Ed Smart, father of, was forced into the public eye in 2002 when his daughter was abducted from her Salt Lake City bedroom in the middle of the night. She was 14 years old.
Back then, Smart used his voice to fight for her miraculous rescue. Now he's sharing his own story.
In our exclusive interview, Smart reveals how difficult it was to come out as gay to his family and friends – and how it's affected his relationship with his children.
"The thing about it is I never looked at myself as being gay. I know this sounds crazy," Smart told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King.
"I remember guys that kind of came up to me, and I just thought, you know, 'Please just get away. You know, this is not me. This is not me,'" Smart added. "And I felt like, you know, this is not where I want my life to go. I've, you know, gone on a mission, I've, you know, I'm trying to do what I'm supposed to do."
"According to the church," King said.
"According to the church," he responded.
For decades, the Mormon father of six was tormented with an inner truth he did not want to tell, including during the investigation of his daughter's abduction, which dominated news coverage at the time. Elizabeth was kidnapped in June 2002 and rescued nine months later, found only a few miles from her Utah home. Smart said he was worried his secret would be revealed.
"You know here we are the front page of the Enquirer," Smart said.
"So did the police at one point view you as a suspect?" King asked.
"The thing is, when a child goes missing, the first ones that they have to look at is the family," Smart responded.
He explained one of the theories police had about Elizabeth's abduction: "They potentially thought that somebody was blackmailing me… because I was gay."
"That somehow I was having this gay affair, which was absolutely not," Smart said. "In my mind, I thought, 'I've lost Elizabeth, and now I'm losing Lois, and I'm losing my family.' Everything that really means anything to me. How can it be that I have this thing inside of me that I can't get rid of?"
Now 64 and divorced, Smart described how he came out with the truth to his children about a year ago.
"I went in and called each one of them. This was 5 o'clock in the morning," Smart said. "I said, you know, 'Your mother and I are getting a divorce and I'm gay.'"
"But did you ever think, 'Maybe we should gather everyone together and tell every—' I'm just thinking being the child on the other side of that line," King said.
"Right," Smart said. "I wanted each one of them to hear this from me. And yes, it would have been nice if they had been in front of me. But I wanted this pain and this struggle to be over with."
Asked how his children were supposed to process that because it was like he threw a grenade in the middle of the family, Smart said, "That grenade had been building for so many years that when it had an opportunity of going off, it was ready to."
He recounted the children's reactions ranged between "Well, dad, if you're gay, you're gay. I still want you in my life" to the shock of, "You're what? You're what?"
Smart said he has a relationship with his children today.
"I know that they're processing this, they're, you know, probably struggling through this," Smart said. "It's not an easy thing. But I do feel their love. And I'm very, very grateful for that."
Smart was married to his wife, Lois, for 34 years. He said he thought Lois was "the one."
"I mean, really did. I just thought, 'You know, this can work,'" Smart said, adding, "We were happy."
"I mean, during the course of our marriage, you know, there were times where I would have these feelings come up," Smart said. "You know, 'Why do I feel this way? Why do I find this guy super attractive?' And I just wanted to push it down and, you know, 'Please go away. I don't need this in my life.'"
About four years ago, Smart said his wife asked him an unexpected question: "Ed, are you gay?"
"I said, you know, 'What does that mean?'" Smart recounted. "Does that mean that I've been unfaithful to her? Does that mean that I have, you know, gone out and been with other men?"
"Had you?" King asked.
"And my answer was, 'Absolutely not. It never has been,'" Smart said. "And I've fought that. And I don't think that people understand the fight that goes on inside. And I feel horrible that our marriage has ended."
Smart called Lois "a wonderful woman."
"I wish somehow she understood," he said. "I think she believes that it was my choice. And, yes, it was my choice to end our marriage."
"But it wasn't your choice to be gay, you're saying?" King asked.
"It was not my choice to be gay. Until I left her, I was always faithful," Smart said. The question of whether their marriage was a "sham" came up, he said.
"I'm saying, 'Absolutely not. You know, I loved you. We had many good years together.' Was I fighting this internal fight? Yes, I was," he said.
Smart said he'd rather have people hear his truth from him rather than the rumor mill. And to those who say, "Ed, you have a problem," Smart said: "I would say that my problem was that I was trying to be straight when I was gay."
"What is next for Ed Smart?" King asked.
"I don't know what is next for Ed Smart," he said with a laugh, but added he is dating.
"I plan on being happy. And I plan on having a very full life," Smart said. "And I want each one of my children to be happy. And I want Lois very much to be happy."