Mormons Take Even More Activist Message to DC Pride March

One week after last Sunday’s Mormons Building Bridges contingent headed the Salt Lake City gay pride parade, Mormons will again take to the streets this Saturday, to march in the Washington D.C. pride parade—the second in a series of ten pride parade contingents planned by a loose coalition of grassroots Mormon groups nationwide.

In Salt Lake City, Mormons Building Bridges stressed a very simple message of love and understanding, an important step, organizers felt, towards addressing feelings of pain, division, and estrangement over LGBT issues in Utah families, congregations, and communities.

Members of the LDS Church will march with a more activist message and behind a different banner in Washington, D.C.: that of Mormons for Marriage Equality, a grassroots Mormon organization that seeks to promote not only love and understanding, but also full equality under the law for LGBT people. The contingent is expected to be smaller than the 300 to 400 who marched in Salt Lake City. Then again, the message is even more political

I spoke with Spencer Clark, a straight, active member of the LDS Church, and father of two children, about his planned participation in the Mormons for Marriage Equality DC Pride contingent.

Tell me why you’re marching.

I’m marching because I want to make a statement to [the] LGBT community and my friends that I support and accept them and I believe they should have the same rights as I do. And I want to demonstrate as well that Mormons are willing to stand up for fairness. We are not foes. And we’re not a monolith. Mormons have all sorts of different views about LGBT issues.

There are different stakes for your involvement in the DC Pride parade, given the fact that marriage equality will be on the ballot in MarylandInitially, there were reports of political organizing on the Maryland measure in Mormon communities. What have you seen?

We’re seeing a stark contrast to what happened with Proposition 8 in California. I lived in D.C. when marriage equality passed there. The only thing I heard then was a very brief statement in Sunday meetings, just an announcement that there was to be a vote, and we should make our opinions known. He didn’t say what opinions we should have. In Maryland, I’ve only seen one call for signature gatherers that went out over one congregation’s email list. 

But even without formal LDS Church involvement in Maryland, you feel compelled to take a more political stance than the Salt Lake City marchers.

Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Many good members of the Church here, and across the country, disagreed with Proposition 8 and the tactics we used to pass it. While we won’t see a repeat of that in Maryland, we can’t just be silent either. The shadow from California is long and will hang over Mormons until we speak up to counter it. The prospects for marriage equality looking increasingly good in the state, but still too close for comfort.

In addition to all the other influential voices such as President Obama and Colin Powell who have spoken out in support, I’m convinced that when non-traditional allies such as Mormons and Catholics join the chorus it will help us make history in Maryland. It’s a rare opportunity to show not just that we love and tolerate gays and lesbians, but that we truly accept them as equals and are willing to risk persecution from our own camp for what we believe is right. While our parade contingent may be smaller than Mormons Building Bridges in Salt Lake City, I believe our message will be all the more powerful.

Many Mormons and non-Mormons alike would ask you how you reconcile your support for marriage equality with the public stance of the LDS Church.

It comes down to the fact that I recognize and appreciate that we live in a pluralistic society. I don’t believe it’s right to legislate our morality based on our beliefs. I wouldn’t want some other religion to do that to me. There is no compelling state interest in denying marriage to gays and lesbians. I know the blessings marriage and family has brought me, and I don’t enjoy knowing that there are many people who don’t have that opportunity. I have good Mormon friends who spar with me on this—they themselves have told me they believe that there is no compelling argument for opposing same-sex marriage except that God says so. But in America, that’s not how things work.

Will the parade this Saturday be your first demonstration in support of same-sex marriage?

In 2009, with Prop 8 wounds still fresh, I went to a rally in support of the marriage equality legislation being considered in DC. Positioned near the front of the crowd I stood with my sign proclaiming: “I am a Mormon for Marriage Equality.” I went alone and not many people talked with me, aside from a Fox News reporter who was rather intrigued. But I knew I was not alone in my belief: we were just unorganized. Now, faithful Mormons are banding together to share a powerful message, and we hope that other Mormons who may have been previously afraid to show their support for civil marriage equality will see us and feel emboldened to “come out of the closet”. That pioneer spirit is still in our blood, and it’s sorely needed here and now on one of the most critical civil rights issues of our time. So like pioneers, we walk. I will be walking with my wife and two kids. In church clothes. I’ll be wearing a white shirt. And a pink tie.

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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.