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Sun March 31, 2013

Coming Out: A Gay Mormon Navigates Family, Faith And Sexuality

Originally published on Fri April 12, 2013 4:11 pm

Jamison Manwaring says he wants marriage and kids — but that will be difficult for him because he's a gay Mormon.

Manwaring grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the youngest of eight children in a devout Mormon family. According to the Mormon church, same-sex attraction is itself not a sin but yielding to it is.

After coming home from a two-year mission at 21, Manwaring was determined to find a wife and get married. He dated women "vigorously," but his attraction to men would not go away.

Three years ago, Manwaring told his immediate family that he was gay, and a couple of weeks ago, he came out to other relatives and friends in an online video. His older brother, Josh, says it was hard to comprehend at first, but that Jamison has done everything to educate his family. The two of them spoke with Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin about the journey.


Interview Highlights

On realizing he was attracted to men

"I knew at 14 or 15 that those feelings were very real. I just thought it was going to be a phase, and that was informed by some of the things that I read, is that you just continue to do normal things and interact with your friends, and over time those things would change. And then, you know, as far as the gospel goes, as long as you do everything you're supposed to correctly, then, you know, God takes care of the rest. And that's how I approached it — until I was 21, when I came home from my mission. Then I was very disappointed when those feelings were not gone."

On coming out to his family

"We decided to just tell everybody — all my siblings, in-laws — and ended up having just an awesome experience because they didn't say those things that I had kind of believed about myself. That it was evil, or that I was evil, or that it was a perversion. They just listened, and they said 'We're so glad that we know, and we wish we would've known a long time ago.' "

On being a gay Mormon and wanting a family

"Not only do I want a family, but there's nothing else to do besides have a family because all my friends are married now. It leaves you with nothing in your life. And in this context you couldn't have a family — you know, as far as the LDS church goes — unless you feel like you could marry a woman."

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

JAMISON MANWARING: Being gay did not fit in with what I wanted. It didn't fit in, in my own family. It didn't fit in my religion or my culture. And, at the time, I felt I need to find out how to fix this.

MARTIN: This is Jamison Manwaring. He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which happens to be my hometown too. He's from a devout Mormon family, the youngest of eight kids. The Mormon Church says that, quote, "Same-sex attraction is itself not a sin but yielding to it is." Back in 2008, the church funneled millions of dollars into the campaigns supporting California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. It is now one of two gay marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jamison Manwaring says he wants a marriage and kids, but that will be difficult for him as a gay Mormon man. A couple of weeks ago, he made a video and put it online, a way to come out to all of his friends and family at the same time.

I recently spoke with Manwaring and his older brother, Josh, about how their family is navigating the issue of gay marriage. It's this week's Sunday Conversation.

MANWARING: I knew at 14 or 15 that those feelings were very real. I just thought it was going to be a phase. And that was informed by some of the things that I read, is that you just continue to do normal things and interact with your friends, and that over time those things would change. And then, you know, as far as the Gospel goes, as long as you do everything you're supposed to correctly, then, you know, God takes care of the rest. And that's how I approached it, until I was 21, when I came home from my mission. And then I was very disappointed when those feelings were not gone.

MARTIN: We should say again, you went on a mission for two years for the Mormon Church, which is a time - I would imagine - was kind of a safe space because Mormon missionaries are not supposed to have any romantic relationships during that time. So you kind of didn't have to deal with it, I wouldn't imagine.

MANWARING: Yeah, exactly, it was actually great because I'm around all my friends, we worked together, we were busy doing things, we're bonding and we were focused on something greater ourselves, and it was a wonderful time of my life.

MARTIN: So what happened when you came home?

MANWARING: When I came home I felt, OK, I just need to focus on finding a wife and getting married. And that was the counsel that I was given because I had ecclesiastical leaders - church leaders - who knew, who were very kind to me and...

MARTIN: Who knew that you believed that you were gay.

MANWARING: Yeah, who knew that I had those feelings, same-gender attraction. But I also felt that I was open to being able to marry a woman at that point 'cause I never had dated a woman.

(LAUGHTER)

MANWARING: So it was kind of easy to think. So they encouraged me to date when I came home. And so, I did that, you know, vigorously.

(LAUGHTER)

MANWARING: But about a month or two after I came home, there were a few times where it hit me pretty strong that those feelings were not only still there but they were stronger than ever.

