Exodus Co-Founder: Getting Married As A Leap Of Faith

A multi-part video interview series with Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International turned critic.

Daniel Gonzales

April 26th, 2010

Ex-gay Mike Haley showing off pictures of his wife and family while speaking at the Love Won Out ex-gay conference. Love Won Out is primarily attended by Christians who are unable to accept a gay friend of family member and wishes they would enter an ex-gay program. The message Mike's photos send is, "there's still hope for your gay loved one to turn straight and get married."

Some people in the ex-gay movement become so deeply involved they make the drastic step of getting married.  Michael Bussee took that step and talks today about his inner conflict in doing so.  Michael recognized he wasn’t a heterosexual when he got married but chose to anyway because he believed God would reward him with heterosexuality if he truly committed himself to God and took his vows as a leap of faith.

Once married Michael found himself in an uncomfortable position as a role model at Exodus and privately tried to discourage his own clients from marrying.

Lastly Michael talks about the damage caused by using marriage as proof of change and the collateral damage that occurs when mixed orientation (ex-gay) marriages come to an end.

(transcript after the jump)

I’m Michael Bussee, I’m one of the original co-founders of Exodus International. I left the program in 1979 and have since reconciled my spirituality and my sexuality and now I’m a vocal critic of reparative therapy programs and of Exodus International.

[music begins]

[title: “Getting Married As A Leap Of Faith”]

As I said I’d read early on when I was first looking into this whole issue way before Exodus that if you were truly gay you couldn’t fall in love with a woman, you couldn’t have a satisfactory relationship with a woman.

And I met my fiancee in, actually met her for the first time in junior high, and then got to know her better through high school and she was actually dating my best friend at the time and I was kind of jealous, I didn’t know if I wanted to date her or him.
But they eventually broke up and I got to know her better and I found myself really drawn toward her and surprised that I could have romantic feelings toward her.

But I didn’t want to enter into a marriage until I was sure that I could be a heterosexual husband to her, so I kept postponing it, I kept postponing the wedding hoping that I would feel some sort of strong sexual attraction, and I would tell her “I’m not ready, I’m not ready.”

Well we were encouraged by people at the church that perhaps getting married was that final step that maybe I was “holding back the change” by not giving myself whole heartedly to her, that if I made the vows and truly gave our lives together to God that that might be the breakthrough and I might finally receive the heterosexual gift.

So we were actually given that advice that we should marry. I realize now that it was irresponsible advice and some people are still given that advice that they really need to settle down and that eventually God will reward their vows by creating heterosexuality within them.

That does so much collateral damage, I’ve talked to so many spouses who felt like failures themselves because their husband or wife didn’t change, there was something wrong with their faith too.

[voice of interviewer:] When you were still a leader did you pass that advice along to your clients?

No, I never encouraged clients to get married. In private I would always discourage it. And they’d say, “but you’re married, you’ve got a child, you’re doing well” and I couldn’t tell them the full extent of the struggle that was still going on inside. And I said “well yes, that’s my situation, I wouldn’t advise it for you, unless you’re absolutely sure don’t do it, unless you’re absolutely sure that you can be everything that your spouse needs you to be, don’t do it.”

So, no I’m glad to say I didn’t do that, I didn’t encourage people to get married. I think that my example of being married may have communicated that message that that’s what hey should do, but I never preached that’s what they should do.

[Michael softly] Does that make sense?

[voice of interviewer:] yes

[voice of interviewer:] You guys never ran your wedding photo in Exodus advertisements saying you “can be married too one day”?

[Michael interrupting] Never!… never… never.

[image of former Exodus board chair John Paulk and his wife on the cover of Newsweek in 1998]

[image of current Exodus president Alan Chambers with his wife in a 2004 newspaper ad]

Would always tell that story… When Jim an happily ever after. And I couldn’t really tell them how difficult it was to be married and to know that you weren’t everything that she needed you to be.

No, never ran pictures, I think that’s kinda cheap. Even now when I see it, when I see it in Exodus advertisements it kind of turns my stomach, it seems exploitive to me. If people knew what those marriages were really like inside… no… no…

I don’t know what to say about that… just it bothers me, for me to see John Paulk on the cover of Newsweek with his wife and then a few years later seeing him running from the gay bar in shame.

