Did the Mormon Church Just Take a Step Toward LGBT Love?

The LDS put up $20 million to defeat gay marriage, and also may be on the road to tolerance.

Prop 8 protesters outside Mormon temple
Anti-Prop 8 activists protest outside the Mormon temple of Los Angeles (Photo: Danny Moloshok / Reuters)
Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

This past Wednesday, CNN.com’s Dan Merica wrote what seemed like one of the most improbable paragraphs on gay rights in quite some time.

Though the church’s doctrine condemning homosexuality has not changed, and the church remains opposed to same-sex marriage, many say the church is subtly but unmistakably growing friendlier toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including voicing support for some gay rights.

The church Merica was referring to is the Mormon Church—the single biggest bankroller of Proposition 8: the ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in California. Despite the fact that only 2 percent of Californians are Mormon, the church put up half of the $40 million PR campaign it took to pass the bill. Gay rights leaders across America were livid at what they considered to be the church’s out-of-state, homophobic interference in a California civil rights issue—and negative press hit the Church hard. Bad blood has lingered ever since.

Prior to Prop 8’s public relations nightmare for the church, a gay or lesbian Mormon looking to come out would have had a hard time finding the sympathetic ear of a fellow Mormon.

Many gay rights activists across America sniffed out Merica’s piece as a PR campaign to deodorize the political stink from Prop 8. But GLBT activists in Salt Lake City, home of the Mormon religion, who interact with Mormons every day, say that while the church hasn't altered its positions on homosexuality much, that the Prop 8 fallout had unintended positive consequences.

“Prop 8 opened up a conversation,” says Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Salt Lake City-based GLBT support organization Utah Pride Center. “All of a sudden the Church was seen in a very poor light because of all the media scrutiny, and it became important to them to reach out to our community to understand why.”

Prior to Prop 8’s public relations nightmare for the church, gay and lesbian issues weren’t discussed. A gay or lesbian Mormon looking to come out would have had a hard time finding the sympathetic ear of a fellow Mormon. Homosexuality simply did not occupy a space in the Mormon view of the world. Post Prop 8, however, says Brian Benington, co-director of the Salt Lake City branch of Affirmation—a Mormon GLBT group that advocates for full equality for gay and lesbian Mormons in the Church—identifying as gay or lesbian is actually permitted within the church. Acting upon those feelings, however, is still not tolerated.

“If you attend service at a Mormon chapel with a partner in an intimate gay relationship, even if that relationship is non-sexual, there’s a very good chance you will be excommunicated,” says Benington.

In the Mormon faith, all sexual acts outside of marriage, including masturbation, are considered sins on par with violence. Homosexuals cannot be married because they cannot procreate. That view hasn’t changed since Prop 8. There have been no church directives to the contrary. Benington says that Mormonism is typically guided from the top down. Grassroots movements within the church have never really existed. That, however, is slowly changing in the case of gay rights.

“There’s no uniformity,” Benington says. “Salt Lake City is actually a very gay-friendly city. You could be living here and your bishop might know you are partnered and might not say anything. But you could move 10 miles away, under a more conservative bishop, and be excommunicated within a few days.”

Benington says he doesn’t expect the church to alter its views on homosexuality anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.

“Unlike, say, many evangelicals,” says Benington, “Mormons don’t believe in the literal truth of the bible. There is room for metaphor. Mormons are amazing people. They are generally kind to everybody. So there may come a day when they start to consider that loving homosexual relationships are nothing like the acts depicted in Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m actually surprised they haven’t already come to that conclusion.”

Mormonism isn’t the only modern religion that marginalizes or condems homosexuality. What will it take before tolerance is embraced by all people of faith? Tell us in comments.

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