Lesbian Mormon: How the new LDS policies affect one family.

A Mormon Lesbian on How the Church’s New Policies Will Affect Her Family

A Mormon Lesbian on How the Church’s New Policies Will Affect Her Family

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Nov. 17 2015 12:21 PM

Will My Son Be Baptized With His Peers? Reflections of a Lesbian Mormon. 

497172078-protesters-walk-past-the-historic-mormon-temple-after
Protesters walk past the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City on Nov. 14, 2015, after many submitted their resignations from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in response to a recent change in church policy toward married same-sex couples and their children.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

On Aug. 25, 2004, almost whispering, I told the man I had married just two weeks before that I was “sometimes attracted to women.” The whole conversation lasted 30 seconds, and we didn’t discuss it again for six years.

On May 20, 2010, while our 2-year-old son slept in the next room, I confessed that the feelings of same-sex attraction had not gone away: I was gay.

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“OK, what do we do?” he asked, not disgusted, as I’d thought he would be.

We stayed together, of course. We were Mormon, so that was the only option. Mormons believe that God’s plan is eternal marriage, and divorce is not an option, even if one of you is gay. I was a second-generation church member in a high regional leadership position. I had graduated from seminary and served a mission in Uruguay. My parents, who’d converted 45 years before, now worked in a temple in Chicago. My husband’s ancestors had crossed the Great Plains as handcart pioneers to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. His father was a bishop. All our close friends were Mormon. I spent my days with the stay-at-home Mormon moms going to the gym, the library, the park, and lunch. And so I decided to be the martyr—to remain obedient and “endure to the end,” as church leaders say.

During my own formative childhood years in the Mormon church, in the mid-1990s, the church’s formal doctrine was that homosexuality of any kind—thoughts or actions—was a serious sin. Middle- and high-school youth receive frequent awkward lessons on sexual purity and chastity from their adult leaders. Any kind of sexual sin was on par with murder. Its level of seriousness was beaten into me. So when I developed what I now know was a crush on my older sister’s friends, and then my youth leaders at summer church camp, and then a high-school friend, I kept it all to myself. For decades. I was good at secrecy. And shame. My lips were sealed. My same-sex attraction, I believed, was a test God had given me to prove my faithfulness. I loved him and wanted to be obedient. I would sacrifice my natural inclinations for a greater purpose. In that sense I was a martyr.

Our agreement to stay married worked well on the surface, until I started reading biographies of early LDS prophets who had disagreed with each other and made mistakes. A whole new world of Mormon history opened up to me—and not the whitewashed versions I had been taught in Sunday school. If they had been wrong about so many things, could they be wrong about homosexuality?

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On Feb. 10, 2013, in our bathroom, I told my husband, the father of our two kids, that I wanted to separate. I can’t remember if we still went to church that Sunday morning or not, but I do know I broke his heart.

On Feb. 11, 2013, while our children were with a babysitter, my husband and I sat down on his parents’ couch so I could drop three bombshells: 1) I was disaffected with the LDS church. 2) I was gay. 3) I was leaving their son.

The next night we did the same with my parents.

My dad had been so happy when I married a good Mormon guy. These were the hardest conversations of my life. Nobody wants to disappoint their parents or the most kind-hearted in-laws I could have asked for.

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So many precious people were hurt in the wake of my revelation and our divorce. A good man who would have stayed married to me if I had asked him to. Innocent young children who now have a bed at mom’s house and dad’s house. Parents who didn’t know I had been struggling alone for most of my life. Siblings and close friends stunned and saddened by my news. 

The divorce, though, was amicable. We now do our best to co-parent our children, a boy who is 7 and a girl who is 4. My ex-husband is still an active Mormon, and he takes our children with him to services every other Sunday.

But two weeks ago, a swooping policy change was leaked that will potentially change my children’s lives. It labels people in same-sex relationships (like me) as “apostates” who exist contrary to their god’s laws. A letter of clarification from the office of the First Presidency (the church’s governing body in Salt Lake City) was sent out late last week, making it possible for the local ecclesiastical leader in my area to bar my children from being baptized—a ceremony usually performed at age 8—until they turn 18. If they choose to be baptized at 18, they must disavow my gay lifestyle and get special permission from the First Presidency.

I do not remember much about my own baptism 30 years ago, except that my father, dressed in white, baptized me, and a roomful of family and friends showed up to love and support me for my special day. I didn’t understand doctrine or policies back then. Heck, I still believed in Santa Claus. I was a child who just wanted to be loved and accepted. My son will turn 8 next summer, and he deserves the same special day his peers at church will get. Depending on the local ecclesiastical leader and his interpretation of which parent has the primary residence, the new policy might bar him and his sister from that rite of passage in the Mormon church. Why couldn’t the church have left this decision up to me and his dad?

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There is no place for me, as openly gay and in a committed relationship with a woman, in the Mormon church. That is clear. If it were up to only me, I would not have my children indoctrinated in a church that has proved to be sexist, bigoted, and racist in the name of God, but it’s not only up to me. The reality is that they will attend church with their father every other Sunday for the next 14 years or so. Equally, I do not want my kids to have to choose between the morality of one parent over the other. They will live in a world where all the other kids around them are getting baptized at 8, receiving priesthood ordination (in the case of my son only) at 12, taking trips to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead, giving sermons at church, and serving missions at 18 or 19. Adolescence is a sensitive developmental period as it is; this rule will only alienate my kids from their peers simply because they have a gay mom.

On Nov. 17, 2015, I will not be silent any longer. Until now I had mostly been at peace with my separation from my heritage church and have never spoken ill of it in public. My greatest fear is to offend the amazing everyday Mormon people I love who had nothing to do with this decision from the top. Even with the history of the church’s well-publicized anti-gay-marriage campaigns in Hawaii and California, I believe the church has upped the ante with this new policy by punishing children for the “sins” of their fathers and labeling all those in committed same-sex relationships as apostates.

This policy is a giant proverbial f-you to the whole gay community. Yes, it affects my children, but the message of extreme rejection also affects the closeted teenagers and young adults still sitting in the pews on Sundays. I came out as gay when I was a mature grown woman. I was confident and had practiced enough self-care that I was mostly able to withstand the disappointment I caused without falling into deep depression, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and suicidality that so often prey upon gay youth. To my family’s credit, they did not reject or disown me. Instead, they wrapped arms around me. Not everyone is that lucky. No, I will not be silent. My continued silence would implicate me.

There may not be a baptism ceremony for my son next June, but I know that I am good mom. I intend to host the biggest birthday party any 8-year-old has ever seen.

Jessica Smiley is a real-estate broker living in Indianapolis.