The Social Psychology of Mormon Heteropatriarchy
Sometimes my own life corresponds to the current news cycle.Â There’s been a spat of conversations regarding how GOP in Congress are slowing coming out in support of gay marriage because they have gay children themselves.Â But then Mormon congresspeople are holding out with the idea:Â “Of course I love my gay child, but I also don’t support gay marriage.”Â And then the media analyzes whether this is possible.
I very much agree with the following stance on the matter (taken from the opinion piece linked above):
The sappy media stories paint the Salmons as a loving family where even “differences” over gay marriage can’t come between them. The congressman is being enabled, allowed to comfortably advocate against equal rights for his child and everyone like him while claiming to love him. Young Matt can’t allow that to stand, for his own well-being. And the rest of us, too, can’t allow it to stand if we’re truly intent on attaining full civil rights for LGBT people.
The only difference I have with this opinion is that it’s not so much about “equal civil rights” as it is about “equality” generally.Â This is why, for example, I don’t pat on the back Mormon Building Bridges for doing advocacy work for the LGBT community on civil rights.Â They say gay Mormons need to be “loved” and LGBTs could use equal civil rights, but they refuse to recognize equality (namely, that same-sex intimacy is not a sin, and that the Church should move to reflect that).Â The message of equality, particularly as the country moves toward secular gay marriage, has to remain clear in order to penetrate into religious communities who are finding ways to maintain heterosexism in a pluralistic society.
The reason I say this corresponds with my own life is because I recently pestered my own LDS mother through texting to see where she’s at after many years of having a gay son and loving him.Â I’m not sure why we did this on Easter, but I think she was willing to take the conversation to its limits because (a) it was Easter, and (b) texting rather than speaking allows more thought between each point.Â The bounds of our conversation were helpful for me to better understand the social psychology of why it’s hard for the Church to move forward.Â Perhaps our conversation will be useful/interesting to others, too.
Mom:Â Recommended reading:Â Equal partnership…page 19.Â April 2013.Â Ensign.
Me:Â You know, Valerie Hudson (a co-author of that article) has very problematic ideas about gay people.Â After an article came out in Dialogue about how to possibly make more room for gay people in the Church (rather than insist on lifelong celibacy), she wrote a response on how same-sex marriage will lead to killing off women because humans will decide women aren’t needed as equals and babies will grow from test tubes.Â She seems to forgot that most people aren’t gay and that lesbians exist.Â Sorry, but it’s hard for me to read anything about men and women as “equals” when if they truly were, then same-sex marriage would be no problem.Â Instead what I see is how the language of equality is used to perpetuate hetero/sexism.
Mom: Â Okay, so the two issues (subservient females and homosexuality) are the same issue?Â They can’t be viewed separately?Â With regards to the hypothesis of not needing females, from my professional standpoint it would be the exact opposite…fetuses need biochemicals for gestation and actually for months after birth, so I see no need for men.Â Or a need for very few of them.Â I wanted to discuss the one issue independently of the other…hopefully we can.
Me:Â Well, they are interlinked.Â The reason the Church campaigned against same-sex marriage is not because same-sex marriage goes against the idea of men and women as equals in marriage, but because of how it reveals that men and women ~aren’t~ equals in the Church with the whole “sharing the priesthood” business.
Mom:Â You are aware that women do have situations where they are ordained, but that is a side note.Â They don’t need to be…the article presents why…neither gender is subservient to the other.Â They have different roles.Â Men and women are not the same, or you would be fine with being bisexual.
Me:Â Men and women are indeed different on average — but not so different that gays must be excluded or women disallowed from administering the faith.Â Maybe you’ll understand when you’re older.Â :p
Mom:Â So, you subscribe to the theory that all women become homosexual after menopause?
Me:Â No…I didn’t know there was such a theory.Â I was suggesting that maybe after years of us talking about this, you might be more open to thinking about how your Church could be better.Â You don’t think it’s perfect, do you?
Mom: Women, at least in the LDS Church, do more administration of faith than men.Â I wish I could recall the talk I heard recently which brought to light the strength of women in the Church, which is just as strong if not stronger than men.Â After pondering that talk — if one is an active member of the Church — where you can see it in action…women are actually in control.Â We just let you men think you are.Â … [regarding perfect Church]:Â No, members are mortal, but the Gospel itself is.Â Any faction of society is imperfect, there was only one perfect man and it is His resurrection we recognize this day.
