Who am I to say?....

This quote is from an LDS church statement on homosexuality. The church leaders interviewed are equating the challenges of homosexuality with those of disability, explaining that just like someone with a life-altering disability has no hope of marriage, neither does someone with strong homosexual proclivities.

I don't even know where to begin a discussion about how troubling I find this statement. Can any of you help me out here??

ELDER OAKS: There are differences, of course, but the contrast is
not unique. There are people with physical disabilities that prevent
them from having any hope — in some cases any actual hope and in
other cases any practical hope — of marriage. The circumstance of
being currently unable to marry, while tragic, is not unique.

It is sometimes said that God could not discriminate against
individuals in this circumstance. But life is full of physical
infirmities that some might see as discriminations — total paralysis
or serious mental impairment being two that are relevant to
marriage. If we believe in God and believe in His mercy and His
justice, it won't do to say that these are discriminations because
God wouldn't discriminate. We are in no condition to judge what
discrimination is. We rest on our faith in God and our utmost
assurance of His mercy and His love for all of His children.

ELDER WICKMAN: There's really no question that there is an anguish
associated with the inability to marry in this life. We feel for
someone that has that anguish. I feel for somebody that has that
anguish. But it's not limited to someone who has same-gender

We live in a very self-absorbed age. I guess it's naturally human to
think about my own problems as somehow greater than someone else's.
I think when any one of us begins to think that way, it might be
well be to look beyond ourselves. Who am I to say that I am more
handicapped, or suffering more, than someone else?

I happen to have a handicapped daughter. She's a beautiful girl.
She'll be 27 next week. Her name is Courtney. Courtney will never
marry in this life, yet she looks wistfully upon those who do. She
will stand at the window of my office which overlooks the Salt Lake
Temple and look at the brides and their new husbands as they're
having their pictures taken. She's at once captivated by it and
saddened because Courtney understands that will not be her
experience here. Courtney didn't ask for the circumstances into
which she was born in this life, any more than somebody with same-
gender attraction did. So there are lots of kinds of anguish people
can have, even associated with just this matter of marriage. What we
look forward to, and the great promise of the gospel, is that
whatever our inclinations are here, whatever our shortcomings are
here, whatever the hindrances to our enjoying a fullness of joy
here, we have the Lord's assurance for every one of us that those in
due course will be removed. We just need to remain faithful.


no-man said...

I have been troubled with this analogy since the "interview" was published. What it says to me is that the church has changed its stance toward gays: previously they were considered abominations and perverts (Kimball's "The Miracle of Forgiveness" uses nearly 40 synonyms for "pervert" in the chapter on homosexuality); now they are described as defective humans who should be pitied but not embraced.

They are still not fully human and do not deserve to be treated as such. The fact that this approach was developed by two influential legal minds (Oaks a former judge, Wickman the church's current legal counsel) tells me that this is a logical ruse designed to give the church a philosophy that can be used to defend their treatment of gays. I don't believe it has anything to do with God's will or with Mormon theology; I think it's just their way of showing apparent concern for gays while still marginalizing them.

There's too much pain for gays in the church. A young man our family has known for 16 years recently ended his life out of depression and despair. One factor, not the only one, was his homosexuality. How many more good people must we lose in the church?

Lorell said...

Sorry, can't help. I think Elder Wickman went too far. I think I might be able to see where they were getting at, but they failed miserably.

jana said...

to no-man:
Several people have said that statements like these are what leads to suicide--because according to this interview only in death can those who suffer from homosexual leanings be relieved of their desires.

Anonymous said...

My emotional responses to these kinds of statements range from disgust to fury to deep sadness to confusion to incredulity.

Most of all, I hear these kinds of things as patronizing. The head-patting and pity, cloaked in claims of compassion, are things I don't miss.

When I hear such justifications from family members, especially my father, I try to address them calmly. I tell myself that they don't (yet) know better, and that perhaps I can help them understand how hurtful it is to continue to bear their testimonies to me, as if hearing it *just one more time* will change me, will bring me a burning desire to return to the fold. I try to help them understand that I *know* God loves me, and that doesn't mean I can or should despise myself for Being, or that I should deny myself the glory of loving and being loved by a partner.

gs said...

For my part, I'm curious about the wistful Courtney and her "circumstances."

Kristen said...

Their 'concern' sounds an awful lot like hatred to me.

avis said...

I am actually sick to me stomach reading this.

If Courtney can stand at a window and wish to get married, why exactly is her case hopeless? Is she too old? Too unattractive? Too physically handicapped? To mentally handicapped? Because I can't imagine a legitimate reason that someone would say someone's wish was hopeless. It says more to the (indecent) character of the person observing her than anything else.

avis said...

