Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart’s father, Ed Smart, who came out as gay in August when he announced he is divorcing his wife and leaving the Mormon church, has a message: There is no cure for being gay.
Ed Smart, 64, of Utah, recently spoke publicly about coming out to CBS’ Gayle King and at an LGBTQ youth event in Lehi, Utah.
His main message is: There’s no cure for being gay. He said he knows, because he “worked very hard at trying to do that.”
“I wanted to be where God was, and the only way I could do that was to stomp this part of me out, and I tried the best to do that, and it’s not something that is curable,” Smart told NBC News.
Smart said he once asked his therapist if he was gay, and the therapist told him no. “That was the answer I wanted to hear,” he said, "and I bought into that, and I went to therapy for four months, and finally I quit going. I just knew that this wasn’t a problem that was going to go away.”
After speaking to a friend who struggled with alcoholism until returning to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly referred to as the Mormon Church or the LDS church, he decided to try prayer.
“I went to the temple three to four times a week, trying to squash that part of me out, and it wasn’t until I had a change in my belief that I finally realized, ‘No, the problem is that I’m gay, and I’m trying to be straight, and that is where the problem occurs,’” Smart said.
For a married father of six in the Mormon Church, that was a hard pill to swallow. He said church leaders advised him to suppress his homosexuality in light of his successful family life.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
“At one point, I said to my wife, ‘I really wish that I could die now,’ not that I was suicidal, but I thought that if I could see God right now, I would feel like I would be able to answer for myself, and he would be accepting of me based on what I had learned was acceptable,” he said.
Smart said he was faithful to his wife throughout their decadeslong marriage but was unable to deny his homosexuality.
According to the teachings of the Mormon Church, a married male-female headed family can be “sealed” in a temple and thus be united “eternally” in the afterlife. Gay people have no clear place in this theology, and the church does not perform or accept same-sex marriages.
“So many people have their own perceptions of God,” Smart said. “For me, it wasn't a question of whether he was there or not — because having Elizabeth return [after her kidnapping] and having been so incredibly blessed in my life, it would be impossible to deny God and to deny his existence and his love and his caring and wanting me to be happy.”
But like many families in the Mormon Church, Smart started to notice that more and more people are coming out as gay.
“I think it’s very, very prevalent in the LDS church, and I think there are so many that are trying to make it work in one way or another,” he said, referring to the Encircle LGBTQ group on whose behalf he spoke in Lehi.
“There’s hardly any family that you can go to that doesn’t have a relative that’s gay,” Smart said. “So, are we going to basically say, the usual comment: ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner,’ and what in the world does that mean?”
Smart came out, in part he said, because the church announced new rules that allow for the baptism — thus officially joining of the church — of the children of gay parents. His family, he said, has been a rock through this process.
“I feel very fortunate that mine has been as accepting as they have been — not that it’s easy, but you know it was kind of like, as I was talking to Elizabeth this morning, she was like, ‘We all have to get used to our new normal.’ That was the comment we found as Elizabeth returned: Life could not ever be the same, but there does become a new normal, and we move forward with that,” Smart said.
Smart’s daughter Elizabeth, then 14, became a household name in 2002 when she was kidnapped from their family home. She was abused and held for nearly one year before she was spotted by good Samaritans in Sandy, Utah. Today, she is a married mother and a child safety advocate.
In a statement provided to NBC News, Elizabeth Smart, 32, said: "My parents taught me as a young child that they would love me unconditionally no matter what happened.”
“While I am deeply saddened by their separation, nothing could change my love and admiration for them both,” she said of her parents. “Their decisions are very personal. As such, I will not pass judgment and rather am focusing on loving and supporting them and the other members of my family.”
For his part, Smart said, “It’s better to be able to tell your story than to have somebody take your story and rumor mill it through so people get all these crazy ideas about who you are and what you are.” It’s better with “you just telling them: This is the way it is, this is my life.’”
CORRECTION (Dec. 10, 2019, 6:45 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misidentified the network that Gayle King works for. It is CBS News, not ABC News.
CORRECTION (Dec. 11, 2019, 7:50 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated Elizabeth Smart’s age. She’s 32, not 31.
Follow NBC Out on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram