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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. Yawn

    In case you care CNN:

    Gay articles = overdone and boring
    Mormon articles = overdone and boring

    April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • KC

      Well said!!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • rustupid

      Republican stories = over done and boring
      How can you tell if a Republican is lying? Words come out of their mouth

      April 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • boocat

      So go to another site.....yawn....

      April 17, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Riley

      I actually enjoy reading articles about Mormons. They are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  2. Michael Worley

    This article is spinning. The bishop is not the same significance as the church spokesman, yet CNN puts the position they agree with first, never mind the truth. Thanks, CNN for bias. As the spokesman said, our church is pro-love and pro-traditional marriage.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Andrew

    CNN is pushing their gay agenda. They used to be news, now, they're an interest group that is socially engineering our society.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • J.W

      You should try reading Fox News website sometime. It is way more biased that CNN.com.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Brian

      Notice that this isn't a news article but a religious blog article. It says so right in your URL "religion.blogs.cnn.com".

      April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  4. mit mcromney

    Poly – more than one, ticks – blood sucking parasites.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Andrew

    Lesbians are hot, but gay dudes, gross.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • edwardo

      Sounds like you've been checking those dudes out... dude!

      April 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  6. pat carr

    I'm not impressed or convinced in any way. They're just having to do this because of public pressure and changing beliefs. They had plenty of time before this.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  7. KC

    What is up with CNN, putting up all of these "Gay People" stories on their website every other day? Why is this even news? Who gives a rip about the Mormon church and gays? Not me!!

    April 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Mavent

      ...and yet, here you are, commenting on the story when you could have easily ignored it.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • KC

      Actually...you presume too much. I did not read the article..I only made the comment.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Riley

      My advice to you to read the article before you comment.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  8. ReaganDem

    If anyone thinks that the Morman Church has changed it's views on gays in the last couple of months, then you're crazy. This is a sad attempt to appease and silence a group of people and help their son Mitt before the general election. There is way too much of a paper trail to believe that they have changed their views.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  9. John W.

    "voicing support"

    As long as you vote for candidates that will surely vote against gay rights, no matter how much support you may "voice" – you're still screwing the gay community. As long as you give money to churches who use their influence to deny gay people their civil rights, you're not SUPPORTING us – you're supporting DISCRIMINATION.

    You might be a fiscal conservative, you may be against abortion, but you cannot – I repeat CAN NOT – vote for Republicans or support Christianity and be supportive of gay rights. CAN NOT.

    So the question is – is that tax cut worth screwing over every gay person you know? Does preventing the welfare mother who's pregnant with her fifth unwanted child from receiving an abortion really worth killing someone who's gay but cannot get health insurance through their husband (and hence, cannot get ANY insurance)?

    April 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • rustupid

      civil rights? Gays have as many civil rights as I do. Why do they need more then the rest of us?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • BetterOption

      Hmmm ok but you can vote for Obama who doesn't support marriage for Gays either...? He supports "civil union"... Hypocrite or should I say socialist?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. todd in DC

    After the Mormons helped push through Proposition 8 in california and stopped marriage equity? I wouldn't trust that worthless cult any more than any black person should, considering the Mormons didn't let black people in their church either until recently.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • RLP1509

      Sorry Todd not a completely true statement. Black people have been members of the LDS chruch since the mid 1800's. In fact black people all over the world are welcomed into full fellowship now. The LDS church is one of the fastest growing faiths on the African Continent.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Meta

      The have been letting blacks become priests since 1978.... don't talk unless you actually know something

      April 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Frank

      "The have been letting blacks become priests since 1978.... "

      All the way back to 1978... Wow, what a bunch of saints those mormons are.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • BetterOption

      Yeah learn something before you open your mouth next time... My wife is black and mormon. Her family has been members for over 30 years. there have been black members since the churches inception. The priesthood was withheld until 78.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Joe

      You need a refresher course in American History. Churches have long influenced people in the political area. Back during the American revolution, it was the churches and their leaders reminding people of their God given right to not be oppressed by a tyrant and to go fight against the British, but I guess you skipped that lesson.

      As for the comment on black people and recent history, segregation and discrimination has been rampant in the south long after the civil war. Do the names Rosa Parks and MLK ring a bell? So before you go ringing the bell of racism, pull your head out of the sand and read about OUR AMERICAN HISTORY and HERITAGE.

      April 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  11. Chris

    This is simply the biggest piece of Mormon/Republican propoganda aimed at trying to soften the view and perception of a very narrow-minded cult that is attmepting to win over the presidency. Elohim bless America.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • bignevermo

      oh no...now a JW!!! oh will the insanity ever cease?

