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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. just sayin

    God created Evil and Sin. God is Sin. God Bless

    April 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • just sayin

      It is impossible for God to sin, sin was found in Satan who is the author of sin,.Satan a liar and a murderer since the beginning. Values not unlike atheists. God bless

      April 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      Evil runs deep through ho mo se xuality as well. God did not make qu-eers, the fa-ggots chose to sin for themselves. God bless

      April 17, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • just sayin

      God Bless is equivalent to God Piss. That's how we got to have water. God pissed I mean blessed on us. Drink up. May God Piss you. Piss you all. Pissings.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • just sayin

      God created Satan. God is all knowing and saw what he was creating. Sin came from the hand of God who created it. God Bless.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • just sayin

      God created everything including homosexuality just so he could piss on us some more. God Piss You.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • just sayin

      All things were created by God. God Bless

      April 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  2. reason

    It is fun to watch religious morality bend with culture norms. It has done this throughout history since its inception. Religious morality is purey subjective. Pick and choose scripture, "pray," and interpret as you see fit.

    Wouldn't you think that if a religion was true that their moral code would stay the same even as society progresses?

    April 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      Religious moral codes DO stay the same as society progresses – THAT'S THE PROBLEM. Rules written by desert dwelling primitives are a ridiculous thing to base 21st century law upon.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • reason

      Then why are adulterers no longer being stoned to death? Why can Christians eat bacon on Sundays?

      Religious morals do slowly change over time.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  3. America = Freedom of Religion. Remember?

    Most Straight People Don't Care What Gay People Do. Are you suppressing something?

    April 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  4. TruthPrevails :-)

    BIGOTS! BIGOTS! ALL OF YOU BIGOTS!
    I DRINK FROM A SPIGOT!
    I RODE ON A FRIGATE!
    I AM NOT JUST A GIGOT YOU BIGOT!

    Where is hippypoet when you need him. I need a critique.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Qubee

    Is the Mormon church running out of believers , and they need to expand their base by tapping into the GLBT morphs?

    April 17, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Qubee

      thicko!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  7. J to the C

    Mormons have funded anti gay marriage initiatives all over the country.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • just sayin

      Good for them. God bless

      April 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Qubee

      To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.Newton's third law!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Anti-Semantics

      How do you make a marriage initiative "anti-gay"?

      Hurry up and get married in the most non-gay way possible!!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Anti-Semantics

      "the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions.Newton's third law!"

      Was that in Principia Matrimonia?

      April 17, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  8. jimy74

    This is what you'll get if Romney is elected......what's next the Taliban's okay, forgiven, .......Al Quida.....their okay now.....
    China has big bucks at lots of potential Mormons, let's get them open to Missionaries and squeeze out the real Christians there, that feeds our coffers more and we do business with China. Boom for rich pals and Mormons...

    April 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • AED15

      Said the uneducated, unevolved man.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Anti-Semantics

      "...let's get them open to Missionaries and squeeze out the real Christians there..."

      That's right, how dare they squeeze out the Church of God with Signs Following.

      – Church of God with Signs Following, "proving God's word through snake handling since 1910"

      April 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  9. Bob

    Let's not forget that this "righteous judge" god that Robert Brown keeps trying to shove at us is really quite the unfair, bigoted ass-hole when you actually look into what he purportedly precribes as punishment.Christian god is apparently anti-gay and racist too, from what a lot of the fundies claim. Seriously, this is a god that purportedly will threaten and punish you with torture forever if you so much as doubt his existence or think a different god exists, or even if you put a foot slightly wrong in your short mortal life. That's just sickening.

    Any modern human court would consider such punishment barbaric, to say the least. And the threats of torture purportedly by such a being would consti-tute criminal assault. Robert Brown's god would be tried and easily convicted by the UN for human rights violations. Seriously. Think about it.

