected for their dedication.

7. Yet such people are clearly a small minority. Statistics confirm that most gay Mormons end up leaving the church, resolving this impossible conundrum in favor of seeking the joy and happiness that prophets from Lehi through Joseph Smith and into our own day have said is the "object and design of our existence." The steady stream of gay Mormons out of the church confirms that most see LDS teachings as incompatible with that result in their own lives.

8. Therefore, until LDS theology resolves these conundrums so as to allow God's gay children to enjoy the same happiness and fulfillment in mortality as His straight ones do, I believe that LDS leaders will be duty-bound to enforce the current rules in a way that will perpetuate what my friend is laudably trying to reduce. Again, I applaud him and his efforts. They come from a good and noble heart that I know is pure. I am sad to say that I believe those efforts will be largely frustrated by the obligations of the very leaders who have approved them. If I am proven wrong, no one would be happier than I. Sincere wishes for good luck and success, friend.

Same Tune, Different Words

An announcement was recently circulated to all Mormon Church units in southeastern Idaho. Here's what it said:

We live in a time of increasing difficulty and temptation. The world is relentless in its efforts to ensnare Latter-day Saints. One particularly difficult trial faced by many members of the Church is being African-American which prevents them holding the priesthood, prevents them going to the temple and so restricts them to marriages that will last only for this life. This unwanted difficulty is increasingly common. While the percentage of individuals who are this way is small, nearly 10% of the country's population is African-American. The nature of this trial--the fact that their race alone prevents them from receiving the ordinances that are the only possible way to live with God again after this life--leads far too many of our members to become discouraged and abandon hope. Far too many fall away from the sweet peace that the Gospel can bring.

Recently, the Church has made an effort to explain its position with respect to African-Americans with a new level of compassion and understanding. A book called "Mormonism and the Negro - An explanation and defense of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in regard to Negroes and others of Negroid Blood" was recently published and makes it clear that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recognize the need for us to reach out in love and understanding to those who experience being black. This helpful book makes it clear that we as Latter-day Saints should extend "brotherly Christian love to the Negro." However, this "does not and should not include intermarriage, for we would bring upon our children the curse of Cain, or rather, we would bring unto ourselves children from those spirits destined to be the seed of Cain." It also reminds us of the First Presidency's official statement confirming that "intermarriage of the Negro and White races" is a concept "most repugnant to most normal minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now."

In order to increase understanding and compassion for those who struggle with this burden, we have organized a fireside designed for all members of the Church: individuals who are African-American and Priesthood leaders, as well as every parent and friend in the Church. We invite your stake or ward to participate in this unique opportunity. Please make an effort to let every member know about this invaluable learning experience. This special fireside will include specific instruction for you as Priesthood leaders, for those who experience being black, and for friends and family. Presenters will include Priesthood leaders and sociological professionals. We are also honored to announce that John J. Stewart, author of Mormonism and the Negro, will be our feature speaker.

We've included a flier that could be posted in your buildings. We've also included an announcement to add to your bulletin for the next couple of weeks. Additionally, we encourage you to consider announcing this event from the pulpit. Perhaps you are aware of individuals who would benefit from this fireside; they would most-likely benefit from a special personal invitation for them to attend.

Thank you sincerely for your efforts in reaching out to those who struggle daily with this incredibly difficult and often misunderstood challenge. As we all strive to increase our understanding and compassion, we will be better able to offer the Christ-like love and support so desperately needed.

Okay, okay. You've probably caught on by now. This announcement wasn't about African-Americans, it was about those who "suffer from same gender attraction." I have changed fact points as necessary, but as I did with the Delbert Stapley letter a little while back, I've otherwise kept an original LDS Church document intact. Change all "African-American" references to "suffer from same gender attraction" references in the announcement above, and you'll have the 100% original authentic document that went to 63 LDS stakes in southeastern Idaho. (BTW, the original announcement touted Ty Mansfield, co-author of pro-LDS Church apologetic "In Quiet Desperation" as "feature [sic] speaker.")

