Paul and Tony with their family
“As an extension of marriage, we want our family to be recognized as being of worth and meaning. We are not a threat to traditional family values; we live traditional family values”
Note by John Gustav-Wrathall: Often it feels there’s a lot of heat and little light generated around the topic of marriage for gay and lesbian couples. In my personal experience, we must never lose track of the real impact that the political has on the personal. We must always connect “the issues” to actual faces and real lives.
Toward this end, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons will be publishing a series of stories in the coming weeks and months spotlighting LGBT families. This first story features the family of Paul and Tony, written in Paul’s own words.
Our story is not much different than most couples. We met, fell in love, had kids and are kept busy with work, school, and raising a family as well as two dogs. The only difference is that we are gay dads living in the heart of conservative Utah.
Tony and I met when he was 18 and had just graduated from High School; I was freshly off an LDS mission to Korea. Tony had come out to his parents at a relatively young age, having come to terms with being gay early on. His family was and is very supportive of him and our family. I came home from my mission eager to do as the Church urges us: find a young woman, get married and start an eternal family. However, it was not to be. It never felt right and it wasn’t from a lack of trying on my part. I guess I always knew I was gay, but growing up in a small Mormon town, “coming out” was never an option. I had seen how the brave kids from my hometown that had come out were treated and I wanted no part of it.
I moved to Salt Lake to go to school and for work. I thought I could fix myself, but after agonizing about my failure to do so, I became desperate to find answers. I looked for resources that I could use to try and figure this out. After many dead ends, I found a place called the Stonewall Center that had an LGBT resource library. After mustering up the courage to go, I browsed through their library. I did not find what I was looking for but was told by someone there that there was a “Friends and Family Night” that evening and apprehensively decided to attend.
I was extremely frightened because this was so foreign to me, a small-town returned Mormon missionary. Thankfully, as fate would have it, Tony and his parents were there that evening. His mother had come directly from the hospital to be there to support her son. Both of his parents stood and addressed the crowd. They showed such love, compassion and hope to everyone that I knew I had to meet this family. After some sleuthing, I found their number and talked with Tony’s mom for quite some time. She finally suggested that Tony and I go out to dinner to talk. That was our fortuitous beginning.
Fast forward through schooling, jobs, a move to California for Tony’s Master’s degree and back to Utah for his Doctorate. It was at this time that I approached him with the idea of having kids. He said he thought that we should look into it after he finished his Doctorate. Being the impatient person I am, I wasted no time and found an agency in California that helped gay couples fulfill their dreams to have a family. Tony agreed to meet with this agency, and that started the ball rolling. After 2 years of an emotional roller coaster, we were blessed with a set of happy, healthy twin boys.
Our life as a family in Utah has been a relatively positive one. We have a wonderful support system of family and friends. After a few years of getting used to the idea of having a gay son and seeing him in a happy, healthy relationship, my staunch Mormon family have embraced us and love our family. They have said that if there was a way to go back and change the situation, they would choose not to.
Our children are very good, honest and caring boys. They go to a school where we have many friends and great support. The school is pretty conservative and we are the only gay-led family there. I have been extremely involved with the school and think that as people have gotten to know me, how “normal” I am, and how well adjusted our boys are, I have challenged some of their preconceived notions about gay people.
We live in a mostly Mormon neighborhood and have been welcomed. We have been included in the Church-led emergency neighborhood response program and I know that our neighbors would be there if we needed them.
Tony and I say in jest that we have been married 3 times and never been divorced. The first one was really a Commitment Ceremony in 1995 performed by the Unitarian Church; so that doesn’t count. The second one was in San Francisco when Mayor Gavin Newsome ordered the City to let gay couples get married. It was a wonderful day. We flew there first class, stayed in a beautiful hotel and had our ceremony performed in City Hall. We even met the Mayor. It was very special. Strangers would come up and hand us flowers and wedding cake; it gave us hope. Then, of course the marriages were deemed invalid and annulled.
In 2008, we again flew to San Diego California to get married, this time we took our boys with us and it was actually the same day and month as our original commitment ceremony. As it stands right now, our marriage is still officially valid in California and was not one that was affected by Proposition 8.
For Tony and me, the recognition of our marriage is more than just receiving a piece of paper or the 2000 rights and benefits we don’t have that straight couples do. It is about our love and our commitment to each other being recognized as valid and having worth. As an extension of marriage, we want our family to be recognized as being of worth and meaning. We are not a threat to traditional family values; we live traditional family values. We teach our children to live by the Golden Rule.
Think of what a non-issue gay marriage would be if religions, politicians, and all of our fellow human beings would just follow that simple admonishment: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”