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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

A Line in the Sand

On Thursday, November 5th I drove to California to visit my friends Ian and Amy.  It had been more than a year since I'd seen them so while we ate dinner and caught up on our lives I ignored my phone buzzing in my pocket.  When I finally pulled it out I had a few messages from friends in Tucson saying that the Mormon internet was exploding with news of new policy from the church.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  After some more chatting with Ian and Amy and playing with their kids for a bit I got online to see what was up.  When I read that a new policy stated that entering into a same-gender marriage was now considered apostasy I was stunned.  Most of the reactions I saw online were either anger and betrayal or simply disbelief or confusion.  Since the announcement hadn't come directly from the church a lot of people thought it was a hoax or misinformation.  I fell into that camp and decided to wait for official word from the church.  

Even though I've known Ian and Amy for years I only came out to them last year via email.  We hadn't seen each other since then so we spent some time talking about my experiences as a gay Mormon and what that has meant for me.  We also discussed the new policy at length.  When the interview with Elder Christofferson was posted I watched it alone with anxious anticipation.  I was hoping that he would repudiate the policy, apologize for the misinformation, and talk about how awesome his gay brother Tom is.  But instead he justified and explained the policy.  I felt sick.  Ian hadn't watched the interview yet and he asked me what I thought.  I just responded with my gut reaction, "I didn't care for it."

My initial thought after watching the interview was, "I don't want to do this anymore.  I just want to be dead."  The Brethren drew a very clear line in the sand which only leaves two options for me as a gay man if I want to stay in the church: marry a woman or stay single for the rest of my life.  Both of those options sounded terrible and at the moment I didn't feel like trying.  I should also say that at no point was I suicidal, I just felt extremely discouraged.

You see, deep down I want to be an apostate.  And by saying that I don't mean that I want to turn away from the truth, but that I really, really want to be in a committed relationship with a man that I love.  In fact, I want that so bad that it's the second most thing I want in this life.  The only thing that trumps it is my desire to do God's will.  And that's where the desiring death comes in.  If I want to stay in the church I can't have a committed relationship to a man.  Not only is it considered a sin, but it's a sin so bad that I'd be considered an apostate.  This was perplexing to me because I'm human and I know what it's like to feel sorrow when I sin, to want to repent, and the joy that comes when I feel I've become a better person.  But there was a time when I really fell for a guy.  And not just a crush, but like really, really loved another man and loving him didn't feel like a sin to me.  In fact, it felt really awesome. Two years ago I totally fell for my best friend and he fell for me even more. He was smarter, funnier, and cuter than me. We would talk for hours on end and I just always wanted to be with him. My journal is riddled with entries where I express how happy I was to have him in my life. I was baffled that someone so handsome and cool was interested me. And what was even crazier was that he felt the same way about me. He felt like I was getting the raw end of the deal and that he was the lucky one. I was completely committed to keeping the commandments and especially committed to keeping the covenants I had made with God. I thought that my best friend and I could share our lives and have a platonic friendship. I naively thought that we could make that work. One day he asked if I'd be his boyfriend and even though I yearned to say yes I said no. A few weeks later he asked me again and with more pain than before I again told him no. A little more time passed and he once again asked if I'd be his boyfriend and even though I loved him more than any of the girls I had dated and I wanted very much to say yes, I told him no. He told me that he didn't want to be someone's Abrahamic sacrifice. He didn't want to be the sacrifice that someone made to show God how faithful he could be. And yet that is what my best friend had become to me, the thing I was willing to sacrifice for God. Since we couldn't have a real relationship he said that we needed to part ways and we did. Losing him from my life was one of the most painful things that has ever happened to me because I really loved him and wanted to date him, but I knew I couldn't. My heart told me one thing and my church told me another. I had to choose and I chose my church.

The story I just told is incredibly reductive.  There's no way I could do justice to one of the most important and formative experiences of my life in a paragraph.  But I tell that very simplified story so that people will see that to me it didn't feel like a sin to love another man.  It felt wonderful and good.  All those cheesy movies and love songs suddenly made sense to me even though they hadn't for the first 29 years of my life (I know, such a cliché thing to say, but it's true).  And I was willing to give it all away to do what I felt to be God's will.  The memories of this time flooded into my mind after I listened to Elder Christofferson's interview.   I realized that if I wanted to stay in this church and hope for the eternal life and future that it promises, that I wasn't allowed to hope for this thing that I wanted so bad.  And knowing that I wasn't allowed to hope for that made me think that I'd be better off dead.

I woke up the next morning to a text message from a friend in Utah expressing her love for me and telling me how much she wished that we lived close to each other so she could see me regularly.  She wrote in part, "What a great blessing that would be to me to have such a good friend in my life.  You're the best."  Over the next 24 hours I got Facebook messages, emails, texts, and phone calls from dozens of people asking how I was doing, expressing love for me, and telling me how much I meant to them.  All these messages reminded me of how great my life is and the desire for the grave I had felt the previous night left and shows no sign of returning.  The visceral response I initially had went away as I saw and felt all the love and empathy that exists in my community.  And the future looked bright and happy again. 

