I remember the sickness I felt in my stomach as a letter from the First Presidency was read over the pulpit during the summer of 2008. The letter was an invitation for members to support the upcoming ballot measure in California that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Perhaps I was disturbed that the church was getting involved in a political affair. Perhaps my conscience was pricked at the thought of being on the wrong side of a human rights issue. Or perhaps I simply didn’t have enough faith to follow the prophet. Either way, these intuitions I felt were not the “fruits of the spirit” I was taught to recognize growing up in the Mormon faith.
For the next few months I struggled with the church’s participation in Prop 8 but I was mostly silent. I fell back and tried to listen. I heard the slippery-slope arguments of the Yes on 8 campaign. I heard fear coming from church members. I didn’t know why I felt so conflicted on the issue but I did know that I desperately wanted to be a “good” Mormon. When a friend asked me to take a few sheets of names to call and poll, I agreed, more out of obligation to a friend than to the cause. But after a few calls, what I was doing felt so wrong that I couldn’t bring myself to make any more. I came up with a good excuse not to buy a bumper sticker or place a Yes on 8 sign in my window. But I emailed friends when San Diego city council leaders endorsed No on Prop 8. I thought that as representatives for everyone, they should remain neutral on the issue and let the people vote. I listened to people at work talk about the issue and hung back on engaging. I listened to Mormons talk about those who did not support the measure, deciding those people were “goats” as opposed to “sheep.” I read mass emails sent by ward members, detailing the kind of society we would live in if gays and lesbians were allowed to marry.
On voting day, I was still conflicted. “Maybe,” I thought, “this is one of those times where I have to take a leap of faith in order to receive confirmation from God that I did the right thing.” After all, that’s what I had been taught growing up in the Mormon faith. I walked into the voting booth. With adrenaline pumping through my veins, I said a silent prayer and voted Yes. I finished voting and walked outside. I looked up into the sunny San Diego sky, beautiful blue with scattered white clouds. I felt a pang of remorse, wondered if I had done the right thing, and felt a bit of peace with the thought that things would be okay no matter the outcome. I watched the news intently to see the results of the vote. Prop 8 prevailed, yet I didn’t feel any satisfaction or confirmation–only relief that the whole ordeal was over.
In the following years, I tried to learn more about LGBT and gender-related issues. I got in touch with old friends, some of whom were LDS but who left the fold once they came out. One in particular had a family of their own and I saw how they weren’t much different from my own family. I thought about the relationship of sex to marriage and partnership. I found it problematic that the sexual encounters of homosexual couples were reduced to sin when they were not allowed to correct it through marriage, even though straight people have that option. I thought about what beautiful people my LGBT friends and family members are and how we could use people like them in our congregations. I gave a lesson in Relief Society trying to open up a dialogue regarding our LGBT brothers and sisters clearly stating that “same-sex attraction” is not a sin. I watched as many in my audience squirmed, not because the term “same-sex attraction” sounds like soft bigotry or a disease. Maybe it was the use of the word “sex” at church. Yet I secretly hoped it was our collective shame and guilt over how we as a people have treated our LGBT brothers and sisters over the years. Many thanked me afterward for teaching a difficult subject. I even lingered in the halls with one woman as she shared her experience with a niece who had “chosen to live that lifestyle,” but with genuine concern, asked how she could support her. “Just love her,” I said. Love them all. The answer is so plain, so simple.
Since Prop 8 I have undergone major transitions in my faith. Already a natural questioner, I asked myself over and over: Why would my conscience, which is supposed to be “the light of Christ,” contradict what those who speak for God asked us to do? Why did the church get involved in a political issue when it claims to be politically neutral? But most haunting to me are the questions: Why did I betray my conscience? Why did I remain silent? When did I become a sheep that follows blindly? I had come to terms with the remorse of my vote and the way it affected people, real human beings, not some specter of the “gay agenda.”
My religious upbringing taught me the steps of repentance. I recognized the problem and promised never to do it again, but now I needed to make restitution. To address my silence, I became a more vocal supporter of LGBT issues. I’ve posted articles on Facebook, signed petitions, and even donated to an organization dedicated to teaching LGBT history in classrooms. I “came out” to friends and family that I support marriage equality. Despite meeting reactions mixed with surprise and worry, I realized that I was not alone.
When I found out Mormons for Marriage Equality and other groups planned on marching at Pride parades across the country this summer, I decided that I wanted to march. With some help, a contingent was quickly organized. My penitent heart was filled with love toward a community that had long seemed like an enemy to so many Mormons. I wanted the LGBT community to know that there are Mormons who respect them, who support them, and who love them. I wanted to aid in building bridges across the divides caused by Prop 8. And, I wanted to make a step toward restitution.
On the morning of the 21st of July, I put on a black church dress and marched with roughly twenty-five Mormon supporters of marriage equality. I kept toward the back, filled with the peace that comes from doing the right thing. I carried a sign that read, “Sorry We’re Late” and took in the positive response from the spectators. It was with each embrace I received, each kiss I blew, and each step I took on the pavement, that I found some redemption at San Diego Pride.