On this episode of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Jordyn Rolling heads to Utah, where she investigates the concept of mixed-orientation marriage, in which two people with different sexual orientations marry each other. These types of unions are commonly found within the Mormon church. To find out more about the societal pressures and personal sacrifices involved in these marriages, Rolling speaks to a couple who’s in one and with a man who divorced his wife to live openly as a gay man.
Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: Can a gay man and a straight woman have a happy marriage? Correspondent Jordyn Rolling travels to Salt Lake City, Utah, to explore how some Mormons with different sexual orientations end up married to each other.
Blaine Hickman, Mormon in a mixed-orientation marriage: We have a happy fulfilling sex life. But what motivates that sex life is different.
Lindsay Hickman, Mormon in a mixed-orientation marriage and Blaine’s wife: It’s something different.
Blaine: I don’t like — it’s not like I come home and see her and I got to get on that.
Jordyn Rolling, correspondent: A mixed-orientation marriage is one in which two partners have different sexual orientations. These kinds of relationships are commonly found in Mormon communities.
Clip from Mormon church: We have given much thought and care to better understanding the experience of same-sex attraction and making sure individuals who feel such attraction, and their families, feel welcome and part of the great worldwide family that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Rolling (voiceover): The Mormon doctrine considers those in same-sex marriages apostates, meaning they can no longer be affiliated with the church. Yet it hasn’t taken a clear stance on mixed-orientation marriages.
John Dehlin, Ph.D., founder of Mormon Stories podcast: Basically the church gives you three choices if you’re a LGBT Mormon: You can either, you know, be celibate for the rest of your life; you could leave the church and get excommunicated; or you can enter into a mixed-orientation marriage and marry someone that you’re not attracted to.
Rolling: I’m on my way to meet Blaine and Lindsay Hickman. They are currently in a mixed-orientation marriage and they’ve been married for almost 15 years.
Rolling: Hello, hi. Jordyn.
Lindsay: Hi, Lindsay.
Rolling: Jordyn, nice to meet you guys.
Lindsay: Nice to meet you, too.
Rolling: So Blaine, have you ever been with a man?
Rolling: And Lindsey, have you ever been with another man?
Lindsay: No. No. Which is funny, but no.
Rolling (voiceover): Blaine and Lindsay met in high school where they became best friends. They bonded over their love for theater and music. After high school, when Blaine returned from teaching English in China, he finally came out to Lindsay. And even though his family would have supported him in a gay relationship, he chose to pursue one with Lindsay.
Blaine: If I had come out and there wasn’t, like, a specific girl there that I was really wanting things to work out with and I don’t —
Lindsay: It probably would have been a lot different.
Blaine: I would’ve been a lot different.
Rolling (voiceover): Blaine works as a therapist whose focus is to help people who are trying to reconcile their sexual orientation with their religious beliefs. He previously volunteered with North Star International.
Blaine: Like, with men or whatever, Lindsay is really good at, like, understanding that doesn’t have to do with me, but that doesn’t have anything to do with, like, me not being cute enough or not being desirable enough that like that. Like, those are very different things.
Lindsay: Well, and I always, like, say he chose me out of all the boys and the girls, so I feel pretty great.
Rolling (voiceover): Danny Caldwell was married to a woman for 10 years before filing for divorce. As a devoted gay Mormon, he believed a mixed-orientation marriage was his only option.
Caldwell: God wants me to marry a woman and in the LDS temple. For me, that was, you know, what I needed to do to be happy because that’s what’s taught in the church is that happiness comes from living the gospel. And if you’re not living the gospel, you’re not going to be happy.
Rolling (voiceover): I spoke with John Dehlin, whose research looked specifically at those either currently in, or once in, a mixed-orientation marriage.
Dehlin: Basically, our estimates were about 70% of those who entered into a mixed-orientation marriage either got divorced or would be divorced by the time their lives ended, but more stark than the divorce rate was the low quality of life, high levels of sexual identity distress, low levels of self-esteem and sort of abysmal quality of life ratings that were associated with entering into a mixed-orientation marriage.
Rolling (voiceover): According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates in Utah have increased by almost 50% since 1999, and those who identify as LGBTQ experience higher rates of mental health disorders and suicides than the national population.
