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Gay rights activists see Mormons softening attitudes toward their community
Gay rights activists hold hands in protest in front of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, in July 2009.
April 17th, 2012
12:25 PM ET

Gay rights activists see Mormons softening attitudes toward their community

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) Kevin Kloosterman, a former Mormon bishop, said he “came out” last year just not in the way that many people associate with coming out.

“I came out and basically made a personal apology to (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) folks for really not understanding their issues, not really taking the time to understand their lives and really not doing my homework,” Kloosterman said in an interview with CNN.

Though not speaking on behalf of the church, the then-bishop stood in front of a crowd of gay and straight Mormons at a November conference on gay and lesbian issues in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered.

Donning a suit and tie, Kloosterman was visibly shaken, struggling to find the right words as tears welled up in his eyes.

“I’m sorry deeply, deeply sorry,” Kloosterman told the group in a speech that was captured on video. “The only thing I can say to those of you who have been so patient, and have gone through so much, is for you to watch and look for any small changes with your loved ones, with your wards (Mormon congregations), with your leaders. And encourage them in this repentance process.”

Kloosterman’s apology was just one example of what many Mormons and church watchers see as a recent shift in the Mormon community’s posture toward gays and lesbians, including by the official church itself.

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.

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Students at the church-owned Brigham Young University recently posted an “It Gets Better” video about the gay and lesbian community there, while a gay Mormon in San Francisco was selected last year for a church leadership position.

A new conference series on gay and lesbian Mormons the same one Kloosterman addressed last year is seeing an uptick in popularity.

Church spokesman Michael Purdy would not comment on whether church members are changing their stance toward gay and lesbian issues but said in an e-mail message: “In the Church, we strive to follow Jesus Christ who showed immense love and compassion towards all of God’s children.”

Purdy wrote, “If members are becoming more loving and Christ-like toward others then this can only be a positive development.”

‘It is definitely getting better’

The Brigham Young students who taped the pro-gay video this month were contributing to a popular video series meant to inspire hope in young people who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality identity.

The video featured students telling stories of being gay at Brigham Young, sharing tales of heartache, loss and even suicide.

“It kind of is a very different world to be gay and Mormon because it feels like neither community accepts you completely,” said Bridey Jensen, a fifth-year senior and acting president of Understanding Same Gender Attraction, the group that posted the video.

Explain it to me: What’s Mormonism?

“We put out the message for youth that are going through this, and we want them to know that we were them a few years ago, and it gets better and there is a place for you,” she said.

Though chastity is a requirement at Brigham Young, gay and lesbian students say they are under more scrutiny. The school’s honor code says that “homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates” the code.

But Jensen said reaction to the video, which has been viewed almost 400,000 times on YouTube, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Carri Jenkins, an assistant to Brigham Young's president, told CNN that the production of the video is not a violation of the honor code and that the students will not be punished.

The honor code, Jenkins said, is “based on conduct, not on feeling and if same-gender attraction is only stated, that is not an honor code issue.”

Jensen said that while gay and lesbian Mormons face a tough road, she sees a shift toward greater acceptance. It is definitely getting better within the church, she said. “They are not so quick to judge. They understand that they don’t understand everything. I am glad I can be a little part of it.”

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Some scholars of Mormonism, such as Columbia University’s Richard Bushman, said they see the very existence of such a gay rights group at Brigham Young as a step toward greater acceptance of gays and lesbians.

“The last 10 years have been a huge sea change in terms of willingness to accept homosexuals,” Bushman said. “Gay kids are still going to have a tough time in the church, but this level of acceptance and acknowledgment that is really that last decade I would say.”

Most gay Mormons point to 2008’s push for Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage in the state but has faced legal challenge in the courts, as a low point in the relationship between the church and gay and lesbian community.

Mormons make up 2% of California’s population, but they contributed half of the $40 million war chest used to defend Proposition 8, according to a Time magazine report.

The church’s Proposition 8 activism angered many gay rights groups around the country, with some labeling the church “bigoted,” “homophobic” and “anti-gay.”

