Poor Mitt Romney. It must have been so awful for him in the late 1960s. While other young men were tanning themselves in sun-drenched Vietnam, Mitt was cast off to the unmentionable Hell of Bordeaux and Paris. There he was, a fresh-faced, painfully wealthy Mormon missionary, just out of prep school and probably exhausted from all those years of bullying gay teens, wandering aimlessly along that vice-infested stretch of the Seine, the effluvium of fresh croissants, tulips and perfume in the air, a gloomy symphony of clinking wine glasses and intelligent conversation, as he tried—Lord knows did he try—to convert those elegant French savages.
In the end, Romney saved only a handful of francophone souls, and by the spring of 1969, he was taking his joyful vows with the newly Mormon Ann Davies under a stained-glass halo at the Salt Lake Temple. This was the same spot, in fact, where a future president of the LDS Church, Spencer W. Kimball, had been ordained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles back in 1943, a powerful governing body staffed by so-called latter-day prophets. Indeed, somewhere in Utah on the couple’s wedding day, Elder Kimball—who reportedly once brought Romney to tears with his revelations about racial equality—was polishing up the final draft of his LDS classic The Miracle of Forgiveness. In this 1969 book, Kimball offered some rather prescient thoughts about an issue that would, ironically, come to trouble Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. “After consideration of the evil aspects, the ugliness and prevalence of … homosexuality,” wrote Kimball, “the glorious thing to remember is that it is curable and forgivable. Certainly it can be overcome,” he continued optimistically, “for there are numerous happy people who were once involved in its clutches and have since completely transformed their lives.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: that’s rather unfair, digging up some old bigot’s misinformed views as somehow reflecting Romney’s present beliefs. Granted, you’ll say, this was indeed the rhetoric in which Romney’s brain bathed during its most formative years, crystallizing his moral prism. But after all, people do “evolve.” Churches change. Except if you’re the Mormon Church, where mid-20th century antiscientific views on homosexuality thrive. Fast-forward to the more recent past, where in 1995, the fiery jurist, Dallin H. Oaks (a current member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), penned an influential article in the LDS magazine Ensign. Titled “Same-Gender Attraction,” it was composed with litigious precision, the author stating for his confused Mormon readers the unwavering position of his client (“the Creator”) on what the latter intended for human beings to do with their genitalia. “All should understand that persons struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction,” he wrote, “are in special need of love and encouragement.”
How kind. Don’t bash us, by God—pity us, help us, for we are afflicted souls. The Devil sets traps for our mortal lives in the throbbing crotches of handsome men. And for my lesbian sisters, you poor, suffering creatures, do watch out for that Satan; he’s a tricky one. Before you know it you’re stuck in a bout of tribadism or cunnilingus yet again. Oaks urges his fellow LDS members to show compassion for those enticed by same-sex flesh. We’re just like you, only intoxicated by Lucifer’s pheromones. “[Satan] seeks to undermine the principle of individual accountability,” Oaks explains, “to persuade us to misuse our sacred powers of procreation, to discourage marriage and childbearing by worthy men and women, and to confuse what it means to be male or female.” Same-sex urges, he goes on to say, may occur for those suffering from this sickness but these urges should be “redirected” to more appropriate outlets—namely, vaginas for gay men and penises for lesbians. Acting on them is to succumb to grievous sin, which warrants Church discipline.
You might note that 1995 was eons ago in terms of how far society has come in recognizing the non-evil nature of LGBT couples: that is, those who not only think gay thoughts, but who also—brace yourself—make love to their same-sex partners. Surely the LDS Church must have gotten with the times? There are small splinters of dissent, but even today, if you show me a mainstream Mormon who has positively affirmed his or her gay identity, I will show you an ex-Mormon, or at least one imminently excommunicable. Rather, the divinely defiant LDS Church still routinely shuttles off its tortured “non-gay homosexuals” (those who “suffer from same-sex attractions” but who reject the “gay lifestyle” as an option) to “treatment programs” such as Evergreen International. Individuals with these unrelenting desires are not promised a “cure”; they’re forewarned that the road to becoming straight is anything but, and that few will make it to the end of this perilous journey. Like the alcoholic in AA, “relapses” into wrong-gendered lust are tended to by stern yet compassionate LDS mentors who’ve “been there” themselves and know what it’s like to crave such beastly, filthy things. Still, for those who try—for those who sincerely believe in miracles—these embattled mortals are assured that “there is hope.”
Directly at odds with scientific evidence and now rejected vehemently by every single reputable mental health organization in the World, LDS-based counsellors promote the asinine and potentially dangerous lie that sexual orientation can be “reoriented” through the patient’s hard efforts. In cozy collaboration with the Church’s general authorities, Evergreen peddles on its website CDs such as Overcoming Homosexuality: Developing Heterosexual Attraction and a special workbook for lesbians, Practical Exercises for Women in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction. “If you are faithful, on resurrection morning—and maybe even before then,” a Mormon authority pronounced to those attending a recent Evergreen conference, “you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex.”
It’s unclear if Romney is exactly this stupid concerning human nature. His record on gay civil rights is notoriously seesawed. But until he clearly denounces the LDS conception of homosexuality as a wilful choice or one whose only acceptable solution is lifelong celibacy or sham heterosexuality, we can only assume (after all, he’s not been shy about his devotion to the teachings of the Church, and he even served as a longstanding bishop and stake president) that every time he gives that tired old media sound bite, “marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” what he really means to say is that happy LGBT Americans are just crafty demons in disguise.
UPDATE: PLEASE SEE MY RESPONSE TO THE COMMENTARIES IN RESPONSE 46 IN THE THREAD BELOW.