Twenty-one years ago, I was a bright-eyed young woman who was in love with a handsome, albeit serious, young man. We married, then had a baby, and I expected to live happily ever after. We lived in a conservative, mostly fundamentalist Christian community at the heart of a mostly conservative, fundamentalist state. Homosexuals were not discussed except in derogatory terms, with the term “abominations before God” being used whenever the topic did arise.

Ten years into the marriage, it was revealed to this bride, who was still very much in love with her husband (though he was often distant and depressed) that he had a “terrible secret.” He was gay. He had fought that fact all of his life. When he met me, he knew that he was gay, but he thought he could change–that God would heal him. And the alternative–coming out as a gay man–could get him killed. Certainly it would mean he would be shunned by his congregation, his friends and possibly his family.

So, being convinced it was his only choice (because homosexuals were not accepted, and could not get married and have children), he married this girl that he loved as best he could–with the sanctions of the ministers surrounding them.

Now, after struggling in “ex-gay” ministries until he was so suicidal I thought I’d come home any day to a corpse, and after years of trying to quell his real orientation, we are both left with a shattered marriage. All because he was unacceptable for who he was.

And now I get to start over at 40, my “happily ever after” destroyed–because a man thought he could “change” and love me the way I deserved to be loved, and because he could not live as the man he was created to be in a marriage with a partner of the same sex. My husband never had the courage to tell me he was gay–until after I confronted him on the evidence I’d seen. However, at least he gathered his courage and told me everything after that, and of his fears that if he’d told me sooner, I would leave and he’d never see our daughter or me again. I understand that fear.

He finally gave me, even if it took years, the most important of gifts–the truth. I loved him with every single part of me (I still do, but am learning to shift that marriage love into a deep friendship). I have since realized something important to me–he loved me in the way a gay man loves a woman. I didn’t want to know that there was a difference back then. But I know now.

I also don’t know what kind of absolute private hell life as a gay man or woman in the closet might be. I’ve had a hell of my own, though–that of believing that my marriage was something it was not–because conservative religion told us it was wrong to be gay.

I know that there are many gay men and women who choose not to deceive or to be what society, family, religion or politics tell them they should be. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the bravery of these people to live real, authentic lives.

My husband and I are not the only couple out there. A low estimate of more than 2 million couples in this country alone (wave those little freedom flags everybody) are in some stage or other of the same situation. I have collected hundreds of stories from other couples. In many of these situations, the ministers who married the couples knew that one of them was gay (or in their words, struggled with same-sex attraction), and they encouraged them to marry anyway, even though the straight spouse knew nothing. To “save” the homosexual from hellfire and damnation … they never gave a thought to the straight spouse who could, and eventually would, be destroyed by it.

These gay people who married–some of them hoping that God would heal them or change them, some of them to simply have a “normal” life in a marriage with children and the picket fence, some of them to hide from persecution–had they been accepted for who they are, would probably never have married someone of the opposite sex.

Had they been allowed to marry a partner of the same sex and been accepted, they never would have made the choices that are now destroying their lives, the lives of their unsuspecting spouses, and in some cases the lives of their children. All because the only way they can be equal–and have the same rights as everybody else–is to pretend to be everybody else.

So where are “family values” in all of this? Gay marriage harms no one, and it allows everyone to share in equal rights under the law. Disallowing gay marriage and treating homosexuals as “lesser” or “abominations” is a destroyer of families … millions of them, every year.

I could spend my life angry at what I got handed regarding my marriage and blame the LBGT community, especially since it seems sometimes that the gay spouse who comes out has support from the gay community while the straight spouse seems to just disappear into the woodwork with little to no support (even though they have been through intense trauma as a result of their partner’s deception). But that wouldn’t be living very authentically either, considering the roots of this stem from society’s lack of acceptance of those who have non-heterosexual orientations or gender identities.

Will I play devil’s advocate, as some of our leaders do, and entertain the opposing viewpoint? No. Because it is evil. Anything that places one group of people in a position to be “better than” another group is pure evil. Conservative, liberal or in between, if a particular ideal of that group passes judgment on others or causes others to be placed in a category that makes them second- or even third-class citizens, it is evil.

I choose instead to offer love, acceptance and support to the LBGT community. It is a community I have been a part of by marriage and have grown to love. Soon (Saturday, Sept. 30, to be exact), the annual North Carolina Pride Parade and Festival will take place at Duke University’s East Campus. This festival is not just for our lesbian, bi, gay, transgender or questioning friends. It is for everyone who wishes to support the basic human rights of all of our sisters and brothers. That is family values. Anyone who says differently just isn’t paying attention.

Kristin E. Howard is a mental health clinician and artist who lives in Durham. She encourages anyone in a mixed-orientation marriage to visit for support and advice.