Friday, December 23, 2011

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

Happy Holidays to all my readers and anyone else who may stop this way from time to time. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, whether as Christians in your own way or as people who celebrate it as a cultural holiday in your own way. I hope that all of you who celebrate other holidays this time of year find joy and meaning in those holidays as well. 

This is a time of year for personal and collective reflection on the gifts we give and receive, a time for family and friends to reconnect and a time for all of us to glory in the sometimes messy but mostly awe-inspiring thing we call humanity. 

Peace and goodwill to all!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Knowing, Doubting and Supporting in a Mormon-themed Forum

One aspect of most online groups with Mormon themes that discourages and frustrates me is the continued use of the language of certitude we are taught as Mormons. Mormons “know” everything rather than think it or believe it or hope for it or have an opinion about it. Mormons tend to overuse and misuse the word “know” and sometimes phrase statements with absoluteness in ways that put up barriers to effective communication.

I try to state my beliefs and opinions and thoughts by showing how and why I’ve reached a certain point of view. Sometimes I fall flat in doing so. Sometimes, there’s emotion mixed in that may interfere with what would otherwise be a clear statement.

When I read or hear something from someone else that seems to rely on absolutes, I have a hard time not feeling defensive because I grew up hearing people in the church be so certain about things that simply can’t be supported with verifiable facts. My response is to feel disrespected because my doubt and skepticism seems to be viewed as a deficiency, a problem to be fixed, a disorder to be set right.

People who claim to be prophets, seers and revelators, along with other leaders and members who were supposed to have keys and responsibility to answer my deepest questions about myself and life turned out to be wrong on so many points that they crossed into untrustworthy territory for me. I was all-in when I was active in the church. I wanted to contribute and do my small part in making things better for individuals, the church and the world. I served in positions of trust, including as a bishop, and tried to make a positive difference. I hope I did.

It was my experience with a general authority officially representing the First Presidency in a personal meeting with me that pounded the final nail in the coffin of my official association with the LDS church. He said things so deeply offensive and hurtful and ecclesiastically abusive directly to me in his official capacity that it was clear that my doubts about the church and its leaders were well-founded, and that the church was unsafe and unhealthy for me. I tried to attend for a few months following that episode, but there was no healing or reconciliation. Once I realized it wasn’t me that was broken or at fault for that, I ended my affiliation with the church. I can tell you that as an eighth-generation Mormon, that was a big fucking deal.

So, when I hear definitive pronouncements about where things are headed for the LDS church or hear “know” statements applied to groups of people, the church in general or society at large, I cringe. It feels condescending and disrespectful of the validity of alternative viewpoints. It brings up feelings of dehumanization and abandonment. I’ve mostly worked through those feelings when it comes to the church. Mostly, not completely. I don’t like visiting those emotional spaces. And yet, I continue to participate in this forum and that forum where those emotions are dredged up. I haven’t figured out whether that’s part of my healing process or I’m a glutton for punishment.

I speak only for myself here. I wonder if the tent is really big enough to have a support community that includes people who believe in and defend the LDS church at all costs and people whose experience tells them that the LDS church broken at its very foundation. We can discuss issues. But can we support each other---even on a purely emotional level---when we are so far apart in our approaches to life? I don't know. This is a set of open questions. I'm not assuming any answers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Physician, Heal Thyself

Dr. A. Dean Byrd, of NARTH and Evergreen International fame, has garnered a bit of attention recently in some corners of online Mormondom for a 2009 book he co-authored titled “Encouraging Heterosexuality: Helping Children Develop a Traditional Sexual Orientation.” Here is a sampling of some of the statements by Byrd and his co-author, Douglas A. Abbott, in this book marketed toward LDS parents:

  • “We believe that the widespread acceptance and legal recognition of homosexual behavior will lead to the exploitation of children by adults. As homosexuality is integrated into our society, adult-child sex will become more common.”
  • “There intersection of common ground between the gay rights agenda and efforts of some gays and lesbians to decriminalize sex between adults and adolescents.”
  • “Homosexual culture commonly promotes sex with children...and targets children both for their own sexual pleasure and to enlarge the homosexual movement.”
  • “Gays yearn for any-and-all sexual behavior to be permissible.”
  • “Gay men will publicly claim that the molestation of boys is not part of the homosexual lifestyle, but on the other hand they are quietly establishing the legal parameters exempting the molestation of boys from prosecution.”
The book offers “Warning Signs that May Require Intervention” (manifest in children as young as two years old) requiring vigilance by parents:

  1. Repeatedly stated desire to be the other sex.
  2. Preference for cross-dressing.
  3. Strong and persistent preference for cross-sexual roles in make-believe play.
  4. Intense desire to participate in stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex.
  5. Strong preference for playmates of the other sex.
In addition, the book gives “Seven Suggestions for Fostering Heterosexuality” in children:

  1. Build healthy parent-child relationships. (Byrd and Abbott claim: “fathers may want to help sons become at least minimally proficient in one physical activity,” “a constructive, warmly supportive father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son,” and “fathers must give special attention to a sensitive son” among other things.)
  2. Create a happy marriage. (Byrd and Abbott claim: “the influence of a loving and affectionate married couple...will help insulate any child from the forces of promiscuity and from a desire to experiment with homosexual behavior.”)
  3. Encourage healthy same-sex friendships in childhood. (Byrd and Abbott claim: “the child's peers help to direct him or her into traditional gender identity and gender roles.”)
  4. Guard your children from sexualization by the media.
  5. Remediate sexual abuse. (Byrd and Abbott claim: "Sexual abuse derails the normal development of a heterosexual preference.)
  6. Provide value-based sex education at home. (Byrd and Abbott advocate: “teach the meaning and value of heterosexuality.”)
  7. Teach personal responsibility. (Byrd and Abbott claim: “sexual thoughts and behaviors are choices.”)
This is junk science in the extreme.

The record shows that Dean Byrd has convinced himself that he's sincerely trying to help people achieve their full potential. In reality, he's making money and gathering accolades based on fear and magical thinking. He also seems to have a bit of a prideful (to borrow a Mormon term) view of his own “expertise.” Whether this is his intent, I have no idea. But the reality is that he benefits financially and enhances his reputation among LDS leadership by advancing the ideas found in this book.