"There are people with physical disabilities that prevent
them from having any hope — in some cases any actual hope and in
other cases any practical hope — of marriage."
Exactly what disabilities would keep a person from getting married?

Anonymous said...

Sorry; can't help; too busy spluttering unconstructively.

However, I do have a question which sprang to mind as I read this guy's description of his daughter, and I hope it's okay if I ask it here. I was once told that one of the rationalizations of early Mormonism for men having multiple wives (but not women having multiple husbands) was the belief that no unmarried woman could get into heaven. Was this ever really one of the tenets of Mormonism as far as you know?

sarah k. said...

Sorry, can't help. I'm a little speechless.

jana said...

No unmarried anyone can make it to the highest level of Mormon heaven (not even God or Jesus--they are married, too).

And yes it has been folk doctrine that polygamy exists because there will be far more women who qualify for the highest level of Mormon heaven than men. Also, because in Mormon heaven there is continual childbearing, it is theorized that polygamy speeds that along too (because I guess heavenly gestation periods must be equal to that of human ones??). I've known a lot of Mormon men who are pretty thrilled to know that in heaven they will be given an entire harem of women at their disposal (pervy, isn't it?)

So, yes, because Mormons believe that only heterosexually married (though sometimes polyandrous) humans can get into heaven, homosexual marriage presents quite a conundrum for the LDS church. If they were to sanction gay marriage they might have to go one step further to say that practicing gays could actually go to heaven (it's a slippery slope kind of thing). Do note that it was only in 1978 that the LDS leadership decided to admit black people to heaven (prior to that blacks couldn't participate in the necessary temple rituals to qualify for celestial glory).

Sarah Rose Evans said...

Hmm. Perhaps if the Church hadn't pushed so hard with prop 8, then people with same-sex attractions wouldn't have the anguish of not getting married-- they could just go to CA.

I took a Psych class years ago, and I remember reading that couples are usually equal in attractiveness and abilities. If one is short on one, it is usually made up in other aspects. It seems like in this model, only those at the top of the pyramid are capable (worthy?) of finding lasting love. My personal experience in the church was that there were a lot more reasons for exclusion from the ability to marry. It is more than disabilities and homosexuality, but a thousand other reasons, too, including mental illness. The whole thing about gay marriage makes me so baffled and upset, and I just keep thinking about all the reasons the LDS church SHOULD support gay marriage: Judge not, lest ye be judged, love they neighbor, and isn't there even an article of faith about respecting other's beliefs?

jana said...

Oops, meant polygynous in my earlier comment, not polyandrous....

WendyP said...

Ugg...my usually compassionate and intelligent mom spouts this nonsense all the time about her gay brother. It's his cross to bear in this life, much like a handicap, she says.

Alisa said...

So with this analogy, is the Church now going to launch a political attack against the physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled so that they cannot marry?

amelia said...

i have no help to offer. just disgust and pain and sadness that leaders of the church would spout such clearly ignorant ideas. if i can ever see my way past the anger and the hurt i feel in response to such statements, and to a productive response, i'll share.

Bree said...

Rage. That's all I've got.

And, I'm confused, are these ignorant statements, in effect, calling into question existing temple marriages involving people with disabilities? Seems they are creating a framework for a whole new kind of witchhunt.

Shawn said...

Wow! I hadn't realized that this was an LDS bashing blog...

I will be sure to put on my armour before I read it from now on.

No one has all the answers, but if we walk by faith, then we will know what is right and wrong.

Sad to hear you are no longer a member, Jana. I am curious as to how long it has been? Is your husband also a Quaker and what about your kids?

jana said...


I wouldn't call it an LDS-bashing blog, although I do have my knickers in a twist right now about Prop 8 (I can't see any reason that Mormons felt entitled to advocate so fiercely to take away the marriage rights of non-Mormons).

I agree about walking by faith, btw. You can read my take on it here and here.

And,...I'm still a member of record as are John and the kids. But we typically sit with Friends on Sundays. We all stopped regularly attending the LDS church at the same time, making that decision as a family. (So don't be sad Shawn, because we're quite happy now.)

Anonymous said...

The assumptions in this excerpt, and in the interview as a whole, have haunted me all day.

Bothered, I brought it home to share after dinner. My partner, a gay woman with a severely mentally and physically handicapped sister, is aghast.

Arrogance, she believes, is at the root of such attitudes. She also believes that persecution is cyclical, and begets more persecution.

