Josh and Laurel "Lolly" Weed seem to have it all -- three beautiful kids, a wonderful home and a deep and unflinching devotion to their Mormon faith.
But on their tenth wedding anniversary this summer, they decided it was time to unleash a secret so sensitive, so personal, they weren't sure what the church's reaction would be.
"I just thought, 'he is wanting to be more authentic about this part of his life,'" Lolly said, and remembered telling her husband, "I think you need--you want, to be more open about this."
So in a 6,000-word posting on Josh's website, a blog written mostly for friends and family, the Weeds announced to the world that Josh was gay.
"I am gay, I am Mormon, I am married to a woman. I am happy every single day. My life is filled with joy. I have wonderful sex life. All of these things are true whether your mind allows you to believe them or not," Josh wrote.
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This is where a seemingly normal family turns into a social experiment that challenges what it means to be a faithful member of the Mormon church, what it means to be gay and live in a heterosexual marriage.
Weed's announcement has also touched off a debate among other gay Mormons, who see The Church Of Latter Day Saints slowly evolving on the issue of homosexuality. Some worry that this unorthodox couple is sending a dangerous message to other families dealing with gay loved ones that living a "straight" lifestyle is possible.
Josh and Laurel have known each other since they were 4 years old. Josh said he also knew something else at an early age -- that he is gay.
Josh said he first came out to his parents when he was 13 years old and that both parents were supportive and promised to love him, no matter what decision he made for himself. Three years later, he revealed his sexuality to Lolly.
As they grew up, Josh and Lolly said they realized they were the best friends who couldn't stand to be apart. They decided that Josh being gay wouldn't be an obstacle in their relationship and the couple began dating in high school. They said they then began discussing the possibility of spending the rest of their lives together.
"It was just like a progression to where I started thinking that I didn't want anybody else," Lolly said, "The thought of marrying somebody else and having it not be Josh was painful to me."
In 2002, after both had returned from two-year-long Mormon missions, Josh and Lolly were married in a private wedding inside the Church of Latter Day Saints Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A wedding inside a Mormon temple is a religious ceremony considered so sacred, only close family members in good standing in the Mormon church are allowed to attend.
By now several members of both families knew Josh's secret. Lolly said some of her relatives and friends approached her, concerned over what would happen on their wedding night. Lolly said she even became physically ill during the wedding reception.
"Some of them were confused because they were like, 'did you go into this thinking you were just going to have a platonic relationship?'" she said.
But after a decade of marriage, the Weeds said their sex life is "great."
"If anything were to happen to Josh, it would be really hard to find someone that would be able to fulfill me in the way that he does, because what we have is truly something that I cherish," Lolly said. "I feel I am truly the most beautiful woman in the world to him, and when he says 'I wouldn't want any other woman, he really means it-- that he gave up something so core to show his love for God and for me."
Josh admits he is sexually attracted to men and not to women, but he said his Mormon beliefs are more important than his physical desires.
"I feel like I am being true to myself and that I have looked at these two components of who I am and for me it was a matter of mutual exclusivity," Josh said. "I had to choose one path or another and I simply had to know myself and know what I wanted for me well enough to make the choice that would be best for my life and best for what I wanted for myself."
"Battering Ram" For Other Families
The Weeds' once-secret life is now an open book. Josh's blog post quickly went viral -- it currently has over 3,700 comments and has been re-posted by other blogs -- and set off a firestorm of debate within both the Mormon church and the gay community.
Because Josh has a private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist associate, many critics of his lifestyle are concern that he is trying to "change" gay men and convince them that a "straight" lifestyle is possible.
Josh maintains he does not believe in trying to change someone's sexual orientation, and said he believes trying to do so can be very damaging. The Weeds also said they did not come forward so that their story could be used as an example of how others should live their lives.
"I'm very, very wary of the idea of other family members or other influential people in individual's lives using our story as a kind of battering ram against other people's behavior or choices." Josh said.