Byrd has a significant credibility problem, at least among thinking people. He also is seeking to further advance his following among Mormons whose only test of credibility for a person is that Deseret Book is willing to publish their incendiary, unsupportable drivel. When a person publishes the statements quoted above, he or she is accountable in civilized society to back up his or her claims. If they can't that person loses credibility. That person is also accountable for the rejection, vilification and hate of groups when people rely on that person’s words.

This isn't maligning. It is the truth. It may be that Byrd helped some of his clients gain personal insight, but he's too stuck in dogma to be a therapist a gay person (however they self-identify) should stay with for very long if that person is looking to enhance their emotional health.

Byrd is a public figure. He has chosen that path. Like anyone who thrusts themselves into the spotlight or who accepts a “calling” to advocate a particular position, he must weather criticism and questions about his motives. I'm sure those who know Boyd Packer personally are horrified at most of the criticisms against him. Those people would probably cite to the many personal kindnesses Packer has shown to them. But those personal gestures do not erase the pain Packer has inflicted against so many people, intentionally or unintentionally. The same is true for Dr. Byrd. People who make public claims are subject to scrutiny. If he is not up to the scrutiny, he always has the choice of stepping out of the spotlight.

Yes, Byrd believes he is saving souls. It is his right to believe so. It is our right to be skeptical of what drives him to do so. I doubt he is becoming wealthy from his therapy practice or peddling a few pseudo-scientific books. But he is making money from stirring up fear. That is wrong, whether his doing so is conscious or not. That he is a warm and kind person in private or that he has helped people during difficult personal times does not negate the horrible impacts his public persona and his writings continue to have. I would hope that an intelligent man like Byrd would reflect on what seems to be some significant disconnect.

Most active LDS parents are terrified that their children might be gay. This fear has been fostered over many decades in the larger American culture, and continues to be systematically fostered by LDS leadership at every level, with only a few exceptions. Having counseled likely hundreds of people working through sexual identity issues, Byrd must understand the fear of those parents and the fears gay people face. For him to tap into those fears as he does in this book is unconscionable.

I feel compassion for Byrd as he faces a severe physical illness in his life right now. I hope he will recover, or at least receive the best treatment available. But I can simultaneously feel outraged and disgusted that someone who is supposed to be helping people to heal is continuing to willingly join the out-of-tune chorus in a decades-long crusade that harms millions of people. Just as Byrd and those who agree with his claims have a right to speak and write about their beliefs, all of us have the right to speak up and declare reality.

The American Psychological Association Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct are noteworthy when it comes to Byrd and other psychologists who make similar claims. I'm no expert on the ground-level application of APA's Principles and Code, but I'm glad I looked into what the APA expects from its membership. This isn't so much about homosexuality, nor is it limited to Dean Byrd. It's about maintaining the integrity of the scientific and therapeutic processes and holding charlatans accountable---even those who may be nice people in some areas of their lives. 

The fact is, there isn't sufficient support for the claims of people like Byrd to make them reliable as proper parenting advice, much less to form a basis for effective therapeutic models or sound social policy. Byrd offers no credible, peer-reviewed proof for his claims. Instead, he marches on in a reckless crusade that is more about fear than faith, and one that drives wedge upon wedge between parents and their gay children. 

NOTE: Below are the most relevant provisions of the APA's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct:

Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmalfeasance
Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm....

Principle C: Integrity
Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology. In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact....

Principle E: Respect for People's Rights and Dignity
Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making. Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

5.01 Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements
(a) Public statements include but are not limited to paid or unpaid advertising, product endorsements, grant applications, licensing applications, other credentialing applications, brochures, printed matter, directory listings, personal resumes or curricula vitae, or comments for use in media such as print or electronic transmission, statements in legal proceedings, lectures and public oral presentations, and published materials. Psychologists do not knowingly make public statements that are false, deceptive, or fraudulent concerning their research, practice, or other work activities or those of persons or organizations with which they are affiliated.

8.07 Deception in Research
(a) Psychologists do not conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined that the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study's significant prospective scientific, educational, or applied value and that effective nondeceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.
(b) Psychologists do not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gay Mormon Discomfort with Pride

A significant number of gay people from Mormon backgrounds are uncomfortable with many aspects of Gay Pride events. Although Pride events typically occur during the summer months, they are not infrequently discussed throughout the year. This post was prompted by an online discussion thread in which most commenters expressed discomfort and dislike toward various aspects of Pride, wondered whether Pride was necessary, and voiced their view that flamboyant gay people at Pride events perpetuate stereotypes, decrease the chances for social acceptance and cause the definition of “gay” to be too limited in the minds of the majority of people.
For me, Pride isn’t about acceptance, it’s about recognition. It’s about showing that there’s more than one way to live a legitimate life. It’s about proclaiming (and even shouting if necessary) that the most “obvious” queer person is just as deserving of respect and dignity as a queer person who can pass as a straight person from central casting.

It is the eagerness of people to dismiss other people who they view as weird that perpetuates stereotypes. People must take action to apply a stereotype to other people. That process is a strange combination of conscious and subconscious. Stereotypes do not merely radiate from the person being stereotyped. To say that the perpetuation of stereotypes is the fault of particular aspects of Gay Pride events or what someone terms as flamboyant is far too close to blaming the victim in my view.

Mormon culture rewards conformity to a very narrow band of acceptability. The broader American culture rewards conformity as well. Neo-Victorianism pervades many aspects of American religious life, even though it has led to hypocrisy and psychopathology all too often. These are things that many of us will likely have to work through for the rest of our lives---individually and in our communities. For our own self-respect and emotional health, work through it we must. Turning up our noses at the parts of Pride we don’t like is the same as the people we view as intolerant turning up their noses at us.

I agree there should be a broader range of voices involved in Pride. I’m glad there is a diversity of voices. That is vital. In fact, the range of voices has continually grown over the years. Take for example the experience this past summer of a good friend of mine who spoke with mother who came to Pride on her own to find out how she could support her gay child. I bet that mother raised her eyebrows a few times as she walked around Pride. But I’d bet even more that she gained something valuable in talking with my friend and in participating in something outside her comfort zone.

