A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage
Like many Mormons, I was raised to believe that sexual attraction was a choice. Anything other than heterosexual desire expressed through a Mormon temple marriage was inferior and possibly deviant. But I lacked fervor when it came to defending marriage. My testimony of California’s Proposition 8 was weak. It seemed like every young single adult in my stake was phone-banking or bearing a testimony of heterosexual marriage in a campaign commercial. But as I studied the issue of marriage equality I could find no legal, social, or moral basis to support limiting marriage to only heterosexual couples. It became a test of faith for me.
I loved President Monson and believed a prophet of God could never lead me astray. I attempted to put my faith in action with a Facebook post and bumper sticker in support of CA Proposition 8. I waited for the warm outpouring of Spirit to confirm my faith that I was standing for God. But, instead I accidentally overheard a conversation between those wounded by LDS support of Proposition 8 that helped me to realize I could not be an activist in support on this issue. I recognized I was contributing to the harm of people I cared about and took no further public action. But I still wanted to sustain President Monson and voted yes on Proposition 8, waiting for a testimony to confirm that my act of faith was the right choice.
Eventually a testimony came. But it was not the testimony I had sought out. Instead, I gained a testimony that marriage equality is essential to the plan of salvation; gay marriage strengthens families and heals and protects children.
This is my conversion story:
As an adoption social worker in Los Angeles, specializing in older teen adoption; my caseload was predominantly older children of color. The one exception was Joshua. A toothy pumpkin grinned boy living in a predominantly black neighborhood with an elderly black couple in their eighties. His foster parents were ready to retire from fostering and anxiously awaited the day Joshua could be placed with a permanent family for adoption. The lone white boy in his neighborhood, Joshua was frequently bullied for his socially awkward behavior.
Joshua was popular at adoption recruitment events with white parents looking to adopt a child that bore some family resemblance to them. At 10-years-old, he was still on the cute side of puberty. Joshua desperately wanted to belong to a family. His birthday wish each year in foster care was to be adopted.
Joshua was matched for adoption with a wealthy couple. Devoutly religious and empty nesters they had an abundance of time, experience, religious motivation, and wealth to pour into parenting Joshua. I was thrilled with the parenting assets they brought to the match. After an extensive screening, they began to visit with Joshua in a process of increasing contact with initial short visits progressing to longer overnight weekend visits.
They tried to interest Joshua in board games, sailing, and hiking but described Joshua as quickly frustrated with each activity they attempted. Joshua told a different story of wonderfully fun people he wanted to live with forever. After about six weeks of visits, my ideal family pulled out of the adoption process and decided they did not want to adopt Joshua. They apologetically listed too many personality quirks and problem behaviors they felt exceeded their capacity to parent successfully.
Joshua was crushed. ”Why don’t they want me?” ”What did I do wrong?” He had hoped so hard, only for the relationship to fail.
A year and a half passed.
A single mother with a son just a year older than Joshua wanted to adopt him. After the heartbreak of the first failed adoption, this family faced even greater scrutiny. Every quirk or behavioral issue that might impede adoption was fully disclosed and emphasized. At times, I felt like I was discouraging the adoption. But the mother was very certain Joshua belonged with her and her son.
Finally, permission was granted to begin visits. Joshua was wildly hopeful. He held nothing back as if he had never been through an adoption match before. But one month into visitation the first overnight visit ended in a Monday morning phone call rejecting Joshua.
Joshua was devastated and depressed. He regressed to bedwetting at age 11 1/2. His foster parents were disappointed. His therapist was livid. A boy who came to foster care after enduring terrible neglect and abuse was emotionally crushed by a system designed to protect and help him to find unconditional love in a permanent family.
Another year and a half later on his 13th birthday, Joshua still wished on his candles to be adopted. Shortly thereafter a gay couple that had met Joshua at an adoption recruitment event expressed strong interest in adopting him. However, after two failed adoptions there was significant concern and caution to avoid another rejection. Fortunately, Joshua now had a mentor through the Kidsave Weekend Miracles program. The mentor introduced Joshua to the potential adoptive parents as friends of hers, allowing Joshua to get to know them without any expectation or a false hope of adoption.
