Ed Smart, the father of kidnapping survivor and child safety activist Elizabeth Smart, has announced he is gay, divorcing his wife, and leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smart, 64, who has also served as a child safety advocate for years through his daughter's foundation, announced the emotional decision to family and friends in a Facebook message on Thursday. He shared the letter with TODAY.
"It is with this same spirit that I wish to share the news that I have recently acknowledged to myself and my family that I am gay,'' he wrote. "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."
Smart has six children with his wife, Lois, who filed for divorce on July 5, according to court records obtained by The Salt Lake City Tribune.
"I love my family and always will,'' he 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.
"Hurting her was never my intent. While our marriage will end, my love for Lois and everyone in my family is eternal. I believe that love is what binds us together. While there are wounds right now, I also know our Savior can help heal the damage which this revelation has brought. Through Christ love will outlast the grief."
Smart followed up on his Facebook post with a statement to TODAY on Friday.
"I'm just grateful for the amazing love and support from everyone,'' he said. "It was, as I’ve said, incredibly hard getting to this point and I feel for so many that are struggling in my situation trying to make the decision of whether to come out or remain closeted the rest of their life. That decision is deeply personal but liberating."
Smart became a child safety advocate after Elizabeth was kidnapped from her bedroom at knifepoint by homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, as a 14-year-old in 2002.
For the next nine months, she was repeatedly raped and assaulted until she was recognized while out with the two in Sandy, Utah, and rescued.
Elizabeth, 31, who is now a married mother of three, provided a statement to TODAY following her father's announcement.
"My parents taught me as a young child that they would love me unconditionally no matter what happened," she said. "While I am deeply saddened by their separation, nothing could change my love and admiration for them both. 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 also announced in his letter that he no longer feels comfortable in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"As an openly gay man, the Church is not a place where I find solace any longer,'' he wrote. "It is not my responsibility to tell the Church, its members or its leadership what to believe about the rightness or wrongness of being LGBTQ. I can only believe what I feel is right, but it is my responsibility to continue to grow, progress and mature as a child of loving Heavenly Parents, and to do that in a way that is spiritually healthy for me."
He also wrote about his struggles with his sexual orientation over the years.
"Living with the pain and guilt I have for so many years, not willing to accept the truth about my orientation has at times brought me to the point where I questioned whether life was still worth living,'' he wrote. "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."