Beaches and swim meets also have scantily clad people. One important part of Pride for me is that it challenges the often arbitrary nature of what is deemed acceptable in particular settings. People may feel uncomfortable with people dressed in underwear and covered with glitter and feathers. Oh well. I'm uncomfortable with the fact that there are still local and national political leaders who say they will gladly “die on the hill” fighting an expansion of gay rights. But I don’t think they’re the majority of people who are grappling with their views about gay people.

If someone doesn’t accept me, fine. If someone wants to apply a stereotype to me, all I can do is be myself. I can’t control the smallness of the mind and heart of another person. I can live genuinely in the hope that people of good will eventually will expand their understanding and compassion for other human beings. But I will say this: If someone starts violating my civil rights, dehumanizes me or uses their disdain for me for an insidious purpose---or does that to someone who I love or someone among my people---that’s a problem. In large part, acts of violation, dehumanization and disdain are why Pride began, and why it’s still needed.

I guess I’m a “big tent” person who doesn't mind that there may be a couple making out in the corner while everyone else is just chatting and supporting each other.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On Hope and the Voices We Choose to Hear

The following is an open letter to anyone considering reading the recently published book, “Voices of Hope: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on Same-Gender Attraction – An Anthology of Gospel Teachings and Personal Essays” edited by the gay Mormon and mixed-orientation married Ty Mansfield, who is a practicing family therapist and doctoral student in Marriage and Family Therapy at Texas Tech University.

Hope is an interesting word. For most devout Mormons, “hope” in a discussion of the place of gay people in society is couched in terms of “overcoming the struggle of same-sex attraction,” being “valiant in following the prophets,” and “living according to the values in the ‘Family Proclamation.’” This is especially true for Mormons who identify as straight. For most people, “hope” as a gay is more about living a life filled with meaning, personal authenticity and love.

My challenge to anyone reading this “Voices of Hope” book (and any of the comments on Amazon, the church-owned Deseret Book website or elsewhere) is to read between the lines. Historically (especially within Mormonism and other social compliance-driven religious traditions), gay people have been vilified simply for being gay, accused of advancing an insidious agenda, and for being intolerant of other people’s deeply-held religious views. Now, we have this new book, with its delightfully unwieldy title, as another in a long-line of sugar-coated tomes of “hope” to encourage gay people from a Mormon background to consign themselves to being silenced in lives of despair. How sad that these myths continue to be perpetuated by leaders and members with an agenda of their own, as well as what I have come to call the Gay Mormon Heroes who claim to have found happiness in a post-gay life.

Of course, sexuality is fluid. Each person travels their own path. Who are any of us to say that a person can’t choose to be straight? Many of us who are gay tried that for a long, long time. Straight people make the choice to be straight every day. Mormons make the choice every day to be Mormon. Gay people make the choice every day to face a world that may be slowly changing but it still deeply suspicious and fearful of them. Despite that, gay people find true hope in living a life according to the dictates of their own conscience, to borrow the term from Joseph Smith himself. Mormons would do well to remember their founder’s injunction to allow all the same privilege of living lives of conscience rather than delivering a nearly endless stream of pseudo-science. The entire world would do well to stop obsessing over the pointless question of whether being gay is a choice. It’s a red herring used to distract people away from the universal value of treating other people with respect and dignity. Gay people exist. How anyone “became” gay is irrelevant.

If you want to struggle and be stuck in that mode, or you want to have your pre-conceived notions of how other people should live without seeking to understand the full range of what it is like to be gay, then this is your book. You will find many glowing examples in the writing of heroes who struggle with managing their same-sex attraction, leaders and family members who preach without truly listening, quasi-theologians who expound on the law of chastity and the “traditional” family, and professionals whose unproven approach is far outside the generally accepted standards of the scientific community.

If you care for your loved one who is gay, bisexual, questioning or simply trying to sort through the range of feelings regarding sexuality, encourage them to seek out multiple perspectives. You and they may even want to read this book. But don’t stop with this book. Please. 

During a quiet moment of personal reflection, think about the fact that the church still publishes and its leaders still recommend Spencer Kimball's book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” that labels gay people as threats to civilization and contains quotes such as: “All such deviations from normal, proper heterosexual relationships are not merely unnatural but wrong in the sight of God. Like adultery, incest, and bestiality they carried the death penalty under the Mosaic law. (Lev. 20:13, 15-16.) The law is less severe now, and so regrettably is the community's attitude to these grave sins--another evidence of the deterioration of society.” If the church has indeed changed, why is this still published and recommended?

After you reflect on this, read a wide array of books. Find other resources. Do some research beyond and church-approved material. Focus on the love you have for your family member or friend, and how much you value a genuine relationship with them. Talk to gay people you know. If you don’t know any gay people, expand your circle. Go to a GLBT community center and ask for a reading list. Sit and talk with the staff. You’ll probably find that they are just as nice as any Mormon you may have met. You might even find out that they come from a Mormon background. At all costs, avoid making this book the centerpiece of your knowledge about what it means for your fellow human beings to be gay.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The End of Thinking

On a Facebook group I belong to, there was a recent discussion about a statement published as a “Ward Teachers’ Message” in the Deseret News, Church Section, p. 5, May 26, 1945. This has been discussed for decades. It should be discussed, not because of the original publication, but the phenomenon in Mormonism from whence it sprang and its effect on the human mind and heart.

The statement is a summary of one of the key folk doctrines of Mormonism: “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.”  

The opening line of the message (“No Latter-day Saint is compelled to sustain the General Authorities of the Church”) is a declaration almost entirely undermined by what follows in the message and what culminates in the final paragraph quoted above.

It has been pointed out that the president of the LDS church at the time, George Albert Smith, responded in private correspondence with Dr. J. Raymond Cope, a Unitarian in Salt Lake City who wrote to the LDS church conveying his concerns about the statement. In his reply, Smith clearly states that the ward teachers’ message “does not express the true position of the Church.” He gives a heartfelt and articulate response, noting that “not a few members of the Church have been upset in their feelings, and General Authorities have been embarrassed.” The full text of the message and Smith’s letter to Dr. Cope are available here.