MARTIN: So, I'd like to bring your brother, Josh, into the conversation.

Josh, clearly, your brother had been trying to get help for something he thought was a problem. When did you finally find out that Jamison was having these feelings?

JOSH MANWARING: I kind of stumbled onto the issue in - I was visiting him at his house and was in his closet borrowing a shirt. And in his closet, I found a book that talked about dealing with these issues. And I put it back. I didn't say anything to Jamison for two or three days, I didn't know what to say.

And so, I called one of my brothers who was a little bit closer to Jamison by age. And they had been discussing some of these topics and he encouraged me to call Jamison and talk to him. And so I did. And he told me about some of the things he was dealing with.

MARTIN: What was your reaction?

MANWARING: I think the only reaction I could think of would be shocked. It was - I had no idea. You know, there's five boys in our family. Four of us boys are as straight as you can imagine in terms of sexuality. And I never would have crossed my mind that one of brothers would have been dealing with this.

MARTIN: Was it hard at first for you to come to terms with it, not just personally but also in the framework of your faith?

MANWARING: No question. You know, the framework not only my faith but my family, the community. There wasn't a lot of material that I had understood or learned about. So...

MARTIN: You didn't have any reference points.

MANWARING: No reference points. The only people we ever knew who dealt with this or who were gay, it seemed like they would come out and of a sudden they'd just disappear. They'd move out of the town; whether that was because of the community or because of they just didn't feel like they fit in. So we really had no reference.

And so, Jamison - together with a number of members of our family - you know, we'd been going through this with him, and learning and educating ourselves about it. And my perspective on this has changed, oh, you can say 180 degrees since I learned about this about eight years ago.

MARTIN: Jamison, some of your family members start to find out whether you tell them or, like Josh, they kind of happen upon it. Eventually, did you just have a big family meeting? Or were you setting up one-on-one conversations? You have a big family.

(LAUGHTER)

MANWARING: Yeah. About three years ago, Thanksgiving, we decided to just tell everybody - all my siblings, in-laws - and ended up having just an awesome experience because they didn't say those things that I had kind of believed about myself. That it was evil or that I was evil or that it was a perversion. They just listened, and they said, we're so glad that we know and we wish we would've known a long time ago.

MARTIN: We should point out this is also because you want a family. And within the structure of the Mormon Church, it doesn't allow for sexual relationships outside of marriage. So this gets complicated if you're a gay Mormon.

MANWARING: Yeah, indeed. Not only do I want a family, but there's nothing else to do besides have a family...

(LAUGHTER)

MANWARING: ...because all my friends are married now. It leaves you with nothing in your life. And in this context you couldn't have a family, you know, as far as the LDS Church goes unless you feel like you could marry a woman.

MARTIN: So where does that leave things? You are now out. You have come out to your families and your friends, co-workers. You still want a family, I assume.

MANWARING: Yeah, I have always said from the beginning that no matter how this all played out, that I believe that a family and family relationships are the most fulfilling things in life.

MARTIN: Josh, does that make sense to you, that Jamison would want that in his life? And is that something you support?

MANWARING: Yeah, it does make sense. You know, he sees the happiness that it's brought him and his family members. And I want the best for Jamison. I want him to be happy. I want him to be - have a full life. I do.

MARTIN: And that's OK with you, if that means partnering up with a man and adopting kids, or having kids in some way?

MANWARING: Like I say, I want him to be happy. And I love him as my brother and support him in the choices that he makes. You know, this is a process that I've gone through with him. And, you know, it's a learning process for me and it takes time to understand, you know, a different life than I've always been taught and have lived myself, and have strived towards and he's strived towards. And, you know, so I'm taking this one day at a time.

MARTIN: How is your family doing with this? It is a journey, as you have said. Are people still working through it, Josh?

MANWARING: I'll have to say it's been an absolute wonderful journey. I never would have said that when I found that book years ago. But it's been a wonderful journey. Jamison has helped, has been respectful, there's never been ultimatums. He has done everything he could to understand this issue and been patient and thoughtful about educating and helping us understand it.

I'm a better person because of Jamison and because of this journey that he's had. And I think that, you know, all of our family members would say the same thing.

MARTIN: Josh Manwaring and his brother, Jamison. Tell us what you thought about today's Sunday conversation. We're on Tweeter @nprweekend where you can find me @rachelnpr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.