Monday, November 3, 2008

WOW. All I can say is WOW. I've had so much going through my head regarding Proposition 8 and for the first time -- I understand why I will vote YES on Amendment 2 here in Florida to declare that marriage be defined as between a man and a woman and why I would vote YES on Proposition 8 if I lived in California.

Up until now, I knew I would vote yes. Because the prophet of our church has asked us to do so. But I hadn't resolved in my mind, why it was so important that for the first ever, the leaders of the Church are actually taking a position in something political.

I get it.

Read this. It's a bit long, but so worth it, and so riveting.


I am going to attempt the impossible: I want to try to discuss Proposition 8 in an honest, equitable manner.

To demonstrate the divisiveness of the issue, let me first point out that I could only call it "Proposition 8." If I'd called it by its original name, "Proposition 8: California Marriage Protection Act," you would think that I want you to vote "Yes on 8." After all, who wouldn't want to protect marriage? If I'd called it by its new name, as determined by California's attorney general and legislative analyst in July, "Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," you would think that I want you to vote "No on 8." After all, who would want to eliminate someone's rights?

And, to demonstrate how far-reaching its effects, I didn't even need to call it "California' s Proposition 8." No matter where this email goes, to any of the 50 states that may have propositions up for vote, I'm confident people will know which state's "Proposition 8" I'm talking about.

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times describes the Proposition with poetic imagery: "it is raging like a wind-whipped wildfire in California." More poetic still...from an article in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle:

"Michelle Sundstrom and her husband gave $30,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign and put a sign on their home. But in response, two women
parked an SUV in front of their home, with the words 'Bigots live here' painted
on the windshield. Sundstrom believes such responses must come from deep places of pain-and that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same rights as
heterosexuals, just not the word marriage. Any animosity toward gays or lesbians is wrong, she said.

"There must be such deep, deep, deep hurt; otherwise there couldn't be so much opposition," she said. "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."

Wow. Perhaps all this craziness and hate-slinging is actually getting us somewhere. A heterosexual Mormon couple has a "Bigots live here" sign parked in front of their house, and what's their response? "They've lived with this. I guess we're getting a taste of where they live."

And she didn't just say "deep hurt." She said "deep, deep, deep hurt." I know the depth of that pain. I grew up Mormon and gay back in the 1970s. That was when we were shunned, ridiculed, bruised, battered, and discriminated against by nearly everyone, religious or otherwise. We hid in the closets because it hurt too much to come out. People who did come out were called perverts, child molesters, predators, queer, sick, you name it. For those of us who were Mormon, it was even worse. We were attracted to the same sex, yet Mormon doctrine stated we were supposed to get married only to a member of the opposite sex. It is a direct conflict between the two strongest, most significant desires in life.

When I was in college, I met a woman with whom I thought I'd spend the rest of my life. But after a couple of years, we broke up. That was when I had this feeling, an impression, to talk to my bishop. I had no idea who he was because I hadn't gone to church in years.

That bishop used the power of the priesthood in my behalf, just as the divine plan had been laid out. He met with me for almost three years as I struggled and faltered. Suicide was a very real threat. I feel blessed, or lucky, or both, not to be among the many who have already pulled the trigger. I wasn't suicidal because of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage, however. I hadn't been forced to believe, or guilted into it. I had not been brainwashed. My testimony came from the heart.

In time, my spiritual identity began to gain strength over my sexual identity. I
was finally able to choose the right. But it was a troubling choice. I had no
desire, whatsoever, to spend a lifetime with a man - much less an eternity. So
that left me with celibacy. To this day, sacrificing same-sex relationships is
the greatest sacrifice I have made.

Years ago, a friend said: "The sacrifice of a loved one for an attempt to live righteously cannot go unnoticed. The loss is real, the sadness is real, in a world where so few things are real." Now, the loss and pain are being publicly recognized by Church leaders. In a fireside for Latter-day Saints in California, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, "There are faithful temple-worthy members of the
Church who struggle with this great challenge, often in silence, fear, and
great pain. Our hearts go out to these good brothers and sisters even as we
uphold the divine truths the Lord has revealed about marriage."

Back when I was struggling with same-sex attraction, I couldn't find any LDS resources that dealt specifically with the issue. I'd insist, "The Church doesn't
understand. They don't even care enough to help." Finally I realized the
Church I was critizing was not just "they", it was also "I". And perhaps "I" should quit complaining and start writing. So I did. The title of my book sums it up: Born That Way? A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction. Few people were offering hope back then for people who wanted to overcome same-sex attraction. I felt compelled by the spirit to provide hope for others with struggles similar to mine.