Despite George Albert Smith’s earnest private letter, this belief among Mormons persists.

Here’s the main reason for that:  It is a current teaching of the church. Despite George Albert Smith’s emphatic support of freedom of thought among Mormons, statements like the one from the 1945 ward teachers’ message are repeated by senior members of the church hierarchy, in official church publications and by leaders and members at the local level quite regularly. Online social media communications further solidify this folk doctrine’s place in the minds and hearts of devout Mormons. For most devout Mormons, folk doctrines are the most important ones that guide their lives and interactions with other people. In fact, folk doctrines are what tend to dominate much of what is taught in the LDS church, even in the church’s semiannual general conference.

I will leave it to scholars of religious studies and sociology to compile a full list of statements that have perpetuated this “the thinking is over” principle among Mormons. But to give you a taste, here are a few places to look:

Dallin Oaks, in 2007 during his interview for the PBS documentary The Mormons, crafted an ingenious extension of this principle. Oaks (a senior apostle, mind you) stated: “It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.” This means true-believing Mormons aren’t supposed to criticize him for saying that. It’s brilliant, really.

In all my time as an actively participating member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I never once heard anyone repudiate or soften statements suggesting that faithful Mormons must absolutely assent to statements and decisions of the president of the church (a.k.a, “the prophet”) or the other fourteen apostles, except on rare occasions in private and in hushed tones—as if to do otherwise was akin to a devout Muslim blaspheming the name of Mohammed. As a side note, I think I could have very interesting conversations with my free-thinking contemporaries who grew up in modern Iran.

This widely accepted Mormon principle was on full display during the Prop 22 and Prop 8 campaigns in California, and during the national debate regarding the nearly-ratified Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It buttressed institutional racial offenses prior to the 1978 Official Declaration 2 (which ended the infamous “priesthood ban”). It was used in support of purges of academics from church-run universities. It has been used in a variety of other circumstances as well in matters weighty and mundane.

Another commenter on the discussion thread this post stems from, who is an active, believing Mormon (albeit a bit unorthodox), wrote that critical dialogue that allows him to think about and understand all the options makes it much more likely that he will choose the right option for himself. I think that’s a very good way to approach decisions. He further wrote that “truth invites scrutiny, for that is where its validity is uncovered,” and said he encouraged honest questioning of what we think we’re hearing when someone speaks.

Unfortunately for Mormons who value reason and thoughtful inquiry, one would be hard-pressed to find quotes from any of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve during the last 40 years that genuinely support notions such as “open up lines of critical dialogue that allow you to think about and understand all the options” and “we encourage honest questioning of what you hear us say.” Even more unfortunate is the likelihood that most active members of the LDS church wouldn’t like the church to function that way.

Church leaders at all levels, and much of the membership, like having it both ways. The official publications of the church (the Ensign, Liahona, lesson manuals, articles in the Church News or the “Newsroom” section of the church website, a general conference talk, etc.) state something extreme, a thoughtful person expresses legitimate concern or outrage, one of the brethren responds privately with personal assurances that the church isn’t really that extreme, the extreme teaching spreads and takes root, years later the same teaching rears its head and becomes even more widely accepted, and during this entire time there is no direct and concerted effort by church leaders to make public clarifications. They say, “oh no, we don't teach that,” but then allow it to be taught without a word of correction. (Also, they DO teach it, as evidenced by the Frankenstein-esque re-animation of Ezra Taft Benson’s “14 Fundamentals” talk in 2010 cited above.) The Mormon hierarchy values fealty and its own display of a united front above nearly anything else. I know this from painful personal experience and from hearing the painful experiences of many others.

These are smart men. And for the most part they are not trying to make life miserable for others. They dedicate their lives to a cause they believe to be truly helpful to people. But they have painted themselves and the church into a groupthink corner with paint that never seems to dry.

Perhaps things were different at another time. We can talk about what may or may not have happened in the pre-mortal existence described in Mormon cosmology. We can talk about personal letters written by past presidents of the church. We can talk about how Joseph Smith might have treated gay people in our modern world. The reality is that there is hard evidence showing that since at least the 1950s, almost every personal relationship, event, program, doctrine, policy, procedure, activity and every other church effort comes down to how it supports the absolute authority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in matters both spiritual and temporal.

The dirty little secret is that most devout Mormons like it that way. Many, if not most, active Mormons would like to have these 15 men be the head of a world government (the Kingdom of God on Earth with Zion as capital city and a United Order economic system) as was contemplated by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the Council of Fifty. Google that when you have some spare time (and fasten your seat belt for the ride).

We can debate whether the authority of Mormon leadership is divine or a human creation. But where we side in that debate doesn’t matter much with regard to freedom of thought and expression. At this moment, the authorities of the church are stuck in a pattern of supplanting anything that could pass for divine with their own stubborn hubris. They are the ones who have frozen the church into a glacier. It’s worth pointing out that the only reason a glacier moves is due to gravity. They have not moved it an inch, and see no need to. We approach the height of irony when “special witnesses of Christ” (as LDS apostles are called) must be compelled to move rather than taking up the charge to move the people closer to the pure love that is the clear foundation of what Jesus of Nazareth taught. What is more, their answers aren’t the biggest problem. It is that they aren’t asking the necessary questions.

We can and should be thinking critically. We should speak up where we can. We should be outraged that because of a lack of vision and compassion, church leaders have allowed fear and hate to fester (and in some cases fomented it themselves) to such a degree that even they can’t do much about it out of fear of schism. That said, we shouldn’t be so naive as to think that anything short of an existential threat along the lines of the church losing its tax-exempt status will do much to move the church institutionally. They know about the alternative viewpoints. They just aren’t doing anything in response, other than digging in for a fight of their own creation.

