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Mormon lesbian told to divorce her wife or face excommunication hearing

"I want to remain a member of the church even though I have not attended for a while, because I believe in the fundamentals of the Gospel," says Elizabeth. But she faces the threat of a disciplinary council for being a lesbian in a same-sex marriage.

Lesbian couple marriage

Back in November, it became LDS Church policy that any person in a same-sex marriage would be considered “apostate” and required to come before a disciplinary council.

The fallout of that misguided policy is beginning to be seen. Yesterday, for example Fox News reported that a lesbian couple in Mount Pleasant, Utah, is being “harassed” by local LDS leaders, and I am hearing other stories about gay members in same-sex marriages being tracked down by their bishops, basically to serve them notice of their pending hearings.

Today we hear from one such individual firsthand. Elizabeth has been inactive in the LDS Church for some time, but as you can see from her guest post below, her membership is still quite important to her and she has no wish to be excommunicated. She contacted me to tell me what was happening with her bishop, who basically gave her two choices: either stay married and resign from (or be kicked out of) the LDS Church, or divorce her wife of eight years and stay a Mormon in good standing. — JKR


A guest post by Elizabeth

I got home from work on Tuesday, February 8, at around 6:45, in the dark. As I was walking up the steps to my front door, a car pulled up and a man got out of it. He introduced himself as the bishop of the LDS ward in my neighborhood.

While I have lived in my home for about eleven years, I had never been to this ward and I had never met him. My wife and I have had visiting teachers over — plus the missionaries, the Relief Society President, and other people giving us invitations to ward functions. We have been very polite but we have not gone to any church activities.

So the bishop said he wanted to have a talk with me about my church membership. I told him I was a lesbian and have been legally married for eight years.

The bishop already knew that. I assume that the visiting teachers or the Relief Society President told him. He said with the new policy from the church about LGBT members and apostasy, he needs me to make a decision on my membership: I have to either divorce my wife or he will set up a church disciplinary council.

I told him I was not going to divorce my wife and that I would not participate in a disciplinary hearing because I had done nothing that I consider to be a sin requiring church discipline.

I am who I am. I was born this way. I did not choose to be gay any more than my bishop chose to be straight. I am legally married and in love with my wife. I am committed to our family and am not promiscuous.

He said he wanted me to pray about it until the end of the month, when he will come back to talk with me. I said, “I have thought and prayed long and hard about the issue for years. And struggled and cried.”

He said I could do it the gentle way and write a letter of resignation and give it him. I told him I didn’t want to resign from the church.

I wish now, looking back on the encounter, that I had said, “If I felt that the church welcomed me with open and accepting arms knowing I am gay and married to a woman, I would be at church every Sunday.” I did tell him that the leaders of the church are now taking this decision about my own membership away from me.

Then he said something interesting. “We don’t want you to be cut off from your neighbors,” he told me. But isn’t that what excommunication does…cut you off from your neighbors? Isn’t that the intent of excommunication? While I would like to give the bishop the benefit of the doubt, this comment felt almost like a threat that he would tell all the neighbors and heaven knows what they would do. Throw things? Hurt, tease, or humiliate my child?

Through all of this, I know that I want to remain a member of the church even though I have not attended for a while, because I believe in the fundamentals of the Gospel. I told him that I believe in the church and I believe in God. I believe that God led my wife and me to each other. The church’s ideals and the values have shaped who I am as a person, how I view my fellow man, how I serve others, how I love, how I value others, what truly matters in this life. It is a deep part of my identity.

It is also a family legacy. My parents went through a lot to become members and were encouraged by church leaders in the mission field in England to “come to Zion” here in Salt Lake City. Leaving the Mormon church would be an insult to their memory.

After this encounter with the bishop, I walked into my house feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach. I was out of breath and sobbing. It was frightening to be approached at my own front door at night. Not knowing who he was, I felt intimidated, threatened, and unsafe.

I didn’t sleep much that night, but I did honor the bishop’s request to pray. I received my answer, which I will not go into here, but I was comforted and knew I was loved and that everything was going to be okay.

I realize that this is “their” church and they can decide who is worthy to be a member. But it is also my church. I have chosen it. I have served in it. I have paid tithing to it. I have received promptings of the truthfulness of many of its doctrines. But I believe with all my heart that leaders are mortal and can be mistaken at times and influenced by other things than the spirit of love and God.

If the church’s official policy is now to seek out married same-sex couples in their own homes to issue an ultimatum to divorce their spouses (and possibly leave their children) to avoid facing a disciplinary court, then I am concerned for all the individuals that this may happen to that are not as strong as I am. They may not have the family support and friends that I do, and may be living in the shadows or in the closet. What could this scare tactic do to them? Instead of handling it the way I did by talking to my wife, my friends, and my family, they may end up harming themselves. The fact that lives could be lost by this action makes me scared and angry.

In an ideal world I would like the church’s policy on gays and lesbians and on same-sex marriage changed. I have hope that the leaders will open their hearts to any words that that God may reveal to them about the acceptance of this community, though I realize that may not happen.

For my part, I have hope that my membership will remain in the church, but I am bracing myself to receive the letter calling me to the disciplinary council. My thoughts on attending it waver from minute to minute. On the one hand I want to be on record with my story and have them hear from a “real live lesbian” instead of an idea of one. I want them to see and hear a real person with feelings.

But on the other hand I don’t think I should have to answer to them for who I am, or defend how I live my life. I will answer to God, and I know God is okay with me.