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Religion Library: Mormonism

Gender and Sexuality

Written by: Stephen Taysom

Like other conservative Christian groups, Mormons condemn homosexual activity as unnatural and sinful. Mormon theology holds that a marriage between a man and a woman, when performed in a Mormon temple, is an organization that will continue after death. These "sealings" of husbands to wives and children to parents form one of the core elements of Mormon life. Thus, homosexuality and gay marriage are at odds with the philosophical and theological underpinnings of Mormon practice.

With regard to the cause of homosexuality, however, Church leaders have, over the past decade, made a shift. Before the 1990s, most Church leaders taught that homosexuality either was chosen or was the result of some sort of perverse experimentation or abuse. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Church encouraged Mormon men who had homosexual feelings to enter into heterosexual marriages, with the belief that sufficient exposure to heterosexual sex would eliminate homosexual feelings. Partly due to the many shattered marriages and families that resulted from such a policy, the Church now explicitly teaches that marriage should not be used as a "cure" for homosexuality. The Church now holds that the origins and causes of homosexual feelings are ambiguous and may be genetic in nature, and they maintain that homosexual feelings are not sinful, although any behavior following from such desires is. In the fall of 2008, the Church actively supported a proposition in California that would effectively make illegal any sort of marriage except that between one man and one woman. The proposition passed, but the Church faced a considerable backlash from the gay community that included peaceful demonstrations at the Church's temple in Los Angeles, as well as isolated incidents of vandalism to Mormon Churches.

Complicating the Church's involvement with the "traditional" marriage movement is the history of Mormon polygamy. Many of the same arguments offered by opponents of gay marriage were deployed in the 19th century in the effort to abolish the Mormon practice of plural marriage. The LDS Church openly practiced polygamy from 1852 until 1890, but Church-approved plural marriages continued until the second decade of the 20th century. Since that time, persons entering into or performing plural marriages are excommunicated from the Church, a practice that has led to the formation of a number of schismatic sects, typically called "Fundamentalist Mormons," that continue to engage in the practice. 

Study Questions:
1.     What are the prescribed gender roles within the Mormon church?
2.     How is sexuality dictated through Mormon faith?
3.     Describe the evolving relationship between sexuality and polygamy, since Mormonism's origin.
4.     What is Mormonism's stance on homosexuality? Has it progressed over time? Why or why not?


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