    And then we have Christian god's explicit instructions to torture and rape. This kind of stuff is common in the bible:

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

    And then there are the explicit demands god makes in the OT for brutal animal sacrifice. note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes your sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

    Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

    So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

    That's one very nasty god you've made for yourself there. Look into the eyes of a suffering victim of any of the multiple disfiguring, debilitating, painful diseases that your "loving" god has purportedly created. Then you might understand that Christian god as described in the bible is not loving, doesn't give a hoot about human suffering, and in fact does not exist.

    It's obvious that Christian god does not exist. Grow some courage, get over your silly sky fairy stories, and get with the modern world.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

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

      wow I will pray for you!!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  10. ForGoodOfAll

    Hmm.. all of a sudden, the Mormans are okay with gays. It certainly could not be a coincidence that the Republican presidential candidate nominee is a Morman and this is an election year - or could it...hmmm??? :>)

    April 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  11. AmesIA

    Although I am not a Mormon it is an interesting and encouraging perspective to see them considering this issue thoughtfully. To express a willingness to reconsider their views. If you take the stories of Jesus in totality his harshest words were for the scribes and pharisees and his greatest expressions of love were for the outcast and scorned of his age. Clearly Mr. Kloosterman was inspired by the relevance of that teaching to today.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  12. jimy74

    FLIP FLOP fLIP FLOP Blacks, Women, Gays, Blacks, Women, Polygamy, Women, Health Care, Mandate, Taxes,
    smell a rat

    April 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  13. Pan3

    All of a sudden!?!! Since a Morman is running for President, sounds like they're trying to get the gay vote. What a joke.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  14. James

    How is this news? Slow day eh cnn? WOW

    April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  15. 888 - Neighbor of the Beast

    This is a political ploy. In otherwards,what they want you to believe is that Mitt Romney is Mormon so therefore he is tolerant towards gays. 1 + 1 = 2. See? So read between the lines.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Bart

    Mitt's flip-flopiness is rubbing off onto the church. I wonder if they are doing it to help him get elected?

    April 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  17. Jake90

    "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination." -Leviticus 18:22

    If you are a gay Christian, then you are stupid because according to the Bible you are going to hell for sure :P I'm proud to be an atheist.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • YeahRight

      ""Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination." -Leviticus 18:22"

      That doesn't apply today because it's considered part of the holy code. Can you imagine if it was then also in Lev they would have to kill their children if they talked back to them, a woman would have to marry her rapist! LOL!

      April 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  18. J to the C

    Here's what Mormons believe:

    Jesus and Lucifer are brothers.
    Elohim (God the Father in Mormonism) was once a mortal man and that he was not always God.
    God has a body of flesh and bones.
    God is married in heaven.
    Men can become Gods.
    Temple participation is necessary to become exalted.
    The blood of Christ does not cleanse us from certain sins.
    A person can lose his salvation if he is not baptized on behalf of dead relatives.
    There is more than one God.
    “Celestial polygamy” (Mormon men will have many wives in heaven) is approved by God.
    Faithful members of the church must wear sacred undergarments that have the power to protect them.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • 888 - Neighbor of the Beast

      I know... it's a very strange religion, but in this country we are free to believe what we want.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • jolsen3

      For someone who thinks they know what "Mormons" believe, you only show your ignorance on the subject. These points are pathetic and untrue. Perhaps you should educate yourself before speaking. Better yet, why don't we both spend our time more wisely and go do something useful like serving others.

      April 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  19. Justin

    Why is this news... Further more why is this even front page news. I dont give a damn what any religious group thinks of gay people. Start giving us real news damnit not this stupid crap. If they want to be gay so what I dont really understand being gay but whatever... If you want to a be mormon so what. All this stupid what religions like and dont like is the most ignorant bunch of crap I have ever heard!!!!!

    April 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  20. Mark

    Yea sure.... more friendly to gays. They no longer try to make you straight by attaching electrodes to your genitalia and shock you.

    April 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • MikeB

      Exaggeration. Don't those that are complaining about the LDS Church already do that to themselves for thrills?

      April 17, 2012 at 3:45 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.