Former members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (better known as the Mormons), Jared and Chad, recently got engaged in the most romantic city in the world. As they walked along the Seine in Paris, after midnight, Chad told Jared that he'd asked their three kids if it was okay if he proposed to their dad.
"He said they were really excited and happy, and so I have something to ask you," Jared said, describing the proposal. "And that's when he got down on one knee and proposed."
The two plan to marry in September 2018. But the road that led Chad and Jared to find each other was a complicated one. Jared is a father to three children from a previous straight relationship, and both are ex-members of the LDS Church. Here's how the men learned to first love themselves and then found one another.
When Jared was 21 and just returning from serving a full-time LDS mission, he confided in his church leaders and his bride-to-be about his sexuality.
"They were all very encouraging," said Jared. "At the time, that was what you told guys who were dealing with homosexuality, or in their mind, toying with it."
They encouraged Jared to get married, in what was called a "mixed-orientation" marriage. The LDS Church believes marriage to be a stage of life that is required by followers in order to go to heaven. Jared and his ex-wife were led to believe that by praying and going to the temple, his homosexual urges would disappear.
They made it through eight years of marriage, and during this time, they had three children together. Ultimately, they tried to keep their marriage together for their kids.
"We really put up a good fight to try and do it for the kids." said Jared. "But we got to a point where we realized that what we believed in life and the LDS church didn't fit that pathway."
Jared's ex-wife knew he needed to be with a man, and she needed a man who could fulfill her own needs. Their split was amicable, and they decided it was best to leave the church. They now co-parent their three kids together.
Jared had spent so much of his life fighting his authentic self and being dedicated to his church that learning to accept his sexual orientation was a challenge. But his ex-wife supported him and encouraged him to be happy and live his life. Jared's family also wanted him to be happy and to know that he is loved.
Chad's involvement with the LDS church, however, was a bit different to Jared's. Originally from California, Chad moved to Utah when his mother remarried. He was 18 at the time. Chad's relationship with the church was more relaxed, he surmises, since he had lived in California rather than Utah. Chad explained that there can be a big difference for Mormon kids who live outside of the state.
Chad went on a 2-year mission soon after moving to Utah, and when he returned, he said he tried to date Mormon girls to pretend that he was straight. He stopped after awhile, realizing that his feelings for them weren't going anywhere. Chad eventually came out to his family, who were accepting.
Chad and Jared met over a year ago on a photo shoot. Chad is a professional photographer. Jared, a model and videographer, was being pestered by his agent for new portfolio shots. Jared found Chad's profile on Facebook.
"I liked his work and then I clicked on his profile saw that he was really handsome and I was like, 'Okay, well, I'll just send out a FB request anyway.'"
Chad responded and they set up a photo shoot. After the shoot, the guys had time to talk. They ended up talking for two hours in Chad's truck, and immediately felt a connection. After dating for months and establishing their commitment to each other, Chad met the kids.
Jared's three children took to Chad almost immediately.
"They really love Chad," said Jared. "I dare to say that they like him more than they like me. I'm obviously the disciplinarian, and he's the fun new dad that loves them."
Both Jared and Chad had always wanted children. For Chad, to became dad (who the kids call his "Chaddy") almost overnight was like a dream come true.
The two dads share many of their family photos on their very popular Instagram accounts. Their photos are stunning and capture beautiful moments of the family enjoying quality time together. They created their accounts to show their out and proud family, and how happy they are now that they love themselves.
Chad and Jared have a message for others who are not yet out.
"Regardless of what your past is, you can still accomplish personal happiness, and family is a big part of that … Even though it's not traditional and it doesn't look the same, we can still have everything we wanted growing up. That's what we're showing. We're happy and we're being ourselves."
The dads get emails and messages constantly from their followers, telling them how much their accounts have helped them be happy and to accept themselves.
The newly engaged couple want people to know that it's an ongoing process for them, too. Happiness is attainable, they say, but you have to work for it.
"Things will get better," says Chad. "It's always a process. Just love yourself. Don't try and please other people."
"That's the best way to put it," added Jared. "And I think, ultimately, it's true what they say, love always wins."
Look through more stunning family photos by Chad and Jared below, and make sure to check their blog. Follow the dads on their Instagram accounts: @chadshehee @jleolyn. For Chad's professional photography website, visit here.