I applaud the sponsors of this event for their efforts to reach out. I freely concede that they believe they are operating from what they believe is Christian love. It's certainly better than what many Christians have done to God's gay children in the name of faith.

But these LDS leaders in Idaho also need to know that their approach is patronizing, condescending, and perpetuates the very problems they claim to be trying to address. The underlying message and assumption is that gay people need this compassion and understanding because they are flawed, have this horrible burden to "struggle with," are in a separate category that requires special treatment, extra effort by Mormons to be nice to them, poor souls, because of this terrible thing that life or God or their own actions have imposed on them.

I for one reject this approach, and many others will too. Its advocates need to understand that it is just as offensive as good Christian racists were 50 years ago when they talked of treating The Negroes with kindness because they were a cursed, inferior race suffering with this unwanted burden so therefore God's favored white race had a Christian duty to reach out in "understanding and compassion"--as long as they kept their place and didn't get uppity about it. We'll be nice to you, but don't you go questioning why we treat you this way in the first place.

Idaho Mormon leaders need to understand that if any suffering results from being gay--or particularly being gay and Mormon--it's NOT an intrinsic inevitable result of the condition itself. It's solely a result of the very attitudes that prompt this announcement: a belief that being gay is bad, wrong, a mistake, a threat, and then treating gay people accordingly. Idaho LDS leaders have once again demonstrated that the Mormons have the cart before the horse. Take away the religiously based prejudice and all the "difficulties" Idaho's Mormon leaders are trying to treat with "compassion" would disappear.

Notice the reliance on First Presidency statements--just as anti-gay Mormons do today--and the actual First Presidency statement that interracial marriage has been "repugnant" to "most normal people" since the time of the ancient prophets. We hear the same thing from Mormons today about being gay: it's been "condemned" by prophets since ancient times, it's not "normal," that marriage has always been between a man and a woman throughout human history (arguably not true, but that's for another post), and so therefore we must continue our soft homophobia because that's the way it's always been done. Well guess what, folks, that's exactly what Mormons thought about African-Americans until one startling day in 1978. And if you really believe the 9th Article of Faith, you must concede that you or your kids or your grandkids are not safe from a similar startling reversal of what you thought were eternal principles about The Gay.

I can only hope that in another 50 years, future generations of Mormons will look back on this announcement from Idaho Mormon leaders with the same incredulity and shame that today's Mormons look at "Mormonism and the Negro." Because it really is the same tune, just different words.

19 June 2010

Rob Comes Out Again

Welcome, readers of my piece at gay.com. I'm honored that you'd take time to stop by my little corner of cyberspace. Feel free to look around; Greatest Hits or Biggest Flops over there to the left is a good place to kill a few minutes. Hope you enjoy your visit.

To blog readers who start here, your humble correspondent was invited to write something for gay.com which should really piss my family off even more. So Rob takes another step out of the closet, and this is a pretty big one. Click here and enjoy!

The gay.com image is Copyright 2010 gay.com.

16 June 2010

I Love Summer

That sound you hear like a mighty wind rushing from the coast of California is not a storm or some Pentecostal rapture. No, it's just Rob exhaling, having today transferred most of his work responsibilities to a pinch-hitter for the next few weeks (a couple of minor projects remain but they're easily tied off) so he can actually relax and enjoy the first vacation in two years that's actually worthy of the name.

Today I set the iPhone so it doesn't even display the work e-mail account. It's the only way I can keep from obsessively reading everything that comes in and going back to work even on the road, even if I know somebody else is handling things. When did this underachieving student turn into such a workaholic?

Panicking at the thought of waking up tomorrow morning with no obligations, no meetings, no office to get to, naturally I started filling up the time. Dentist appointment, etc.

