Commentary: The Weed family story is not a guideline for anyone else

Other individuals’ or families’ life choices are not “proof” of how we can or should live our lives.

(Photo courtesy of Kailey Shakespear) Josh and Lolly Weed.

A response to LGBTQ narratives about marriage and celibacy and the LDS Church:

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article recounts the journey of Josh and Lolly Weed ("Yearning for a ‘romantic attachment’ they never had — gay Mormon Josh Weed and his wife of 15 years are divorcing,” 30 January 2018). They garnered national attention in 2012 when they announced on his blog their marriage in spite of his identity as a gay man and Lolly’s as a heterosexual woman.

Their story aroused great interest and also controversy. Because this relationship worked for them, was this what others in similar situations should do? Some feared that their story would be used to browbeat other gay-identified people into marrying heterosexually. Josh and Lolly always wisely warned people that their story was their own and should not be applied to everyone. Their circumstances were highly individual, and what worked for them wouldn’t necessarily work for others. Unfortunately, others were not so careful and misused their story in ways that Josh and Lolly rightly condemned.

Now that they have announced their impending divorce, a similar question arises. The Tribune article declares, “If any gay man and straight woman could make a marriage work, Josh and Lolly Weed could.”

As mental health clinicians and researchers from a variety of orientations, relationship statuses and faith perspectives, we caution against anyone using either part of the Weeds’ story as a guide or limitation on what is possible. In our experience, we have seen successful and unsuccessful relationships of every stripe, and as clinicians we attempt to help our clients reach their goals, which can include navigating the tricky intersection of sexuality, faith and relationship goals.

Because of the complexity and diversity of the human experience, it is important that these deeply personal questions are treated with respect and nuance. It would be inappropriate for us to tell anyone that their desired path in life is inherently unreasonable simply because a prominent person failed at it.

Reactions to the article suggesting that no mixed-orientation relationship can work are as damaging as suggestions that no same-sex relationship can work. These kinds of universal pronouncements about the possibilities available to other individuals or couples, particularly when attributed to a licensed mental health professional, are very problematic. They can create — and have created — distress and harm in the populations we treat.

Our sexual and faith experiences and how we form relationships are very personal and distinctive. Other individuals’ or families’ life choices are not “proof” of how we can or should live our lives. Their stories — though important for compassion and consideration in seeking to understand the wide variety of human experience — are not our story.

How individuals might choose to respond to their sexual attractions, and even how they experience those attractions, is as diverse as our community itself. Sadly, sexual and gender identity and religious beliefs have become political footballs too readily appropriated by forces that — intentionally or unintentionally — use them to divide us from one another and, in the process, harm those most in need of support and encouragement.

We need to share our stories. We need their power to build a stronger, more caring community. But we need to resist the temptation to use, or allow others to use, highly personal stories in a way that shames or coerces by suggesting that because they can, you could; or because they can’t, you should not. We call for a more nuanced dialogue that embraces the diversity of human experience rather than marginalizing it

Lee Beckstead, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice; Jeff Bennion, LAMFT, Connections Counseling; Jerry Buie, MSW, LCSW, Pride Counseling; Ty Mansfield, Ph.D., LMFT, a psychologist in private practice; Jim Struve, LCSW, coordinator, LGBTQ-Affirmative Psychotherapist Guild of Utah. The signatories are all members of the Reconciliation and Growth Project, a group of mental health professionals and academics seeking to bridge the divide over faith, sexuality, and gender. ReconciliationAndGrowth.org