“Overnight we had once again become second-class citizens”
Guest post by Mario J. Aranda
Mario J. Aranda lives with his husband Greg in Marin County, California. Semi-retired, he most recently was Director of Clinical Services for a large family services organization, where he counseled families affected by domestic violence. He has been an educator, civic leader, an entrepreneur, and newspaper publisher. He was born in the LDS Church as a fourth-generation Mormon. He has served in bishoprics, as a High Councilman, a Temple sealer and at age 35 was ordained a Patriarch in the Church by President Gordon B. Hinckley. He served in this capacity for nearly 25 years. Mario and Greg now own a company that makes fine olive oils and varietal wine vinegars.
October 25, 2008
Can’t sleep. I’m getting married today. We decided to do it just a couple of days ago. We had planned to marry in the spring when our 9 children and 4 grandchildren and all friends and family could join us. We had all hoped for a loud, joyful celebration. A feast, the kind our family pulls off as naturally as laughter. We do it to mark weddings, and births, and even for my 80-year-old mother’s birthday when more than a decade ago she discovered she had cancer. We all gathered then to send her off on her journey to the sweet death that would come to her a few months later. We celebrate well. That’s what we do. This is a second wedding for both of us and our children had envisioned gathering “to dance with the babies until midnight” under the ancient redwoods at the back of our property.
When we told the children of the plans at our annual family gathering last July, my oldest son Jaime, now 42, had made us promise to wait until the spring so they could plan well and everyone could join us. Logistics for the almost twenty of us scattered across the country are getting pretty daunting. So we decided to wait and began to dream of spring.
Until this week, when suddenly everything changed for us. Reluctantly, I had to make the sad call to my children with the news—we could not wait till spring. We cannot wait for them to be with us. Some wept with me, others railed at the circumstances, all were exceptionally generous. “Just do it, dad!” they said, “ Go for it! We promise we’ll all still come and celebrate in the spring.” I heard the longing and the courage in their voices, but above all, I felt their fierce loyalty and their love.
And so, we’ll have two weddings.
What precipitated this rush to the altar for me, a 67-year-old former Mormon Stake Patriarch and Temple sealer? Simple. I live in California and I am a gay man. When the Supreme Court of California granted us the right earlier this year, Greg and I knew we wanted to marry. After living together for more than 8 years as committed domestic partners, co-parenting with their mother, we have raised Greg’s two daughters together, married off 3 of my 7 children, have seen the others through illnesses, graduations, triumphs, break-ups and the joyous birth of 3 new grandchildren—a life together much like that of our good friends in quiet suburban Marin County. When the right to marry was granted us, our children called to congratulate and urge a celebration. And then everything rudely changed.
Over the last few weeks a foreboding and terrible storm began to gather about us. First we felt a few ugly drops, vile and toxic, then the skies slowly darkened, the winds howling menacingly in the distance. A storm of lies and distortions began to pelt us from the airwaves everywhere. People began to gather on street corners screaming their epithets, carrying crosses and signs of “Yes on Prop 8!” and “Stop the Faggots!” I could scarcely move anywhere without a nasty assault from somewhere. In disbelief, we sought shelter with friends and family, saying this cannot happen to us here in this country, in this day. The followers of the gentle Jesus were becoming increasingly violent, peasants gathering their pitchforks to come after the monster in their minds.
I was raised a fourth-generation Mormon. Was taught growing up that the Christian world had lost its way—the Great Apostasy—they called it. The teachings of Jesus had been lost, they said, and now had been gloriously restored in all their fullness to the Mormon prophet. Compassion and love were once again safe on earth. That was then. On a recent day, on my way to the gym, I encounter yet another crude assault.
I had written about it earlier in my journal:
October 9, 2008
Got up this morning to read the San Francisco Chronicle and the sad, sad piece about the Mormons raising millions of dollars and organizing national phone banks to support Prop 8. It quoted the LDS area PR guy. His saccharine, sanctimonious tone was familiar to me as was the degradation and meanness it cloaked.
Later, I am confronted by a huge, white SUV parked in front of the gym proudly proclaiming bumper stickers of “BYU” and “Families are Forever” and taped on it a large hand-drawn poster, “YES ON PROP 8!” A familiar knot formed in my stomach.
