Conservative Christian University: There’s Nothing ’Ex’ About ’Ex-Gays’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday July 25, 2011

A report from a Christian university that opposes full legal equality for GLBTs acknowledges that gays stay gay even when they try to adopt a "heterosexual lifestyle" such as marrying an opposite-sex partner, reported ThinkProgress on July 21.

The new report comes from Pat Robertson's Regent University and appears in "Edification," a "Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology." Researchers seem to accept from the start that "ex-gays" seeking a heterosexual life through marriage to an opposite-gender spouse, referring to such pairings as "mixed orientation" marriages.

The article cited couples in which a gay or lesbian spouse had not been forthcoming before the marriage about his or her true sexual orientation, and noted a high rate of divorce is the result of such pairings, although "some mixed orientation relationships do stay together," the paper noted, referring to "several themes that appeared to be related to the decision to stay together, including religious commitments, love for their spouse and children, trust, and a desire to remain committed to their partner."

"Mixed orientation marriages reflect but one expression of sexual identity concerns," the paper added, going on to say, "This study did not examine a Christian population specifically, but sought to understand the broad experiences of mixed-orientation couples in general and consider faith and religious coping as an important variable in understanding their overall functioning. Past research has suggested religious coping is an important factor in some mixed orientation relationships."

The study's participants had an "average length of marriage [of] 16.21 years, including those who were still married and those who separated or divorced. For the individuals who were no longer in their mixed orientation marriage, the average length of time since their separation or divorce to the time of the study was 4.74 years," the article said.

The questionnaire "assessed various areas, including relationship history, relationship dynamics, sexual functioning, relationship satisfaction, coping skills, sexuality orientation and identity, as well as other factors," the paper said.

The questionnaire asked about "sexual behavior, sexual attractions, emotional attach- ments, and sexual fantasy" and asked participants to rate themselves in these areas according to the Kinsey scale.

The questionnaire also asked participants at what point, if ever, they had disclosed the truth about their sexuality to their spouses.

"Out of the sexual minorities who responded... the largest group reported disclosure took place after they were married," the paper said. "The next largest group indicated disclosure took place prior to engagement.... Twelve individuals (11.5%) indicated disclosure took place when they first met their spouse, 10 individuals (9.6%) indicated disclosure took place after engage- ment but prior to marriage, 1 individual (1%) indicated disclosure took place after they were separated from their spouse, and 6 individuals (5.8%) stated that they never disclosed their same-sex attractions."

Respondents were also asked why they chose to marry an opposite-sex partner when he or she was gay. Most cited a desire for family and companionship, which were also primary reasons for heterosexuals who married; few said they married as means of camouflage.

The tables included in the study showed that while about 26% of respondents said that "strongly disagreed" with "I thought my same-sex attractions would go away" upon marrying a person of the opposite sex, almost as many -- about 24% "agreed" with that statement, and another 21% "strongly agreed."

But the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian individuals who married opposite sex partners did not change, the study noted. Moreover, the data indicated that heterosexual spouses of gays and lesbians in mixed-gender marriages were somewhat more unhappy with the marriage than was the gay or lesbian person who had married a person of the opposite sex.

The paper presented some paradoxical-seeming results as well.

"The marriages themselves seemed to be characterized by satisfaction and positive feelings about the future of the marriage, although, again, a range of experiences were reported," the paper read. "Sexual minorities, on average, reported more positive satisfaction and a more positive view of the future of their marriage, which was also seen in the self-report of happiness."

What was also true, though, was that opposite-gender marriages including a gay or lesbian spouse seemed to include a higher rate of extramarital sex.

"In the area of sexual fidelity, sexual minority spouses reported a higher than average number of extramarital relationships (44.2% indicating an extra- marital relationship), whereas national averages are at about 10% of women and under 25% of men," the paper noted.

ThinkProgress made its own observations about the paper's results.

"As would be expected, being in a heterosexual marriage led to more heterosexual behavior," the posting read. "But the study actually found that not only did attraction toward the opposite sex not increase, it seems to have decreased.

"Regardless, here is a study from a university run by one of the largest opponents of LGBT equality that shows that people cannot change their orientation. They can change their behavior -- act the part of the heterosexual. But the numbers sure seem to indicate that they are as gay as ever. In its conclusion, the study tries to hedge this point, but concedes it simultaneously," ThinkProgress added.

Even so, the paper seemed to attempt to cling to a basic tenant of the anti-gay Christian right, which is that homosexuality is in some way pathological, rather than part of the natural variation of human sexuality.

"This is not to say that orientation cannot change," the paper read. "Rather, the behavioral changes in a mixed orientation marriage should not be taken to signal orientation change as such.... These should be understood as separate considerations."

ThinkProgress noted that the study's lead author, Mark A. Yarhouse, had also written a paper, cited in the new study, that had been "thoroughly debunked, critiqued, and discredited by the American Psychological Association." Added the ThinkProgress article, "Researchers trying to prove the wherewithal of ex-gay therapy are going to have to stop doing legitimate research or they might accidentally arrive at the answer they're trying to avoid."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.