In the summer of 2008, Sarah Irish Nicholson's well-ordered Mormon life was unraveling, and she needed someone to talk to.
Nicholson's husband of 13 years, whom she had loved since they were madrigal partners in high school, told her he was gay. Latter-day Saints in her West Valley City ward kept saying gay-rights advocacy was Satan's work, she says. Though the couple remained together at first and honored their marriage vows, several local Mormon leaders were not only unsympathetic, they also were openly hostile to the news.
Nicholson, who still was clinging to her LDS faith, wanted a place to share stories, cry, laugh and encourage. She turned to a national website, straightspouse.org, an umbrella organization for some 55 similar groups. But she felt many of those posting there were bitter and just wanted to vent. So she launched straightspouses.org, which invites people to join a private Facebook support group.
Last fall, there were 14 members. Now there are 45, mostly Utah Mormons, but some in other states and other faiths.
Two weeks ago, the issue of Mormon "mixed-orientation marriages," as it has become known, exploded on the Internet, when Josh Weed and his wife, Lolly, posted the story of their relationship on his blog, joshweed.com. (The Tribune chronicled couples with similar relationships in this 2006 article.)
Weed, a marriage and family therapist in the Northwest, has known he was gay since his teens, and Lolly was the first person he told. They've been married 10 years and have three daughters.
Weed's blog post generated more than 3,000 comments, and he was inundated with media requests.
A similar story was making the rounds in LDS circles some weeks earlier Ty Mansfield, a gay Mormon married to a woman, was featured on the May/June cover of LDS Living magazine.
In 2004, Mansfield wrote a section of the book In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction. As a single man with same-sex attractions, he didn't believe he would ever marry. Six years later, he met the woman who would become his wife.
"Sexuality is more fluid than we think," Mansfield, a therapist in Texas, says in an interview. "Everything fell into place, and we took that step. It continues to feel like it's the right move for me."
Neither Mansfield nor Weed claims that marrying a woman is the path for all Mormon gays, and the LDS Church has stopped officially recommending it as a "cure" for homosexuality.
But, as Nicholson's support group numbers indicate, many devoutly religious members still see it as the way to go.
Optimistic beginning • In 2006, The Salt Lake Tribune profiled three mixed-orientation marriages, including the Weeds'. At the time, Josh Weed insisted on using a pseudonym.
"For 10 years, I felt strongly we needed to keep things quiet," Weed says in an interview from his home in Auburn, Wash. "Then that changed. My wife voiced it first. We needed to be more authentic. It was time to tell our story."
In the previous months, Weed had begun telling extended family members and friends.
"Being closeted led to one-sided friendships," he says. "They were authentic to me, and I was withholding parts of myself. This has really deepened and enhanced my relationships."
Weed says the majority of responses to his blog post have been positive, including many touching accounts of other gay men or of gay couples who are in healthy, monogamous relationships.
Some comments have been negative, including the allegation that Weed is part of the "ex-gay movement," touting "reparative therapy."
Absolutely not, he says. "I am totally against reparative therapy, and trying to change sexual orientation is a disservice to clients."
His orientation has not changed. In a room full of naked people, he'd still be "turned on" by the guys, he writes. Yet he says the couple's sex life is very satisfying.
"In a weird way, the circumstances of our marriage allowed us to build a sexual relationship that is based on everything partners should want in their sex life: intimacy, communication, genuine love and affection," he writes, rather than being "distracted by the powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession."
Mansfield, too, says his attraction to men hasn't disappeared. But it is not as consuming as it once was, and he no longer self-identifies as "gay."
Now, he says, he shuns labels altogether.
Different paths • The second gay man in The Tribune piece, who lives in the Midwest and used the pseudonym "Landon," is still guarding his privacy.
"Our relationship continues to be like any marriage," he says. "We work through any issues that come up. Our commitment is not influenced by that [orientation] issue."
At the time Landon was married, his LDS bishop knew of Landon's attractions and didn't dictate any direction. But the bishop did promise Landon that "small miracles were available" to believers.
"I felt a lot of assurance with that," he says now.
Orem residents Ben and Jessie Christensen were the most open couple in the article, using their names and photos.
Jessie knew Ben was gay before they married but believed they could make it work. They had two kids in 2006 and were upbeat about the future. Now they have one more child and divorced last year.
"I still think that getting married to Ben was a good decision and that it was the right one at the time," Jessie writes in an email. "Being married was good for me in many ways, and we have three wonderful children together. During our marriage, I never felt like there was something wrong with me or that I was somehow not good enough. Knowing about the fact that Ben was gay took a burden off me because I knew that his issues were his to deal with, and I couldn't do anything to change them."
Ultimately, it may have been Ben's loss of faith that doomed the marriage.
"Neither of us realized at the time how much his homosexuality affected his membership in the church and his feelings about the gospel," she writes. "More time and maturity would probably have given him a chance to really figure out where he wanted to go in his life, as far as religion is concerned."
Jessie is a "wonderful, wonderful person. I love her as much as I ever did," Ben says. "Without the church as a motivator, she would been a really good friend of mine."
As an active Mormon and returned missionary, Ben thought back then, "If I am going to marry a woman, I'm going to marry this awesome woman."
It slowly dawned on him that it wasn't enough. He felt dead inside, conflicted and without peace.
Now Ben hopes to find a man to marry as he continues to love and support his children.
Needing support • Jessica Rodgers Trueman met her husband in the theater department at what was then Ricks College (now Brigham Young University Idaho). She had known LDS gays her whole life and saw no reason why anyone would be closeted.
So it "rocked her world" when, right before their 10th anniversary, her husband said he was gay. He was an active Mormon who wanted to keep his orientation a secret. "I didn't know who to talk to, didn't know who I could trust," she says. "I felt ashamed."
Friends in her Idaho ward have been "incredibly loving and kind," she says, "but we have carefully chosen who to tell."
Trueman devoured blogs by married gay Mormons. She filled journals with her anguish, her love, her confusion as she saw her husband slip into depression, disengagement and unemployment.
Finally, her husband got a spiritual confirmation that God loved him as he was.
"He had thought he was an abomination [as a gay man]," Trueman says. "I knew Heavenly Father loved him; he did not. After his prayer, he felt an amazing outpouring of love. He started to pray more. He realized he was OK."
She knew then that they should get divorced, and both would get through it.
Trueman has recently found solace in Nicholson's support group. After all, the organization's founder shares her story.
When Nicholson's husband came out, the couple, who had four kids, stayed together. Then they had a fifth child a pregnancy that was tough on her body and on her mind. She had lost her Mormon community and worried that her marriage was over.
One night, she recalls, she cried out to God, "Just let me die in childbirth. I don't want to do this anymore."
Now, she is divorced and finds purpose in reaching out to other Mormon women facing a similar challenge.
She feels she has an important role to play sort of like a church calling.