Isn’t it odd that in a church which places a premium on following the prophet that if the president of the church were to announce that gay marriages would be performed in Mormon temples tomorrow, a significant percentage of members would surely reject him as a prophet? People think a bit more than the “thinking is done” principle suggests, although many Mormons are very ill-equipped to think (and to process their emotions) about issues because of that very principle. No wonder the church hierarchy is so obsessed with appearing unified if their hold on power is so precarious. No wonder they want people to believe that when the leaders speak, the thinking has been done and the debate is over. In their world, debate and thinking about anything other than obedience are dangerous.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Glaciers and "Mormon Moments"

There has been quite a flurry of discussion in the online Mormon echo chamber about what some see as a significant development in the LDS church: the calling of an openly gay man as a ward executive secretary in a San Francisco ward. Some have called it a "Mormon Moment." These "moments" happen from time to time. They are often overblown. The winds eventually die down, often just in time for another whirlwind. This latest "moment" is  bit different in some respects. In fact, it's beginning to look a lot like a Kardashian-esque famous-for-being-famous reality television event. I guess we shouldn't be surprised given the trajectory of American culture.

Much gushing, much naysaying and much of all things in between have ensued over the past few weeks since the initial PR push of this latest "Mormon Moment." There has been discussion of the blurring of the lines between news and opinion, whether there is or isn't change in LDS policy and culture, and whether this "moment" is a harbinger of change or a non-event or something else. (My vote is non-event, in case you were wondering.) I'll save my concerns about the mischaracterization of the calling as "leadership position" for another post, perhaps.

In some online discussions about this "moment," some have voiced their opinions in a way that seems to label legitimate questions about the significance of this "moment" or other things taken to be change within Mormondom to be "bitching" about the pace a glacier moves. I think the glacier metaphor as applied to the LDS church is an excellent one. But I disagree with the "bitching" label.

Here's a question: If the leadership of the LDS church is indeed inspired by God, why is the church a glacier? And don't give me the "they're just not listening well enough to God." That's a cop-out. It's their job to listen, whether divinely called or appointed by a corporate institution. What lies below the glacier are almost countless lives that are frozen by dogma at the cost of genuine human relationships and the love that is supposed to be at the core of Christian religious life.

That's not bitching. That's recognizing the reality of the modern LDS church that talks about inclusion, fellowship and the importance of family in PR campaigns, press releases and general conference talks, but fosters exclusion, superficial judgment and divisions in families in day to day reality; and more so on Sunday. Also this isn't a case of "shit happens" or a few leaders and members making life difficult for gay people, doubters, intellectuals or other undesirable groups as designated by just a few within Mormon culture. It's a case of tone-deaf leadership slinging shit in their chosen pattern of willingly marching with the "culture warriors," and then blaming the people at whom they sling that shit.

Yes, I'm jaded and skeptical. But I have good reasons. So do tens of thousands of others. The story tells of Moses parting the Red Sea and performing all sorts of miracles to save Israel. And this amidst quite a bit of "bitching" by the host of ancient Israel. It's also worth noting that calling some of the concerns of skeptical gay people (and others) with Mormon backgrounds "bitching" can get awfully close to blaming the victim.

So, I'm curious why the leaders of "modern-day Israel" refuse to respond with anything but dogma to so many of us who have tried to voice legitimate concerns and poured out our hearts to those very leaders. Individual, local changes can be very meaningful at the local level and for individuals' spirituality. But there is no critical mass. Unless those individual, local things create a critical mass, the change will be only arbitrary and limited in scope---and just a few "moments" sliding down a glacier.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Et Tu, Dieter?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is no longer my Obi-Wan Kenobi. For a long time Dieter Uchtdorf was, from my perspective, the only hope for any kind of positive shift away from the dehumanizing corporation theology of the LDS church. My hopes have been dashed before. But this is more significant because he was literally the last best hope among the hierarchy for common sense and human decency in a church that isn't necessarily malicious but is more and more thoughtless as time marches on.

In March of 2010, Uchtdorf gave a talk in the General Young Women Meeting (an annual meeting the weekend before the April General Conference of the LDS church). It was titled Your Happily Ever After. This talk encouraged young women to reflect on the experience of fairy tale princesses for guidance on how to find happiness in life. Disturbing to be sure, but we've all given talks that we didn't put enough time and thought into and that ended up going badly. I guess I was hoping this was one of those for Dieter Uchtdorf.

Turns out, not so much.

Dieter Uchtdorf and Marlin Jensen are the only two within the LDS hierarchy I've had any significant hope for in the last couple of years. Jensen seems to have been completely sidelined. Also, Jeffrey Holland (hopes dashed years ago) had his epic, and frankly pathetic, meltdown in his October 2009 conference talk.

Now, Deseret Book is publishing Uchtdorf's misogyny-wrapped-in-a-poofy-prom-dress-and-toppe​d-with-a-tiara talk as a book, also titled Your Happily Ever After. By publishing this book, Uchtdorf is essentially chiseling it into stone and the church is endorsing it as the "proper" way for women in the church to live their lives. He and the church are setting women and men (and entire families) up for disappointment, misery and lifelong guilt if their devotion to the church doesn't have the perfect (and impossible) fairy tale ending. It's a disgusting example of inoculating devout members against "the world" (i.e., REALITY).

How can any of us have much hope for Dieter Uchtdorf now? This development makes me angry and sad. It seems that he's revealed himself as yet another clueless corporate manager speaking truthiness.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mormon Boxing Day

In the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Boxing Day is celebrated the day or two after Christmas Day. It's primarily a day for shopping, very much like the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. In the UK, the tradition often includes actual boxes which contain gifts.

On this day after Pioneer Day, a uniquely Mormon holiday meant to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in what is now known as the Salt Lake Valley, I've thought up a new holiday for those with ties to Mormonism but who are less-traditional in their approach to the LDS Church.

I propose we celebrate Mormon Boxing Day. It would be a time to take down from the shelf those boxes in which we store our experiences, frustrations, good times, traumas and all the rest that come from our time as more traditional Mormons, whether or not we were ever true-believers. We don't have to take down all the boxes or completely unpack them. We can decide how much we deal with at any given time. We can also just recognize July 25 is the day for doing so, but just let the day pass for another year with the boxes undisturbed.

I first considered calling this "Happy un-Pioneer Day," but I really do value and honor the sacrifices of my ancestors who became part of the church in its formative years, who crossed the Great Plains in the 1840s, and who somehow carved out an existence in the middle of the desert. I don't want to disparage their sacrifices and integrity. Also, I didn't want the Lewis Carroll-esque "un-Pionner Day" name to make people think I was using opium during my blog writing time. (If I'm going to hallucinate, I want to be completely sober.)

