Some might wonder what would lead a lesbian couple to try to remain Mormon after the new policy instituted in November, 2015, which stated that same-sex married couples are to be considered apostates and called up for excommunication proceedings, and that their children should be excluded from many church rituals, including baptism. But in the short film Faithful, by Jenn Lee Smith and Dane Christensen, a lesbian couple in the small town of Roosevelt, Utah, is depicted trying to do this very thing.
The new Mormon policy against same-sex couples was in part a reaction to the Supreme Court decision to make same-sex marriage the law of the land. Obviously, the Mormon church has been engaged in anti-gay legislation for much longer, including massive financial support for Prop 8 in California. The history of the Mormon church vis-à-vis traditional marriage in the United States is varied. In the 1840’s and 1850’s, Mormons left the current borders of the United States for then territory of Utah so that church members could practice the “Principle” of plural marriage, or polygamy. Mormon founder Joseph Smith and his brother and the patriarch of the church Hyrum Smith, were killed partly for their practice of polygamy and Mormons were ejected from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois.
But in 1890, Mormons rejected the alternate marriage lifestyle and committed to only monogamy once more. Yet every Mormon knows that the legacy of polygamy lives on, constantly asked questions by non-members about how many wives a husband or father has. This might be one reason that the church has worked so hard in the last several decades to make sure that “Mormon” equals something other than polygamy in the cultural American mind. In some sense, the church has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in this. Now, as opposed to in the 1970s, Mormons are known to be the most determinedly anti-gay of any other Christian denomination.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World, considered by many Mormons as scripture, was given to the church in 1995, and declares strict gender rules for men (providers and presiding priesthood holders) and women (nurturers), as well as declaring that gender is “eternal,” and was part of our premortal existence, as well as being part of our post-mortal existence in an after-life in heaven. It is this document that has largely been used in the past two decades to hammer home to Mormons the importance of a one-man/one-woman traditionally gendered marriage structure. Mormons believe that this pattern is not only divinely inspired, but the same one God Himself (Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother) follow in the eternities. If Mormons want to go to the highest level of the celestial kingdom (heaven), they must be married in the temple to someone of the opposite sex, be active Mormons, and follow other rules of Mormonism, including the Word of Wisdom that prohibits alcohol and tobacco.
For LGBT Mormons, the rules are even more complicated. In order to enforce the traditional marriage rules, this means that the rules of going to a Mormon church meeting when you’re in a same-sex relationship include no touching, no holding hands, no looking at each other for too long. While the Mormon church no longer preaches that feeling “same-sex attraction” is in itself a sin, it continues to teach that “acting” on that attraction in any way is.
For most Mormons who are on the LGBT+ spectrum, this has meant leaving the church in order to have companionship, but not for Lauralie and Marylu, an extraordinary lesbian couple who are determined to live a celibate life together, in accordance with the rules of the Mormon church. Lauralie calls her relationship with Marylu “emotional companionship without the sex” and thinks of Marylu as her best friend. But she always feels an emptiness when she enters a church building and must not show physical affection for Marylu. While she clings to her temple recommend and is commended by her bishop for showing to other Mormons that being gay isn’t a sin, Lauralie is torn by the Mormon doctrine and its less than ideal promises in an afterlife where heaven is only for the heterosexual.
Marylu talks about the time when she rejected Mormonism after trying to “pray away” her homosexuality. She was out of the church for four years, but ultimately decided that it “didn’t work.” She decided to come back to church and thought she would have to be alone the rest of her life—until she found in Lauralie.