SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The father of Utah kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart has come out as gay in a heartfelt letter that reveals he has struggled throughout his life with pain and guilt.
“The decision to be honest and truthful about my orientation comes with its own set of challenges, but at the same time it is a huge relief,” Ed Smart wrote in a letter posted on his Facebook page Friday. “I can no longer live trying to appease someone else’s idea of who I should be, and have come to the conclusion that it was never my Savior’s intent to change me from the way I was born.”
Ed Smart, 64, has been in the limelight since he frequently went before TV cameras pleading for help finding his daughter, who was 14 when she was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City home in 2002. She was found nine months later, and Ed Smart and his daughter have since become advocates for other kidnapped children.
He said he no longer feels comfortable being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The religion, widely known as the Mormon church, has tried to carve out a more compassionate stance toward LGBTQ people over the last decade but remains firm in its opposition to gay marriage and same-sex intimacy.
He said his faith is “strong” and “unwavering” but that he doesn’t plan to worship in the church.
“As an openly gay man, the church is not a place where I find solace any longer,” Ed Smart said.
Ed Smart said he’s sorry for the pain caused to his longtime wife, with whom he has five children. He filed for divorce on July 5, online Utah court records show.
“I love my family and always will,” Smart wrote. “Lois has been a loyal wife, and extraordinary mother, who has had to endure an impossible part of this journey. I deeply regret the excruciating pain this has caused her.”
Elizabeth Smart, now a 31-year-old mother of three, said in a statement that she’s deeply saddened by her parents’ separation but that nothing could change her love and admiration for them.
“My parents taught me as a young child that they would love me unconditionally no matter what happened,” she said. “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.”
Ed Smart said he hopes he’s accepted for who he is.
“Acceptance and love is what makes the world a better place,” he wrote. “The crucible of guilt and shame that too many secretly endure is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”