[image of John Paulk fleeing a gay bar in Washington DC, photo by Wayne Besen]

To hear Alan Chambers talk about his marriage yet admitting it took 9 months or so to even consummate the marriage that he has “to daily deny what comes naturally for him.”

You really need to talk to the spouses of gay men… ex-gay men to realize the harm, the collateral damage. It devastated my life, it devastated Gary’s wife when we came out and admitted that we weren’t really ex-gay. It devastated my family, it devastated my daughter.

My daughter was actually told by members of her church, this was when she was really little, 4 or 5 years old, she was told that “if your daddy loved Jesus enough and loved you enough, he wouldn’t be gay.”

That collateral damage is minimized, they like to paint this happily ever after picture but they don’t say what happens when those marriages fall apart, when the masquerade is over.


April 26th, 2010


I don’t want to appear to be attacking you, because I really appreciate the work that you have been doing since leaving Exodus.

However, when these men were asking you about your own marriage, they were really asking you on some level, if your marriage was working for you. On the one hand, one’s marriage (and it’s difficulties) is a very private matter. Yet, your marriage was clearly a factor in decisions that these men were making. For you to say, “Only get married if you are sure,” implies that Michael Bussee was sure, and if you are as sure as Michael Bussee was (which he really wasn’t at the time), then it is okay.

Even while discouraging these men from getting married with your words, you actions (which really do speak louder than words) was giving the opposite message.


April 26th, 2010

I do not even know how to talk about this. On the one hand it makes me very angry because of what this does to the gay person, their spouse and family. On the other hand I’m sympathetic because I recall having similiar thoughts about marrying and that my becoming straight would follow. I can only shake my head and think “there but for the grace of God…” as well as thank God I never did this.

Timothy Kincaid

April 26th, 2010

To John and John and other folk who use only their first name: maybe it would be clearer if you used some comment identity that was a bit more distinct. Two back to back comments from different folks by the same name can be confusing.

Perhaps it would be better to use John J. or John in Missoula or John the Pianoman.

Paul in Canada

April 26th, 2010

I’m sure there are thousands of us who got married hoping that it would ‘bend’ us straight, only to find out it didn’t – and endure the impact of that decision not only on our own lives but our wives, children and families.

I have often wondered if I could go back in time………

…but the past is the past. We must encourage anyone who has any misgivings about marriage, regardless of the underlying reason(s), to STOP. The impacts are life-changing/altering and can never be undone!

John in the Bay Area

April 26th, 2010


It is interesting that with a name like John, this has only come up recently.

Based on this very post, I too was thinking that I needed to pick something that more clearly indentified me from others posting under the same name.

So now, Ben in Oakland is joined by John in the Bay Area (hopefully, I can hold onto that moniker for a while).


April 26th, 2010

I think what should “come to an end” is the foolsihness of the so called “ex gays” trying to sell something that everyone knows is a facade. How many individuals, gay or straight, believe that once a man has been with another man in the “carnal sense”, he won’t act on it again? Almost none. With the expception of the very young who are in their experimental stages, you can wash as much as you want, you won’t wash away the truth of who you are. I use the word wah not to imply that being gay is something dirty. I felt I had to clarify that. It’s just the portrayal that “ex gays” would like others to believe. So to anyone reading on this site… as Shakespeare said ” To thine own self be true”. The rest will come.


April 26th, 2010

Bussee’s story is the story of my life, too. I did exactly what he did but it was of my own design since there was no such thing as an ex-gay movement in my generation. My marriage was a disaster in terms of my being unable to be what my wife needed. I love being a parent and I’m lucky that when I divorced I was able to keep my daughter and raise her with the help of my husband. But I’d say all the emotional baggage was the same. Like Bussee, I was honest with my wife and both of our families about being gay and they laid the guilt trips on me; the “turn it over to the Lord” and the “you are not praying enough/believing enough/praying correctly, blah, blah, blah.

It’s hard to revisit this even with Michael as a proxy. But I can testify as to the truth of what he says. It’s the complete, unvarnished reality.

