Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”
Thus the LDS Church’s relationship with homosexuality and being transgender is mitigated by the unique Mormon doctrines and ordinances believed to enable God’s children to become like our Heavenly Parents – chief among them is heterosexual marriage. Mormon belief and practice sacralize heterosexual marriage as the highest sacrament or “saving ordinance” attainable in this life – which is requisite for exaltation or dwelling with God and as a god in the afterlife. This is distinct from other Christian faiths that may recognize the sanctity of marriage but do not consider it to be a saving ordinance like baptism. In fact, it is important to highlight that Mormon scripture and doctrine are PREscriptive of heterosexual marriage rather than PROscriptive of same sex relationships (as opposed to most conservative religions that are explicitly proscriptive of homosexuality based on Biblical or scriptural edicts against it).
Latter-day Saint understanding of the six verses in the Bible that are typically interpreted as being prohibitive of homosexuality is filtered through an exegesis premised on the statement given by church founder Joseph Smith in the 8th Article of Faith that, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Thus these verses must first be translated correctly and then properly understood as being prohibitive of certain behaviors such as inhospitality in Genesis or ritualized sexuality in the epistles from Paul, but not explicitly prohibitive of the existential experience of homosexuality or being transgender. Thus the current church’s stance has been succinctly (albeit glibly) reflected by church critics as: “you can be gay but you cannot “do” gay.”
Alternatively, leaders of the LDS Church have attempted to summarize this uniquely doctrinally prescriptive stance with statements like, “the LDS church is not anti-gay, it is just pro-family.”
Thus, as of Nov 5, 2015, the very act of entering into a same sex marriage itself is considered a “grievous” sin. Again, not because of any particular prohibition of same sex unions in Mormon scripture (there are none) but rather because of the superlative sacralization of opposite sex marriage.
Mormonism is at once Christian and covenantal. While Jesus Christ is revered as the Savior of all man and womankind, Mormons believe that in order to fully reap the saving graces of Christ’s Atoning sacrifice and receive the highest level of salvation that God has to offer (i.e. exaltation), all God’s children must make and keep covenants that symbolize the level of their obedience to God’s commandments.
According to Mormon teaching, God’s very first commandment to His children was to Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden where he commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” or in other words to procreate. And God’s children must only employ their procreative powers (and thereby fulfill that first commandment) after entering into what is called the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” – for time and all eternity. This covenant can only be entered into in LDS Temples and under the authority of the priesthood of God that was restored to earth through the prophet Joseph Smith and handed down from there. This is the pinnacle of all the covenants God’s children must make with Him that will ultimately render them – if they accept Christ as their Savior and remain faithful – worthy of dwelling in heaven for eternity as well as progressing to become exalted like our Heavenly Parents (a divine male and female pair). This doctrine and cosmology present a strict gender binary construct of this life and the next.
While this is the basis of the Church’s actions and rhetoric regarding homosexuality and being transgender, it is only a relatively recent iteration of Mormon doctrine as justification for opposition to same sex relations and LGBTQ rights in general. Until this interpolation of Mormon theology was crystallized by Mormon leaders, opposition to LGBTQ people and their rights was based on generally accepted societal disdain for homosexuality and transgenderism as the Biblical “sin that dare not speak its name” and was therefore easily dismissed and rejected by the Mormon church. It wasn’t until LGBTQ rights were fought for in society that church leaders began the process of coalescing their understanding of the church’s core doctrines of chastity, marriage, and family into the messaging that exists today and that has motivated the church to play a very visible role in opposition to LGBTQ rights around the world.
The LDS Church has opposed and continues to oppose the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States and abroad (most recently lobbying the Mexican government to prevent the passage of a law legalizing same sex marriage in that country). The church’s first public opposition to same sex marriage was in a case in the state of Hawaii in 1993. While the church lost its standing in that case and ultimately lost that court battle, it propelled the church to issue its clearest statement to date on the nature and function of gender, marriage, and family called “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” – issued in 1995.
The wording of this Proclamation has generally been interpreted to proscribe the very notion of transgenderism let alone the process of transitioning from one gender expression to another. Currently, an individual who has fully transitioned their gender expression with “transexual surgery” is subject to possible church discipline, including excommunication from the church and may not participate in LDS temple ordinances. The LDS Church has also filed amicus briefs arguing against transgender individuals in federal lawsuits regarding the use of public restrooms.
In 2009 the Church supported a Salt Lake City ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment. It wasn’t until 2015 that the church came out in support of a similar statewide measure in Utah. It has yet to support similar measures on a federal level or support LGBT people against discrimination in public accommodations (like retail stores, goods and services establishments, educational institutions, recreational facilities, and resource centers) on any level.
The reality of the situation is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not changing its doctrines concerning chastity, marriage, or gender while LGBT/SSA people are not likely to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. This leaves many to endure prolonged suffering from these conflicts. Understandably, many LGBTQ members of the church find it difficult to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion within both the doctrine and culture of the church. This has resulted in a majority of LGBTQ members leaving the church. Still some have found ways to remain and participate that are meaningful according to their own sense of spiritual orientation and needs from a relationship with a religion.
Some of these LGBTQ members have felt a call to a life of celibacy or in Mormon doctrine terms, abstinence until heterosexual temple marriage, whether in this life or in the next. They report having found genuine comfort in the single and celibate or abstinent lifestyle and sincerely believe in the promise made by Mormon leaders (in contradiction to LDS scripture) that if they obey all of God’s commandments in this life (except of course the first one given to Adam and Eve to procreate) they will eventually receive all the blessings God has promised – including a heterosexual marriage in the next life. So they exercise faith in the practice of delayed gratification, self denial, and “mortification of the flesh” for spiritual blessings promised both in this life and in the life to come. However this can be problematic for many as there is no specific Mormon doctrine or teaching extolling the virtues of a celibate life as in other religions. To the contrary, again, Mormon scripture and doctrine exclusively and fervently prescribe heterosexual marriage therefore nothing short of this covenantal ordinance is taught or endorsed in Mormon orthodoxy.
Still other LGBTQ members of the church find genuine fulfillment and generativity by entering into opposite sex marriage under the “new and everlasting covenant.” Many of them report being attracted exclusively to their spouse and no other member of the opposite sex. Some of them have engaged in conversion and reparative therapies in the hopes of decreasing their same sex attraction and possibly increasing their opposite sex attraction. Until very recently the LDS Church tacitly if not formally endorsed these kinds of therapies in addition to entering into heterosexual marriage as a means of “curing” homosexuality. Most of these members report little to no change in their sexual orientation however do report increases in their sense of religious purpose and community support.
Sadly, a statistical minority of LGBTQ Mormons – particularly youth – have been kicked out of their homes and/or have turned to suicide. As with any situation like this one, the mitigating factors are complex and nuanced and must not be oversimplified. That said, it is indisputable that – as a whole – LGBTQ Mormons report higher incidences of situational and organic depression, suicidal ideation, alienation from their familial and religious communities, and prolonged loss of hope for a healthy and sustainable life. Still, the _majority_ of LGBTQ Mormons do eventually find healthy and sustainable lifestyles either within the current orthopraxy of the LDS Church or outside the faith community.