I think it will take me several days to ease into the idea that I really don't have to be online all the time, or checking e-mail, or reviewing this or that deal, or giving this or that approval. Sounds idyllic. And barely comprehensible. But when I am walking the shore of Cape Cod toward the wedding site with my wonderful kids, looking like we're straight out of some Ralph Lauren ad with our blue blazers and rolled up white trousers and printed cotton summer dress, maybe then I'll really start to relax. It's gonna be a magnificent vacation, and I will be blogging about it regularly. So stay tuned if you want to read about Rob and The Twins' Incredible Adventure.

Could be the calm before the storm though. Because if my extended family runs across something else that's about to go online, they're gonna go ape-you-know-what. More on that later. Meanwhile, I'm just going to sit here in San Jose Airport and enjoy the free WiFi, the sunshine, the peace and quiet, and the 1st Movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2, one of the happiest and most delightful pieces of music ever written. Goin' home to the kids and the trip of a lifetime. Ahhhhhhhhh.

13 June 2010

Mormon Favorite C. S. Lewis on Marriage Equality

I just ran across this insightful statement by C.S. Lewis, who so many Mormons are fond of quoting as an "almost Mormon." Well, fellow Saints, if you like him in so many other areas, you're going to love this one (which I've amended slightly so the point is clear):

I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce [or marriage] laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone [or try to impose your own model of marriage on everyone].

I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British [or Mormon] people are not Christians [or Mormons] and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian [or Mormon] lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

11 June 2010

Too Cute Not To Share

In two weeks I will be having the adventure of my life, performing four--count 'em, four--weddings within just a few days, all for Mormon guys, all friends whom I love dearly. What a thrill. Two of them, Todd and Austin, have done a great video I can't help sharing. You'd need a heart of stone not to see the love in their eyes, not to see their commitment to each other, not to understand how deserving they are of every right to every opportunity for happiness that marriage offers. I wish I could show this to every Mormon in California who contributed time or money to pass Proposition 8. Bet I could soften more than a few hearts. Enjoy.

Todd and Austin's Engagement Session from largo on Vimeo.

Bullseye Series

From yesterday's New York Times:

A Basic Civil Right

After a nearly three-week trial in January, and a lengthy hiatus while lawyers fought over documents, closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

No one expects the ruling from Judge Vaughn Walker in Federal District Court to be the last word. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, will have its say, and so, eventually, may the Supreme Court.

The testimony made abundantly clear that excluding same-sex couples from marriage exacts a grievous toll on gay people and their families. Domestic partnerships are a woefully inadequate substitute.

On the witness stand, the plaintiffs described the pain and stigma of having their relationships relegated by the state to a lesser category that fails to convey the love and commitment inherent in marriage. “My state is supposed to protect me. It’s not supposed to discriminate against me,” said Paul Katami, one of the plaintiffs.

Defenders of Proposition 8 produced no evidence to back up their claim that marriage between same-sex couples would hurt heterosexual marriage. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” the defense attorney, Charles Cooper, said when asked for an explanation by the judge at a pretrial hearing.

The defense called only two witnesses. The first, Kenneth Miller, a professor at Claremont McKenna College, argued that gay people are a powerful political force, which was meant to support the claim that there is no need for enhanced judicial protection. He ended up admitting that gay men and lesbians suffer discrimination.

The other witness, David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values, argued that marriage is being weakened by rising divorce rates and more unmarried people having children, but he could not convincingly explain what the genders of married couples had to do with that.

Upon questioning, he acknowledged that marriage is a “public good” that would benefit same-sex couples and their children, and that to allow same-sex marriage “would be a victory for the worthy ideas of tolerance and inclusion.” The net result was to reinforce the sense that Proposition 8 was driven by animus rather than any evidence of concrete harm to heterosexual marriages or society at large.

It’s not possible to know whether the final ruling in this case will broadly confront the overarching denial of equal protection and due process created by prohibiting one segment of society from entering into marriage. The Supreme Court has, in different cases, called marriage “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” and a “basic civil right.”
The result, even if a win for gay couples, could be a limited ruling confined to the situation in California, where the state’s highest court granted the freedom to marry and voters later repealed it following an ugly campaign spearheaded by antigay religious interests.

