California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited marriage between same-sex couples, has been controversial since its introduction and challenged almost from the moment of adoption. With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to to rule on Prop 8, I find myself thinking about the ramifications it had on my own life — not as weighty as those of the many Californians who were denied the basic human right of marriage to those they love, but significant nonetheless.
Growing up in the South, there were a lot of things about me that set me apart from my peers: my muted accent, the way I dressed, the area I lived in. One of the more exotic oddities was my religion — I was a Mormon. Had I lived in the West, this would barely warrant a thought. But in the South, among Baptists and Methodists and the Church of Christ, all of whom view the Mormon church as a cult, this elicited a lot of odd and pointed questions from my classmates, and even from teachers. I was often asked how many mothers or fathers I had, if I read the Bible, and if I was afraid of going to Hell because I didn’t believe in Jesus. I was once invited by a friend’s youth pastor to attend his services. When I demurred and informed him that I was already a member of the LDS church, his response was typical: “Well that’s all right; you can be saved, too.” I was never particularly devout – I actually had deep doubts about the origins of the church and the validity of its doctrine – but these reactions just made me more obstinate. Whether or not I believed, whether or not I practiced, I was a Mormon and I would remain one, out of spite if nothing else.
I was also secretly proud of my Mormon heritage. My family went back into the church five generations, to its inception. My great-great-great grandfather was Joseph Smith’s personal secretary and a member of the Council of Fifty. Two of his sisters were wives of the prophet. I was descended from Mormon royalty — nowhere near the throne but at least a countship. The church was an intrinsic part of my background, as much as part of me as my Southern raising, and I thought nothing would ever cause me to deny it.
Then came Prop 8 and the influence exerted by the Mormon church upon the voters of California. The church poured money into the state — 45% of out-of-state pro-Prop 8 contributions came from Utah. Sermons were written and videos were produced propagandizing Prop 8 and urging members to donate money and volunteer time. Church members came from out of state to work toward its passage. This full-scale effort to deny the gay and lesbian community of California the right to marry, to live with and love the person of their heart’s choosing, flew in the face of everything I had known of the LDS church. The church I grew up in was kind and caring. They cared for each other and more importantly, they cared for the community. When my niece’s house burned down they were there within days with food, clothing, and toys for her children. When my mother needed work done on her house, the church was there without having to be asked, and never took a dime of payment. They opened the Bishop’s Storehouse to anyone in need. This was the church I knew, and I could not reconcile that with the hateful actions I saw in California. I could not give silent approval to their blatant flouting of the First Amendment. And I knew I could no longer align myself with an organization that supports discrimination, and does so blithely and enthusiastically.
And so I have turned my back on my Mormon birthright. I have renounced and denounced the church and the bigotry it now embraces. It was not an easy decision to make, and it caused me no small amount of pain. At the time it felt like the mourning of a death, but over time I’ve come to view it more like the ending of a torturous relationship: they’re not the person you believed them to be, you hurt, and you know that walking away is the right decision. But it’s still an agonizing decision to make, and it hurts just the same. But like all emotional hurt, it fades over time. It does get better.
If there is any justice in the Supreme Court, Prop 8 and its legalized discrimination will be overturned. And if there’s any grace in this world, the church of my birth will see the pain and sorrow their actions have wrought. Perhaps they’ll repent — their decision to back the Boy Scouts of America’s plan to allow gay scouts gives me hope that they may eventually see the error of their ways. If not, that’s okay. I’ve learned to live without them. So will others.