Sunlight diffused through the trees over the wedding. A light breeze cooled the summer day to a perfect temperature. The wedding arch was decorated in lace and beautiful white lilies. The groom stood to the left of the wedding officiant in his sharp gray suit and blush tie. The anticipation made his hands shake.
And then, around the corner, his fiancé appeared flanked on his right and left by his mom and dad. Arms were locked as they proceeded down the aisle. The wedding march floated lightly on the breeze. Every head turned to see them pass.
The groom’s eyes brimmed with tears and love. The love of his life approached and in the golden twilight they were surrounded on every side by family and friends. As they stood across from each other, they impulsively reached out and held each other’s hands. And the words of commitment and love and fidelity began.
Through tears they exchanged vows and rings. At last, the newly wedded couple embraced and kissed with the passion of long lost lovers. They were meant for each other. They were each the other’s first love. They cut cake under a tree and later danced together under the moon. Then they danced with their mothers.
I can’t tell you the beauty and love felt at the same sex wedding of my beloved friends. To see them hand and hand with their parents walking down the aisle. To see grandparents and cousins like at any other family wedding. To see a sister in suspenders and slacks and a brother with hair past his shoulders each dressed in wedding colors. Each unique person colored the landscape of a perfect family wedding.
Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” I felt Heavenly Father smile down on them. Spirits soared.
I attended this wedding just last month. It was my first same sex wedding. The beauty and love I witnessed and shared was exactly what my heart needed.
The month before, I sat outside the Las Vegas Temple waiting for the wedding of my nephew to conclude. It was the first family event for which I sat outside. Last November, on the Sunday following the Exclusion Policy of LGBT members and their children, I handed in my temple recommend. My conscience had been seared and offended from the moment I heard it. My heart welled with sorrow because I knew the anguish this would cause people I loved. Anguish so deep it could push even the strongest souls to the brink.
As I sat outside the temple, my phone buzzed with incoming photos. While I was attending the wedding with my youngest three children, Wendy and my oldest two were in Utah attending a funeral. The week before, a close friend of my children had taken his own life. He was gay and Mormon and exactly between Jordan and Susannah in age. He had been Jordan’s first kiss just the year before.
My heart was torn in pieces. The picture of my son as a pall bearer carrying his friend broke me into tears. We had lost another. Not just another anonymous name and face from across the internet, but one with a fierce dragon mama and a loving father and siblings. A family we loved. How was it not enough?
It starts very young. There is no doubt that family is a core doctrine of being Mormon. Having been raised in the Church, I was taught the high ideals of family and marriage from the time I could talk. We sang primary songs about mother and father. We dreamed of one day finding that perfect spouse and taking him or her to the temple.
Probably more than any other religion, we focus on having an eternal family and connecting ourselves through direct lineage as sons and daughters of Heavenly Father. What beautiful teachings. These teachings bring purpose and a heightened knowledge of self and our potential. We not only marry with eternal vows, but we perform both baptisms and marriages (sealings in Mormon terms) for the generations of ancestors who came before us. We become connected to our families in what we believe are literal ways, sealed by God’s own power.
The bar could not be higher within Mormon culture. And when a Mormon child hits puberty, if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, this moment crushes their eternity.
Being LGBT immediately threatens their place in their family – not just in that moment, but forever. There is a tremendous sense of brokenness and isolation as even broaching the subject with parents seems like a confession of immense sin. Homosexuality seems completely counter to the Plan they have been raised with. The only answer is a lifetime of celibacy.
And yet what does celibacy fix? Immersed in a doctrine and culture founded on family, having a family of your own is the primary thing you are denied. And attending Church where the Proclamation is taught nearly every week becomes a constant reminder that Mormonism has nothing for you. The hope you are given by living apostles is that you will be fixed in the afterlife and somehow find the right kind of spouse there; to become someone completely different and unrecognizable to yourself and who you know yourself to be at your core.
In the early 80’s, one of my mentors and friends, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, was serving in an AIDS hospice facility in Atlanta. One of her stark memories from that time was a Mormon boy who was dying of AIDS. He had only days remaining when his family arrived at the hospital. Never in her life had she seen the devastation both to the poor gay Mormon boy and by his family. In a single moment they not only learned that their son was gay, but also that he was terminally ill. They felt like they lost him not only for life, but for eternity. That experience motivated Dr. Ryan decades later to begin her Family Acceptance Project work in the Mormon community despite being a Catholic herself.
Most do not understand what is lost when a young Mormon child realizes they are LGBT. But it amounts to losing almost everything they have been taught is their purpose in life. Having a family of their own. They experience the shame of being broken and rejected by not just family, but by God himself.
I have heard this same story over and over again from hundreds of LGBT Mormons, both young and old. We need to listen. This isn’t healed by just being nice to them or benevolently tolerating their presence at Church. Whether age 10 or 13, 18 or 25, 35 or 40, 55 or 60, we are stripping them of what we have foundationally taught them is the meaning of life. We have crushed their eternity.
As I sat outside the temple, I reflected on how we had raised our gay son. At the age of 9, Prop 8 had taught him that Mormons hate gay people and most likely his parents would too. By 13, still in the closet, he was battling suicidal ideation. But the Lord came to our aid and helped us to help him. In every way, we chose him and attempted to be his shield and advocate. It doesn’t always work out this way, but now, five years later, he is healthy, happy and starting college.
Most importantly, there is the dream of a future and hope in his life. I have seen and experienced firsthand that same sex marriage is good and right. I want this for my son: loyalty and love, commitment and fidelity. I stood at the wedding of my friends and drank it in. The spirit was strong and energizing. It healed my wounds and it taught me to look within each heart. It expanded my capability to love and see the goodness that was there.
The fruit of this tree is goodness. It is beautiful. I wish that everyone could just feel God’s approval of that moment. By sharp contrast, the agony and crushed eternity that our LGBT Mormon youth experience is tragic and dark. We don’t even know how unsafe our words are when the Plan we have given them, excludes them. The fruit of this Plan is self-evident for anyone willing to look.
I am not claiming revelation for the Church. I am saying that using the tools the Church taught me to decipher right and wrong, what we have is incomplete and our understanding of it flawed. These things can be seen by their fruits by anyone willing to look and to listen. But we neither look nor listen when we already “know” we are right.
Some will say that this is how it has always been. Homosexuality is condemned in the scriptures. End of discussion. My reply would be that there are questions we could ask God today that never could have been asked before by previous prophets or generations. Not because God has changed, but because we are finally wise enough to understand. Our knowledge has expanded exponentially. Our culture has changed. Civil rights have finally been given to men of all races. We have raised women from the Biblical status of property and heirlooms, to equals in matters of family and society. There is more ground to gain on these fronts as well – as we learn and as we change.
The mandate is upon us to look, listen and change our hearts. Especially the parents of our LGBT children. Loving parents have a window of opportunity to fill the void where our community fails. You can find accepting spaces for your children and influence the rejecting spaces to be more loving and educated. You child needs to know that you are their champion and protector.
We have to be humble enough to ask new questions of our God and find out His plan for our LGBT brothers and sisters. Their lives depend on it more than you can ever know. We need to walk a mile in their shoes, and then walk another.
I am begging you to look. To listen. To change. There are lives in crisis in every ward and stake that need your support. Most are hiding in plain sight, but are unreachable because they don’t know you are safe. I guarantee you that the moment you make yourself available to look, listen and change – you will know them. And the fruit of those relationships will be some of the greatest experiences of your life.