      April 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  12. rustupid

    This is B.S. This is just a political move to get Romney elected. People have to be total moroons to believe any of this crap.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  13. Jerry

    It's interesting how many stories there are about Mormonism now that a Mormon is running for president.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Jay

      That's the way news works. Trends. Media companies are businesses you know.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  14. Pipe-Dreamer

    The Only Way for any group to become a lime of "lit embers of humanismal productivities" is to come to the foreskins of thought "revelries' abundancies of light-lustered measurabilities"! All humanists being found worthy of the paradoxical and of wittiness' protrusions of rancidness means will seemingly and forever on, be of righteousness' Life and Livelihoods in manhoods and womanhoods and childhoods of Faith-driven accordances! To live of Love in its' many issues and forms and formulations does go with and without much fanfairs of those religiously devoted hominids of devotionalisms' denying Way(s)! Let Go! Let God the hell alone all you malcontented misfits of reliocityies' zealotisms for Christs' sakes!

    April 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  15. Jackstraw

    Santorum

    April 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  16. Robert

    I'll believe it when I see it; and by the way, has anyone mentioned whether or not Mormon women will be looked upon as something more than babymakers, cooks and house cleaners by the church?. Ann Romney says she "chose" to be a stay at home mother, however the Mormon church has, and still does, promote that and discourages it's women from having jobs outside the home. Look it up.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Jon

      yeah... look it up: http://www.lds.org/family/proclamation?lang=eng

      April 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • rustupid

      A stay at home mom, how many nannies and maids..etc did it take to raise her kids? Funny how a few years ago Mitt was trying to pass a law in Mass that would force single parents moms included to have to get a job or lose some benifits. hypocrite.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • BetterOption

      While it is encouraged, it is not coerced and those who choose to work outside the home instead of inside the home are showcased by the church as good people see below

      http://mormon.org/ruth/

      April 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Midgetsbear

      I am a Mormon woman and work, and neve have been told to stay at home by any church offiicals. I have two master's degrees and am not a baby factory as you state. Please get your facts straight by asking the women who are of the Mormon faith instead of reading everyone elses stories. I certainly would not expect to understand what a member of the Catholic religion believes or does by asking a Baptist, nor would I expect anyone else to understand the Mormon religion until they asked a Mormon. Get your facts straight.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Joe

      The church does not discourage women from working, not at all. My wife works and I have never heard a peep from anyone that she should not work. And if I had the option to allow her to stay home and home school our son, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Values are best learned in the home, not some liberal groupies that change the rules to what is hip this week. With both parents working out of the house, who's taking care of the kids?

      April 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Dwight Rogers

      Mormon doctrine is comparatively women-friendly. Mormonism rejects the post-Biblical Augustinian doctrine of original sin, which held that humanity inherits the sin of Adam and Eve in which they ate the forbidden fruit. This sin was historically blamed on Eve, and was thought to be the source of women's submissive and dependent state. Mormonism rejects this doctrine of original sin which relegates women to an inferior position and which is a post-Biblical doctrinal development.

      In 1842 (when women were usually constrained to home and hearth), Joseph Smith encouraged the women of the church to form their own organization, and said the church could not be correct until the women were organized. Women have always had a say and a vote in church affairs. The first women to vote in municipal elections were women in Mormon settlements, and women voted in Utah Territory until the Federal government disenfranchised them in 1887. Advanced education for women has always been encouraged. Some of the best formative writing about our faith sprang from the pens of erudite and educated women, such as Eliza R. Snow and Emmeline B. Wells. Brigham Young and other early leaders not only encouraged university education for women, but sent their own daughters to eastern universities. The assumption that Mormon women are subservient lacks factual foundation.

      In his counsel to the bretheren of the Latter-day Saint Church, Brigham Young (the 2nd President of the church) said the following," Bretheren if you must choose beetween educating your son and educating your daughter–Educate your daughters for it is they who will raise up the next generation. You sons can earn their way through the toil of their hands." (late 1800's).

      President Brigham Young also taught: "As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief Societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large."( Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997, p. 135)

      April 18, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  17. JustsaynotoRomney

    Ha, ha. Another revelation to suit the wants of the leaders and their pocket books. Lol!

    April 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  18. salth2o

    Not so subtle reminder to the voters that Mitt Romney is Mormon.

    Funny these stories didn't happen when Mormon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was up for re-election.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Mavent

      ....possibly because the only people who care about the "Senate Majority Leader" are elderly whack jobs who have too much time on their hands, and thus sit around looking for people to hate.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  19. dan

    cnn before you write article about this church think about it!!!!!????? The Church love them as people! daah But they (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) will be forever against gay Relationship/Marriage! Due to the fact that is a Gods commandment that everyone should understand! Put all men that are gay in one island and all lesbian women in one Island, Guess What their future would be????? "0" BECAUSE AFTER A 150 YEARS THEY WOULD NOT BE EXISTED!!!!!

    April 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Brian

      Please stop skipping school. You really need to pay attention in English class.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  20. Tom

    Boyd KKK (the fudge) Packer would not approve of this article.

    April 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Riley

      Boyd K. Packer is an apostle called of God. His discourses are some of the most amazing discourses you would ever hear. Put his name into youtube search and you'll be amazed yourself.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:14 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.