David and Carlie Hardy were the perfect Mormon couple building the perfect Mormon legacy in their mecca, Salt Lake City, Utah. It was 1995 and David, then 42, received simultaneous boosts in his professional and religious life: As an in-house attorney, he had taken a private startup company public so successfully that he was now able to open his own solo practice. At the same time, he had been called to serve as a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose ministry is drawn from its membership. Carlie, 41, was fulfilling her religious destiny as well by giving birth to and then raising six children strictly within the LDS’s rules.
To affirm the family’s devotion to the church before David’s new hectic schedule began to keep him from home, the couple took a pilgrimage with their three eldest children. Mom and the kids retraced the footsteps of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem as described in the Scriptures, and then met Dad in France, the country where he as a young man had served the two-year proselytizing mission required of all devout Mormons, and more recently had spent countless days lobbying to bring the 1998 winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. The trip culminated in Austria, where Carlie had studied on an exchange program from Brigham Young University.
There, in a garden in the hills above Salzburg, the family’s bliss was shattered.
Judd, the Hardys’ 13-year-old son, confided to his father that he feared he was “same-sex attracted,” the LDS euphemism for homosexual. In Mormondom, homosexuality is literally unspeakable; there is no greater taboo in this institution, in which even relatively benign substances such as caffeine are forbidden. “My world just caved in,” David recalls. He told his son what he had been taught by the church–that same-sex attraction was infinitely “curable,” merely a phase.
Upon returning to Salt Lake, David drove straight to his church office. By this point in his life, he well understood that the church often preached to its members through speeches long ago delivered and transcribed into LDS-issued pamphlets–many of which are actual doctrine. He needed to find the instruction regarding same-sex attraction. At the office, he located a handful of pamphlets addressing the issue, all of which contained fire-and-brimstone language like “Homosexuality Is Sin: Next to the crime of murder comes the sin of sexual impurity.” David had read the pamphlets many years back, but rereading them while conjuring the image of his devout son, he became increasingly upset. He shoved the pamphlets deep into a drawer and focused on “curing” Judd.
That was seven years ago. Since then, David and Carlie Hardy have gone from being obedient, God-fearing church members to vocal, angry gay-rights activists who have willingly ostracized themselves from the only community they had ever known. In opening their house to outcast gay teens, and their mouths to the media, they have risked their relationships with their friends and relatives, and–if it is “God’s one true Church,” as LDS members believe–their eternal souls.
Publicly, the church loves the sinner but hates the sin. “People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians,” remarked LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley. “My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God.”
As former insiders, the Hardys contend that the church establishment is obsessed with good press and intent upon creating an image of a mainstream Christian religion–a goal it plans to pursue as the television networks cast their soft-focus lenses on Salt Lake City during the winter Olympics this February. The Hardys, meanwhile, are determined to let the world know what lies behind the church’s rhetorical niceties. David Hardy scoffs at Hinckley’s profession of tolerance. “We were forced to make a decision that no parent should be forced to make,” he says, “to abandon one’s child or one’s faith.”