Mormons and Gay Marriage During This Election Cycle

We all remember Proposition 8 in 2008. The First Presidency of the Church ordered a letter be read to California wards to “do all you can” to ensure the proposition passed. Arguably, it would not have passed without Mormon involvement. Lots of members fell away from the Church during and immediately after that period.

In 2009, the Church supported the nondiscrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City. While some thought of this as a mere public relations move to assuage backlash against the Church after Prop 8, the Church wanted to make a point that it was “against discrimination.” More importantly, I would argue, the Church found the ordinances to be a middle ground in terms of granting “civil rights” while also respecting “religious liberty” — meaning, religious institutions such as the Church were exempt from the ordinances. I think this fact kind of deflates the Church’s support for the ordinances, except to the extent that the Church demonstrated itself to be a reasonable community player in a religiously plural atmosphere.

In 2009, 2010, 2011 and today, the Church has been watched closely in terms of its involvement in same-sex marriage developments domestically and abroad. What seems to be the case is that if and when Church HQ is involved, it acts more clandestine, or political efforts happen from the ground up.

Speaking of grassroots, what we’re seeing this election cycle are more Mormons for marriage equality being vocal and politically active. The feeling that being vocally pro-gay marriage will result in church discipline has dissipated (I’ve even read that the Church has specifically told bishops not to discipline on this topic). “Mormons for Marriage Equality” groups are popping up. For now, it’s mostly online activity, but I suspect throughout this summer, there will be contingents of Mormons marching in pride parades, publicly as Mormons for marriage equality. In autumn, Mormons for marriage equality will perhaps be canvassing for the Maine, Washington, Minnesota, Maryland (did I forget anywhere?) referendums.

While Mormons for marriage equality are probably still a small minority, it’s possible for conversation to snowball to a point where church leaders will have to address this emergent discourse.

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12 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    What seems to have dissipated is a feeling that being vocally pro-gay marriage will result in church discipline.

    The leaders of the CoJCoL-dS would have to be pretty stupid to discipline anyone for political activity between now and the election, and everyone knows it. (Except possibly disciplining people for political use of church directories or other resources — if the church would publicly make it clear that’s not OK, it would probably improve the church’s image.) But if they were to use church discipline to punish people for speaking out on a political issue like marriage equality, it would be all over the media, confirming people’s fears about the church institution’s control over its members’ politics.

    There’s no way of knowing what will happen next year, though!

  2. chanson says:

    Did you catch this part of Joanna’s interview you linked?

    A letter about Referendum 74 has been read in some Washington stakesbut not all, so were not sure if it came from Salt Lake City or notand the letter encouraged members to vote for the initiative but instructed them not to use ward contact lists for campaigning or to say they were campaigning or voting on behalf of the LDS Church. The letter even specified that the letter itself should not be printed or distributed, only read by the bishop to congregations.

    I think that last bit is so hilariously typical of the church’s strategy: Don’t ever give a clear statement on anything potentially controversial; tell everyone loudly and often that only official spokespeople for the church are authorized to say anything about the church, and then make sure that no official statements exist on any subject that we don’t want to be pinned down on.

    So tempting, too!! Makes me want to ask if any Mormons from Washington can tell us more about the letter! 😀

  3. leftofcentre says:

    What I would like to know is how many church members were politically ‘on the fence’ or didn’t care about any of these gay marriage/civil partnership propositions, like Prop 8, but felt compelled to vote the way the leaders of the church said they should vote? Looking around the room at a sunday school lesson I attended about five years ago, and seeing the numbers of scrunched foreheads and confused looks while listening to a lesson on preserving the family, I’d have to say there are a fair few Mormon fence sitters who only voted thinking they were following the prophet, rather than actually believing that it was a good thing to strip people of their legal rights to form a binding partnership.

  4. Alan says:

    chanson@1: Perhaps it’s not so much church discipline that was the general fear, but just a feeling that as a Mormon, it was not appropriate to be publicly for marriage equality due to the fact that the prophet isn’t. These days, though, it seems like more and more Mormons are okay with being publicly against the stance of their church. That’s partially why I’m hopeful there’ll be more internal conversation.

    In 2008, a conversation might’ve gone like this:

    Person A: Those gays want to get married because A, B, and C
    Person B: But as Mormons we believe X, Y, and Z
    (end of conversation)

    In 2012, this could potentially be added:

    Person A: Actually, I know of some Mormons who think gays should get married
    Person B: But the prophet says —
    Person A: I’m just saying, we Mormons don’t all believe the same thing

    leftofcentre@3: I think there are a number of people who’ve made an about-face in the last few years. Like this guy — Brad Carmack who in 2009 made calls to Maine to help ban gay marriage there, but has since been popping up in lot of different forums as a supporter of marriage equality. He seems like a young guy, especially eager to make a difference, and I imagine there are a lot of young Mormons who now view 2008 with a more critical eye.

  5. Alan says:

    If the Church would like to put a positive spin on this development, it would be this: seeing Mormons march in gay pride parades [in support of marriage equality] will go a long way in many people’s minds at nuancing their feelings about Mormons as political enemies. It will certainly go further than lecture after lecture about “agreeing to disagree.”