Me: Well, it sounds to me like you’re okay with me being “outside” the Church.
Mom: Why are you so focused on the LDS when there are so many other faiths, some of which were so anti-gay they would lynch?
Me:Â Cuz my mother is LDS, I was raised LDS, I dated an LDS guy, and it’s what I focused on in school.Â Though I do want to branch into other things, for now it’s easier to write what I know.Â The Church is an interesting case study for things like gender/sexuality, but also American studies generally.Â Anyhow, if I do delve into other faiths, it will be more accepting ones.
Mom:Â Well, it’s not just a gay thing [being on the “outside”].Â The same happens to a variety of people…youth, gay, hetero, and yet the flipside is many join as others leave.Â Father gave us free agency, and it will all work out in the end.Â As we get older and reflect on life and society, our passions change.Â We mellow out and learn to “be.”Â I understand the passion for a cause, I have one, but there is a big picture.Â Let your passion be part of that.Â It almost seems like a stressor that consumes you.Â Put more passion into love.
Me:Â It’s not a stressor, but are you willing to say my relationship with [my partner] is not a “sin”?Â If you can’t say that, then maybe you can understand why I focus on this with you.Â Behind all the niceties, my own mother believes I’m “using my agency” to sin.Â It’s a sad place for a son to be.
Mom:Â This is what I meant about it being a stressor.Â I don’t stress about it.Â I am not a judge.Â I have no right to be such.Â You say I think it’s a sin…I never said or thought such a thing.Â I don’t stress…and talk openly and freely about it…
Me:Â I think you do have a right to judge whether or not it’s a sin, and would appreciate you definitively saying it’s NOT a sin.
Mom: I actually do not have the right, as per church teachings.
Me:Â Really?Â The Church teaches that it is a sin, so you seem comfortable enough not saying that.Â The thing is, you may be comfortable on the fence as a ‘non-judger,’ but the cumulative effect of that is maintaining that it’s a sin.Â I suppose that’s better than saying “I have no right to judge your sin as worse than mine,” but still, it’s kinda disappointing.
Mom: Ah, I have an answer.Â What you are doing now…shacking up.Â That’s a sin, which is why I encourage you to get married.
Me:Â Did you hear about that young man who was denied the opportunity to go on a mission because he said he couldn’t teach that gay relationships are sinful?Â Thank goodness you aren’t required to state your belief one way or another.Â Â …[Regarding marriage]:Â Oh, so if I get married to [my partner], then you would say I’m not living in sin?Â Or are you saying that I’m living in sin now, and if we marry you still couldn’t judge as per church policy?Â I’m onto you…
Mom:Â Alan, this is pissing me off.Â I have been supporting and loving all along, yet you constantly attack.Â I choose not to stress about this, yet you continually push me to stress about it.Â I am the most accepting and supporting advocate you have, yet you do this to me.Â Perhaps you value my opinion above all others.Â You think I’m allowing myself to be “acted upon,” because when I share something with you that doesn’t validate you, you turn it into an attack on me?Â Why?
Me:Â Why did you share that article with me when you know it excludes me?
Mom: It had to do with heterosexual couples.Â Male/female relationships with equality, which is something you have had interest in.Â Not all published work about relationships has a homosexual element.Â Particularly those focusing on male/female relationships.
Me:Â Well, I’d ask you think about how narratives of women/men complementing each other are inherently exclusionary of lesbians/gays.Â I understand you sent it with regard to feminism, but like I said, they’re interlinked.Â Also, I get that you’re trying to be an advocate, but until you budge on the “sin” question, you aren’t ~there~ yet.
Mom: Let me ask you this.Â Are you and [your partner] not complements and equals in your relationship?Â I often have to explain that homosexuality is more than about sex…and that individuals of all orientations have real loving relationships.Â My companion is my best friend.Â I hope you and [your partner] have that.
And then the conversation just kinda died there… as these issues are emotionally draining…
So, thoughts?Â Although I’m thankful for my mother’s love and acceptance, I also see her position as the kind that perpetuates the institutional heteropatriarachy of the Church… but in some ways, also not.