Eli McCann: From Prop 8 to the Respect for Marriage Act — that’s what I call LDS whiplash

Who could have predicted this evolution on same-sex marriage?

(Heather Wrigley) Eli McCann and Skylar Westerdahl on their wedding day.

I came out to my parents in their kitchen one Saturday morning when I was 29. The night before, a gay friend gave me some advice for the conversation. “Don’t beat around the bush,” he said. “Just come out with it. And be unequivocal. Don’t leave room for doubt because that might cause confusion.”

My dad was reading a newspaper, and my mom was slouched over her sewing machine working on a project for her highly competitive quilting group that’s harder to get into than the Illuminati.

“I have something to tell you,” I began. “I am incredibly gay.”

My dad put down his newspaper and frowned in confusion. My mother eyed me over her glasses that were down at the end of her nose.

“Is incredibly gay different from regular gay?” she asked.

Once I clarified that, no, I didn’t think the amplifier really made a difference, that I was just trying to be unequivocal, they settled into the news with relative ease.

This was 2014. I was aware the conversation with them went much differently than it might have 10 or 15 years earlier. I had been inundated throughout my religious childhood with church messaging about the evil homosexuals who lurked among us. In the 1990s, Sunday school teachers regularly told me “one of Satan’s tactics is to convince people they are born gay, but we know that’s not true. People choose to be gay, and that is a sin.”

I wasn’t sure, at age 12, when exactly I had “chosen” to have a crush on every boy in middle school (and I mean all of them). I figured this was maybe one of those opt-in things when you enter a raffle in which you also accidentally sign up to receive an eternal onslaught of marketing materials. Or maybe it happened when I saw “Titanic” and Leonardo DiCaprio broke my brain.

In any event, I knew, based on how we all talked about the wicked gays, it would not be a good idea for me to acknowledge doodling Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ name in my notebook during English class. (The one that got away.)

We’re all paying penance

(Heather Wrigley) Cathie McCann, right, pays tribute to son Eli McCann, left, and his husband, Skylar Westerdahl, on the couple's wedding day.

The change in our religious community wasn’t quick, but I started to notice movement over the next 10 years. As a young adult, I heard Larry King ask Gordon B. Hinckley, then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether he believed people were born gay. To my surprise at the time, Hinckley said he didn’t know the answer to that. It seemed shortly after this interview that the “nobody is born gay” rhetoric died away.

A few years later, the church tried to put every shoulder to the wheel on California’s Proposition 8. “I was pressured to stand on the side of a road with a sign,” a friend said to me recently. “It was so embarrassing. Now I donate regularly to the Human Rights Campaign like I’m paying a fine.”

I told her not to be too hard on herself. We’re all paying penance in our own ways for past regressive actions and beliefs we feel guilty about now. When I was 8, my mother and I were riding our bikes back from Blockbuster and she crashed into a curb. As blood gushed from her chin, I had the gall to shout “are the videos OK?” Whenever this memory pops into my head, I go to the internet to order her flowers.

After Prop 8, there seemed to be a number of shifts in a more gentle direction. There were steps backward and forward, to be sure, but mostly people were warming up to us. The church even supported some policy initiatives that would provide protection to LGBTQ individuals.

So, yes, by the time I came out to my parents, we were living in a much different world than the one from when I was 12. Still, I would be ungrateful not to acknowledge that they did always seem at least a few steps ahead of most people in their community on this issue. I always knew they would support me. So it wasn’t a surprise when my mother ran a piece of fabric through her sewing machine and shouted over its aggressive hum, “Now that you’ve told us, I hope you can relax and find some peace. We love you, honey.”

A few years later, they each gave teary speeches at my wedding when I married my husband, Skylar. Skylar is a physician, and several months ago my mom had major surgery to remove some invasive cancer, so, in an attempt to be helpful, he went with her to every doctor appointment and sat with her and my dad for hours on end while she recovered. One night I went to visit her in the hospital and a nurse told me out in the hallway my mom had bragged to every hospital staffer she had seen that her son-in-law “is a doctor.”

As I sat with her next to her bed, she turned to me, with weepy eyes, and said, “Skylar is a very good man. You married a very good man.”

A new reality

(Eli McCann | Special to The Tribune) Eli and Skylar's poodle mix, dressed to the nines and ready for the wedding.

This was never the future I imagined for myself when I was 12. And not just because I didn’t end up with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. But it’s the reality that somehow came to be in Utah, a state where the population now overwhelmingly believes same-sex marriage should be legal. Even my former church recently expressed support for the newly enacted Respect for Marriage Act, which codifies some currently recognized constitutional protections. Who could have predicted this shift?

Somehow, in just two decades, I went from living in a world where I never thought I could come out, to one where my parents call my husband more than they call me. That’s so lovely that I often forget to be offended about it.

About three months before our wedding, my husband and I spent an evening measuring our sassy poodle mix so we could order him a custom tux from a high-end boutique pet clothing designer in London.

“We need to make sure his color scheme matches the table centerpieces I just bought,” Skylar said to me.

As we typed out a long email detailing our very particular requests, the dog at that moment wearing a bow tie and sitting on a silk pillow near our feet, I couldn’t help but chuckle at how over-the-top it all was.

We waited far too long to legalize this.

(Courtesy) Eli McCann.

Eli McCann is an attorney, writer and podcaster in Salt Lake City, where he lives with his husband and their two naughty (yet worshipped) dogs. You can find Eli on Twitter at @EliMcCann or at his personal website, www.itjustgetsstranger.com, where he tries to keep the swearing to a minimum so as not to upset his mother.

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