I completed my rounds at the gym, and driving home the grief slowly settled over me like a dark, suffocating fog. I came home to do my meditation and to give a name to the grief. It was not sadness about the situation. It had now moved marrow-deep to a primal, frightful place. It was a grief primordial at a survival level. Me, the watcher, moved to observe it. I began my Buddhist dialogue with myself. “What does it feel like in your body? Heavy, lacerating, torturous. What does the grief say to you? The answer: ‘Die! You do not deserve to live!’ Where does it come from? Whose voice is it?” Slowly the answer forms once more. You learned it precept upon precept in the Mormon Church. It is deeply implanted in you like a toxic waste dump and leaches out when these hateful things trigger it. Unreasonable? Yes, of course. But there it was and did not abate until I had processed it and sent it on its way. Does it make sense? Probably not—as I have long walked away from the source of my scourging. But, not unreasonable when I realize how young and defenseless I was when precept upon precept, block by learning block, I was taught not only to hate myself but that I did not deserve to live. The lesson from God and his spokesmen was simple and unadorned, “Erase yourself!” Is it any wonder that so many tender and obedient souls among us actually do? The damage is real and we absorb it into our bodies and souls and can carry it unwittingly within us the rest of our lives.
So many times in my 67 years from early puberty on, I have confronted this nameless demon installed with exquisite skill deep in my soul by God’s priesthood, one that screams, “Erase yourself! You ought not have lived.” And many times throughout my life I almost did erase myself. Children do not naturally think of killing themselves. Mormon gay children do….
I am deeply aware that although I, in my impending dotage, have at last developed some distance from this kind of spiritual violence as well as some skills to survive its lasting effects, there are others who have not. Today I will carry in my heart all the precious gay children as they absorb into their perfect bodies and souls the cruelty of the Mormon Church. (What does a gay child think and feel as he/she sees Mom and Dad prepare the posters and the phone banks?) God help us all.
November 6, 2008
God help us all, indeed. Later I read of the nameless “coalition” that the Mormons had formed, a “secret combination” if there ever was one. I looked at whom they had joined ranks with for their dark deeds and realized with growing horror—the Mormons had finally become exactly that which they were supposed to replace. The vaunted “true followers” of the gentle Jesus were now leading the charge in persecuting the innocent, besting the ugliest of the “Christian” evangelical right. The persecuted had become the persecutors. While children were dying of hunger in Darfur, the Mormons had succeeded in raising millions of dollars to protect “traditional marriage”—a form of marriage that their ancestors had sacrificed their very lives to replace with the “new and everlasting covenant” of polygamy. Such vile hypocrisy. Mormons continue to practice polygamy in Scripture, Doctrine and Temple Worship and yet here they were protecting some vague thing called “traditional marriage” between one man and one woman while at the same time continuing to seal one man to many women in the secrecy of their temples.
They, the persecuted, were now coming after us. An unstoppable storm of hatred and lies was being unleashed with a mean ferocity upon our little family. Our marriage could not wait for spring.
And so, I made the calls to my children and Greg to his. We drove to the Marin Civic Center and got our license from a cheerful Mexican woman wearing a cross around her neck who wished us well. Then I called Carol Lynn (Blossom to me since our BYU days.) and our tender friend Barry who is authorized to marry folks in the state of California. It didn’t feel right to invite all our Bay Area friends if all our children couldn’t be there so it would have to be a small, private ceremony hastily improvised. Our friends Mark and Terence agreed to host in their home in Oakland, my far-away children sent us flowers, our teenage daughter Xena who lives with us appeared with a massive orchid plant, our children, Kai and Joseph, came up from southern California and served as witnesses. And Blossom wrote a poem for us as she had done for my first wedding more than 40 year ago. Loyal friends do that. The sun sank deep into the waters of the bay and Greg and I promised to love and to cherish and held each other and our children tightly and wept. Later, as evening fell, our small party walked giddily down the hill for a beautiful meal and I was aware that I had just participated in something both sacred and wondrous—for Greg and me—as well for the unfolding of this mysterious human experiment called Life.
The next day the calls from my children came in, each wanting to feel a part of the experience. Some laughter. Some tears. And, above all, the warmth of the love that transcendently binds us. For those brief moments we knew our family was safe for only love is real.
