For decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mormons, and former Mormons, have written on the impact the LDS Church’s teachings about homosexuality have had on their lives. Now their ranks are being joined by a straight BYU law student whose book on the subject is calling for both compassion and rigorous scientific examination on discussions about homosexuality.
The author of Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective is Brad Carmack, 27, a 2011 juris doctorate and Masters of Public Administration candidate. As a work-in-progress that Carmack has printed and sold at the school’s book store, the book looks at recent biological research into homosexuality, statements by church leaders, LDS doctrine, and the cases for and against civil and ecclesiastical same-sex marriage.
“Though I intend this book to be a mildly apologetic, faith-based response from a seventh-generation Latter-day Saint, in it I will reach some tentative conclusions that the reader may as of right now disagree with,” Carmack wrote in the book’s introduction. “I invite all readers to suspend present views long enough to openly consider the support I will give for the conclusions herein. This reading will be worth little unless you do, because if one’s conclusions are already set, presented evidence is likely to result only in polarizing further the stance already taken.”
Carmack, who holds a bachelors degree in biology from the same school, said that he felt compelled to research and write about homosexuality after hearing two lectures by BYU professor Bill Bradshaw on the biological origins of homosexuality. Carmack said the lectures piqued his curiosity about the science behind homosexuality, and led him to write about it on his bioethics blog.
“I’m very curious,” he said. “Sometimes when I start learning I keep researching. The more I researched, the more I became aware of this contingent of homosexually oriented people, especially at my church,” he said. “A lot have self-loathing, some have had depression, and the doctrines of the church paint them into a corner.”
The doctrines to which Carmack refers are statements by LDS leaders over the past four decades which have compared homosexuality to a disease, have called it freely chosen, and have said it is the result of Satanic influence and bad parenting. In the book’s first section, which argues that LDS people should treat gays and lesbians with compassion, Carmack quotes several former and current gay and lesbian Mormons about the pain these teachings have caused them.
“I remember intentionally souring personal relationships with people in my life because they expressed romantic interest and I dared not simply decline out of immense fear that this would somehow give me away as one with ‘unclean desires,’” wrote one such member (who, like the majority of the book’s homosexual subjects, is not identified by name.)
“And so I was mean,” the anonymous subject continued. “I was hurtful. I pushed people away — away from me, and away from my secret. Indeed there was pain and suffering! Oh the regret. I remember the nights where I would lock my bedroom door, crawl into my closet, and behind the safety of the closet doors plead aloud ‘Lord why me? Why hast thou forsaken me? I feel so alone. If thou will provide a way, any way, to overcome this I will do all that you ask.’”
“The amount of suffering [they experience] is not necessary and not Christian, and I think the world would be better if there was greater compassion, less homophobia and, I would argue, more research,” said Carmack.
The second part of Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective delves into the biological research behind homosexuality, and the ways in which this research plays out against ideas that gay and lesbian sexual orientation is chosen, or caused by abuse. Some of the points Carmack explores are: studies that suggest identical twins share sexual orientations; studies that have shown that gay men frequently have older brothers; observations of homosexual behavior among animals; and research indicating that homosexuality may “run in families.” For example, Bill Bradshaw’s research into biology and sexual orientation found that gay men are “about three times more likely to have gay brothers than are heterosexual men (9 percent compared to about 3 percent in the general population)” while lesbians were also likely to have lesbian sisters.
Carmack also discusses homosexuality in terms of two LDS doctrines: that of human free agency and that the atonement of Jesus Christ for humanity’s sins gives gays and lesbians sufficient grace to become straight. In discussing the latter, Carmack quoted from a discussion he had with visitors to his blog.
“Seth notes that the atonement can reverse death, and thus it can reverse sexual orientation, since orientation reversal is certainly less impressive than death reversal,” he wrote. Granted, the Atonement can do so. So what? What matters to a decision maker is what God will do, not merely what he can do. If you’re the only person around for miles except for a child that is drowning in a steep canal, and you can throw the kid a rope to save her but DO not, the kid will still drown. The question for a homosexually oriented person, then, turns to the likelihood of God’s intervention to reverse his/her orientation. I draw on Mark’s comparison to death. I hope it’s not an exaggeration to claim that death reversal rates have historically been less than .01 percent. In most cases we know of, the death reversal was also not readily predictable by the subject. Thus if God’s sexual orientation-reversal-intervention-rate is at this same level, a reasonable homosexually oriented person is justified in placing little confidence, not in God’s capacity to reverse his/her orientation, but in God’s likelihood of doing so for him or her.”
Carmack also explores arguments in favor of gay marriage — a position with which Carmack, who has previously volunteered in campaigns opposing Maine’s same-sex marriage bill, said he does not necessarily agree.
“That a strong moral case for LDS SSM [same-sex marriage] exists does not necessarily imply that the moral case against SSM is weaker,” he wrote. “A key outcome of a successful education is the ability to make a persuasive argument advancing a proposition with which one personally disagrees. If successful, my rigorous presentation of the pro-SSM position will help traditional marriage defenders sharpen their advocacy as a consequence of understanding their opposition better.”
Although Carmack stressed throughout the book that he did not disagree with current LDS teaching about homosexuality and does not promote gay sex, he said that he has received criticism from many members of the BYU community.
“Some praise it, others condemn it. Definitely more condemnation,” he said. “I’ve been spoken to by a couple deans here who say they can’t protect me if my bishop or honor code office takes action. I live every day in fear, I’m very scared. The danger would probably come from one of those two areas, but I haven’t been spoken to or directly threatened.”
BYU’s honor code prohibits advocating homosexual sex and stresses that students of all sexual orientations must abstain from sex outside of marriage. However, it does not state that students will be expelled just for being attracted to the same sex.
Carmack said that he thinks he has received an excellent education at BYU, and credits that education with his ability to think through the topics he discusses in Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective. However, he said he is frustrated at the school’s unwillingness to discuss the questions his book poses. Noting that BYU is building a school of business ethics he called upon the school to be “a model ethical institution.”
“The point is an agency that provides guidance for others on being ethical has to itself internally be a model ethical institution,” he said. “Part of being ethical is fulfilling the duty to respect human freedoms and rights, amongst of which are freedoms of speech, conscience, assembly, religion, etc. You don’t see that here. The honor code explicitly has it that if you start out [as an] LDS [student], the only way you can graduate is if you leave LDS. That does not look like religious freedom. … There needs to be a provision that LDS [students] can pay higher tuition [as non-LDS students at the school currently do] if they decide to be another religion rather than saying we’re not going to let you graduate.”
“You come to university to explore difficult issues and broaden your education, but there’s a hush-hush atmosphere about certain issues [here],” he continued. “It creates this culture of fear. … I don’t think we’ll make progress on exploring these difficult issues, including homosexuality, until we talk about controversial subjects.”
Carmack said that he has several friends who want to have discussions about such “difficult issues” or who want to leave the church “but they keep putting their rear ends in the pew because they want to graduate. When you incentivize religious activity based on whether you’re going to withdraw their ability to graduate, that’s a problem.”
BYU, he said, needs to discuss the issue of homosexuality because it is not going away any time soon.
“The church is so involved in opposing same-sex in Alaska, Hawaii and twice in California,” he said, referring to the church’s backing of both 2008’s Proposition 8 and a 2000 initiative to ban gay marriage in the state. “It’s [going] to become increasingly controversial and less tenable as time goes on. In 30 and 40 years, most Americans are going to look back on gay marriage and wonder why they opposed it, just like [they opposed] interracial marriage. But it’s not there yet.”
Copies of Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student’s Perspective can be purchased by contacting [email protected].