Mormon couples Tanya and Jeff (inset) and Tera and Curtis (above) appear on TLC's new reality show “My Husband’s Not Gay.” Photo: Allyson Bos
Sitting in a French restaurant on one of their regular double dates, the two married couples enjoy an animated conversation covering the usual small talk about jobs, sports and the challenge of parenting.
The mood lightens when a cute male server approaches the table to take their order. But it’s the husbands — not the wives — who start to flirt with him, suggestively joking that he milk a goat by hand to make cheese for their salads.
“Well, he’s a very good-looking guy,” gushes Jeff Bennion, 44, as he and his buddy, Pret Dahlgren, 32, eye the hunky specimen returning to the kitchen.
Far from being shocked or offended, Jeff’s other half, Tanya, 42, and Pret’s spouse, Megan, 32, roll their eyes in amusement.
“Are we going home together or what?” Tanya jokes, half-expecting Jeff to ask for the waiter’s number when the men check him out yet again after their meals arrive.
Mischievous banter like this, as revealed in the upcoming TLC documentary “My Husband’s Not Gay,” is common in the lives of the Bennion and Dahlgren families, two of three Mormon households who showcase their unconventional marriages for the one-off reality show airing Sunday.
The husbands, all of whom spoke openly with their wives to The Post, readily admit that they are sexually attracted to other men, yet deny ever acting on those impulses. It’s an aspect of their personalities they term “same sex attraction,” or SSA, rather than gay or bisexual.
Their wives stand by them 100 percent, claiming their marriages — all of which have produced kids and involve plenty of action in the bedroom — are much stronger because they acknowledge the issue, rather than sweep it under the carpet.
Pret and Tom engage in a “trust exercise” on “My Husband’s Not Gay.”Photo: TLC
Deeply religious, they insist the arrangement follows the beliefs of their beloved Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which proclaims that “the only acceptable expression of sexuality and romantic feelings is within a marriage between a man and a woman.”
According to its gospel, only heterosexual unions should lead to the birth of children.
As Pret, a nurse manager, points out on TV, “The Latter-day Saints church teaches that behavior is a choice. Choosing to act on these feelings [is wrong within a marriage]. Having these feelings, not so much.”
In other words, as long as the men don’t actively seek out relationships with other guys and cheat on their wives, Jesus is cool with it.
‘MY WIFE AND I LOVE EACH OTHER AND OUR SON VERY MUCH, AND THAT’S WHAT COUNTS.’
- Jeff, on his marriage to Tanya
Bed-and-breakfast owner Jeff tells The Post, “The main thing is, there are absolutely no secrets between us.”
“Other people might look at us from the outside and say: ‘That’s unusual,’ ” Jeff continues. “But to us, it’s not a big deal and just part of the way we live our lives.
“My wife and I love each other and our son very much, and that’s what counts.”
Likewise, parents of four Curtis and Tera Brown, both 43, claim Curtis’ SSA, which he finally plucked up the courage to reveal 15 years into their 20-year marriage, has only brought them closer.
“When Curtis first told me, it was very upsetting and confusing, and I didn’t know who to talk to at the time,” explains Tera, a stay-at-home mother who describes coming to terms with the situation as “a journey.”
“But because I love him so much, I never once considered divorce. I knew there was a way for us to work through it. And we did.
“Now I think my husband and I have a better sex life than any of our straight friends that we know.” In common with pals like the Bennions and Dahlgrens (fellow members of an SSA support group in their home city of Salt Lake City, Utah), the duo subscribes to the “You can look as long as you don’t touch” approach.
“I love and trust him completely,” adds Tera, although she knows that Curtis, an attorney, did have relationships with other men before coming clean about his sexuality.
“And, depending on their ages, our kids [ages 9 through 16] know about the SSA to varying degrees. They love and support their dad, and realize that people don’t have to be perfect to be loved by God.”
Many outside the SSA community might wonder how such marriages can possibly survive. But New York psychologist Dr. Gilda Carle believes that as long as both sides of the couple understand each other and observe certain boundaries, their bond can flourish.
“It’s the year 2015 and there is no one-size-fits-all,” says the author of 15 relationships books, including “Ask for What You Want and Get It” and “I’m Worth Loving and Here’s Why.” “We learn to live with each other’s idiosyncracies when we love another person.
