Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, announces he is gay

Ed Smart, father of kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart, has revealed that he is gay, sharing in a letter on Facebook that he is divorcing his wife and leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Smart, 64, of Salt Lake City, Utah, was thrust into the international spotlight when his daughter was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in 2002 when she was 14. Elizabeth Smart has credited the faith her family instilled in her with helping her get through her nine-month ordeal.

In a letter to friends and family sent through Facebook Messenger on Thursday, obtained by NBC News, Ed Smart said he was "finally acknowledging a part of me that I have struggled with most of my life and never wanted to accept."

"I have recently acknowledged to myself and my family that I am gay. 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," the father of five wrote.

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Smart added that he has "mostly watched in silence for years as many LGBTQ individuals both in and out of the Church have been victims of ridicule, shunning, rejection and outright humiliation," and said he could no longer deny that he was "numbered among them."

He acknowledged the inner conflict that having such a secret had caused him, revealing that "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."

Smart said he is leaving his wife Lois, and apologized for the "excruciating pain" he was causing her. He also said that while his religion has been "a major part of my life and a great blessing" and that his faith is unwavering, "as an openly gay man, the Church is not a place where I find solace any longer."

During Elizabeth Smart's nine months of captivity, Ed Smart worked tirelessly to keep her name and photo in the public eye, and he and his daughter have since become outspoken advocates for missing and vulnerable children.

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In a statement, Elizabeth Smart — who is now 31 and married with three children — said that her parents taught her from a young age that they would love her unconditionally.

"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," she said.

Ed Smart on Friday called the decision to come out "deeply personal but liberating," and said he was "grateful for the amazing love and support from everyone."

"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," he told NBC News in a statement.

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