“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

4:00 a.m.

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

10.00 am

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

3:00 pm

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.



Comments
12 Responses to ““Overnight we had once again become second-class citizens””
  1. Sheri Lawson says:

    Mario and Greg,
    My heart is overwhelmed, my face is soaked with tears of gratitude for the love and wisdom pouring from the above story. This is the power that will change the world and finally unite our planet in peace.
    Thank you~

  2. Dale Robinson says:

    I really enjoyed the article. It really hit home. One of my siblings was gay and he was able to hide it from family, and wife, up to the time of his early demise at age 48. The later of his days were spent divorced and living as a ranch hand. Solitude was probably easier for him to live with.

    I am amazed at how closed minded the masses can be. I wonder if they realize that, by voting down gay rights, they also voted against the return of polygamy and other religious freedoms. In other words, they voted against their own freedom. What we really need is to get government out of the marriage business. Marriage is a personal and religious institution. The government has no business trying to control individualism and religious beliefs. However, the masses let them.

  3. Eliyanna says:

    I’m not a Mormon. Just a lesbian that has been smiling while I read through this website.

    I’ve spent the last two days arguing with other LGBT folks here in NYC about their plan to picket outside a Mormon temple. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to talk sense to them. Everyone’s just so angry.

    But Mario, you found the right words:

    “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.”

    Thank you for saying it like that. I have some peace and clarity that I was looking for.

  4. Mario says:

    Thanks to you all for your kind responses. Be of good cheer. I really do believe that we are all engaged in a huge shift in consciousness, one that will make “the world safe for kindness” as Brecht would say. This brusque response from the keepers of the patriarchal status quo is to be expected and is part of our joint evolution to a better place. How can I not say this when I see the gays, straights, people of faith that have been standing the the sidelines now energized with a new spirit of renewal and commitment to our collective liberation? The rest of the phrase above is: “Oh, we who would prepare the world for kindness, could not ourselves be kind.” I see that as well too –anger slowly turning to action that asks, “How do we respond?” And increasingly the answer is, “Not in kind!” There is tremendous power in kindness. These are amazing and wonderful times.

  5. Dave Hoen says:

    Mario -

    Thank you for being so generously kind and to remind us all to be kind in return despite the hurt we are feeling. The emotional pain that my family has endured over the past few months because of the Church’s orchestration of Prop 8 has been absolutely awful. The recovery process hasn’t begun, but an apology from the Church Leadership to its members for the way this campaign has been conducted, would be a good starting point. I know the Church never seems to feel a need to apologize but as they say, its never to late to start.

  6. Tonya says:

    I am so terribly saddened by this story. I love that your reply is so positive. I support you and wish you only the very best things in life. I pray that others will wake up and realize their actions have nothing at all to do with Christ like love. It is a relief to know that there are other people who were raised in the church who fel like I do. I have been feeling so alienated from my church and at a loss for how to proceed. At least after reading this, I don’t feel quite as alone.

  7. carrie says:

    I am sad to say I disagree with most of what you comment on here. I supported Yes on Prop 8. I think it is a contradictory to say that it is “torture” and “dehumanizing” to support a proposition yet so many demonstrators are out in front of the LDS temples and protesting in a sometimes violent and disrespectful manner. Fake anthrax mailings and other threats are not the answer, and I appreciate you mentioning that hate is not any way to promote a cause. As you well know, the Mormons would never support a campaign called “Stop the F—–s” or anything remotely similar, and those who are using animosity to prove a point are wrong. This we can agree on.
    I do believe you are wrong, Mario, to accuse the Mormon Church alone of passing the proposition. The people of California voted -not just the Mormons. As you probably know, under California law you have many of the same rights as a married heterosexual couple. There is religious freedom which is why so many churches got involved, not just the Mormon church. Are you as tolerant of them as you want them to be to you?

  8. Calif Voter says:

    Carrie –

    The Mormon church may not have passed the proposition on its own, but, according to the New York Times, they did tip the scales.

    The article says, in part:

    Jeff Flint, another strategist with Protect Marriage, estimated that Mormons made up 80 percent to 90 percent of the early volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts.

    The canvass work could be exacting and highly detailed. Many Mormon wards in California, not unlike Roman Catholic parishes, were assigned two ZIP codes to cover. Volunteers in one ward, according to training documents written by a Protect Marriage volunteer, obtained by people opposed to Proposition 8 and shown to The New York Times, had tasks ranging from “walkers,” assigned to knock on doors; to “sellers,” who would work with undecided voters later on; and to “closers,” who would get people to the polls on Election Day.

    Suggested talking points were equally precise. If initial contact indicated a prospective voter believed God created marriage, the church volunteers were instructed to emphasize that Proposition 8 would restore the definition of marriage God intended.

    But if a voter indicated human beings created marriage, Script B would roll instead, emphasizing that Proposition 8 was about marriage, not about attacking gay people, and about restoring into law an earlier ban struck down by the State Supreme Court in May.

    “It is not our goal in this campaign to attack the homosexual lifestyle or to convince gays and lesbians that their behavior is wrong — the less we refer to homosexuality, the better,” one of the ward training documents said. “We are pro-marriage, not anti-gay.”

    When I hear about despicable acts of violence, threats or vandalism, I take heart in knowing that there are thousands of gay-marriage supporters who speak up peacefully and lawfully and who are channeling the energy from Election Day defeats into positive acts to amend laws and affirmatively educate the public.

    Just as you would prefer that No on 8 protesters not judge all Mormons by the rude behavior of the members who attacked protesters in front of the LA Temple earlier, marriage equality advocates would prefer you do not color all of them as spiteful, violent vandals sending threatening letters to religious organizations.