These conversations are important. Thank you, Jana.

John (with an h) said...

Maybe I'm assuming too much when I think that statements like this marginalize the people who express them more than the people who they're targeting.

That probably doesn't do justice to the people "inside" who are still faithfully paying attention to statements from the leadership.

megan said...

Breathtaking. I was thinking yesterday that perhaps part of the church opposition to gay marriage (subconsciously) is that it destroys the comfortable feeling that homosexuality is all about sexual desire. If you accept gay marriage you also accept that gays want to have committed, long term relationships because that have the same sexual, emotional and spiritual bond with their partners as heterosexuals. That turns the Mormon God into a frighteningly cruel deity - denying anyone the fulfillment of that sort of relationship.

This comment makes me realize that, at least for some leaders, that's exactly how they view what they consider a loving Heavenly Father.

I have never felt further from the religion of my youth - nor more grateful that I left it when I did.

no-man said...

This attitude toward the disabled stands in stark contrast to the work of a network of L'Arche communities started in France, now established in many countries. I heard about them in reading the work of Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest from the Netherlands who lived the last decade of his life in daily communion with the disabled. He has written beautifully of the humanity and love that exists when these communities of disabled people live on their own terms with minimal assistance from those who have given their lives full time in their service. Although Nouwen never wrote directly of his own experience of homosexuality, he has written eloquently of the losses and loneliness he experienced from the need for true intimacy that he felt. He did, however, remain celibate and faithful to his vows as a priest. I'd recommend his "The Inner Voice of Love" or "The Return of the Prodigal Son" if you've never read his work.

Nouwen has actually kept me in the Mormon church for now. His theology is so close to many truths in Mormonism, and so beautifully eloquent. I try to slip in thoughts from his writing in church discussions whenever I can get away with it. To me, he's the apostle we never had but should have.

G said...

wow... there is no precedent with elder oaks or elder Wickman for marriage with a handicap? I had thought that marriages occured both amoung the mentally handicapped and the physically handicapped. not common, I'm sure... but not LEGALLY PROHIBITED!!!

poor elder wickman with his poor poor daughter. I don't know the situation but am feeling inclined to speculate: say she does happen to meet some young man in a similar situation and they desire to be recognized as married... is daddy going to forbid that? (perhaps on the ground that she can't have childern... or that she SHOULDN'T have children?!?)

god... all sorts of anger/bewilderment at the self-righteous audacity of bigotry displayed in those statements.

Tim Conrad said...

I found the daughter bit quite disturbing.

While watching 'This American Life', there was an episode about Michael Phillips, who "...was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman, or to use the current parlance of our time, Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Basically, the signal from his brain to his muscles is very weak, thus they atrophy from lack of use.

Michael cannot sit, or stand, or breathe without the aid of a handy little machine and several feet of plastic hosing."

The episode was about how Michael and his mom weren't seeing eye-to-eye on everything, and Michael requires 100% on his mother for day-to-day life. Michael decided to 'branch out' in his life, and got an assistant to help out. Then he decided to get a girlfriend - which he did. You can watch the portion of the episode here:

While marriage is a different level than a 'girlfriend', I find it shocking that there's not even the hope of something happening. Seems almost like it's the father saying 'you shall not marry', instead of leaving it in God's hands, as it should be.

Quite simply, I don't see what married heterosexual couples have to loose by allowing gay people to marry. They're not boycotting/protesting various marriage-based game shows.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question, Jana.

And wow. It all sounds so very complicated. I can't help but think it would be truly disabling to live with so very many complications constantly in mind.

C. L. Hanson said...

I've read this quote before, and I had the exact same reaction as so many other commenters here: "Wha...? So now disabled people can't get married either? What is that, proposition 9?"

But seriously, does he ever explain anywhere why his disabled daughter can't get married?

random said...

@ Avis

"There are people with physical disabilities that prevent them from having any hope — in some cases any actual hope and in other cases any practical hope — of marriage." Exactly what disabilities would keep a person from getting married?"

My guess would be that, when entering into a contract (or covenant), there needs to be a certain amount of cognition as to what is being agreed to. For some who have no mental faculties to make decisions on their own, I would suspect that they cannot enter into a contract.

How does that relate to same gender attraction? I don't know.

As for Elder Wickman's daughter, we can only speculate as to the nature of her state. Though the fact that she sees and recognizes the marriage parties makes me wonder a little . . .

jana said...

Well, I know in some cases that disabled Mormons aren't baptized because they aren't deemed capable of making the decision on their own. And the same disqualification would go for other Mormon rituals like those that occur in the temple.