But John Dehlin, a fellow Mormon who studies and writes about members of his religion who are facing conflicts and questions about their faith, warns that the Weeds' story is harming others struggling with homosexuality.
"The church had made a very clear statement and everyone should know this, that straight marriage is not an answer to same-sex attraction," Dehlin said. "That people should not engage in marriages like this, in the hopes that their same-sex attractions will go away."
Dehlin, who produces a popular podcast that shares stories about Mormons struggling with issues of faith, said he has received emails from mothers who have asked their gay sons why they can't live like Josh.
"Using religion or spirituality as a way to manage your sexual orientation, by being extra righteous, or extra faithful, as a way to sort of suppress those feelings, or control yourself, is the most damaging way to cope with your same-sex attraction," he said.
Russ Gorringe said he is living proof that being gay and attempting to marry and live a heterosexual lifestyle leads to heartbreak. The Utah man said he was married for 25 years to a woman, raised four children, and was even a member of Evergreen International, a group that worked to "convert" Mormons who are gay.
Gorringe said he finally stopped living a lie 14 years ago when his struggle with homosexuality became too much to bear, and he attempted suicide during a family vacation.
Gorringe eventually divorced his wife, and is now openly gay. He said he thought he could overcome his homosexuality, but after decades of struggle, decided he wasn't being fair to himself or his wife.
"I believed that someday, if I was faithful, God would bless me," Gorringe said, "but I found that I had to live a life of integrity. I deserved to be happy, and so did she."
"Evolving" Mormon Church
The Weeds story comes at a time when many believe the Mormon church is slowly evolving to be more accepting of the homosexual lifestyle.
Until recently, church leaders did not accept the notion that someone could be gay and still be a faithful member of the church. Homosexuality was viewed as a sin, and often compared to alcoholism. Local church bishops would recommend marriage as a way to make gay feelings "go away." Many Mormon leaders also encouraged "reparative therapy," a process by which patients received an electric shock when shown homosexual images.
But after the bruising battle in 2008 over California's Proposition 8, and complaints from within the church that Mormons were viewed as too intolerant, church leadership has begun to soften its stance. The church now says simply being gay is no longer considered a sin, though acting on those feelings still is, as is any sexual relationship outside of a traditional heterosexual marriage.
Gay Mormon activists say church leaders have begun speaking with them about gay issues. Earlier this summer, an estimated 300 straight Mormons marched in Salt Lake City's gay pride parade. Some of the participants carried signs reading "LDS loves LGBT."
John Dehlin compared his church's evolution on homosexuality to other struggles in Mormon history.
"One of the beautiful things about our church is that we have a history of ultimately getting it right," he said. "We practiced polygamy for over 50 years, and at some point we gave it up. We kept blacks out of full fellowship in the church for over 100 years. And eventually we let them into full fellowship into the church."
"I have no doubt in my mind in the next 30, 50 or 100 years that legally married gay men and women are going to be accepted into the church at a minimum to be able to serve in callings and to be able to participate and worship along side straight members of the church," he continued.
Living A Lie?
Josh Weed said no matter where the Mormon church's stance on homosexuality goes from here, he is confident that he has found the love of his life. He insisted that even though he considers himself gay, he is not living a lie.
"There were moments, of the reality of it sinking in. Part of the evaluation process as we made these decisions was is that worth the exchange? Josh said, "Is this worth that loss? And ultimately for me it is."
The Weeds said the next dilemma they face is deciding when will it be appropriate to tell their daughters, ages 6, 4 and 1 year old, about their family's untraditional union.
Josh said their oldest daughter is already asking questions. The couple said they plan to be as open with their children as they were in Josh's blog posting.
"We'll have to let her know that this is a component of our marriage and why dad chose to marry mom even though he has these feelings," Lolly said. "We'll sit her down and just explain it to her."
The Weeds said they're just another happy Mormon family and the fact that Josh is gay won't change that.
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