Reuben and Anthony had an impressive resume of parenting classes and training in the needs of traumatized children. They had a ten-year solid relationship history and an extensive network of friends and extended family to support them in parenting. But, Joshua was in the full throes of puberty with the accompanying anxiety of masculinity and gender roles exacerbated by a lack of male role models in his life. Would a family with two dads be the right fit for him? Would he want two dads?
After several months of visits with Reuben and Anthony (casually supervised by the Kidsave mentor) all of the adults felt ready to move forward with adoption for Joshua if he was willing. After reviewing with Joshua how he wasn’t to blame for past failed adoptions, I started my speech about how some families have two moms or two dads. He quickly interrupted, ¨ Oh, you mean they are gay?¨ and I said, ¨Yes, would you want to be adopted by gay parents?¨ Joshua replied, ¨I just want to be loved by a family. It doesn’t matter to me if it is two moms or two dads, or one mom, or one dad. I just want a family that loves me the way I am.¨
In that moment The Family: A Proclamation to the World ceased to be a doctrinal document for me. I saw what Joshua saw. A family could have one parent or two. Those parents might be men or women. It does not matter to Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient to make individuals into families as his love binds together the flawed and imperfect in acceptance and love.
Over the summer, Joshua began overnight visits with Reuben and Anthony. He was still the same slightly weird, overly talkative kid he was at age 10 and 11 ½, but now with the added challenging behaviors of a young teenager. After he moved in with Reuben and Anthony there was a brief honeymoon period before Joshua’s most challenging behaviors began to manifest. But Joshua’s two dads took his grief, anger, learning disabilities, awkward social behavior, stealing, incessant talking, and bedwetting upon them. They bore the burden of the abuse and neglect perpetrated by others as they patiently loved and worked with Joshua a day at a time to heal from his many hurts.
As I witnessed the healing flow through Reuben and Anthony into Joshua, I was tutored in what it means to be like Jesus and take the suffering of another upon you. Reuben and Anthony were not the cause of the hurt in Joshua’s heart and body. But they used their own experiences of hurt, rejection and healing to mourn with Joshua. Humbly they sought help from others for the problems they couldn’t solve on their own. Each parent was gifted with characteristics and abilities perfectly suited to meeting Joshua’s extensive needs.
A healing miracle began to unfold and as I considered all the deficits in life Joshua faced, the injustice of not allowing his parents to marry shamed me. I was part of the problem! Joshua deserved to have every protection under the law. And I knew God wanted safety, healing and protection for Joshua far more than I did in my limited good intentions.
Then and now, with many more years of personal examples of exemplary gay families, I regret with my whole heart that I did not campaign in opposition to CA Proposition 8. Marriage equality strengthens families. It gives children like Joshua a space to be loved and healed within the bonds of a committed legally protected relationship.
Strong families are able to reverse the ravages of abuse and neglect through their willingness to change the peed-on sheets, soothe the violent rage, endure cursing, shoulder the embarrassment of the misbehaved child, teach to the learning disorder, gently promote good hygiene and hold the sobbing child. The errand of angels can be performed by a loving mortal regardless of gender.
Strong families are what Alma describes in Mosiah 18:9 when he sets forth the conditions of baptism: to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.
When Alma asks us to stand as a witness of God, I do not believe he is asking us to stand and proclaim that some of God’s children are defective or prohibited from expressing their love. All of us who opposed marriage equality in the belief we were standing for God were wrong.
I have seen the fruits of gay parenting and marriage equality. I know what happens when a child is permitted to be loved and healed by two people unconditionally committed, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. I witness and proclaim that each of us is a child of loving Heavenly Parents, each of us in all our flaws receives grace that is unearned, each one of us is born to love and be loved.
Reuben, Anthony, and Joshua taught me the healing miracle of relentless acceptance. Each open to rejection with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Examples of the vulnerability that allows the grace of Jesus to transform and heal. I hope one day the LDS Church allows all families to be sealed in the temple. The Church will be better for it as will every state and country that legalizes adoption by same-gender couples.