So, if Courtney was disqualified from attending the temple because of her disability, she would also not be able to have a Mormon wedding, since those all happen in the temple. So...maybe that's what he meant? Just like gays have no hope of a "real" (read: temple) wedding, neither does his daughter?

So this leads me back to my earlier conundrum. Why do these LDS leaders even care how or who people outside of Mormonism marry? They can continue to control what happens in their temples, so why not allow for gays (and disabled people) to marry whoever and wherever they like?

Now, ironically, the temples tend to be very accessible for people with disabilities--they are designed with all manner of ramps, elevators, disabled restroom stalls, etc. All of the ordinances have accessible options. There are even special monthly sessions that are conducted in ASL and anyone with a hearing or visual impairment can get necessary accommodations at any time. When I did my temple ordinances, I was offered any necessary accommodation for my disability--even to the point of being a bit annoying ("yes, I can do that just fine" kind of annoying).

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I've found that nothing in that rambling and increcibly offensive and outrageous document makes any sense.

It is largely because of Oaks statements in that document that my parents have decided to forbid me from ever bringing a boyfriend/partner home, from ever mentioning homosexuality or my leaving the church, and them prohibiting me from communicating with my siblings:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’

ELDER OAKS: I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

ELDER OAKS: We feel great compassion for parents whose love and protective instincts for their challenged children have moved them to some positions that are adversary to the Church. I hope the Lord will be merciful to parents whose love for their children has caused them to get into such traps.

And just as destructive:

ELDER OAKS: Another point to be made about this is made in a question. If a couple who are cohabiting, happy, and committed to one another want to have their relationship called a marriage, why do they want that? Considering what they say they have, why do they want to add to it the legal status of marriage that has been honored and experienced for thousands of years?

ELDER OAKS: There are certain certain legal and social consequences and certain legitimacy — which if given to some relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman tend to degrade if not destroy the institution that’s been honored over so many thousands of years. Suddenly there’s a call to legalize it so they can feel better about themselves.

Suppose a person is making a living in some illegal behavior, but feels uneasy about it. (He may be a professional thief or he may be selling a service that is illegal, or whatever it may be.) Do we go out and legalize his behavior because he’s being discriminated against in his occupational choices or because he doesn’t feel well about what he’s doing and he wants a ‘feel good’ example, or he wants his behavior legitimized in the eyes of society or his family?

And my parents wonder why I don't feel welcome in their church.

jana said...

Methinks these men need a historian. What are they talking about when they say an "institution that's been honored for thousands of years"?

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

That is an excellent question.

Anytime someone tries to defend their anti-gay rights stance by using "Traditional" definition of marriage (as if tradition were even always best), it makes me want to scream. They don't even care that they've invented this definition to fit their arguments (as they have with the word "tolerance" and others) and most often their followers don't believe you when you point out that heterosexual monogamous marriage for love is incredibly new.

Because GOD started that tradition in the Garden of Eden with Adam and (st)Eve, and the rest of history and anthropology is just wrong.


angryyoungwoman said...

I cannot believe they did that. Oh, wow, my pissed-off-ometer just went off the charts. Damn!

God's Guitar Girl said...

Personally, I would bet that this guy is telling his daughter that she can't marry b/c she's defective, hence her broken heart. Do we know that? No. But I just wouldn't be surprised to hear it.

If the LDS church truly believes that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God and adheres to His teachings, this seems massively inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. Not being a Mormon, I obviously don't know a thing about their doctrine. But to imagine the lives that are ruined b/c of what these powerful, influential men have said has got to grieve the Holy Spirit. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Period, end of story.

Anonymous said...

To answer the question posed in your title: Maybe you are someone who doesn't quite understand anymore?

gs said...

To anonymous: You imply that Jana once undeerstood, but does not any longer, from which we can infer that she has learned, grown, and become more insightful and understanding.

Maybe that's the answer to the question, "Who am I to say?":

"I am one who has learned, and grown, and become more insightful and understanding."

jana said...

It's actually a direct quote from Wickman, who said "Who am I to say that I am more handicapped, or suffering more, than someone else?"

I guess I meant the title to be somewhat ironic because I think what Oaks and Wickman are doing here is stating exactly that they _are_ the ones to "say" who is fit and who is not fit for marriage. Me, I find that troubling and feel that the agency to marry should be given to everyone--whether gay or disabled or not.

gs: thanks for comment. I'd add that I do now have difficulty understanding the dogmatism of mormon beliefs and actions, so in that sense maybe I am "someone who doesn't quite understand anymore." But I'm fine with that.