On November 4th we gathered to watch the returns with our small “gayborhood,” the eight gay families in our neighborhood and our honorary gays, Peter and Petra who live across the street with their three boys. Patrick made chili and cornbread for us and we huddled together in the night. Some stayed glued to the televisions; others went to the back office to follow on the computer the early returns for the dreaded Proposition 8. A hideous seesaw of exhilaration and grief as we watched the vast and the intimate unfold together. I saw the beautiful crowds in Grant Park in Chicago where I had lived for most of my adult life knowing that in that vast crowd four of my children were celebrating our national coming of age. A couple of them called me on their cell phones so I could be there with them getting swept away in the joy they were experiencing. We went to bed triumphant. I thanked the heavens that I had lived to see such a glorious day.
And then morning came with its almost inevitable bad news. On a blue-sky day like only northern California can produce, we watched as the last of the votes for Proposition 8 were counted. Overnight our lives had been violently upended. Overnight we had once again become second-class citizens. What ever made us think that we could ride in the front of the bus? Hatred, fear and ignorance had won. The Church of my childhood was once again telling me I was not good enough exactly as God had made me and should become invisible. For a few, brief moments I became frightened, then mad, then sad. But, in truth, none of it lasted. I knew better. This was just a stumble not a fatal fall. What to do now?
“We keep on keeping on,” as Blossom would say. My thirty years fighting for Latino rights in Chicago have served me well in this instance. It’s true: freedom isn’t free. It took us decades to gain some of the rights we enjoy now as minorities. Now this is our Selma. This is not the end of the road. Fear and loathing do not readily ease their age-old grip. But history is on our side. What to do with the Mormon Brethren? Respond with equal hate? Escalate their cruelty and viciousness? One of my own Mormon mentors, himself an outsider, had long ago taught me that when we use the tools of evil to fight evil, evil has already won the war. The ends are unalterably tied to the means.
Jung wrote, “The healthy man does not torture. It is the tortured that learn to torture. Some men grow up to torture, some to catch them.” It seems we do have choices here as well as an opportunity to heal old wounds. What in the rearing of the LDS Brethren teaches them to torture homosexuals? What in the collective and historical LDS family breeds such blind fear and contempt? Where does such a profound need to dehumanize gays, or Native Americans, women or blacks have its troubled birth? And, yep, indeed, in the face of all this, what would Jesus do?
Late last night, a scant few days after our wedding and two days after Proposition 8 passed I lay in half-sleep dreaming of a better world and peace finally came. I dreamt of a world where differences are not met with fear and loathing or explained away with half-baked scriptural references that would make some the children of Cain, women unworthy of the Priesthood, others, the cursed Lamanites who would one day become “white and delightsome” like northern Europeans, or gays needing to be made, “straight and delightsome” like the Brethren in Salt Lake. A world where we seek the Oneness that Jesus and the Buddha taught, where we hunger for that place called Zion where there are no “-ites” among them because we are all the face of God. A world where no gay child cries himself to sleep because there is no place on earth for someone like him. A world where no gay child is taught precept upon precept that she must erase herself and die. A place where no Church authority is forced to hold in his heart the enormous hypocrisy of executing cruelty in the name of Jesus. A world where no parent has to choose between “ following the Brethren” or embracing their gay child. That world shown to the apostle Paul as a vast mantle that held all of creation. A world that is open and compassionate, and inclusive of all of God’s children in their endless variety!
So, today I commit myself once again to creating such a world for myself and for my loved ones. Maybe I’ll even invite the Mormon Brethren to leave the bleak and joyless house that they inhabit and join us in that holy place of Oneness and rejoice far away from their fears, far away from ignorance and cruelty. Maybe they’ll even come to dance with us and our babies until midnight under the redwoods in the spring.
With permission from author Carol Lynn Pearson, we are happy to share the wedding poem mentioned above:
FOR MARIO AND GREG
October 25, 2008
Now that the law of Leviticus
And the law of the land
Have made way for
The law of Love–
Let it be the same in our hearts
And in our home.
Let the law of ego that says
I am right
Open to the law of spirit that says
I am Love.
Let the law of entropy that says
Delight and awe must wind down
Like an old watch
Become the law of spring that says
In the eyes of my Beloved
All things are made new again.
Let the law of gravity that makes heavy
Even our thoughts
Become the law of heaven where
All is light.
Today let us winnow out the illusions
Pride, sadness, fear.
The law is on our side.
In our hearts
In our home
There is room only for the real:
You and me and Love.