For almost a decade now, I’ve followed the story of Josh Weed, who first came onto the public scene as a gay Mormon happily married to a woman. I last wrote about him shortly after he announced his divorce, focusing on the role his initial post played for me as a young active Mormon trying to justify Mormonism’s approach to its gay members, and the value of seeing a richer & more complete picture with his announcement six years later. I remain grateful to him for his courage and openness in sharing both pieces. He and his wife have now both remarried other men and left the church, and things seem to be going well. I’m happy for him in that, and hope it all continues to work out.
Unfortunately, that bright slice-of-life update isn’t what my post here is about. No, I’m here to talk about this Twitter thread, in which he discusses his remarriage as a tool for smashing the patriarchy and condemns traditional marriage as a fundamentally oppressive institution. Because I have a rather sharp critique to make, I want to quote his message in full to ensure people do not read his thoughts only through the lens of my criticism.
My marriage to my husband strikes a deft blow to the patriarchy, and actually lessens the power of the religious leaders who spent over 35 YEARS trying to convince me that the way I love is abominable.
Let me explain how.
Remember how during the “debate” about marriage equality tons of churchy leadership folks spent millions of dollars legislating against and predicting the destruction of society if LGBTQIA folx had the right to marry?
Turns out they were right to be afraid.
Churchy leadership folks are mostly men (in some religious like Mormonism they are ONLY men). The power these patriarchs wield as leaders in churches and in society relies heavily, if not entirely, on the system of patriarchal power and control we were all born into.
The power of patriarchy comes almost exclusively from the subjugation (and free labor) of women. Think about it like a car. Men are drivers of the car, choosing the destination, speed, and purpose of the trip. Women’s labor is the energy (like gas) that keeps the car running.
Men use the labor and reproductive organs of women to control EVERYTHING. When patriarchy is at its strongest, men control households and industries and local governments and nations, and yes CHURCHES, by they exploiting the labor of women while giving them no power.
But how does it work? How do men have this power, getting away with this heist right under our noses?
Drumroll please… traditional marriage!
The heterosexual marriage structure is the “cellular” base that builds the “body” of patriarchy and gives men their power.
It is within the structure of traditional marriage that men literally subjugate women, rely on their labor while wielding the power of the family unit in society, and from there build the power structures that sustain patriarchy and run the world.
Pretty clever right?
This is why we can barely see it — it is the water we breathe. This unfair power differential is BAKED into society through the most basic social unit, and from there it spreads outward. This is why in the past marriage was actual ownership of women.
While marriage has been eroding bit by bit for a while now (women are no longer literal property, women can vote, women can have bank accounts, women can call marital rape what it is, etc.) the gender roles in traditional marriage keep patriarchy rolling along nicely.
And THIS is why religious leaders are so keen on promoting, advocating, and “sanctifying” traditional gender roles. It is one of the last strongholds that keeps the cellular structure that has sustained their power, and the power of patriarchy as a whole, in place.
In other words, since the marital unit itself is no longer inherently powerful (giving men ownership of women and children), that power must be maintained by two things: traditional gender roles, and the homogeneity of the traditional marriage structure within society.
Once it starts becoming clear that men are inherently nurturing and great at childrearing?
Once it becomes acceptable for women to win bread and work outside the home?
Once society sees marriage can be an EQUAL partnership of both labor AND power?
Patriarchy is doomed.
And where do these truths become clearer than EVER?
Gay marriage of course!
There are no gender roles in gay marriage!
Both partners perform equal labor and have equal power!
And as my marriage attests (and studies continue to show), it works super, super well.
Certainly the nuts and bolts of power and labor are determined by each gay couple.
But there’s no patriarchal script.
There’s no tradition of one party giving up their literal name and taking on the other’s name.
There’s no automatic assumption in gay marriage about which partner stays home with kids (FREE LABOR) and which partner has a career (POWER)
See how deceptive it is? See how crazy it is that work outside the home is the only labor society deems worthy of compensation while childcare and housekeeping (by women/wives) is just expected for free, yet this FREE LABOR is literally what keeps the whole system running?
There’s no automatic power differential in gay marriage. No assumptions about who cleans bathrooms, cleans up vomit of sick kiddies, brings home paychecks, or makes decisions about money or home.
It opens the door to equality in a institution that was created to oppress.
And THAT is why I was told by straight men my entire life that the way I loved was evil.
Not because they knew the will of God.
Not because they cared about me.
It was because they were afraid. And rightfully so.
They were afraid of the way my love would point out the egregiousness of the power they siphoned from their wives.
