Polygamy was one of my issues with church history, in particular the huge disparity between what we are taught in church and historical accounts of what polygamy was actually like. We are taught that polygamy was an uplifting command by a loving God to provide care for widows and orphans, that it is no longer required, etc. From this past year's teacher's manual for the D&C/Church history we are told:
In this dispensation, the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and those closest to him, including Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, were challenged by this command, but they obeyed it. Church leaders regulated the practice. Those entering into it had to be authorized to do so, and the marriages had to be performed through the sealing power of the priesthood.However, historical accounts show that practical polygamy was basically institutionalized single-motherhood, was taught as an absolute requirement for exhaltation, and frequently involved the marriage of women already married to other men who were still living (known as polyandry). Furthermore, the earliest practice of polygamy was in 1832, several years before the sealing powers of the priesthood were restored. Much of my thinking on this matter was influenced by Todd Compton's "In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith" which gives the biographies of 33 of Joseph Smith's most well documented plural wives (many acknowledged on the church's own Family Search website).
I was surprised when entering the MoHo community to learn of the hope some MoHo's have that polygamy is truly of God so that they can live eternity with the woman they love and are married to, but also have eternity with the man they love. Rather than dedicating themselves wholly to their wife, despite attraction to men, or leaving their wife to pursue a same-sex relationship, many married homosexuals (not just the Mormon ones) desire to "have their cake and eat it to" by maintaining their marriage
From the glbtq encyclopedia on options for Mixed-Orientation Marriages:
Many couples in mixed-orientation marriages decide to stay together and make their marriage work. They frequently make various kinds of accommodations for the gay or lesbian spouse.I thought I would try to compare these different "accomodations" to polygamy and draw conclusions from polygamy about what we can expect if a married homosexual pursues these types of "accomodations".
They may allow the gay spouse to be sexually open but emotionally closed to others, feeling that the real danger to their marriage comes from a possible emotional commitment to someone else. They may experiment with "open" relationships for both partners.
Some couples agree to a so-called "Closed-Loop Relationship" in which the gay husband or lesbian wife agrees to have a monogamous relationship with one same-sex partner, thus avoiding the risks of promiscuous sex.
Sometimes, if the gay or lesbian partner is functionally bisexual, the married couple continues their own sexual relationship. Other couples live together as friends rather than lovers.
Keeping the "Accomodation" Hidden From One's Spouse
So the first accomodation that some homosexuals may be tempted to pursue is to keep the "accomodation" hidden, pursuing same-sex relationships without the spouse's knowledge. This "accomodation" seems directly synonymous to me with Joseph Smith's early secretive practice of polygamy. This is Joseph Smith spied rolling in the hay with Fanny Alger, caught in what Oliver Cowdery described as a "dirty, nasty, fithy affair" in a letter to his brother (Compton, 38). This is also Joseph Smith secretly marrying the teenage girls that lived in his house, such as the sisters Emily and Eliza Partridge.
Such attempts to hide the polygamy led to lies and a loss of trust with Emma and church leaders who discovered the secret liasons. Life becomes full untruths and a fear of discovery. It is a highly unstable situation.
Eventually Joseph Smith seemed to recognize the instability of his secretive practice of polygamy and sought to include Emma and other church leaders in on it, moving the practice of polygamy into the category of open relationships. Emma obviously had a difficult time with accepting an open relationship, and Joseph appears to have tried to make it an open arrangement for both of them (but then taken away the opportunity in D&C 132:51 - "A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her"). Emma eventually recanted and agreed to the open relationship for Joseph if she could choose the wives, and initially selected the Partridge girls, to whom Joseph was already secretly married without Emma's knowledge. Emily wrote that, "To save the family trouble Brother Joseph thought it best to have another ceremony performed. Accordingly on the 11th of May, 1843, we were sealed to JS a second time, in Emma's presence, she givering her free and full consent thereto." (Compton, 409). But the open marriage was difficult for Emma to accept and was another uneven relationship. Emily again wrote, "Emma was our bitter enemy. We remained in the family several months after this, but things went from bad to worse." (Compton, 409).
I think the open marriage arrangement is still difficult to accept for the straight spouse, and even if initially an attempt to have a sexually open, but emotionally closed arrangement, is probably difficult for the homosexual spouse who likely is also emotionally attracted to men. I think it puts the marriage in an unstable situation.
The closed loop relationship shares many of the challenges of an open marriage, although perhaps saves the spouse from as much danger from exposure to STDs, on the other hand may be more conducive to leading the gay spouse to emotionally detach from his marriage. The man is likely to pull further away from his wife and devote himself more to his gay relationship. He "has his cake and eats it to" but leaves his wife frustrated and alone much of the time. The third partner may also have a difficult time if he is not accepted into the family by the spouse (like Emma couldn't accept Joseph Smith's wives, even after initially approving of them), and will likely be alone on important holidays when their lover is home with the family. There are few examples of closed loops in polygamy as many of the men who practiced polygamy had many wives. A large number of wives typically led to the man being unable to adequately provide for all of them (necessitating the women work to provide for themselves), and they were often left alone to raise their children (thus the institutionalization of single motherhood). It does appear that plural wives were able to be happier if their husband had a small number of wives, rather than a very large number of them.
The Analogy Breaks Down
Of course, there are many differences between polygamy and mixed-orientation marriage "accomodations." Most of these are probably in the favor of mixed-orientation marriages. Unlike with polygamy, few spouses would believe they are "commanded of God" to submit to the accomodations, although they may be threatened with divorce if they do not allow their gay spouse to pursue male relationships. Feeling one is obeying a commandment may have enabled the polygamous wife to endure the challenges of polygamy more easily than a straight spouse the challenges of accomodating the gay spouse with homosexual relationships. But on the other hand, feeling one is commanded of God may have made the relationship much less even or mutually entered into, as God was against their desires for a monogamous relationship.
I recognize the challenges of the married Mormon Homosexual who loves his wife and family, but also recognizes his attraction for men. I, myself, have asked how I can accept and embrace my homosexuality and who I am without hurting my family. I recognize that homosexuality is not solely (or even primarily) about sex, and I appreciate the responses I have received about how others are embracing their homosexuality while attempting to strengthen their MOM. On other blogs, some have advocated that the only position of integrity is to leave one's spouse after realizing they are gay. That is not an option, as I love my wife with all my heart, and leaving her would be as against who I am as it would be for me to go back into the closet.
According to Dr. William Wedin, director of Bisexual Psychological Services in New York City, again from glbtq encyclopedia, my MOM is now in the honeymoon stage:
when the partners agree to remain in their mixed-orientation marriage. Typically, gay spouses who want to remain in the marriage do so for one good reason: they love their straight spouses. With both partners feeling loved unconditionally, they renew their marriage vows on an emotional level.According to him, there will come a time when "both partners reach the limits of what is tolerable" and we will need to "consider again whether to stay together or separate." When that time comes, it will be important to carefully and honestly consider our options. I do not think there will be integrity in trying to pursue a physical/emotional same-sex relationship, while maintaining a marriage to my wife. We will have to decide which, ultimately, is the best path forward for both of us and our family. I will have to wholly dedicate myself to my monogamous relationship with my wife, or I will need to separate from her before pursuing a same-sex relationship. Since my disaffection with the church I have tried to recognize the gray area between all of the extremes. However, for right now at least, I think polygamy provides ample evidence that the gray area of mixed-orientation marriage accomodations is more likely to lead to heartache and difficulties than it is to be a viable option. While recognizing the temptation this gray area provides of being able to "have it all", I recognize that it is a false promise of happiness that would hurt my marriage.