Caldwell: We were married for 10 years and I realized that about every three years, I would have these, like, total breakdowns where I would just get super depressed, and I hooked up with a couple guys that I met online. And it seemed like each time, the depression would be worse. And this last time, it was — I was — I actually didn’t do anything with any guys, but I was so depressed and suicidal. I wasn’t fulfilled in the relationship — but I couldn’t leave ’cause I would lose everything, was how I saw it. And I started to feel like the only way out was suicide.
Rolling: Did you have, like, a breaking point?
Caldwell: Yeah, I — so I was — I started — I found a therapist that I felt was — could help me. So I started working with him on basically writing a letter telling my wife that I can’t do it anymore. And I, at that time, I shared the letter with her, and she was very upset, which is understandable. And she left, and that was, that was probably my low. I — sorry.
Rolling: That’s OK.
Caldwell: That night I had a gun in my hand. I just thought I’d made such a mess of everything I’ve — I’m gonna hurt my kids, I’ve hurt my wife, who, even though it wasn’t working, I still cared about her and I didn’t want to hurt her, and I just thought, you know, I could limit the damage if I could just remove myself from the equation. Well, you know, I was able to calm myself down. In that process I realized, you know, it’s better for my kids to have a gay dad than a dead dad.
Rolling (voiceover): After hearing Danny’s experience, I wanted to see what the church had to say about mixed-orientation marriages.
Rolling: I’ve been trying to get a statement about their stance on mixed-orientation marriages and I’ve been getting the runaround. So I’m going to show up and see if anyone will talk to me.
Rolling, to person at Mormon church: I’ve spoken to Karlie, but I haven’t really got any responses back. So I was trying to see if there was any way I could come and anyone would talk to me or you could call up and ask her.
Person at Mormon church: Unless you have an appointment with someone, no.
Rolling: OK, well since I wasn’t able to talk to anyone by just walking in, I’m going to try to call their media relations senior associate on the phone and see if she’ll say anything.
Karlie Brand Guymon, LDS church public affairs: “You’ve reached Karlie Brand Guymon with LDS church public affairs.”
Rolling (voiceover): When I finally got a response from the Mormon church, they didn’t address mixed-orientation marriages directly, rather stating: “Marriage is defined by God as the union between a man and a woman. We reach out with love to our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
Rolling: So it’s been kind of challenging to get a direct statement from the church on anything regarding mixed-orientation marriage or regarding gay people. Why do you think the church is so tight-lipped?
Lindsay: Probably because they are, ’cause everybody looks different because there are so many people in the world that have different experiences and the church really does believe in agency in that people do have a choice.
Blaine: And truthfully like there are times when I feel like, “Don’t be so tight-lipped, just say something.” It’s difficult because everybody wants things to be black and white. Like, “Just say you support it or say you don’t and then shut up about it.” It’s just more complicated than that.
Rolling: Even with a divorce rate at least 20% higher than the national average, some mixed-orientation couples are just able to make it work.
Dehlin: If they follow the average, their quality of life is very low. Now there are always going to be exceptions. Think of a bell curve. There are always going to be people more miserable than you could ever imagine in the bell curve, and there’s going to be people who defy all odds and are extremely happy. What the data seems to suggest is that if mixed-orientation marriage were a product that you could purchase on the shelf, there should be a big, red, huge warning label on the side that says, “Warning: Entering into a mixed-orientation marriage has a 70% failure rate and is associated with quality of life ratings worse than having lupus. And as long as every gay and lesbian and straight Mormon knows sort of that data before they enter into a mixed-orientation marriage, then they’re entering into it with full information.
Lindsay: There are some days where [the kids are] like, “We hate church!” And I was like, “I know, but this is what we believe in, and so when you believe in this, we go to church, you know?”
Lindsay (later): The huge reason why our marriage has worked out so well is because we just talk about things.
Blaine: We have, like, a fulfilling, like, happy sex life, too.
Lindsay: Which a lot of people also assume like, “Oh you must just be friends and not doing any of that.”
Blaine: Or they assume like, “Oh, you must have to like pretend she’s a boy, which like —
Lindsay: Which that would not fly if that was —
Blaine: No. Like, having sex is a choice that we make that is, like, motivated by different things besides just, like, being —
Lindsay: Like, we love each other and our relationship’s important and we, you know —
Rolling: Like, you know, that’s part of a relationship.
Lindsay: Yeah, right.
Blaine: And it’s enjoyable.
Rolling: What would you tell someone who is considering entering into a mixed-orientation marriage, if you could give them a piece of advice?
Caldwell: I would — I would say, “Just be careful. Like, realize what you’re doing. It’s not going to go away. If you think that the marriage is going to make the same-sex attraction go away, it’s not going to.”