But church officials pushed back against the perception that the Proposition 8 backlash has provoked a Mormon softening on gay and lesbian issues.

“Many positive relationships have come from the Church’s experience in supporting traditional marriage in California,” Purdy, the church spokesman, said in an e-mail exchange with CNN.

Purdy draws a distinction between being against same-sex marriage and against equality for gays and lesbians.

He reiterated that the church was “strongly on the record as supporting traditional marriage,” but he said its stance should never be used as justification for violence or unkindness.

“The Church’s doctrine has not changed but we certainly believe you can be Christ-like, loving and civil, while advocating a strongly held moral position such as supporting traditional marriage,” Purdy wrote in an e-mail message.

“We do not believe that strong support of traditional marriage is anti-gay,” he wrote. “We love and cherish our brothers and sisters who experience same gender attraction. They are children of God.”

Church doctrine says that sex outside marriage is a sin and can lead to excommunication. Since gay people cannot be married in the church, any sex for them would be premarital and, therefore, sinful.

“The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear,” the church’s website says. “It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.”

Openly gay and a church leader

Mitch Mayne seems to relish his role as a lightning rod.

Mayne, an openly gay Mormon who blogs about homosexuality and the church, received the calling a term Mormons use for being invited into a church position in August.

Mayne is now executive secretary in a San Francisco ward of the church.

“I view myself as gay and being completely whole as being gay,” Mayne said.

Many observers of Mormonism say Mayne’s calling marked a unique moment in church history. Purdy said that Mayne’s appointment is “not unique,” but it’s hard to find precedent for an outspokenly gay executive secretary.

Mayne said he sees his job as building bridges with the gay community in San Francisco and showing them “there are pockets in the Mormon Church where you can be yourself.”

The biggest obstacle toward building those bridges is the threat of excommunication, said Mayne, who told CNN that in some wards just being gay can lead to expulsion from the church.

According to church doctrine, a formal disciplinary council can be called at the request of church leader.

While the leaders of the church mandate councils called for murder, incest or apostasy, it has a long list of reasons to call a disciplinary council.

According to the church’s website, the list of reasons includes “abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations. …”

Some wards are observing that guidance while others aren’t, Mayne said.

“Here in the Bay Area ... we are no longer seeking out LGBT members of the church and excommunicating them,” Mayne said. “Our role is to bring people closer to the Savior, so if we are routinely excommunicating people, then we are really not doing our job.”

Mayne said he believes the challenge is to convince church leaders that they don’t ever have to excommunicate gay members.

And he said the Proposition 8 campaign was the “least Christ-like thing we have ever done as a church.”

“Not only did we alienate gays and lesbians, but we alienated their parents, their friends, those who support them the ripple effect went way beyond the gay community, and I don’t think we were prepared for such a negative fallout,” Mayne said. “I think the church deserved the black eye they received.”

He added, “As a result of that really horrible time, I think we are entering a really good time to be a gay Mormon. It is getting better.”

‘Mormonism doesn’t simply wash off’

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks, the City Council of Salt Lake City listens. At least the council seemed to in 2009 when it voted on an ordinance to make it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgendered residents in housing and employment.

"The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage,” church spokesman Michael Otterson told the council.

Shortly after the church’s expression, the City Council approved the measure unanimously.

Many gay rights activists said they saw the move as an olive branch after the Proposition 8 debate.

“The tone and the culture is evolving, and the way the LGBT people are being treated is changing. I don’t think the church’s policy has caught up to that change in culture,” said Ross Murray, director of religion, faith and values at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “The Mormon church hasn’t gotten nearly as politically involved as they had since 2009.”

Though Murray sees the church lobbying for anti-discrimination laws as a positive step, he said the church’s shift is more about style than substance.

“It is going to take a lot of intentional effort to actually prove they are different,” Murray said. “That burden, because of the really public nature of their support of Prop 8, falls harder on the Mormon church than others.”

