The Policy on Gay Couples, and the Priesthood Ban: A Comparison

I’ve heard people wonder what relationship there might be between the Church’s policy banning gay couples including their children from the church, and Brigham Young’s ban against blacks holding the priesthood, including access to the temple. I thought I’d look into this to see what parallels might exist.[1]

Brigham Young and Interracial Marriage

In the new republic, some felt that African Americans intermarrying with whites could introduce widespread infertility, jeopardizing the existence of the white race or its de-evolution.[2] Brigham Young adopted these ideas and would eventually implement the priesthood and temple ban, apparently to prevent black and white couples from engaging in temple marriage. In 1847 he became aware of several black priesthood-holding Mormon men married to white LDS women. Speaking of one of these LDS interracial couples, he shared his thoughts about the couple and their child:

If they [the couple and child] were far away from the Gentiles they wo[ul]d all have to be killed[.] [W]hen they mingle seed it is death to all.

If a black man & white woman come to you & demand baptism can you deny them? [T]he law is their seed shall not be amalg[a]mated.  Mulattoes are like mules[,] they cant have the children, but if they will be Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God’s Heaven’s sake they may have a place in the Temple.”[3]

Young states his belief that the couple’s mixed-race child, or mulatto is like a mule, unable to reproduce. He points out that when such couples reproduce, “it is death to all” indicating either that all interracial families should be killed, or perhaps that the seed of mulattos that were able to reproduce would spread infertility through the population and eventually bring “death to all” (also believed at the time). He says the preferred solution would be to kill the family, but he fears gentile (non-Mormon) reprisal. He affirms interracial couples can be baptized, but could only have access to the temple as eunuchs (probably meaning celibate).

Upon considering a bill on “African Slavery” 4 ½ years later in 1852 during the organization of the territorial government in Salt Lake City, Brigham would declare that any man marrying a black woman would lose the priesthood, and his posterity would be cursed. He went on to say that if church leaders allowed interracial marriage, the church would lose the priesthood.

Young was so concerned about this that he repeated his 1847 solution, stating that any participants in such unions, including their progeny, should be put to death. At the same time, he legalized slavery in the new territory, and banned black men from the priesthood, and both black men and women from the temple, including temple marriage. [4] This exceeded his 1847 statement that interracial couples could access the temple if they remained celibate.

interracial-relatinoships_feature_louis-and-louisa-gregoryThis is an example of a church leader merging biblical concepts (curse of Cain) with the ideas of his time (de-evolution and a loss of reproductivity). He believed this type of marriage would jeopardize the largely white, royal priesthood progeny of the restoration if church leaders accepted the new, progressive form of interracial marriage.

The concept of African Americans as a cursed linage continued in Mormon thought and practice for the next 125 years, affecting black members’ hopes for exaltation.  Perhaps with some irony, it was Spencer W. Kimball who reversed Young’s priesthood ban. He is responsible for laying the foundation for the modern church’s approach towards homosexuality and gay marriage.

The Modern Church and Homosexuality

A chapter from his book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is the earliest and most comprehensive treatment on homosexuality by an apostle, and the foundation from which Mormon thought, policy and political action on homosexuality grew for the past 45 years. Adjectives scattered throughout the chapter describe homosexuality as if it were a cursed state of being; a “repugnant,” “embarrassing,” “ugly,” “deviation” by “shameful,” “vile,” “degenerate” “weaklings.” He compares it to incest and bestiality, rejecting homosexuality as biologically influenced, saying that the idea of God making people this way was a lie from Satan, and that it was curable. He felt homosexual feelings could be changed to heterosexual desire through sincere repentance and normal social interaction. [5]

Gay Mormons hope to marry and form legitimized, life-long companionships within the church. From a doctrinal standpoint, however, gay marriage is seen by the church as a curse upon the institution of marriage. Rhetoric by church leaders discussing the “sanctity” or holiness of marriage being attacked or threated by gay marriage, implies that gay marriage would de-sanctify the institution of marriage.

Brigham’s adoption of 19th century fear-based pseudo-science that mixed-race individuals would introduce wide-spread infertility has parallels to questionable ideas advanced in statements by modern-day apostles. Speaking of homosexuality, Apostle Kimball wrote “If the abominable practice became universal it would depopulate the earth in a single generation. It would nullify God’s great program for his spirit children.”[6] In 1984, Apostle Dallin Oaks wrote “One generation of homosexual ‘marriages’ would depopulate a nation, and, if sufficiently wide spread, would extinguish its people. Our marriage laws should not abet national suicide.”[7] General Authorities such as Spencer W. Kimball, James E. Faust and Boyd K. Packer have rejected a biological component to homosexually through public teaching that God would never allow an individual to be born gay because it would stand counter to the plan of salvation.