But there are actions that can be taken now. States like New York should not put off acting on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. Last week, President Obama extended a modest package of benefits — including day care and relocation allowances — to all partners of federal employees. Congress has a duty to extend to same-sex partners the rest of the benefits that are enjoyed by federal workers whose spouses are of a different sex. It also needs to repeal the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

09 June 2010

Unintended Consequences: How Prop 8 Pushed A Gay Mormon Boy Out of the Closet and Made Him an Activist

With Reed Cowan's film 8: The Mormon Proposition now hitting theaters, I thought it'd be a good time to reflect back on my own experience at that time. It really was a turning point in my life. Alice fell down the rabbit hole. Bottom was transformed into an ass one midsummer's night. Kafka woke up as a cockroach. And one letter read from one pulpit on one otherwise ordinary Sunday transformed this questioning but relatively complacent Mormon boy into The Enemy Within (or so most of my fellow Mormons would think).

As a closeted gay Mormon husband and father, I'd spent a lifetime trying to contort my heart and mind into what the LDS Church said I had to be in order to be good enough for heaven, good enough for God. My Mormon resume was rock-solid, gold-plated. But the charade wasn't working, and inside I was miserable but determined, resigned to believing that was my destiny: keep the mask on, play the part of a faithful straight guy even if it cost me a lifetime of unhappiness. On stage 24/7, never free. I knew how the Church and its members treated The Gays and was sure I just couldn't endure that.

The Mormon Church isn't just a religious denomination. It's a complete way of life, a world view. The cultural current carries you along and if you do what you're told, you don't have to think much. Being an active Mormon can occupy almost every waking moment outside work if you let it. No bandwidth left for non-Mormon pursuits or questioning anything about the Church. Sometimes I've wondered if that's not by design.

But the Law of Unintended Consequences sometimes surprises even big corporations. And when my bishop, a good and kind man, stood in church to read the letter which opened the floodgates of Mormon money and muscle that turned the tide to put Prop 8 over the top, somebody else was caught up in the flood too. Me. Only the current carried me in a completely new direction.

I had done legal work for the Church and knew the strict rules against using Church property or assets for political purposes. Don't do it, we were told, you could put the Church's tax-exempt status at risk. Yet suddenly, for this issue, week after week of worship time was transformed into political training meetings. Sign-up sheets were passed around to schedule neighborhood walks, ostensibly just to "talk with our neighbors about marriage and find out what they think." Precinct captains were selected. Donations were strongly urged, week after week, with amounts "suggested" based on tithing records. Training was given on how to make the pitch. We were admonished time and again never to argue, no matter what. We must be nice. We must never disrespect others. Don't wear white shirts or ties, we don't want to look like the regular missionaries, it'll send the wrong message. We don't want people to know we're Mormons engaging in politics. But the message was clear, and everybody knew it. The preparation training was consistent, detailed, and relentless, with all the massive precision and focus of which the Mormon Church is capable when The Prophet speaks.

As the campaign got underway, church time on Sundays began to include reports back on these neighborhood walks and campaign activity. Stories were shared of persuading the undecided that children had to be protected from the militant gay agenda that would be forced on them in schools if Prop 8 didn't pass. We could be sued and forced to open our sacred temples' doors to perform gay marriages which would mock everything holy. The Church could lose its tax exempt-status if it refused to perform gay marriages. On and on. No one was outwardly hysterical, but everybody seemed to believe all of that and more. It was a siege mentality, and my fellow Mormons saw themselves as rising up in response to the call from God's Prophet to defend truth and righteousness.

And there I sat, a closeted gay Mormon boy, stunned into silence by the ignorance and prejudice that the prophet's letter had now legitimized for expression. Who were these people that professed to be my friends yet had such incredible fear and distaste not for what I did--because I hadn't done anything--but simply for who I was? I had never felt more alone in my life, more disconnected from the faith I was raised in.