Joanna Brooks, a popular Mormon blogger and president of Mormon Stories, a nonprofit group that facilitates conversations on Mormon issues, echoes Murray’s sentiments.

She said she sees the church’s stance as challenging gay Mormons to choose between the religion they most likely grew up with and their desire for romantic companionship.

“Mormonism doesn’t simply wash off,” she said, adding that the church can’t make it that “either you are gay or you are Mormon, or either you support gay rights or you support the church.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: California • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Mormonism • Utah

soundoff (1,904 Responses)
  1. uisignorant

    I wonder if CNN is thinking.... "You know people will think isn't this Romney's church? Let's slant it and paint it in a bad light."

    April 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      Why would Mormons progressing in their view of gays make people think badly about Mormonism?

      April 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  2. kgcomments2

    I see it as a new good approach get them into church and make them understand the bible and what it says about the activity. They are Gods children too but don't understand there is a price to pay for the choice.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "They are Gods children too but don't understand there is a price to pay for the choice."

      Gays don't choose to be gay. If you actually knew the real facts you wouldn't make such a stupid statement. The scholars have shown that was is condemned in the bible has nothing to do with what we know and understand about gays TODAY! Part of reading comprehension 101 is you put the scriptures into historical perspective to get the true meaning. When you do that all the bible is condemning is male prostitution, idolatry and bad hospitality.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  3. Jack sortino NE

    This like saying republicans are warming up to Obama ..... Not even close

    April 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Pope on a Rope

    A mormon is running for President. The Mormon church suddenly takes a more moderate social stance. I'm sure these two things are purely coincidental

    April 17, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Ben

      Dude, Mormons don't want Mitt Romney. We don't vote based on religion. I vote based on record and principle. Ron Paul is the only correct choice IMHO.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • serge1610

      Exactly my take on this.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Civil Servant

      No where in this article does it say that the LDS church has made any changes to their stance, nor did they contact CNN trying to sell a message. This article is referring to the members of the church who are becoming more accepting towards gays and lesbians.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Purdy

      You really don't have any idea, do you?

      April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  5. TomCom

    The goverment should stay out of it. Discrimination is wrong, period!.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  6. mike hunt

    the gospel is perfect, the people that try to follow it or understand it are not.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  7. Reilleyfam

    NOT A CHANCE = PRE ELECTION LIES.

    The Romney PR machine at work. Dont fall for it.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  8. lynne

    I swear, you should have to pass some kind of test to be allowed to comment, it would weed out so many ignorant comments.

    1. Let's not regurgitate buzz phrases read god-knows-where on internet blogs.
    2. Equating all Mormons as polygamist fundamentalists (an offshoot sect not even recognized by the Mormon church) is as ignorant as calling all Muslims terrorists or all Christians creationist evangelicals. I am not a Mormon, but if you're calling for tolerance while in the same sentence condemning and profiling Mormons, then I have a real hard time respecting anything you have to say.
    3. Equal rights is about taxes, the economy, and other government rights. Not about religion. Every human being deserves the same rights as everyone else, because they are citizens of this country, regardless of how you feel about their lifestyle. PERIOD.
    4. Please, research something before you spew intolerance, hate and stupidity.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Very well said, lynne.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • TeamFan not Playerfan

      I love being a Mormon it is the only true church on Earth today! You all should really consider looking into it with an open heart and then you will soon see and feel the blessings that come along with it.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Civil Servant

      Thank you. I couldn't agree more.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  9. JS

    The mormon church has run a concerted and comprehensive campaign against gays for decades now. I first became aware of it when they bullied the boy scouts into banning gays. I've never been a mormon nor do I wish to be, but they have still taken much from me and others I love through their strong arm poltical and financial tactics. When they mount a similar campaign to reverse the damage, then I'll believe it. In the meantime, the church's spiteful actions will remain a great sadness to the memory of christ.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  10. Slimartinez

    The Mormon Church will stop at nothing to see their White Horse Prophecy fulfilled. That's all I have to say...

