Matthew Easton, a valedictorian at Brigham Young University, said being a gay Mormon has not always been an easy road. Picture courtesy of Matthew Easton

Washington - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers same-sex marriage to be a "serious transgression" - and, until this spring, treated Mormons involved in these unions as apostates, subject to church disciplinary hearings that could result in their excommunication.

So a commencement ceremony at Brigham Young University, the flagship academic institution of the Mormon Church, was an unlikely occasion for this pronouncement: "I stand before my family, friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God."

The affirmation came from Matthew Easton, 24, who was being celebrated as the valedictorian in the political science department - and the graduating senior chosen to deliver remarks at the ceremony for the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Held up as a model for his classmates, he spoke plainly about the part of him that his church finds less commendable. Before an audience of about 10 000 - which included family members to whom he had not disclosed his sexuality - Easton asserted his value and his role in divine intent.

"I am not broken," he declared. "I am loved and important to the plan of our great creator. Each of us are."

Among the audience members to whom the announcement came as a surprise was one of Easton's sisters, who was recording a video of his speech. The camera slipped as she let out a whoop, part of a chorus of cheers that echoed through the Marriott Center. In the middle of the immense sports arena stood Easton, at a lectern bearing his university's initials. He smiled and paused, waiting for the applause to die down.

"Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college," he continued. "It is a phenomenal feeling. And it is a victory for me in and of itself."

A private conquest, the speech also marked a notable chapter in a searching public debate about faith, sexuality and generational change.

Easton, in an interview with The Washington Post, said he has been inspired by the way Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, and upstart candidate for president, has spoken about the connection between his Christianity and his sexuality. He pointed in particular to a speech the 37-year-old gay mayor gave earlier this month to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, in which he assailed the vice president, an evangelical Christian, for his views on sexual minorities.

"That's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: That if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me," Buttigieg said. "Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator."

The Washington Post