Have homosexual Mormons have taken the place of dark-skinned, cursed people as defined in earlier LDS theology, particularly when it comes to marriage? What are the parallels between the two? Is “Gay” the new “Black?”

Spencer W. Kimball (with subsequent church leaders) and Brigham Young drew on popular ideas of their time about homosexuals, gay marriage, blacks and interracial marriage. Both incorporated pseudo-science and attitudes from their cultures (for example, both had concerns about inability to procreate, and how that could destroy the population). Both generated new LDS doctrinal concepts with lasting impact (such as the priesthood ban, and the Proclamation on the Family). As scientific understanding, cultural prejudices, and civil rights evolved, later leaders continued to feel  bound to precedents set by earlier leaders. Eventually the priesthood ban was reversed.

Black members of the church endured discriminatory practices and a difficult atmosphere. Gay Mormons have also experience discrimination and a difficult environment.  For example, studies indicate life as a single, active, gay Mormon has the lowest levels of happiness when compared to all other gay groups (inactive, excommunicated, married, or even having lupus, …).[8]

According to Brigham Young, church-sanctioned interracial marriage would have effectively terminated the priesthood of the Latter-day Saint church, so he terminated the priesthood for blacks. Like Young, the modern church has taken steps to ensure that no homosexual marriage can take place in the church, and the policy is designed to prevent any gay couple from becoming or remaining church members and tainting the institution of marriage within Mormonism. Blacks were barred from the priesthood because of interracial marriage, while same-sex married couples are barred from membership.

Interracial marriage was seen as bringing a curse upon the church membership. Today, same-sex marriage is seen as bringing a curse upon marriage in the church. Interracial couples and their children were seen as unacceptable in the church, and Brigham said the couples and children were to be killed. Today, homosexually married couples are to be excommunicated and their children not allowed to be baptized or blessed.

According to Young’s earlier 1847 statement, interracial couples, just like homosexuals today, could access lower aspects of the temple upon the condition of celibacy, but not temple marriage, or higher ordinances.  Later, Brigham Young completely restricted blacks from the temple, preventing interracial couples from temple marriage. Today’s policy prevents homosexual couples from temple marriage, holding the priesthood, and even membership in the church. However single gay Mormons can hold the priesthood, while blacks could not.

Black members had no defined way to achieve exaltation. Today, homosexuals have no defined way to achieve exaltation unless entering into an averse, mixed-attraction marriage so they can be married in the temple.

In summary, there appears to be a correlation between how homosexuals have been viewed in the modern church, and how blacks were perceived by Brigham Young, with marriage being the focal point.

[1] For a more detailed treatment of this, see my presentation at the 2016 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, #232. ‘“The Policy” in Context of Mormon Thought on Cursed Lineage and Marriage’, response by Newell Bringhurst and Christopher C. Smith.

[2] Nott, J. C. “The Mulatto a Hybrid—probable Extermination of the Two Races If the Whites and Blacks Are Allowed to Intermarry.” The American Journal of the Medical Sciences 6.11 (1843): 252-56.

[3] Minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, December 3, 1847 in Minutes of the Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1951, Electronic Edition, 2015. Formatting & punctuation modified for readability. See also O’ Donnovan, Connell, “Brigham Young, African Americans, and Plural Marriages: Schism and the Beginnings of Black Priesthood and Temple Denial” in The Persistence of Polygamy: From Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom to the First Manifesto, 1844-1890. Editors Bringhurst, Newell and Foster, Craig.  Independence Mo: John Whitmer, 2013.

[4] Brigham Young speech to Joint Session of the Legislature, Jan 5, 1852 (sometimes dated Feb 5, 1852), The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 1:468-71

[5] Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, chapter 6, Bookcraft Pubs (1969).

[6] Kimball, Chapter 6

[7] Dallin Oaks, “Principles to Govern Possible Public Statement on Legislation Affecting Rights of Homosexuals,” copy in my possession.

[8] John P. Dehlin MS, Renee V. Galliher PhD, William S. Bradshaw PhD & Katherine A. Crowell PhD (2014) Psychosocial Correlates of Religious Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction: A Mormon Perspective, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 18:3, 284-311. Statements by church encouraging discrimination are still on official church websites. For example, Elder Oaks suggested parents tell their children in same-sex marriages, “Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends…” [“Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: ‘Same-Gender Attraction,'” Newsroom, 2 September 2006]. Recent changes by the church, such as an updated website suggest a more conciliatory attitude is developing.


The Policy on Gay Couples, and the Priesthood Ban: A Comparison — 1 Comment

  1. Both Brigham Young and Spencer W. Kimball used the cultural/pseudo-scientific beliefs of their day to make church policy/doctrine. Too bad some of that inspiration, prophet of God stuff they (and all of their ilk) taught/trumpeted was not in evidence–and so it continues not to be.

    We, and the Church, are the worse for it.