‘ANY WIFE WHO IS WISHY-WASHY ABOUT HER OWN SEXUALITY, OR ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND A GUY WITH THESE URGES, DOES NOT BELONG IN ONE OF THESE RELATIONSHIPS.’
- New York psychologist Dr. Gilda Carle
“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.”
She does warn, however, that it’s only strong women, secure in their own identity, who can deal with the implications of a husband with SSA.
“Any wife who is wishy-washy about her own sexuality, or ability to understand a guy with these urges, does not belong in one of these relationships,” says Carle.
On the show, Pret and Megan are the most forthcoming about their sex life, with part-time teacher Megan revealing, “There have been periods in our marriage where I knew that the attraction wasn’t there. But thankfully, we’ve moved beyond that.”
She admits that after they wed and their relationship finally became physical, she was the most concerned about intimacy issues.
“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘Will he be attracted to me?’ ” says Megan. “At the same time, though, it was, ‘Well, at least he doesn’t have anybody else to compare me to!’”
During their nine-year marriage and with the help of counseling, she has become increasingly secure in herself and the lifestyle they lead as a couple. She just wishes more people — especially members of the gay community who wrongly believe Pret may have felt “obliged” to get married — would be more open-minded.
“I feel frustrated when people don’t understand the choice that Pret has made,” adds Megan. “And when they question whether he is living up to his identity.
“I know that he has made the choice that is most true to himself.”
Now the couple has two daughters, Lily, 3, and 2-month-old Naomi. Tragically, their middle child, Stella, died shortly after her birth in 2013. They refer to her as their “angel daughter.”
Pret and Jeff are among the married men documented in the TLC show “My Husband’s Not Gay.”Photo: TLC
Pret, who claims that “sexuality is fluid and labels get in the way,” says that he always “finds elements about my wife that I can appreciate,” such as her “beautiful hair” and lively personality.
“The attraction has grown over the years,” he says. “I’ve really paid attention to being in the present with Megan and finding her beauty and uniqueness. It’s been a process, but we’ve had to go through the difficult times to get to the good times.
“It’s definitely been worth it.”
All three men appearing on the show discovered they were attracted to other males during puberty, but, despite “experimenting” with the same sex in their teens and 20s, concluded they would be more fulfilled if they got married and had a family.
“I thought I was destined to have a certain lifestyle that included kids and a wife, and for a long time I feared it wasn’t going to happen,” says Pret. “But when Megan agreed to marry me, I felt like the winner of life’s lottery and I haven’t torn up the ticket.
“My wife is beautiful, and every day I come home from work and my little girl comes running to greet me. It’s better than I ever imagined.”
As for Tanya and Jeff, they deal with Jeff’s SSA with a healthy dose of humor, often joking about their varying tastes in men. “We definitely prefer different types,” laughs Tanya, a part-time graphic designer and mom to 6-year-old Nate.
That said, she recalls the time they lived in a house that backed onto a golf course.
“I’d look out of the window and beckon Jeff over,” she remembers, with a smile. “And I’d say, ‘There’s a bunch of guys on the ninth hole with their shirts off. You can’t miss this!’ ”
He’s single and likes men — but wants to marry a woman
At the age of 35, devout Mormon bachelor Tom Brookstone believes he has reached the perfect stage in his life to settle down — the problem is finding a wife who understands his interest in guys.
“I feel a certain attraction to men, but I’ve chosen not to act on it,” the Salt Lake City-dwelling high school teacher tells The Post. “And I do believe there is a woman out there who will be OK with it and want to get married and have children with me.”
Tom, still a virgin and the only singleton featured on TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay,” hopes that his situation will help remove the stigma against men like him who experience SSA to get or stay married to a woman.
“There is a community of men who’ve been plenty quiet about their SSA, gotten married, dropped it on the women and it has devastated their relationship,” he adds. “But my whole personality and approach to life is to be super upfront and authentic with people.”
As a result, Tom, who has so far been on only a handful of dates, is determined to tell every girl early on in their relationship about his homosexual leanings.
“I’m physically attracted to women, but it’s not fair to waste their time or my time by not being honest about my SSA,” he concludes. “But I’m confident — maybe ‘foolhardy’ is the word — that the right woman will accept me and love me as I am.”
In an ideal world, he predicts he will be happily married with a number of kids by the time he reaches 40.