One of the purposes of this blog is to examine and challenge what it means for me to have Mormon heritage, especially in light of being a gay man. Hopefully, this gives you, dear readers, something interesting to think about related to your own experiences in Mormonism. But as time goes on, I'm beginning to wonder how often I'm really going to be thinking about my Mormon existence of my own initiative. Knowing the kind of person I am, I'll always have reactions and responses to things that happen in Mormondom. But I think even the frequency and intensity of that will become smaller over time. So, setting aside one day per year as a possible time to sort through some things that I might use again, throw out or simply re-pack is something that appeals to me right now.

In any event, Happy Pioneer Day, one day late. Drive on.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Shout It From the Rooftops

You may have heard or read about Ruth Sheldon, the town clerk of Granby, New York who resigned rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples now that New York has expanded the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. If you haven't heard about Ms. Sheldon, click here for the story. You can also read about Laura Fotusky, the town clerk of Barker, New York, who also resigned for the same reason, by clicking here.
I pity Ms. Sheldon and Ms. Fotusky for blinding themselves to the realities of life, one of which is that gay people are normal and entitled to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as anyone else. Of course, they're entitled to their beliefs. But it is sad that they see faith as something that should limit the rights and happiness of others. It seems to me that faith is primarily a way to find meaning in a difficult and often unfair world, as well as a way to find spiritual fulfillment. Still, it's their choice as individuals to rely on selective reading of the Bible like so many other people who claim to be Christian (but who, sadly, have too little to show for it).  
People reacting this way to a change in the law to expand civil rights is troubling. But I have to put this in perspective.

In the summer of 1963, the sitting governor of Alabama, George Wallace, personally blocked the doors of the auditorium at the University of Alabama in the hope of preventing four black students from enrolling, in arrogant violation of the law. He stood aside when confronted by U.S. Marshalls, the Alabama National Guard and the Deputy Attorney General of the United States. Thank all that is good in this world that we live in a country, though very imperfect, that is governed by the rule of law (even though the law is painful slow sometimes).

I think it's wonderful that the highest ranking public officials (so far anyway) to put up a formal fuss over issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in New York are the clerks of two towns with populations of, respectively, just over 7,000 and just under 600. And no law enforcement officials had to step in. Ms. Sheldon and Ms. Fotusky merely resigned.

I hope that the National Organization for Marriage, Focus on the Family and the other self-loathing bigots shout Ms. Sheldon's and Ms. Fotusky's resignations from every rooftop they can find. I hope they find every public official or private citizen who thinks as Ms. Sheldon and Ms. Fotusky do, or reacts as they do and tell every soul they can find how outraged they are. Let the out-of-tune trumpets blast.
Why? Because most people in this country are finally beginning to see how petty and inhumane these people really are. To me, the louder they shout, the sooner the majority will stop listening.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Witnessing the Arc of the Moral Universe Bending

Much has been said and written about the impact of New York enacting marriage equality. A chorus of commentators has described New York's move as completely changing the legal, political and social landscape regarding legal recognition of gay marriage. That may strike some as overstatement. But it isn't. It's right on the mark.

Legally, marriage equality in New York provides another model for how states can structure laws that recognize reality. The law often lags behind society in many areas. Gay marriage is no different in that respect. In our complex legal system, gay marriage is not a settled issue. But it may be settled sooner than many previously thought, though for the tens of thousands of gay couples in America, many of whom have been in committed relationships for longer than any of Newt Gingrich's three marriages, it can't be settled soon enough. However, the wonderful fact is that it will become settled eventually in victory after victory for that ultimate American legal principle: EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.

Politically, like most things in this country, gay marriage will fight its way through the legislative and judicial processes. Executive branch officials will surely weigh in as well. But with most polls showing public support for gay marriage trending quickly upward, politicians will be required to respond, and not just rest on appeals to tradition, religion or fear. Miracle of miracles, they may choose to re-frame the issue in more positive terms.

Socially, the transformation from mere tolerance to genuine recognition of gay people as legitimate, vital and happy threads of the fabric of American life is quite a site to behold. We have a long way to go. But we're seeing meaningful progress. When it comes to gay people, the arc of the moral universe is only beginning to bend toward justice. And continue to bend it will. The amazing thing about that process is that as that bending occurs, people understand both justice and morality better in both more practical and more profound ways. That ennobles individuals and society as a whole.

David Frum provided us with a reality check in a thoughtful, honest piece in Time magazine. You might remember Mr. Frum as one of George W. Bush's trusted advisers as well as a luminary among conservatives. You might also remember he has caught flack for doing something that political extremists seem to detest: being reasonable. So, there will be some who dismiss out of hand anything Frum says. That's their loss. I don't agree with many of Frum's political positions, but he's being a reasonable guy here.

As I read and hear statements by those who still oppose gay marriage, I am reminded of the Gloria Steinem quote: "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." With any luck, many of the people who still oppose gay marriage will get through their "pissed off" phase, which they have both a right and a need to go through, and eventually come out the other side free at last from their fear. For Mormons who fear gay people, feminists and intellectual inquiry, that process will be difficult. I'd like to believe that most Mormons don't really fear any of those things. Rather, they often just don't have much experience yet with gay people, the wide range of feminist thought or enough understanding of intellectual inquiry. I don't know where most Mormons will end up when it comes to gay marriage. But while I don't have much optimism about the institution, I have hope for the people.

One thing is for certain. The arc keeps bending.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Traditional DEFINITION of Marriage

As the by-no-means-settled issue of gay marriage fights its way through the labyrinth of New York state politics (I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide who among the power players is the Minotaur of said labyrinth), I'd like to discuss the traditional definition of marriage. UPDATE: Upon Governor Andrew Cuomo's signing the bill approved by the New York Assembly and Senate, marriage equality will be the law of New York. On to a new labyrinth.

My goal here is to explore what those words mean rather than throw around the phrase "the traditional definition of marriage" which has become an almost useless term that usually kills dialogue.