Rolling (voiceover): Danny is now engaged to his fiance Ty and they’re planning to get married next year.
Caldwell’s fiance: And he makes delicious scrambled eggs, so what more could you ask for?
Rolling (voiceover): I asked Blaine why he thinks his marriage won’t end up like Danny’s.
Blaine: I feel really OK to come to her and say, like, “Today was just a really bad gay day. Like, I’m just feeling like, like —”
Lindsay: And feeling accepted for whatever he says.
Blaine: Yeah and, like, just like, I’m able to communicate, like, today it’s hard and today, I wish I had something else and — but, and so that we can talk about that and —
Rolling: If the church came out and said, “Mixed-orientation marriages are not viable because you have same-sex attraction, we don’t support that,” would you choose church or would you choose your marriage?
Blaine: My marriage.
Lindsay: Yeah, marriage.
Blaine: The church is a tool to help me be connected with God.
Lindsay: But I feel like that’s what fuels us is like having an eternal perspective, that we aren’t just who we are now.
Blaine: It’s not just about this.
Lindsay: That eternity, that we go on forever, and that’s kind of comforting for me to know that life just doesn’t end.
Del Toro: So after that piece, I have a lot of questions and I’m sure you do, too. So we have Jordyn Rolling here in the studio with us who’s going to talk to us about her reporting on mixed-orientation marriages in Utah. Jordyn, thanks for being here.
Rolling: Thank you for having me.
Del Toro: So this was actually kind of a personal story for you then.
Rolling: Yeah, it was very personal for me. I think this has been long overdue for me to be able to explore this topic. You know, my mom grew up in Utah, grew up Mormon and basically hid a very, very big part of herself for her entire life, and she was married for 20 years, had four kids and then finally when she, you know, was I think, like, 45, came out and decided to change her life and go a different — go a different way.
Del Toro: What was your impression of Blaine and Lindsey?
Rolling: You know, it’s funny, I told them when I first met them, I went into the story thinking that they were gonna be kooky, thinking they were going to be weird. They were honestly the sweetest, most normal people, and they’re — they have three boys, as you could see. They have three boys who are happy and normal and their kids know what’s going on. Blaine and Lindsey speak openly about their situation and their dynamic in front of their kids, and their kids know and their kids frankly are just like, “Mom and dad, like, why do people care? Like, who cares?” Like, they’re so used to having a gay dad and a straight mom and this dynamic that they just — they’re just like, “Who cares?”
Del Toro: That was actually something that I was really curious as I was watching the piece, if they had talked to their children about the fact that he is gay.
Rolling: Yeah. They know and in fact, like, I think their kids are very open about it, too. I even asked Blaine and Lindsey like, “What would you do if one of your sons came out as gay?” And they were just like, “We wouldn’t care.” Like, they would be completely supportive, completely happy for them. If they wanted to pursue a same-sex marriage, they would be completely supportive as well.
Del Toro: And now you also talked to Danny, who left his mixed-orientation marriage, and obviously talked to Blaine who’s still in that kind of marriage. How sustainable do you think Blaine and Lindsay’s relationship is?
Rolling: I think we have to remember their relationship is built off of friendship. It’s a friendship that comes with the romantic and sexual aspects of relationships, but it’s a friendship first. As John Dehlin explained in the piece, there’s the bell curve, so some people can make it work, others can’t make it work and then there’s people that just kind of float in the middle. Blaine and Lindsay have been making it work for 15 years.
Del Toro: So we’ve seen in recent years gay marriage has become more broadly accepted nationwide. Is there any kind of movement within the church or in the community to push for acceptance of same-sex marriage?
Rolling: So you’re right, Natasha. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, right? Actually, in Utah we’re seeing that Mormons aged 18 to 29, there’s a 52% support rate for same-sex marriage. So younger Mormons are in fact supporting, you know, progress and the LGBTQ community. But we’re seeing the older Mormons are still not supportive of it. But what’s interesting is our couple, Blaine and Lindsey, they’re one of those couples that, you know, don’t believe the doctrine will change, but it doesn’t really support the stats that are showing that, you know, the Mormons are kind of progressing with our thought toward same-sex marriage.
Del Toro: Jordyn, thank you so much for being here.
Rolling: Thank you for having me.
Del Toro: And that’s it for another episode of Mic Dispatch. Leave us your comments and see you next time.
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