Gay Mormons Face Excommunication

Daniel Holsinger was born into a devout Mormon family. He went on a mission for two years to spread the faith, as young members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, or LDS, are supposed to do.

But Holsinger is also gay, and he also knew that the church would not allow him to be himself.

"I felt huge love and fulfillment, love and fulfillment in the church in many ways," Holsinger said. "I loved the values that were taught. I love things about the church, but there was obviously this very strong sense of what is being said about, fundamentally, who I am that doesn't make sense to me."

Jay Christianson's background was similar -- he is from a devout Mormon family, but he had a feeling his whole life that something was wrong with him.

"I was confused because I was, I was being told one thing but I was experiencing a completely different thing," said Christianson.

Holsinger is in his second year of medical school, studying human sexuality. Christianson is an architecture student. They are in their 20s, they are gay, and they're a couple. And that's a problem.

"There is a very strong notion that I am a sinner, fundamentally who I am is hated and reviled by God. I am alone, there is no one else like me," Holsinger said.

Christianson says their love for each other is genuine, though many in his faith would disagree. "People say that kind of love is not real but it's very real, very real," he said.

Celibacy or Excommunication

Both men say they have known since childhood that they were attracted to the same sex. Both tried hard to fight it.

"I fasted, you deprive yourself of food and you go for a period of time in meditation and prayer," Holsinger said. "I mean I did everything I felt like I was supposed to do to really communicate with God. So I figured if I did everything in this course, eventually that prayer would be answered. Eventually this nightmare would go away. Eventually I wouldn't hate myself because a new part of myself would appear. This new heterosexual part of myself would emerge. And it didn't."

Christianson and Holsinger say they feel left out of the Mormon church because of their sexuality. Church doctrine says that to reach eternal glory in the afterlife, you need to be married to someone of the opposite sex.

"Well, they talk about it as some type of eternal reward that you get to spend eternity with someone of the opposite sex and that just isn't really a reward if you're not heterosexual, that actually sounds like eternal hell," Holsinger said.

Mormons number more than 12 million members worldwide, and it is a close-knit community, where belief in God and family is paramount.

"LDS church is not just something you go and do on Sunday," Holsinger said. "There are manuals that tell you how to carry out your day-to-day existence. How your family eats its meals, what you eat for your meals, what activities your family participates in. It is a lifestyle. It is all encompassing."

But if Mormons are like the general population, at least 1 percent -- tens of thousands of them -- could be gay. And that is strictly against church doctrine.

"We realize that people have feelings and thoughts for which they may not be responsible and all we're asking is that they control them and not let those feelings and thoughts bring them to behaviors that would bring them to violate the church's law of chastity," said Marlin Jenson, a Mormon elder and one of 80 officers who lead the church.

Jenson says church doctrine teaches that if you're gay, you must be celibate -- or risk excommunication.

"Excommunication would really be the last resort. Excommunication occurs only if someone were violating the commandments, the laws, the practices, the procedures of the church and would openly persist in that after some months or years of working with them to try to get them to see that living life differently would be the best thing for them," he said.

Trying to Fight It Didn't Work

Living life "differently" if you are gay is easier said than done for most people.

"Think of the thing that is absolutely most important to you in the entire world or the experiences you've had and its social connections that rivet you and that are most deeply meaningful. And then you can't have it anymore," said family therapist Marybeth Raynes.

Elder Jenson, however, says that "miracles can occur" that can transform lives. He adds that the real reward is in the afterlife, where "many of the unfulfilled dreams and the ambitions that we have will be fulfilled there."

A Salt Lake City-based group called Gay Mormon Fathers, or Gamofites, says changing one's sexual orientation is not possible.

Like many Gamofites, Russ Gorringe denied himself -- he prayed for change and did the right thing according to church doctrine.

"There is no place for me in the Gospel as a person who never married. So I did what I was supopsed to do and we got married," Gorringe said. "During this time we struggled. Intimacy was difficult. In order to perform, I would have to fantasize about a man. It was such a demoralizing experience that after it was over I would roll over and cry myself to sleep."

Gorringe eventually told his wife he was gay, and then he spent years in church-sponsored "reparative therapy," hoping for a cure.

"So the last 12 years of a 25-year marriage we had no sexual intimacy at all," he said. "We began to realize this doesn't go away. This is who I am."

The men in the Gamofites group say that with great difficulty they've made peace with who they are, but making peace with the church is a different story.

"We are recovering Mormons," said Gamofite Morgan Smith. "We're not recovering from God, but we are recovering from the put downs, the discrimination, the people that come along and say that if you're gay you're not good."

Some Gamofites say they still lead a spiritual life even though they may no longer be Mormons.

"Culturally I consider myself a Mormon, but candidly I've been excommunicated from the church," said Ernie Horstmanshoff. "I realized the thing I feared most about being excommunicated was that I was taught if you're excommunicated, you would cease having access to the spirit of God. And I'm happy to say that I found out that that was wrong."

Daniel Holsinger and Jay Christianson say that by going public with their relationship, they likely will be excommunicated too.

"Yeah, eventually," Holsinger said. "Being on national television, saying that we are committed to each other and very much in love and unapologetically so."

While building a life together -- and even dreaming about a day when they might be able to marry -- Holsinger and Christianson say they hope the church will come around to accepting them one day. Elder Jenson is not encouraging.

"Gender is an essential characteristic of our identity. The family and marriage are essential to God's plan for our lives and for the eventual destiny of his children. And if the sun no longer shines, I can't see in God's world how that will ever change," Jenson said.

Holsinger admits it will take a very long for the church to change its stance on homosexuality. If it were to happen, he said, it would take a "revelation" -- God speaking directly to church leaders.

"I think a lot of gay members of the church are praying all the time that God will speak to the leaders of the church and let them know," Holsinger said.

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