Mormons Prepare to March in Seven LGBT Parades this Weekend

This weekend, Mormons are preparing to march in seven LGBT Pride parades: New York City, San Francisco, Houston, Seattle, Cleveland, Twin Cities, and Santiago, Chile. More than 140 Mormons are expected to march in Santiago alone.

It is striking to think that it was four years ago this month that the LDS Church issued a letter to be read to California congregations urging members to full engagement in support of Proposition 8, setting into motion a headline-grabbing Mormon campaign to end civil same-sex marriage in California.

Since then, Mormons for Marriage founder Laura Compton writes, there have been a number of subtle but observable changes in Mormon positioning on same-sex marriage, including:

- The Church Handbook of Instructions no longer includes a request that church members should lobby governments to deny same-sex marriage rights (and rites) via legislative actions.
– LDS rhetoric about same-sex marriage rights is shifting to focus on the need to protect religious freedom, rather than the need to protect families.
– The LDS Public Affairs office actually used the term ‘gay’ to describe individuals, rather than-sex attracted or same-gender attracted in its response to HRC’s criticisms of Pres. Packer’s October 2010 conference talk.
– The LDS Church came out in support of non-discrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City which would protect homosexuals in housing and employment. While there are large carve-outs for church-related/owned businesses, the ordinances in SLC inspired a number of other Utah and Idaho towns and cities to follow suit and opened many conservative Mormon’s eyes to some problems they’d never before considered.
– There have been no church-sponsored efforts aimed at mobilizing Mormons to fight same-sex marriage at the polls the way Mormons were mobilized in California in 2008, despite efforts of other religions originally part of the ‘religious coalition’ that supported Prop 8. General church leaders have gone out of their way to make sure all overt same-sex marriage advocacy is being done by local leaders or individuals.
– Individual Mormons are coming out and telling their own stories – whether they are gay, lesbian, bi, in mixed-orientation marriages, or have family/friends that fit the bill. These discussions are happening on a daily basis in person, in the media, in churches and online as LGBTQ members and allies find one another and give each other strength to carry on, both in and out of the church.

Compton has also noted that the Proposition 8 moment served as a turning point for many moderate and progressive Mormons, pushing them to confront their own discomfort with aggressive political campaigning against the civil rights of same-sex couples and fostering in many a new commitment to supporting full equality under the law for LGBT people.  

Just this summer, since the Mormons Building Bridges contingent in the Salt Lake City LGBT Pride parade, we’ve seen a wave of Mormons come out to friends and family, including Mormons in mixed-orientation marriages and parents of gay LDS children. Their telling of personal stories has an impact on close-knit LDS communities and kinship networks: when Mormons recognize how many families in their wards and stakes are grappling with LGBT issues, it makes it much more difficult for these issues to be framed in oppositional “us” versus “them,” “Mormons” versus “the world” terms, as it was during the political battles of 2008.

Witness this letter sent to me by an LDS Church member who has a gay son and walked in one of the earlier Pride parade contingents this spring. If you’d like to understand the quality of Mormon hearts and minds, please read this:

Our returned missionary son came “out” to us about a year ago. Some of our immediate family—his brothers, one aunt—and a few close friends know he is gay, but he has been quite cautious and we have respected his right to go at his own pace. He could not return to [LDS Church-owned college] due to the stress of hiding who he is. It comes as quite a shock when your son tells you he has been living in fear, in shame, and miserably hiding who he is for 22 years. And looking back at times that must have been so painful such as when his older brother’s friends would come over and the typical teenage talk of “homos” and referring to anything they dislike as “queer”.

It is a heavy burden of guilt to realize how you son felt he could not tell you who he was or what he felt. The happiest days of his life were as a [LDS] missionary when all the issues of being gay disappeared. It gave him two years without the pressure and agony because his identity was that as a missionary. As a result he had absolutely wonderful experiences. Was loved by everyone. Held leadership positions immediately. And longed to not have to return to the US. When he did get home he held on to the ‘other’ identity as long as he could. He would go to the temple every other day. He retyped all his journals and published them in book form. He would wear his badge to church and to the temple on his inside pocket where no one could see it.

My experience with my son has led me to reflect that the necessary line separating the roles of church and state is too blurred. The government should not have the right to restrict religious freedom but at the same time religion should not have the right to attempt to influence governments in an effort to restrict civil rights. Clearly stated and often overlooked is Doctrine & Covenants 134:9. ‘We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.’ The same Constitution that is claimed by scriptures and church leaders to be inspired protects individual rights and equality for all, not just those you agree with or those in the majority. Our responsibility is to protect the rights of all—so that we too can enjoy those same rights.

Many have forgotten the “greatest commandments.” Jesus said we should love God and love our neighbor. On these two things hang all the laws and the prophets ( Mathew 22:37-40). And who is my neighbor that I should love? Everyone. Not just those that are like me. Everyone—because all are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33). The Savior’s parable of the Samaritan is simple and clear.

As demonstrated by polygamy and the questions of blacks and the priesthood—errors happen, policies and doctrines change, personal bias and egos cloud situations, and many years of leaders walking the party line further entrench errors into the culture. Even with today’s means of communication there is a constant need for correction of temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents and other leaders because they are people. Plain ordinary people with their own biases. The purpose of ongoing revelation is to enable the Church to continue to evolve and make course corrections.

Will the Church ever change their position on gays or gay rights? Probably not in my lifetime—but that was the same situation concerning full membership for blacks the first 20 years of my life. It was never going to happen. And we as members stood by ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘sustained those called’ as the Church systematically and openly discriminated against ethnic minorities.

Abraham’s paradox of being asked by God to sacrifice his son—which resembles the situation of LDS parents with gay kids—begs the question, ‘Why is Abraham put in the position of having to prove what was greater, his love of God vs. his love of his son?’ Fortunately, God intervened. But Abraham had another choice available. He could have refused to pick one or the other and instead ask what type of God requires the ritual killing of any human—much more so the sacrifice of his son. Is that the type of deity he should want to worship and serve?

We should ask the same of any organization that places us in a similar situation in regards to our loved ones. We can refuse to make a choice between the Church and a loved one. Rather, ask what type of group or people would require making such a decision and then work to develop a better understanding of our responsibility to love and judge not.

The same with friends and other family members. If they choose to judge then what sort of true friend are they? And what type of Church member are those that fail to see that the true Gospel is a gospel of love—love for God and love for one another. ‘This new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you…. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ (John 13:34-35). And for members of the Church our greater calling is to love all, judge not, and not deny others their right to the freedoms and privileges we enjoy.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.