    April 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Ben

      I'll say it once, and I'll say it a millions times. The Mormon Church is not behind Romney. I'm Mormon and I don't want him as president. There are hundreds of thousands of others like me. We want Ron Paul. It's not a religious test.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  11. Jay

    Turn it off, like a light switch
    just go click!
    It\'s a cool little Mormon trick!
    We do it all the time
    When your feeling certain feels that just don\'t feel right
    Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light
    and turn em off,
    Like a light switch just go bap!
    Really whats so hard about that?
    Turn it off! (Turn it off!)

    April 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  12. fu9l

    those who think about gays have a seroius problem does it affect you directly did god say judge them and pericute them NO NOT AT ALL it is not yuior job to hate them nor judge them think its about time you holly rollers take a closer look at your bibles and rethink what your doing before you end up in hell ......

    April 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Slimartinez

      Speaking of reading your Bible, get a good old King James Version and read Romans Chapter One over several times. It is not loving people to lie to them about the Truth! God loves all of us, we are all qualified as sinners, but He will NOT excuse sin. He has provided a way to escape judgement and hell, the problem is ignorant people reject Jesus' free gift and fanticize that God will accept them IN their sin. not happening, He made a way, unfortunately people given over to reprobate stubborn self serving, self satisfy, self justifying minds insist they can do it their own way. sad, sad, sad thing. we must still preach and teach them the TRUTH in love.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Speaking of reading your Bible, get a good old King James Version and read Romans Chapter One over several times"

      Yeah and it has nothing to do with what we know and understand about gays today. It has to do with pagan worship using sex rituals and male prostitution.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • YeahRight

      Actually, I'll read it myself and get back to you.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Actually, I'll read it myself and get back to you."

      Got to love the emotionally insecure people who have to steal handles.

      April 19, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  13. Donna Brandes

    The Mormon Church is doing everything it can to change its warped image so Romney will be elected. Have you seen the commercials (Hi, I'm so and so and I'm a such and such and I'm a Mormon!)? "The Church" bragged about being more tolerant of alcohol, too, but that ended when the Olympics left town in 2002! Mormons are intolerant and divisive. Period! Prejudice and intolerance are central to Mormon dogma - even Brigham Young admitted they're the biggest and best liars in the world (read about the church's history). This post is being shared by someone from Ohio who lived in Salt Lake for 20 years and then got the hell out! Elsewhere in this country, in places where THE CHURCH isn't running the show, Mormons are a little more tolerant of us "non-members." As a general rule, however, believe me, you can't trust the Mormon church's "revelations!"

    April 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Carol Corbett

      When it becomes in their best interest to change their policy, they will - just as they did toward African-Americans and just as they did toward plural marriage - WHEN IT SUITED THEIR OWN INTERESTS.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Donna Brandes

      They only "appear" to change their policy! Members of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" are brainwashed people who are involved in a backwards, divisive, intolerant clique they call "religion" - they're weird and they know it and they'll say or do anything to convince us otherwise! They even had to include the word "saints" in the church name, so they can convince themselves how special they are!!! Blah!! !

      April 18, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • *facepalm*

      @Donna,

      How are mormon beliefs any weirder than, say, Catholics'? I can find anything in mormon theology that rivals ritualistically eating flesh and drinking blood.

      April 18, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  14. Mark Yelka

    I was a Mormon for 13+ years. This article says that things are softening. But, I hardly think that is the case. Mormons who offer personal opinions that are in conflict with Church doctrine are excommunicated from the Church. The Church does not negotiate with members with what should be Church doctrine as this is entirely something that only flows downward from God to the Church's Prophet and 12 Apostles. And, until God says otherwise, to be gay is in direct violation of membership in the Church.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "And, until God says otherwise, to be gay is in direct violation of membership in the Church."

      Yeah, keep fueling the hate and bigotry in our society. It's why your religion is a menace to our society.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • rick

      Who cares if guys like other guys.
      Jesus liked other guys.
      Not one girl at the last supper.
      Did he get laid at all when he was alive?
      Nope. he hung around other dudes.

