Nathan Ivie, a county commissioner in Utah County, just outside of Salt Lake City, did not give up his photography career after he was elected in 2016, including the 20-30 weddings he shoots a year.
And last year, a first while on the job: working a same-sex wedding. It was a moving experience for him, he said.
“The way that they looked at each other the way they interacted was exactly the same as the hundreds of others couples I’ve shot,” he said in a phone interview. “That was a profound experience. It makes you realize that type of life is genuine and real. And that wasn’t something I had been exposed to.”
Ivie, married with two children and three Golden retrievers, had had a similar moment the year before. He was impressed by the gay couple he saw holding hands while walking along the main river in Boise, Idaho, where he was visiting for a work trip.
“They were unashamed,” the 40-year-old said. “And it just kind of stuck with me.”
Ivie, a Republican and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says he had been attracted to men since he was 9 years old, but had always felt it was wrong. But these two experiences helped him make the decision to accept his sexuality, and begin the process of telling his family, friends and community.
That process became public this week when Ivie disclosed his sexuality in a five-minute video he posted on YouTube and Facebook. The video, published Wednesday, drew wide attention from local news sites in the conservative state.
“There is no easy way to say this," Ivie says in the video. “I might as well just jump up and say it: I’m gay. That’s my reality, and that’s what I need to talk to you about today.”
Ivie said that his decision was driven by both the change that had happened within himself, and the hope that he could prevent some of the suffering he went through for others like him. He “felt I was living someone else’s life rather than my own,” he said.
He had attempted suicide in his early 20s and continued to wrestle with his sexuality for years.
“Someone out there is the 22-year-old version of me that is confused, is suffering and doesn’t think they’re valued and are contemplating ending their life,” he said, pausing through tears. “They need to know that they’re valued and needed and they’re loved."
Ivie said he had always known he was attracted to men but figured that something was wrong with him. He grew up in what he describes as a “very conservative traditional Western family."
“You grow up and raise cows and horses. That’s the life that’s expected of you," he said. "I felt like I was broken, there was something flawed with me.”
He said he was never taught that homosexual people were bad outright, but that something was off or screwed up with them biologically.
The Church of Latter Day Saints does not support homosexuality, calling gay marriage a “serious transgression,” as recently as last month.
“The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is,” a quote from an elder says on its official page about homosexuality. “Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”
Ivie declined to comment on the church’s stance. He said his religion has grown stronger through the process of coming out.
“My faith in God and my savior has increased through this process,” he said.
And he said that he did not believe that being a Republican was incompatible with his sexuality either, saying he believed strongly that gay people should be allowed to be married.
“I believe in small limited government. I believe in the Constitution. And the greatest way for people to live authentically is to protect individual rights and liberties,” he said. “When it came to marriage, I was very adamant that government shouldn’t be involved in the marriage business at all.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivie spoke out against a Fourth of July parade in Provo, the largest town in his county, after it excluded several LGBTQ organizations in 2018. He called the festival’s decision "bulls---” — he later apologized for his “cowboy English” — and threatened to rescind the event’s county funding, according to the Tribune.
"I didn’t think somebody would be stupid enough to do what they did,” he said at the time.
The festival eventually allowed the organizations to participate. Jim Dabakis, a former state senator who is also gay, wrote about the event and Ivie’s stance.
“He was bold. He was strong. And turns out--he was in the closet,” Dabakis wrote on Twitter. “Welcome to an honest life, Nathan.”
Other local Republicans have released statements in support.
“My instinct is just to embrace Nathan Ivie,” Tanner Ainge, another Utah county commissioner wrote on Twitter. “Today I stand with him as a friend, valued colleague, and fellow Republican.”
In the video he posted, Ivie said that he and his wife planned to dissolve their marriage though they had come to a place of “loving understanding.”
Ivie said that he has been overwhelmed by the positive response to his disclosure.
“My neighbors love me. I love my neighbors. And I live in a small ranching community,” he said. “Because around here, we aren’t defined by a single issue. We’re defined by the content of our character and how we help each other.”
Mormons are the most consistently Republican-leaning religious group in the United States, and they make up a majority of the population in Utah, one of the most reliably conservative states. But there have been some signs of a split between the state’s political world and the far-right turn of the Trump administration. Voters elected Republican Mitt Romney, an occasional Trump critic, to replace retiring senator Orrin Hatch, also a Republican, in 2018, and in a congressional district around Salt Lake City, ousted Republican Mia Love in favor of Democrat Ben McAdams.
Last month, Matthew Easton, 24, a commencement speaker at Brigham Young University, the flagship academic institution of the Mormon church, was greeted with cheers when he told the audience that he was “proud to be a gay son of God.”
Easton, the valedictorian of BYU’s political science department, told The Washington Post at the time that he was inspired by Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., and presidential contender who is gay and has spoken about his sexuality and his Christian faith.
Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.