Fired professor stands firm in support of gay marriage

Desert Morning News, Utah/September 12, 2006
By Laura Hancock

Orem — Jeffrey Nielsen believes gay people should be allowed to marry and have children more now than he did in June when the stance cost him his job at Brigham Young University.

Nielsen said he didn't know any gay men or women when he wrote an opinion piece that appeared June 4 in a Salt Lake newspaper that opposed the anti-gay-marriage position of LDS Church leadership.

But e-mails of support started rolling in nine days later when BYU administrators told him they would not offer him contracts for subsequent semesters for teaching philosophy as an adjunct professor.

During about two months of unemployment, Nielsen, 44, visited gay people in Utah, meeting their partners and children.

"Since that time, I've met hundreds," he said Wednesday after a lecture he gave at Utah Valley State College about his theories on leadership. "I've been completely blown away by their decency."

Nielsen, who describes himself as an optimist, has been hired as an adjunct professor at Westminster College and UVSC. He is teaching five classes between the two colleges.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, he commutes from his Orem house to Westminster to teach introduction to philosophy and critical thinking courses.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, he teaches at UVSC — three sections of a course about ethics and values.

He said the courses keep him busy, but the material isn't new to him because he has taught them in his past 12 years as a teacher. He has taught at UVSC, BYU and Boston College.

Officials at both schools said Nielsen's departure from BYU didn't have much bearing on hiring him.

"We can make our hiring decisions based on the quality of the faculty and needs of the campus," Westminster spokeswoman Helen Langan said.

Adds UVSC spokeswoman Megan Laurie: "He was hired based on his qualifications and not based on any sort of controversy."

Professionally, it seems, he wasn't hurt by the controversy that swirled after the opinion piece appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Personally, Nielsen said his children initially worried he would be excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That didn't happen. Still, Nielsen, who attended church most Sundays, said he was released from a class in which he taught gospel doctrine to adults.

"I've only had support and love from my (LDS) ward members," he said. "They've all been great."

His wife, however, continues to disagree with his stance on gay marriage, as she has from the beginning, he said.

"But we've learned to not have to see everything the same," he said.

He admires his friends at BYU but does not hold a desire to return to the LDS Church-owned school.

For now Nielsen is excited about launching his new concept called the Democracy House Project.

DHP is similar to a multilevel marketing program, "minus the get-rich-quick aspect," he said, because people host small meetings at their house and invite 5-10 people or couples for training in democracy and grassroots policy solutions.

The 30-60 people or couples who were invited to attend the first meetings hold meetings at their houses. And the meetings continue to exponentially grow, with the goal of educating thousands throughout the United States.

Nielsen said he wants people to consider answers to issues such as same-sex marriage, immigration and poverty.

"If people could sit down and have mutual respect for each opinion, I think we could (gain understanding of) each other," he said.

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