  9. Mario says:

    Carrie:

    I have long studied both the history of the Mormon Church as well as that of the civil rights movement in this country. To say that “you have many of the same rights as married people” is an eerie echo of the old, “why can’t you blacks be happy with the separate but equal schools we have provided you?” Separate is never equal. And in those tragic days of separate but equal, Mormon leaders were on the wrong side of history. I invite you to research the writings of the prophets on the subject of blacks and the curse of Cain. It’s pretty chilling. The great thing about the passage of Propositon 8 is that it has triggered a healthy dialogue that never occured prior to it. And yes, it will bring out the fringe element on both sides, Mormons and gays included. But it will also cause people of good will to open their hearts and minds to each other and truth will once again set us all free. I lived through the years of dialogue where many of us lived with the impossible task of holding in our hearts both faithfulness to the Church and profound shame over the leadership’s hideous treatment of blacks . The dialogue continued in the homes and classrooms of the Church and in the public arena. When I was very young I came across the disturbing pronouncements of the then prophets, seers, and revelators regarding blacks and went running to my mother for an explanation. She took me by the shoulders and said also with tears in her eyes, “No, you don’t have to believe this to follow Christ. The leaders aren’t perfect. They’re wrong on this one and they will just have to correct it some day.” And, in time, they did…almost thirty years later. But so much heartbreak in between. I am hopeful that people of good will can listen respectfully to each other until they see the face of God in each. Even Gays and General Authorities. Each the face of God. Not separate but equal.

  10. Shannon Lee says:

    I’m sorry that I’ve been writing so much on this site over the past few days. I only just discovered it and until now, I’ve had to keep my feelings to myself. I used to belong to another on-line LDS community and when I tried to share my feelings with them, I ended up having to leave, sadly realizing that I simply didn’t fit in anymore, and I’d known many of them for 10 years.

    I cried when I read your post, but I’m so happy that you have such a supportive and loving family. Congratulations on your marriage. I sincerely wish you many years of happiness and joy together. :o)

    All of my friends have been LDS since I was only a teenager, at which time I joined the Church. A few years ago, I made a new friend whom I’d met on-line. She moved to my city, so we began hanging out together. I hadn’t known her personally for very long before she decided to inform me that she was gay. I’d never had a gay friend before. I only had to think about that for a few moments, before I said, “You’re the same person that you were 10 minutes ago, before you told me that. It makes no difference to me,” and I meant it. We didn’t really talk about it much after that. We just hung out together, mostly going to movies, and enjoying each other’s company. The only difference was that when I talked about a good-looking guy, she would talk about someone she thought was a hot gal.

    One day, she shared with me how difficult it had been for her to be in love with an old acquaintance who was not gay. I felt for her, because I know how heartbreaking unrequited love is. There is nothing worse than being in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way.

    But I took the opportunity to ask her then how and when she knew that she was gay. She said that as puberty kicked in, she simply realized that the feelings she had for that acquaintance were more along the lines of what she “should” be feeling for the guys. But luckily, she was very strong within herself and simply thought, “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be for me.” But sadly, she has very strong Evangelical parents and has never found the courage to tell them. She knows full well what their reaction will be.

    A little over 10 years ago, I was asked to sign a petition in church, to say that I believed that marriage should remain between one man and one woman. I hesitated. First of all, I was shocked that they would hand out a political petition in church, and secondly, I didn’t agree with it. I thought, “What on earth are we doing interfering with the agency of others?” I couldn’t understand it, and I didn’t know what to do. A friend, who noticed me hestitating, whispered to me, “Just be obedient. Sometimes we don’t always understand why. Just choose to be obedient.” I decided that was the higher law, to obey, even if I didn’t understand it, and so I signed.

    There is no doubt in my mind that I made the wrong decision that day, because that one little moment of my life has haunted me ever since. I was wrong because I didn’t follow my own conscience. I apologized to my friend and told her that I was wrong. I knew it at the time, and I know it now. I will never again allow anyone, no matter how high up they are perceived to be, to make me go against my conscience – against what I know in my heart to be right.

    I’m very happy to be able to say that there are many LDS members out there who have not supported this campaign. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to right a wrong that I’d done over 10 years ago, and to sincerely apologize for it. That you for that opportunity.

    Those of us who were opposed to Prop 8 may be a minority in the Church, but I believe that within our hearts is the desire to obey the truly higher law – to love one another as we would love ourselves, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

  11. Samantha says:

    I am not a member of LDS. I’m not even heavily religious. But it makes me smile to know that even people of religion can see that love is love. At 23 years old, I’m not ready to make a commitment to love someone for the rest of my life- but I hope by the time I am ready to make that commitment- the person I choose to spend the rest of my life with and I will have the same opportunities as heterosexual couples.

    Florida, where I live, has recently passed Amendment 2, which is similar to Prop 8- only it affects domestic partnerships between men and women- as well as homosexual couples that receive benefits through companies that recognize domestic partnerships between homosexual couples.

    It gives me hope that some day I can be equal- and that some day I can freely love whomever I want and I can spend the rest of my life with her and share all of the same benefits as heterosexuals.

  12. Dave Hoen says:

    Quick, what important anniversary in Mormon history is being celebrated today?

    June 9, 1978 – The ban on black LDS members holding the priesthood, was lifted.

    In fact there were a lot of things going on in 1978 that are important to gay Mormons.

    June 9 – Negro Doctrine (as it used to be called) was lifted
    Oct 30 – Brazil Temple dedicated
    Nov 7 – Briggs Initiative defeated in California
    Nov 18 – Jonestown Massacre
    Nov 27 – Harvey Milk assassinated