  6. Sara Long says:

    Hi Alan, I came across this post while googling “marching in Pride Parades” to figure out whether both Pride and Parade are capitalized, just Pride, or neither. No conclusions yet, but would you like to join us in the march? We’ll be in Seattle on June 24th (it’s too bad that happens the same day as the march in San Francisco, or I would toootally jet to the City by the Bay).

    chanson – to the best of my knowledge, the letter read in some stakes in Washington:
    – was read during 3rd hour, RS & PH, on May 6th
    – was signed by the “presidency”, but not stated which presidency – stake, area, first
    – stated it should be read as many times as necessary but not photocopied or distributed
    – paraphrasing, read: the usual disclaimer neutrality of LDS Church on matters of politics; pointed out two upcoming ballots on marriage and marijuana; reminder of LDS Church values on marriage and family and of the potential threat to both; ended with encouragement to take part in civic voting matters, be informed on the issues, be registered to vote.

    If they try it again it will also be spoken of widely again, as will any such attempt in Maryland, Maine, or Minnesota. Fortunately the LDS church is politically neutral ;), and thus us members can vote according to the dictates of our own consciences and let it be known when our fellow church members try to use church resources to influence votes.

  7. chanson says:

    Sara — Thanks for the information on the letter and on the marches!! I hope some people reading this can join in one march or the other.

    Everyone, please have a look at the Mormons for Marriage Equality site to see what this group is all about.

  8. Alan says:

    Okay — so it looks like the Seattle, Portland and San Fransisco parades will have banners specifically about “Mormons for Marriage Equality.”

    Salt Lake City looks to have one called “Mormons Building Bridges,” which is already receiving some negative attention from members of the LGBT community:

    Ugh, it’s really disheartening how naive the SLC Pride organizers are. This is an utterly transparent and cynical election year ploy to make Mormons (i.e., Mitt Romney) look gay friendly.

    I think the Seattle/Portand/San Fran banners will have more luck, since they’re being specific in their support for marriage equality (which also takes the focus off Romney).

  9. chanson says:

    @8 I’m happy to see efforts from the Mormons towards reconciliation, but some of the negative commenters over on that link make a valid point: If the Mormons march in the SLC Pride parade without actually saying they favor marriage equality (because, presumably, they don’t), it’s a little like asking for forgiveness without being sorry.

    I think you’re right that the Mormons who are specifically supporting marriage equality will do a better job of actually building bridges.

  10. Alan says:

    The organizer of “Mormons Building Bridges” said of their group:

    We are asking people to have no signage for political causes. In this Pride Parade contingent, we are not taking a stand either way on marriage equality. Our signs are quotes from LDS Church General Authorities, the Bible, and LDS hymns about loving your neighbor.

    The Utah LGBT community was very supportive of the group today. There’ll probably be no commentary from Church HQ. It was easy for Deseret News to fold the group into previous statements about the “Divine Institution of Marriage” and so on.

    But here’s to hoping the “Mormons for Marriage Equality” groups later this month elicit commentary/clarification from the Church due to national attention/confusion. 😀 It’ll be good for the Church to publicly acknowledge the debate within itself…or would it deem some of its own as lost sheep?

  11. chanson says:

    That’s gracious of the LGBT community to have been supportive of the Mormon contingent.

    The DN article you linked highlights why the whole thing was a little questionable:

    the church opposes same-sex marriage but does not object to rights regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing or employment rights

    When the Mormons march wearing their white shirts and carrying GA quotes, they’re affirming their allegiance to the church which says the above — which is a little like expecting gay people to thank them for supporting gay people’s right to be second-class citizens (as opposed to being third class, or outlaws).

    I think it would be very tempting for the GLBT community to say: “Sure, you can march in our parade — as soon as you’re ready to march with us as equals.”

    OTOH, probably a lot of members of the “Mormons Building Bridges” group really do support marriage equality. Plus, these same people will be interacting with GLBT Mormon teens, so it’s probably better not to jump up and burn their bridge.

    That said, I especially agreed with the one comment from that earlier thread you linked that said that maybe the Mormons should start by building the bridge from the other side. I’d be a lot more impressed with the “Mormons Building Bridges” if they’d march in the Pioneer Day parade carrying gay-supportive banners. (Nothing political — just quotes from prominent GLBT leaders about loving your neighbor.)

    It’s coming up in another month or two — here’s hoping they’ll do it!!! 😀

  12. Alan says:

    I agree that a lot of the SLC contingency probably does support gay marriage. Certainly, my own intention is not to burn their bridge, but merely point out how at a meta level, when Mormons around the country read about the parade in SLC, there’s no message different than the official positions of the Church. “Love and understanding” demonstrates little to no movement on the question of “homosexuality as sin.”

    The same can’t be said with the later contingencies who might get bystander Mormons to think about how marriage equality can in fact be a “Mormon” position. “How can they support marriage equality unless they think, *gasp* that homosexuality is not a sin???” I just hope media magnates out there know to concentrate on these upcoming groups.

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