In 2012, Josh Weed, a Seattle-area therapist who had been married to a woman for a decade, announced on his family-oriented blog that he was gay. But this coming out didn't follow the script. His wife, Lolly Weed, wrote that she had known he was gay when she married him. The two said they intended to keep living as a married couple. While the Weeds expressed acceptance of gay people who chose differently, they argued that their affection for each other and their devotion to the Mormon church meant that this marriage was the right one for both of them.
The Weeds' story rapidly went viral, and there was even a segment about them on "Nightline." At the time, the movement to legalize same-sex marriage was gaining steam and President Barack Obama had just announced his support for marriage equality. The "ex-gay" movement that tried to turn queer people straight was starting to collapse. The mixed-orientation marriage of the Weeds felt to many religious conservatives like a way to reconcile the growing pressure to accept gay people's identity while still insisting that the only legitimate life options were celibacy or heterosexual marriage. The blog post was circulated eagerly by conservatives, trying to convince their gay loved ones to embrace "mixed orientation" marriage.
In 2018, Josh and Lolly Weed have announced that they are divorcing.
“I had never had a crush. I had never had someone I had looked at with attraction who looked back at me with attraction," Josh Weed explained in a phone conversation, discussing a revelation he had in September. He concluded that living without that "internal, core piece of self" was "inhumane."
"We got married so young and had dated so little, neither of us had really experienced what true romantic attachment felt like," Lolly Weed wrote on the blog. "Platonic love is simply not enough, no matter how much we hoped it was."
In our lengthy conversation, Josh Weed described the past five years as an evolution in his thinking about sexuality and human rights that mirrors so much of what's going on in the larger world, especially for those who, like the Weeds, grew up in conservative faith traditions. Research from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that increasing numbers of young people are leaving religion. One-third of them cite negative teachings on LGBT people as a reason why.
Even those who stay — and Weed says he still considers himself a religious or at least spiritual person — are challenging traditional views. Nearly half of white evangelicals born after 1964 support same-sex marriage, compared to 35 percent of white evangelical Boomers. A similar generation gap is appearing among Mormons, with 47 percent of younger members of the Latter-day Saints supporting same-sex marriage, while only 28 percent of their elders agree.
One reason these issues have influenced many people to leave their churches is "because enough LGBT people have come out that everyone knows an LGBT person," Kathryn Brightbill, a gay former evangelical, told Salon. "When your pastor is calling people you know and care about predators who are destroying the sanctity of marriage, it's different than when you think of LGBT people as a scary, nameless, faceless other."
Coming out publicly in 2012, Josh Weed said, was "an act mainly of authenticity," and the couple was caught flat-footed by the viral nature of their story. Their lives became entangled in the larger political and cultural shifts around the topic of sexual orientation. The same year that Weed came out, the couple decided to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, bucking their church's teachings.
In 2015, a conservative lawyer named Darrin Johns filed an amicus brief to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that the existence of mixed-orientation marriages should discourage the court from legalizing same-sex marriage. The brief quoted Josh Weed's coming-out blog post and cited the couple's marriage as evidence for this argument, all without their permission.
“Lolly and I were outraged when we caught wind that our names were associated with anything that was fighting against marriage equality," Weed said. They issued public statements making clear they had no association with this amicus brief. He noted that their marriage "gave us a certain position, a certain voice, where the in-group couldn’t discount what we were saying as easily," and he was glad they were able to use that leverage to speak out for gay rights.
But while becoming more outspoken in their support for gay rights felt right, Weed said, he and Lolly started to realize they were "advocating for LGBT people but not really advocating for ourselves." Eventually, this dissonance clearly became too much, leading to the end of their marriage.
It's easy to flatten out Weed's story into a morality play about the dangers of religious homophobia. Certainly he would be the first to tell you that's an obvious lesson to draw from his life experiences. But speaking to him revealed a story that's more interesting and complex. It's a tale about the multiplicities of identity that we all experience, which often contradict each other in painful ways. While the conflict between being gay and being a loving husband to a woman is an especially dramatic example, the truth is that most of us walk around with these incongruities in our identities and struggle with the choice of whether to change the facts or simply live with the contradictions.
Weed's story also highlighted the way that the surge in discourse about "identity politics," which is often criticized by people on both the left and the right, can actually help people, often in ways unexpected. Talking out loud about our identities and what they mean can offer people the language and strategies they need to reconcile contradictions in themselves that would, in other eras, simply be the source of lifelong, irresolvable pain.
“That viral blog post in 2012 opened up a whole new world of access to queer stories and LGBT people, just a variety of individuals that I had never been exposed to," Weed explained, noting that these experiences helped move him toward realizing that "a gay person really needs to partner with someone of their same sex."
When asked what's next for him, Lolly and their children, Weed said, "We’re best friends and we’re still planning on being best friends," but "we’re not making any big decisions about what that will look like quite yet.”
The Weeds married in part because they grew up in a world where getting married was simply expected. Now they have let go of the strict rules and expectations about what life should be and, as Weed put it, "are trying to be open to what manifests itself as being right.”
It's a very 21st-century story, and shows how the culture is shifting in fundamental ways beyond simply becoming more inclusive of gay people, as important as that change is. Americans of all backgrounds are moving away from a life defined by rigid rules and traditions and towards the freedom to define our lives for ourselves. Religion will have to change along with the culture or there will continue to be fewer believers and fewer faces in the pews.