They were afraid of the way my marriage would break past the homogeneity that allowed their idea of who gets power and who has to do menial labor to be baked into the very fabric of society, so widely accepted that nobody questioned it.
They were afraid the way I love would threaten the system that allows them to sit back and have their wife make them a sandwich after hard day of advancing their place in the church/world, never having to look at the crushed soul of the woman making that sandwich.
They were afraid because something in them could sense that with the type of love I experience, the jig was up. The ruse was soon to be exposed. Subconsciously they oppress people like me because they know through the power of our love we unlock the demise of their power.
So THAT is how my marriage to my husband, by its very existence, weakens the power of patriarchy and hurts the powerful men who told me I was broken, wrong, and evil for loving the way I do.
All long it was THEY who were doing something wrong.
In continuing to perpetuate traditional gender roles, and in fighting against LGBTQIA love, religious leaders continue to oppress women, the source of their power. They continue to hurt innocent humans, and hoard power, and exploit the very beings who gave them life.
And THAT, my friends, is evil. THAT is the only part of this story that is abominable. These leaders’ oppression and hoarding of power is why Jesus rebuked the Sanhedrin. THAT is the abomination here. They have become ornate sepulchers filled with darkness and bones.
And this world will be better, and their own lives will be cleansed and improved, if they humble themselves, recognize the nature of their oppression, and correct the generations of exploitation at their hands.
They are the ones with the power.
May they use it to repent.
So — I’m not thrilled.
To my eye, one of the core messages of the gay marriage movement was this: let people pursue their own brands of happiness when they’re not hurting others. Don’t assume you know what’s best for others’ relationships; trust them enough to let them be the judges of what they want to pursue. While I have my quibbles around the edges of that message, I think it’s at its core a sound guide.
Of course, then, it could not last.
I imagine just about every religious conservative who reads that thread will come away thinking, “Yep, looks like we were right to oppose you all along.” It’s an unambiguous, totalizing message: Your relationships are fundamentally oppressive. Your husbands are literally subjugating your wives, crushing their souls, and exploiting their labor to gain power. The way you love is wrong, and your approach to relationships has no place in civil society. The way I love is pure and good, scientifically shown to be better than yours. We cannot coexist. We will rise, and you will fall.
I see Weed flipping from one authoritarian mindset to another, jumping straight back into “everyone not following my preferred approach to relationships is bad”. To be clear, I can see the temptation. He’s a marriage and family therapist who I’m certain has seen more than his share of abusive, broken relationships. He spent decades struggling between his sexuality and his faith and tried harder than most to make them work together, and eventually faced the crushing realization that they would not. His religion told him that a core aspect of himself was sinful and for decades kept him from the relationship his heart wanted. Hard not to find yourself in a fighting mood after something like that.
But his scathing eagerness to set gay marriage in opposition to traditional marriage deeply bothers me, because — quite frankly — my family has thrived within traditional relationships. One grandmother, my mother, and most of my aunts are strong, intelligent, thoughtful women who have chosen to primarily stay home and raise their children. My grandfather, my father, and most of my uncles are kind, nurturing, loving men who have chosen to build careers and provide for their families. One aunt upended the script, became the primary breadwinner for her family, and is doing great work both in her career and parenting — she continues to be embraced by the family. The rest followed the traditional Mormon script to a T, and the latest reminder of the result was a lively Thanksgiving dinner with some thirty family members coming to my parents’ home to celebrate.
When I introduced my fiancé to my family at a previous event, they didn’t miss a beat in welcoming him, embracing him, and treating him with love. One grandmother talks about how she includes him in her prayers every night and wants him to know she considers him her grandson. Her life was harder, to be clear. Traditional marriage didn’t work out great for her. But her faith has been, in her own accounting, the core comfort in her life. If I am to respect her enough to trust her own accounting of her life, it has been a boon to her, not a burden.
My parents never really fought when I was growing up. They both worked hard to provide us a happy, safe, comfortable childhood. They didn’t stray far from the script their faith provided, and I can’t fault them for it — it created a good life for them and a good childhood for me. My mum wasn’t burdened because she didn’t have to work, nor was my dad oppressing her because he did. If my own relationship and family ends up modelling that of my parents, with some details switched here and there, I will be ecstatic.
For me, gay marriage is an extension of the traditional marriages I saw flourish around me, not a declaration of war against them: two people, committed to growing together and raising a family alongside each other — worrying not about the power games Josh Weed presents traditional marriage as, but about mutual love, about provision and care to create a good environment for children.
I’m glad Weed is happy. I’m less glad he’s wielding his relationship like a weapon against all who choose a different path, presenting himself as a soldier in a war in which only one side can survive.
