Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PROPOSITION 8: A CLEAR MESSAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE

It may be too late to change someone's mind at the polls, but it's never too late to understand one another. I got this email today and it touched me. Thank you Erin!

PROPOSITION 8: A CLEAR MESSAGE FROM SOMEONE WHO'S BEEN THERE

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 other.

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.

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT:
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.

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.

Sincerely,

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

5 comments:

Preserving Marriage Blogger said...

thank you for sharing this touching letter.

I especially like the comment that it's not that the Church is trying to get into politics, it's that politics are trying to get into the Church.

No matter the outcome, we need to treat one another with respect and dignity.

--Greg

Tristen Ure said...

I'm so glad that this letter was shared. And also that Heather has mentioned in her email that it is important that we show kindness to those that feel they have lost today. I'm very grateful this personal trial is not one of my own to struggle with. But I do believe that we can call upon a higher power to overcome whatever trial we encounter.
Thank you Erin for your voice. Thank you for your example and story.
I will most definitely do my best to remember the respect that is deserved for all.

p.s. - girls thank you so much for your informative and I'm sure very time consuming blog. A great addition to the cause!

Callie and Grant Lippard said...

Amazing and inspiring. Thanks for posting this letter. My heart truly goes out to those suffering in any way and this is a very real account of the quiet suffering of so many.

Jessica Martiele said...

What a fabulous pro-prop 8 site you all have put together. I wish I'd found this BEFORE the vote! :) Thanks so much!!!

Elisa said...

Dear Erin,
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it is a perfect post election reminder to be kind to all.