Much of the gay marriage debate in the United States continues to focus on "traditional values" in American society (as if those values are monolithic and eternal) and the structure of "marriage" as a legal term and a social and/or religious institution (as though the structure of that civil and/or religious institution has never changed). Any person willing to face the realities of history must admit "marriage" has undergone various changes since the term marriage was first used, both in secular and religious contexts. Moreover, values are not static. Example: The apostle Paul may have been against it, women do indeed speak in most Christian churches. Also, while Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers seem quite clear on various capital offenses, under U.S. law (and Israeli law, I have it on good word), people are not subject to stoning for disobeying their parents, breaking the Sabbath, blaspheming or touching Mount Sinai.

Granted, having the term "marriage" include same-sex marriages in addition to opposite-sex marriages in any context is arguably the biggest change the term would undergo since early Mormonism brought to American culture the centuries-old tradition of polygamy enshrined in more places in the Bible (and in Mormon doctrine) than the allegedly blanket prohibitions against homosexuality. Now that I have that out of my system, I'd like to cast this hot-button issue in a different light and focus on what we mean by "definition."

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary's first two definitions of "definition" are: 1) an act of determining, and 2) a statement expressing the essential nature of something. It seems to me that, collectively, we have been so caught up in determining what the term marriage is, and isn't, that we've pushed aside the essential nature of marriage and its real-world, life-affirming, soul-searching, glorious impacts on the lives of the two people for whom marriage means the most---a married couple. In other words, we've been talking about the structure of marriage too much and the nature of marriage not enough. The structure of marriage is who is allowed to enter into it, along with the legal rights and responsibilities it entails. The nature of marriage is about the relationship between two people that, at its best, makes the structure of the marriage of each couple beautiful and ennobling. While the legal definition of the institution of marriage is immensely important, it is only the formal part of the more important human relationship.

The definition of the nature of marriage in modern American life is found in the visceral meaning of the words of the marriage ceremony that exists in the American public consciousness. Ultimately, that definition finds expression and meaning in the life a married couple builds together. The collective (and perhaps over-romanticized) definition comes from the wording of the vows in marriage liturgy found in the Book of Common Prayer known to most Americans regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. Let's take a look at some of those words. Keep in mind, I'm citing the most well-known parts of the liturgy, including the outdated patriarchal "obey" and "serve" language. And I'm not claiming that the Anglican rite somehow inherently allows for gay marriage. That's for Anglican theologians to determine. I'm trying to get at the heart of what the "mystical union" of marriage MEANS to the people who get married and want to get married by using one example among the many examples available from the multiplicity of traditions in cultures in American society. Feel free to share your own perspective in the comments section.

The traditional Anglican wording:
Wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

Wilt thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

I M. take thee N. to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

I N. take thee M. to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Deep within the American psyche is the drive to expand. We Americans, for the most part, are a hopeful (and sometimes naive) bunch who like to expand rights, freedoms, territory, opportunity, economics, and all sorts of things. That expansion is never smooth, but it usually prevails over limitation, for good or ill. Gay marriage is another area of expansion. Advocates want to expand the definition and see that expansion as good. Opponents want to limit the definition to "one man one woman" and see any expansion to include same-sex couples as dangerous and corrosive. Some of those opponents frame their arguments in nearly identical ways to opponents of mixed-race marriages who defended anti-miscengenation laws into the late 1960s (it's not traditional marriage; it will harm children; it's against God's law; chaos will reign if it allowed). 

In the end most of the opposition isn't about marriage at all. It's about staying with tradition because changing it makes some people uncomfortable. Our views as human beings can be very hard to change, especially when they are based more on fear and distance than rational thought and human interaction.

Also deep within the American psyche, and related to the penchant for expansion, is the drive to pursue a life of with meaningful liberty and genuine happiness. The Framers established the Constitution and basic legal structure of our country in a unique way. That structure in large part rests on the values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which itself is not a law. Think about how these words of Jefferson apply to the debate about gay marriage: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter ... it, ... as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." 

If a law limiting the definition of marriage merely based on cultural tradition becomes destructive of the ends of equality, liberty, happiness and life, whether it be for gay people or any other people, the People of the United States have not only the right but the moral obligation to alter it, which in this case means to expand it. Credible evidence supports expansion. Fear supports limitation.

The laws of our land are the living bones around and within which the rest of the body of human experience in America exists. The two rely on each other, and both adapt and grow. Or at least they should. Gay marriage is an opportunity for Americans to grow up.

Addendum: The patriarchal "obey" and "serve" language isn't just outdated, it has always been wrong. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I'm NOT a Mormonist

I am a Mormon by heritage, but I am not a Mormonist.

Even though I am no longer actively participating in the LDS church, I am sad and troubled by how the faith that once held so much meaning for me has been co-opted and bastardized in the name of short-sighted political gain and used to divide the very families it purports to exalt. Maybe it's always been so and I've noticed only because the current politicization process is so focused on the role of gay people in society---an issue that deeply affects me. In any event, the institutional church has doubled down in all its code word splendor in an Ensign article, continuing the trend of polarization. (For an excellent response to that article, please read this post by MoHoHawaii.)

What it comes down to for me is an aversion for the all-or-nothing, I'm-right-therefore-you're-wrong approach to life. So, I am anti-religiosity, not anti-religion. I am anti-dogma, not anti-faith. I am anti-authoritarian, not anti-establishment.

The writer Andrew Sullivan has spoken about the trouble he has with "Christianists" as opposed to Christians. The latter find personal meaning and fulfillment in Christianity. The former want to force their world view on others. This isn't unique to Christianity, but it's the religion most familiar to most of us. I tend to agree with Sullivan's take on this. It has particular application within Mormonism.

During my many years as an active, trying-to-believe Mormon, I was never comfortable with the incessant pressure to do missionary work. Although my full-time mission as a young man was ostensibly a proselyting mission, it was very unorthodox. Thankfully. Much of my mission was more about social work and community service. We helped recent immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. We did translation and interpretation work, we helped with family issues, we helped comfort people at hospitals. I even taught piano lessons for several months at the end of my mission. Of course, none of this was in the Missionary Handbook. A lot of it was technically (or blatantly) against the mission rules. I saw it as service that met some of the needs of the people. Naively, I thought that service was what a mission was about. I learned the hard way that "service" has a much more narrow definition in the prevailing LDS conventional wisdom. After my mission, I learned the hard way that "spirituality" has a much more narrow definition in institutional Mormonism. What I discovered is that I'm a Mormon, not a Mormonist. And that discovery led me out of the church.