The secular resources did more harm than good. Back then, the only claims you heard from the "experts" were: "Sexual attractions are a permanent part of who you are. They're indelible, unchangeable, and unavoidable. " Fortunately,
the "experts" are now realizing that, just like other aspects of who we are,
sexual attractions are influenced by genetics, environment, upbringing,
experiences - all of it. Nature and nurture are no longer pitted against each

I've had the unique opportunity to witness the journey of many people who struggle with same-sex attractions. In 1990, I volunteered as a phone counselor - originally referred through Evergreen, an organization established to help Mormons who face this trial. Over the span of almost 20 years, I've seen some Latter-day Saints get married in the temple, and others work to remain celibate - either because they have not found a spouse yet, or because they have not developed attractions toward the opposite sex. I also have friends, who once had very strong testimonies, who tried desperately to bring their lives into accordance with gospel principles, but finally gave up. At least for now.

Some people, no matter what they do or how hard they try, will never find
themselves attracted to the opposite sex, in this life. They deserve our utmost
respect. So do those who identify as gay or straight or bisexual or none of the
above. They all deserve our respect.

It's not difficult for me to understand how the body of the Church in California has become divided over this issue. I have felt divided, too. Our family lived in California in 2000, when the Defense of Marriage Act came up for vote the first time. My husband and I were sealed together for time and all eternity, and our children were born under the new and everlasting covenant. We, as an eternal family, were and are the direct beneficiaries of the Church's unwavering stance on marriage. What once created angst so severe I considered suicide has led me to a life I never thought possible. One in which I have been happily married - to a man - for 15 years.

However, I know all too well what it's like to be discriminated against. "Eliminating" someone else's rights seems wrong. And up until this past week, it seemed to go against my sense of fairness, democracy and justice as a citizen of the United States. It also seemed to run contrary to the core of my faith - the second greatest commandment - to love one another.

Despite my apprehensions in 2000, my husband and I acted in faith and supported Proposition 22 because the prophet asked us to. I hate to
admit this, but it wasn't until this week that I was finally able to reconcile
the opposing viewpoints I continued to debate with myself. I finally realized
why the leaders of the Mormon Church have been taking such an active role in
all this. It happened when I read a National Public Radio report entitled "When
Gay Rights and Religious Liberties Clash". It says, "In recent years, some
states have passed laws giving residents the right to same-sex unions in
various forms. Gay couples may marry in Massachusetts and California. There are civil unions and domestic partnerships in Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Oregon."

I was astonished when I read: "So far, the religious groups are losing." They listed examples such as Catholic Charities in Massachusetts. They had to pull out of the adoption business because they refused to adopt to same-sex couples. Even individuals' religious rights are being revoked. A woman
declined to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, saying her Christian beliefs prevented her from sanctioning same-sex unions. She was found guilty of discrimination.

When I read that article, it was like a light bulb went on. More importantly, I also felt a spiritual confirmation that the prophet truly is prophetic. Here is the impression that came to me as I read:

It's not that the Mormon Church is trying to get into politics. It's that politics is trying to get into the Church. And not just our church. Any church or congregation or individual who believes that only a marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.

I'm sorry I couldn't see what the prophet could see-until this week. I'm sorry I'm not sending this letter out till now. And I'm sorry for my apathy - for being "lukewarm". Why, just last week I thought it was only a matter of time before same-sex marriages became legal everywhere. How wrong I was.

Yes, we're behind in the polls. Yes, it's the Friday before Election Day. So PLEASE, email this letter to anyone and everyone you think could benefit from it - as quickly as possible!

Unfortunately, someone has to lose with Proposition 8. Somebody's right to something will be limited at the end of the day on Tuesday. I, for one, do not want it to be my right to worship as I please.


Erin Eldridge

P.S. For those who would like to respond to this letter - whether in anger or frustration or support - I will do my best to respond to every email I receive. But please, be patient. All our kids are still at home and I work part time. Email riverwalk8@gmail. com.


  1. Erika said...
    This is not the first issue that the Church has made a stand about. I don't know what the other one was, but I think I heard it was in the 70's.

    I had also read articles about how religious freedoms have been effected by same-sex marriages being legal. As much as opposers to Prop 8 would have us believe, this can truly take away freedom of religion.
    Rae said...
    Abby, that's awesome. Absolutely awesome. That sums it up so well, but still also explores the grittier sides of the issue in a very compassionate way. Thank you for posting that! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
    Leah Marie said...
    This is a great post Abby. A lot of people don't realize the political ramifications that this amendment would have... or that a Bishop, Priest, Reverend or whoever could be prosecuted for refusing to administer a same sex marriage. Its a bigger issue than most people realize.
    Heidi said...
    Abby, thanks for posting that. I've wondered if places of worship can be prosecuted for refusing to allow same sex unions, what does that mean for the temples in California?

    The other issue the Church did speak about was the ERA, I don't know much about it but my Dad gave me some details. It was interesting to learn more about...

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