That day I spent a lot of time with Ian, Amy, and their kids.  Their three year old constantly tried to get my attention by asking me silly questions like if I'd like to eat a whale.  Then he'd yell, "Look at my sock!" and I'd look.  Then he'd yell, "Look at my other sock!" and I'd look again.  It was pretty adorable.  Amy told me how much she hoped I'd get a job in California so I could live close to them.  Ian said, "I know you haven't left yet, but when are you going to come back?"  Amy then suggested that I visit twice a year and Ian offered that I visit at least once a quarter.  It was hard to be annoyed or angry at a policy when so many wonderful people were telling me how much they wanted me in their lives. 

Over the weekend both Ian and Amy expressed a lot of empathy for the choice I have to make between being part of the church and marrying a man I love.  During one of our conversations Amy said, "If the church brought back polygamy I just couldn't do it.  I don't think I could live like that."  I've heard a lot women in the church say similar things, that polygamy is a deal breaker for them.  They would refuse to participate in it.  However, I think they're looking at things a little too simplistically.  I think that most of them, if they felt they were being commanded by God to do, would do it.  They would weep, they would struggle, they would get mad at God, but they would obey trusting that their Heavenly Father knows best.  Some would leave, of course, but I think many would have their hearts broken and would remain in the church that they believe is true.  And this scenario isn't too crazy.  The doctrine of plural marriage still exists in our scriptures and could theoretically be reinstated any day. 

I feel like I'm being asked to live polygamy.  Now obviously I haven't been asked to have multiple wives (and thank goodness for that!), but just like the men and women of 19th century Mormonism, I have made decisions relating to marriage that have broken my heart because I believe the tenets of my religion.  I'm sure that many of the men and women who entered into polygamous marriages because of their faith in "the principle" as they called it would have preferred to be in monogamous relationships.  And there are gay members of the church who would prefer to marry someone of their same gender, but who remain single and celibate because of "the policy."  If you want to have a little taste of the choices we gay members of the church have to make, take some time to imagine how you would respond if you were asked to participate in a plural marriage. 

Is it fair that my religion requires so much of its members?  That's for each individual to decide.  Those who don't believe would say that I'm being foolish.  I have felt pitied by those not of my faith for the choice that I make to stay single.  But if I entered into a same-sex marriage my church would condemn me.  Elder Perry would have described the love I'd have for my husband as "counterfeit love."  I have heard rational people say to me, "Stop living your life according to the rules of your homophobic church.  Just be yourself."  And I have heard others say, "Just follow the prophet, he knows the way."  But it's not that simple.  There are two things I want and I can't have them both.  So I pray and I fast and I read and I ponder and I serve and I try to figure out what God wants me to do.  And I feel called to live my life the way that I am living it. 

I simply ask that you don't pity those of us who decide to be celibate and stay in the church.  We're simply doing what we feel is right.  I ask that you don't condemn the gay members who choose to leave.  I have many friends in that situation and I know that they are simply doing what they feel is right.  We all turn away from the truth when we sin which technically makes all of us apostates.  As President Uchtdorf has said, "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you do."  Especially if that sin is being in a committed relationship with someone that they love.

I wrote a blog post in June in which I described a lot of the loneliness I've felt.  That was true for me back then, but the last five months have been incredible, easily one of the happiest times in my life and I have rarely felt lonely.  I could go on and on about all the great things I do that bring me meaning and happiness, but the things that have been the most meaningful to me are the outreach I'm doing in my area.  I now hold a regular support group for gay Mormons.  A friend and I started Ally Night where we talk to straight members of the church, share our stories, answer their questions, and try to expand the empathy and compassion they feel for gay members.  And I had the singular privilege of addressing a group at the Tucson LDS Institute for fifty minutes about my experiences as a gay Mormon.  I feel like that is one of the most important things I've ever done.

The Brethren have drawn a line in the sand and I have chosen my side.  I'm committed to doing all I can to making my side of the line the happiest and healthiest place it can be.  And to those of you who have chosen the other side of the line, know that I love you and respect you.  I do not condemn you.  In fact, I often envy you.  I just ask that you don't pity me because I am happy on my side of the line. 

We Mormons talk about our pioneer heritage a lot.  We're proud of those people who left homes and families to establish their Zion in the west.  They were required to sacrifice a great deal for their faith.  For many, that sacrifice included being in polygamous marital relationships that tested their faith and broke their hearts.  I feel like what is being asked of me isn't all that different and I'm happy to sacrifice for what I believe is the truth. 

I'm going to end this post by being a little too cheesy and quoting a primary song that encapsulates how I'm trying to live my life.

You don't have to push a handcart,

Leave your fam'ly dear,

Or walk a thousand miles or more

To be a pioneer!

You do need to have great courage,

Faith to conquer fear,

And work with might for a cause that's right

To be a pioneer!

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