      But no, yeah the church is right. gays are obviously bad people. *rolls eyes*

      April 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Donna Brandes

      Hey, he said he "WAS" a Mormon - let's give him a lot of credit for apparently NOT being one now! Kudos to you! So many people are raised by their parents to believe this crap (which I consider child abuse) and your own family WILL disown you, at the direction of this "wonderful" Mormon Church, if you decide you don't want to belong. And, when you live in a place like Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church is calling the shots and owns a lot of businesses (perhaps the one that is YOUR employer), it can be very difficult to unchain yourself from this group of "saints." Mark Yelka, you're a smart man if you left the Mormon Church!

      April 18, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Donna Brandes

      And I hope you'll rethink a lot of the prejudice you must have learned being part of that church, like "until God says otherwise, to be gay is in direct violation of membership in the Church." Until God says otherwise . . . really?

      April 18, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  15. NJBob

    Just what we need on the CNN website - another article about religious nonsense!

    April 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  16. John

    This proves LDS is a cult.Recruting anyone they can to Salt Lake for a full fledged brain-washing.Cults don't care if you are gay or straight,just gullible.When you no longer call sin a sin,you are not Christianity,not that Mormonism ever was.The ultra-weathy of Utah want to expand their empire and they no gays have lots of loot=double income -no kids.Romney is a big Mormon power-broker by the way.He's really high-up the chain....and uber-wealthy

    April 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • sipsen

      John's commment proves how ignorant he is about religion and that he lacks serious reading comprehension. By the way, it's "know," not "no."

      April 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  17. Willie12345

    A "former" bishop made the statement, not someone in authority and authorized to speak for the Church's leadership. Until then, it's all politics, being played by a variety of people for their own purposes.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  18. Jack

    This article is full of misrepresentations. Anyone interested in knowing what the church believes can visit.

    http://mormon.org/

    April 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Pat

      I think the Broadway show THE BOOK OF MORMON gives the truest depiction possible.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  19. prsteve11

    What a load of nonsense. Saying sorry to people who are making choices that will send their souls to hell. The only thing uglier than more sad and pathetic than a sinner choosing their sin is a person compromising their views on moral values.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "Saying sorry to people who are making choices that will send their souls to hell. "

      Thanks for showing the Christian stupidity, gays don't choose to be gay and they can't voluntarily change the sexual orientation. So if they are going to hell it's because your god made them gay then put them there and that is NOT something that you should worship!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Really?

      Gay people are no more going to Hell than you unless they are serial murderers or Child molesters and things like that.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • steve3

      Amen!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Reilleyfam

      They arent going to Hell......YOU ARE.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • lynne

      man, Yeahright, and I liked your posts so much until now. "The Christian stupidity" suggests that all Christians are, in fact, anti gay rights and closed minded. As a Christian who is also very pro equal rights (and, like millions of my fellows, I similarly do not believe that the world was made in 7 days or that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, go figure), I must find this post exactly as offensive as the one you commented on. What a shame.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • sam stone

      okay, stevie, let's play. do you feel orientation is a choice? if so, at what age did you make yours?

      April 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Anaf

      You have read things about gays that has been published in the last forty years, right? Doctors, psychologists/psychiatrists, and neuroscientists all have said that being gay is not unnatural or a choice. Let me guess, you also don't believe in gravity, the holocaust or that the earth goes around the sun.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  20. A

    I really hope it's not just some political move. As a gay man, I would much rather have a church say "maybe we don't agree, or don't believe in it, but let's work together and figure it out. We want to understand" instead of "U ARE SUCH A SINNER.....,,,,,,...... UR GOIN TO HELL BECUZ YOU LIKE MEN."
    Equality isn't easy, and it takes time. Respect is key.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Reilleyfam

      LIES LIES AND MORE LIES.

      DONT BELIEVE IT. IT'S PRE ELECTION LIES TO FOOL YOU.

      TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW NOT TO VOTE FOR ROMNEY OR ANY GOP.......or you'll be sorry.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.