Richard Rush

April 26th, 2010

This post highlights an unfortunate fact of life that straights need to be educated about prior to the next gay-rights voter referendum. I’ve always thought we need to provide voters with reasons why full equality is also good for straights, and this subject should be more persuasive than any other, it seems to me. I don’t think straights are aware yet of how common these marriages have been. I think if voters were more educated, most would recognize how marginalization of gays harms all of society.

My head nearly explodes when I hear someone say, “Gays already have equal rights. Like everyone, they have the right to marry a person of the opposite sex” The first question I would ask is: How would you feel about your daughter marrying a homosexual who is desperately trying to believe he is straight, or marrying a “former homosexual” (exgay)? And if not okay for your daughter, would it be okay for someone else’s daughter? It’s a fact that, to avoid being social outcasts, homosexuals have been trying to pass as heterosexuals for eons. How does society benefit by promoting the conditions that produce dysfunctional marriages?

I have personally seen the results of these dysfunctional marriages, and they are not pretty (my experience involves gay men, not women). The most common result I see is divorce after many years of marriage. One divorced friend was married for about 24 years and produced six children. That example may be the most extreme, but not by much. Surely, there are more of these divorces nowadays than in the past due to increased social acceptance of being gay. But, to those who long for the good old days, I would ask, how did society benefit from people suffering through these pathetic marriages?

Another common situation is gay spouses secretly having regular same-sex encounters while being married. Gay people who cruise places other than gay bars know that there are lots of married men out looking for homosex on the side. While society may be inclined to label and dismiss these people as immoral adulterous lowlifes, society is culpable for creating the conditions whereby homosexuals have been virtually forced into inappropriate marriages in order to gain social acceptance and avoid persecution.

A vote to deny full social acceptance of gays is, in fact, a vote to produce more dysfunctional marriages.


April 26th, 2010

Sadly, it is difficult to read articles such as this one and NOT think “I am sooooo glad I didn’t get married,” as I also believed the attraction to other guys would pass during those uncertain years of teenage angst. I dated a girl in high school who later tried to “seduce” me, and I was having none of it. Later, I broke it off and never saw her again, after she and her family moved to another city. And, frankly, I was so absolutely shocked that SHE tried to put the make on me that I was instantly turned “off”!!!

In addition to that, all the men I know who find other men attractive [some also find women attractive and may be true “bi”] have wound up getting divorced, so I am only able to look at the stuff I did back then and realize I am glad I did not do that, and did not drag someone else through the experiences I had. Frankly, I am fairly certain it would have only made matters worse, had I married the girl. And now, at the age of 55, it turns out to be something I don’t have “regrets” over having done [I already have enough regrets, otherwise!].


April 27th, 2010

Back in the 1960s, the conventional wisdom was that you had to marry and have a family in order to be mature; single people were resisting growing up. My wife and I wanted to join the club. I told her when we met that I had “homosexual tendencies,” but we had many common interests including church. We hoped that faith and friendship would carry us through if the sex thing didn’t work out. (St. Paul said that married people should live as brother and sister as far as possible.)

We had about a dozen good (or plausible) years, and three children, but we were discovering that marriage and friendship are not the same things. There was nobody else, but there was not “us,” either. After eighteen years, with the support of a gutsy little woman therapist, my wife said, “This isn’t a marriage and I don’t want the kids to think that it is. We’re both reasonable people but we’re not good for each other. Let’s try living separately and see what happens.”

I came out, joined a church-based gay organization, and met a young man the next year. We clicked — no effort, no trauma, we just joined. I’d always thought “gay” was about sex; I found it was love and relationship. Twenty-seven years later, sex indeed doesn’t seem that important, but “sleeping together” keeps me whole. We married in Canada five years ago.

My former wife continues happily single, with a circle of women friends. Only one of my kids has married, but they’re all amazingly close, in view of how they fought growing up. I’m nearing 80, my husband is only 50, still gorgeous. It would have been nice to grow old with my mate, instead of having him watch me grow old, but there are advantages to having a young husband to keep up with the pills and medical insurance.

And nowadays, you’re whatever age you can get by with — no more nonsense about having to play certain social roles to be thought mature.

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