Rigid dogma, authoritarian leadership, vilification of groups of people, rejection of critical thinking and fear of scientific inquiry are at the top of my list of things that bother me about many religious organizations/movements and many their most strident adherents. Myths, traditions, ceremonies, and many other aspects of religion generally aren't bad in themselves. The problems arise when leaders and followers of a particular religious tradition use differences in perspective and belief to drive wedges between people and appeal to base tribalism and the dark angels of human nature. Sadly, many Mormon leaders and devout members are experts at doing this.

Lest you think me a complete pessimist, the last thing I'll share here today is a link to a hopeful, wonderful post. The author of the linked post is Krisanne. I would like to hope that she and many people like her are the Mormons of the future. Not because she is accepting of me as a gay Mormon, although I deeply appreciate that. And not because she's a smart, thoughtful, loving person, which she is. But because of the powerful openness and genuine love that shines through the tone she establishes. If that tone can find a flow within Mormon culture, that will be a wonderful thing to behold.

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's About Risks and Reasons, NOT Possibilities

The debate over whether "reparative/change therapy" is valid or harmful usually focuses on whether it's POSSIBLE to change. That's the wrong focus. For it is also possible that there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Mars and Jupiter.

Whether some aspect of "reparative therapy" effectively treats depression or other issues is a sideshow. The core part of this therapy model is about repairing an aspect of a person's psyche seen as broken and changing something about a person seen as abhorrent, not the treatment of depression or any other issue. Assurances from a therapist that change is possible leads a person engaging in such therapy to expect that change will occur with enough effort. That sets a person on a path with an endpoint that more often than not looks like the edge of a sheer cliff.

For me, the focus in this discussion should be two-fold.

First, the RISK of harm. That some people have found temporary "success" or that many have survived run-ins with agenda-laden therapists who skirt the edges of professional ethics does not negate the long-term harm large numbers of people have experienced. To the extent that legitimate therapists seek to use this model, a meaningful conversation among their peers and especially with their patients about the risks involved, is required.

Second, and just as vital to the discussion, is WHY advocates for "reparative therapy" begin with the assumption that change of one's sexual orientation is superior to acceptance of one's sexual orientation. When push comes to shove, "change" advocates point to their interpretation of the Bible (or other religious text) and historical norms that are no longer widely accepted (and some that have been discredited) to justify their position. That's not science.

Call me jaded, but I suspect that a factor in the thinking of those in the APA task force allowing for this therapy model was fear of "reparative therapists" creating their own echo chamber institution that the APA would then have to spend time and effort countering.

To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, it's probably better to have the "reparative therapy" charlatans inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Of course, I'd prefer they deposit their excrement in the toilet where it belongs.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Redefining the Tradition of Bullying

In Mormon circles and elsewhere, opponents of gay marriage are continuing to claim that some high-profile folk in their ranks are being bullied and intimidated. 

The most recent examples they offer are Peter Vidmar, the accomplished Olympic athlete and LDS church member (who just days ago resigned his position of chef de mission for the U.S. Olympic Committee), and Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General of the United States (who in late April left his law firm to continue representing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in their effort to continue enforcement of the federal Defense of Marriage Act given the U.S. Justice Department's decision to no longer defend this unusual statute that carves out an exception to the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution). 

These gentlemen made their decision based on public pressure. I haven't seen any evidence of threats of violence or physical intimidation against either of these men. In other words, they haven't been bullied or intimidated. Not unless gay marriage opponents are trying their hand at redefining some terms of their own.

Do these people even know what bullying is? Do they realize the horrific impacts of actual examples of bullying against gay people, especially youth?

The claim is that Vidmar and Clement, who, of their own free will and choice, placed themselves in prominent public positions as advocates for opponents of gay marriage, lending what weight and credibility they may have to that cause, are being bullied by people from a historically marginalized and vilified group of people that is now finally beginning to have its voices broadly heard on issues of equal justice. I hope they let us know when to cue the violins.

So it appears that some of the opponents of gay marriage want "bullying and intimidation" to mean whatever serves their purpose. They who are carrying on the tradition of heaping on decades and centuries of shame on gay people, resulting in trauma, injustice and even death, both told and untold, are now claiming shamelessly that they and their advocates are being bullied and intimidated. And then they ask for civil discourse. Really?

Perhaps these opponents could take a couple of hours out of their long days spent in ivory towers of moral superiority and certitude and go to a gay community center to sit with a survivor of actual bullying and genuine intimidation. They could listen to first-hand accounts of what it's like to be on the receiving end of true bullying, hatred and violence. Here in my town or Portland, Oregon, there is an example from only a few days ago of an assault on two gay men. Unfortunately, we could find others as well. Even here in gay-friendly Portland. Sadly, we could find examples almost anywhere---in public venues, in workplaces, in schools, in churches, in restaurants, the list goes on. For the most vociferous opponents of gay marriage, it's not about marriage at all. It's about clinging to beliefs that gay people are broken, rebellious and inferior.

If these opponents can't bring themselves to sit with a gay person, perhaps they can sit with a person who was beaten, bullied and intimidated during the long years of the Civil Rights Movement and who was told that they were by law "equal" but in fact must remain separate, that their tax dollars were good enough, but their money at the lunch counter or in other public accommodations was unwelcome, that they could not marry the person they loved because the traditional definition of marriage, unchanged for thousands of years (as the argument goes), forbade it because of that person's race.

As it stands now, these assertions of bullying and intimidation ring as hollow as the yells of a kid who cries foul to the duty teacher on a playground who breaks another kid's arm and who is pushed back by the other kid in self-defense.

I can only hope that these opponents will begin to see that they are acting very much like the George Wallace of the 1960s, grasping at the last threads of unjust and inhumane beliefs. I also hope, that, like George Wallace of later years, they will see what they have done in the name of their religious beliefs and weep. And then rejoin the rest of us with our complex, multifaceted society working to advance opportunity and justice for all.

While they catch up, we'll focus on things like remembering that it really does get better.