TLC, Ty Mansfield, and Human Relationships

TLC-My-Husbands-Not-GayThe furor surrounding the TLC show about homosexual men trying to have successful marriages and families with women is understandable. I personally know people or people who have loved ones who attempted to manage their homosexual orientations within the context of heterosexual relationships and were met with utter disaster and ruin. Mitch Mayne’s sobering piece illustrates this problem well.

But I also take Ty Mansfield at his word, that he and other ostensibly homosexual (or, just as likely if not more so, bisexual) men are in marriages that are no more threatened by dissolution than other marriages, with their ups and downs. I cannot possibly see how this kind of marriage could ever be universally prescriptive, however. Too many contextual variables and disparate personalities mitigate against a reality where just any homosexual man could be in a successful lifelong marriage with a woman. (That lesbian women in heterosexual marriages are not even being discussed is a very telling sign of where this conversation is culturally).

What’s interesting to me is where Mansfield’s logic ultimately leads. If, as he argues, relationships and marriages are not reducible to heterosexual biological pleasure (and by extension reproduction), then neither are they reducible to any type of biological orientation. In other words, if a marriage is so much more than the physical enactment of sex, then the culture wars that privilege heterosexual marriage (or even marriage at all) are misguided. In fact, Mansifeld quotes Jane Ridley from the New York Post on this point:

Love and marriage are not just about a penis and a vagina. It’s about a connection of souls, faith, family and children. And these couples appear to share an extraordinary trust and openness. Every study shows those are the keys to lasting human relationships.


This is also in harmony with Taylor Petrey’s paradigm-shifting Dialogue article, Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology, which argues that in Mormon thought and history, sealings, marriages, and even kinship relations generally were not grounded in heterosexual couplings, but envisioned multiple means and networks that would connect people together in a variety of ritually intimate ways.

The conclusion that I draw from this is that if homosexual men married to women is an acceptable and viable legal relationship for the precise reason that such a relationship can transcend the merely biological, then so are other configurations of human relating, including gay marriage and even polygamy (not that all forms of relating are perfectly equal, but an entire world of possible human intimate networking opens up if the biological isn’t so closely privileged). So if we are going to argue for the possibility of relating on these grounds, we cannot limit ourselves to personal preference. If we’re going to argue for this more transcendental kind of marriage, we have to be prepared to accept the logical conclusions.


One thought on “TLC, Ty Mansfield, and Human Relationships

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I notice that your conclusions rely on the premise that the only dimension of gender difference lies in biology. Especially given the LDS tradition of acknowledging spiritual dimensions of human relationships. In this sense, a “heterosexual” marriage might be about more than biological parts fitting together, but about two eternal souls becoming one–a process that could still require both male and female. I mean, as you point out, that isn’t the only way to view the marital relationship. It’s just the only one I find congruent with the teachings of apostles and prophets.

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