[Today is the anniversary of the LDS Church implementing a new policy regarding same-sex marriage. You can read about the policy here, and hear about it here and here. I hope readers will forgive me if I leave the academic tone of this blog aside for a moment and offer this personal essay.]
I was ironically in Utah when it happened.
I had flown out for, of all things, a panel on Mormon apologetics. Though I only lived in Utah for three years as an undergraduate at BYU, and then for two short summers when I later returned to teach as an adjunct, the state takes up a disproportionate space within my mental geography. For starters, I met my wife in Salt Lake City and my daughter was born in Provo. Every time I’m in a plane that crests the Rocky Mountains to see the Salt Lake Valley below, I feel at home. This time was no different. Once landed, the familiar routine of seeing old friends and eating at favorite restaurants commenced. It was another reunion.
But the mood changed rather quickly. I remember glancing at my phone around 4pm, seeing a number of friends share a link to some new policy, and assuming it was the development we all expected. I was in a meeting and couldn’t really examine the release for another hour, but I thought I could assume what the new policy entailed. Same-sex marriage had been declared legal in the United States the previous summer, and many in the Church assumed we would at some point receive an official position from leadership reacting to the new legal reality. We expected such a policy would confirm that individuals in married homosexual unions would be treated the same as individuals in unmarried homosexual relationships. Tough, but consistent. But this was something more. This was something that exceeded what anyone expected.
It wasn’t until I was at dinner with my brother later that night that the new policy’s impact dawned on me. It was an odd feeling to be in one of my favorite places with one of my favorite people while simultaneously experiencing the weight of unprecedented disappointment. In some ways, spending that day and the next with some of my faith community’s best and brightest helped alleviate the shock and pain; their mere presence reminded me of what Mormonism had to offer. But in other ways, being surrounded by these great people only highlighted the problem at hand: all of us—no matter our talents, our service, our dedication—were powerless in the face of the policy’s onslaught. I had never felt so impotent. I didn’t sleep much that night, or many to follow.
The policy shook the very foundations of my understanding of the LDS Church. As a historian, I did not foresee Mormonism’s trajectory moving so far in that particular direction. As a believer, I could not conceive of leadership implementing such an odious policy so clearly antithetical to our core principles. As a congregant, I would have never assumed that my fellow members would accept, let alone defend, a practice so fundamentally counter to the ideals that I believed bound us together. All my previous conceptions of and justifications for the Church seemed inadequate. I no longer felt like I knew the gospel that I believed, the church that I supported, and the community that I loved. I was unmoored.
A year later, I still feel at sea, unable to find dry land. The first few Sundays after November 5 were taken on a week-by-week basis. We continued, and continue, to attend Church. We still hold callings. I honestly can’t give a persuasive reason why, other than I don’t feel driven to do anything else. Yet. Still. I can’t explain our decision to stay, especially in the wake of so many others who didn’t. Especially when confronted with policies I can’t comprehend, let alone defend. I just continue to prepare my Sunday School lessons, put on a suit, tie my shoes, and attend meetings on sabbath morning.
A few weeks ago I flew to Salt Lake City for another conference. When the plane passed into the city, the mountains seemed so impenetrable and the valley so barren. I didn’t feel the same sense of belonging as I used to. I honestly don’t know if I ever will again.