This theme repeats again and again throughout my writing, and I find myself repeating it once more here: I want a world where I, an ex-Mormon in a happy relationship with another man, can coexist and build alongside my family, active Mormons who cherish their faith and its traditions. There are contradictions inherent in a world like that. There are complications. It takes trust, work, and mutual goodwill to make anything like that possible. More than anything else, it takes a commitment to the idea that at some point, you must trust others enough to let them pursue their vision of the good, even when much of their framework is incompatible with your own. It’s a difficult task, and approaches like Weed’s flip around to becoming almost as toxic to the pursuit of that world as those of the leaders he criticizes.
New approaches to relationships enabled by the security and abundance of modernity are not, and should not pretend to be, in fundamental opposition to the traditional pattern of relationships that has worked well for so many. Building something new and good does not require denigrating everything old as bad. Realizing that well-meaning people led you wrong for so many years should make you less confident about turning around and dismissing others’ approaches, not more.
According to Weed, the reason LDS leaders continue to promote traditional gender roles is to maintain power, to subjugate others. According to Weed, straight men were afraid that his relationship working would keep them from needing to notice the crushed souls of their wives. According to Weed, religious leaders just want to subjugate women and reap the rewards.
Do you know why the religious leaders in my life, men and women alike, really promoted traditional gender roles? Do you know why my family raised me faithfully Mormon, with all that entails? You could leave it at “it’s what they were taught” and get much of the way there, but I’ll make it simpler:
It’s what worked for them.
They were happy in their faith and in their places in the world. It worked really, really well for all of them. They loved me, and they wanted me to be happy. So they taught me what they knew.
When I was leaving Mormonism, oh, was I primed for a fight. All the messaging around me told me to brace for the worst, told me that friends and family would never see me the same, that they would cut me off, that they would gaslight and manipulate me into staying in.
Do you know what actually happened?
The overwhelming majority reacted with love and trust. There were a couple of funny and tragic moments, mind: my bishop (leader of my local congregation) at the time tried to cast an evil spirit out of me. My mission president, who was like a father to me for the two years I served a Mormon mission, told me Satan was leading me down a thorny path to Hell and can no longer have a human conversation with me without calling me to repentance.
But every other Mormon in my life was loving, kind, and understanding. My stake president (bishop’s boss, leader of several local congregations) listened frankly to my concerns, did not try to provide answers he lacked, said he would hold a training meeting to discourage reactions like “you’re possessed by an evil spirit”. He emphasized I was always welcome there, and all he said in terms of encouraging return was to pay close attention to how I was feeling and whether I saw myself headed down a path towards unhappiness or poor decisions, along with a hope God would guide me towards happiness. My family and friends, active in the faith, were similarly understanding and loving. I encourage you to browse their contemporary reactions here to get an idea of what I mean. Here’s a taste:
Even that bishop called me up to share my thoughts impromptu with the congregation, then left me a well-intentioned parting gift of a book I still keep on my shelf.
By the time I realized my own sexuality and started dating men, I was no longer in contact with church leaders, but my family’s response was as loving and as encouraging as I could possibly hope. By that point, I barely even braced for the worst, because I already knew without a doubt I could expect better of them.
Again, let me emphasize: they loved me, and they wanted me to be happy. New things are scary. Seeing someone you love take a path other than the one you have chosen is terrifying. My Mormon leaders and relatives showed incredible grace in trusting me to determine my own path and loving me the whole way.
There was no scheme of powerful old men calculating how they could keep everyone else in subjugation. There was no wizard hiding behind the curtain controlling everyone, no villain cackling in the background and cursing when I escaped his grasp. Real life just isn’t that tidy. All I saw was a lot of people whose ancestors had gotten caught up in Joseph Smith’s stories and who were trying to live the best lives they could from within that frame, people who wanted what was best for me and thought it would be the same as what was best for them.
The least I can do is return that grace and extend the same trust back to them. It would be shameful of me to choose otherwise.
I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, and I’ve met people whose journeys out of Mormonism or whose wrestling with the tension between being a gender or sexual minority and their traditional religion ended with heartbreak, broken relationships, or being kicked out of homes. I’ve been very lucky, and I will not minimize the pain of those who have had less fortune. But nor will I pretend that Josh Weed’s simplistic “everything I thought was good was actually evil” portrayal of the world has any more insight than the simplistic religious views he opposes.
In the end, I find myself in opposition to hardline LDS leaders and Josh Weed alike: No, my gay marriage will not destroy your traditional one. It’s a big world, and each of us only gets one chance in it. There is room enough for both.