One Sunday as the planning and scheduling and horror stories flowed freely, a young woman raised her hand. I'm a high school English teacher, she said, and I work with gay kids all the time. I have to say that Proposition 8 is scaring them to death. They are already insecure and frightened and vulnerable, and to see our church and others put millions of dollars into this campaign scares them even more. They are more afraid than ever that Prop 8 will legitimize more bigotry and hate. They fear the beatings and mockery will increase. They fear never being able to just live peacefully with someone they love. This campaign is making their lives even worse than it was before. You all in this room may not see that, she said, but I do. So I'm afraid that the best I can do in response to the prophet's letter is to simply not openly oppose Proposition 8. Because I see what it's doing to these kids.

She finished. The room was silent for a brief moment. The presiding authority muttered a brief, pro forma "thank you" and called on someone else, who began hyperventilating over how a friend told her they'd heard from a lawyer who said the church could be forced to marry gay people in the temple if Proposition 8 didn't pass and she was so scared of the temples being thus desecrated that she was going to do all she could to pass the proposition. And so it went.

The English teacher was ignored. And there I sat, disgusted with myself for not having the strength to speak up. Because as a lawyer, I'd studied all the arguments and stories and rumors and warnings of doom if Prop 8 failed, all the myths that everyone around me seemed to swallow without a second thought, and I knew they were completely bogus. I had never been more ashamed of myself.

And looking back, that's when it started. That was my tipping point. When the meeting ended, I went and found that high school English teacher in the hall and said Thank you for sticking up for those kids and for raising a voice of reason amidst all that fear and prejudice. Trust me, you're not alone. She almost started to cry from relief and said Oh I am SO glad someone else gets it! Thank you for telling me!

That day I went home, permanently changed. Soon after, I came out. I started blogging. Reaching out to other gay Mormons, growing stronger myself as I share time and experiences with others like me. There is a remarkable community of gay Mormons nationwide which has blessed my life immeasurably, and in many ways I have never been happier. Our stories are all remarkably similar. We are caught in an impossible situation between what our hearts and minds tell us about ourselves and the way we know God created us, and what the institutional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says we must do in order to qualify for the privileges of eternal life which it alone can bestow. The way the Church currently defines these, there is no way they can be reconciled. One or the other must give way.

It's no wonder that the great majority of gay Mormons end up leaving a church which basically tells them that in order to qualify for God's greatest blessings in eternity, they must lock their hearts for their entire lives, stay strictly celibate, and never allow themselves to experience the love and companionship and opportunity to build a family of their own which the Mormon Church so aggressively urges its straight members to pursue. And all of that for a reason and reward which the Church itself can't really define, but can only guess at.

So where does that leave me? Well, it's ironic that my church's zealous "defense of traditional marriage" prodded me to finally come out, assert publicly who I've always been, and become just as vigorous a proponent of marriage equality. How do I reconcile my faith with my orientation? It's not been easy. But I believe in Jesus' words that "by their fruits ye shall know them." Much of the fruit of Mormon teaching about Jesus and His gospel is good, and I hold to that. I've seen it in my own life. To me, the basics of Christian theology make sense: the commands to love God and our neighbor, do justly, love mercy, be humble, forgiving, patient, caring for others. The world is brutal enough and would be far worse without the Christian faith to inspire such behavior.

Just because my own church is fumbling around in the dark about how to treat God's gay children doesn't mean I have to abandon everything it teaches about everything else. I will judge it as I judge anything, by its results. When I see the hurtful and damaging results of Prop 8, I can't accept that the Mormon effort to pass it was inspired of God. But when I see my fellow Mormons, or anyone else, reaching out to strengthen and serve, to care for others as Jesus did, I have hope that fairness and justice will eventually correct the Prop 8 error that began that Sunday, with that letter that changed this Mormon boy's life.

03 June 2010

King Arthur Too?

I guess I'm going to continue with the musical themes here for the moment. And I've always loved King Arthur stories. So if Arthur really weren't that interested in Guinevere after all, but maybe somebody else, well, you might end up with this!