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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. MamaRas

    The church is not going to change its stance, but in an effort to show Christlike love to others the message may have been misinterpreted. I am LDS, and although I do not approve of the lifestyle and I will never support it, I do respect a person's right to have the freedom to choose. There are consequences to every decision, but that doesn't mean we should treat others with rudeness and disrespect because we disagree with ideals or lifestyle. I will always stand up for the belief that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman, but I will also treat others with kindness.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "I am LDS, and although I do not approve of the lifestyle and I will never support it, I do respect a person's right to have the freedom to choose. "

      Thanks for continuing to show how uniformed Christians are because being gay isn't a choice, you can't choose to be gay!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Ah yes – Mormon tolerance.
      Some other lovely examples:
      "I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Neg.ro. Dar.kies are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church."
      – Joseph Fielding Smith

      April 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • YeahRight

      "I will always stand up for the belief that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman, but I will also treat others with kindness."

      Denying someone their civil rights is not being kind! What a hypocrite!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • gregor1971

      But there are literally tens of thousands of ex-gays in the United States, and they too have a voice and need support and respect. I know many of them, and whenever they try to voice their concerns publicly, the gay community uses its influence to drown them out.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Sane

      You like showing kindness and respect to those you have placed yourself above. Mighty mormon of you.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • xeno

      Marriage is a legal designation. You and your church have no right to impose your beliefs on the legal rights of others.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Primewonk

      The overwhelming majority of "ex-gays" are in fact bise.xual. The research shows that these "ex-gays" in fact all report still having same-se.x ideation.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Theism is not healthy for your sanity and other reasonable things

      And even though I disapprove of your religion and find it repugnant, it's your prerogative. Love the believer, hate their religion.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • RightCoastVA

      Well....I am LDS too and I'm just fine with anyone living anyway with anyone else they choose as long as it doesn't harm me or my family. Being free is a two way street.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  2. Ron

    Mormons discriminate plain and simple. I live in mo central and they are a very mean and rigid group of cult members. Even going ad far as jerymandering / jurymandering the voting districts as to change the un Mormon districts to be more Mormon voter friendly. Horrible group of people. Romney will do and say anything to get elected . He's a clown.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • RightCoastVA

      Really, if you can't spell the word, why don't you take the 5 seconds to Google it so you don't like the fool?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • sksk

      And you....rightcoast......should take a page from your own book and proof read what you write so you don't 'LOOK' like a fool.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • tlunrine

      For RIGHTCROSSVA – if spelling is your only concern – glad to see you agree that Mormons are an issue, and can't be trusted in a high National Office.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • RightCoastVA

      Ah indeed sksk, touche....

      Regardless, thunrine...No I don't agree with a single word he said. It's bigoted, baseless, and completely irrelevant. The fact that he's upset that politicians gerrymandered his district has nothing to do with their religion, but everything to do with the fact that it happens in every state where the residents haven't wised up to ban the practice. My neighborhood was gerrymandered into a rural district because politicians suck not because they were Lutheran, JW, Mormon, or Catholic.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  3. gregor1971

    I know tons of ex-gays that would have liked to see more love and support from Church members when they were struggling with the issue. I think the Church realizes that it has to be more supportive of people with struggles in all walks of life, and that many members were not being Christ-like towards gays and lesbians.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • xeno

      An ex gay is as real as magic underwear.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  4. LeeCMH

    Christians, including the cultist Mormons, are all mean and hateful people. They make money agitating hatefulness.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Bob

      Right on..... and they are also the number one provider of healthcare and assistance to the homeless in the US.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Like the Family Research Council? American Family Association? Pat Robertson's outfit? Catholics who get ticked and ruin funerals?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  5. TheMagusNYC

    Even my Lutheran sister "hates the sin, loves the sinner," but that's not the acceptance sought by my gay friends and family.
    Next thing for the Mormons though might be a conversion to trinitarian Christianity!

    April 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Where is this "hate the sin, love the sinner"? Can you provide the book, chapter, and verse?

      [hint: You can't. It doesn't appear anywhere in the bible. In fact, it's a quote from Gandhi – a Hindu.

      What this god does say, however, is that his followers are to go out and kill gay folks.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  6. elwood

    Lets see, we have the Meadow Mountain Massacre, blacks allowed in the church around 1976, gays are cool in 2012.
    My problem is I can't get over those darn ole angels delivering "Golden Plates" in Elmira NY, USA. Just think, if Romney gets elected, you can have the Mormon Missionaries over and learn all about this stuff. Don't forget to vote, a Mormon will finally get to rule a planet!

    April 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  7. Bob

    Who not? A group of typically high earning, non-violent tax paying Americans. Ideal minority group.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  8. Fiona

    Thirty -some years ago, I knew a Young Mormon man in his mid twenties who I was sure was gay (I had a lot of gay friends, and pretty good gaydar). Of course, at that time no Mormon would acknowledge those feelings in himself, so this guy was a serious flirt with barely-legal young women, perhaps compensating for lack of attraction or just trying to convince himself he was straight. He would do the "sensitive soul" bit...playing what would now be called the BFF role. He made a great "girlfriend." He ended up marrying a naive 18-year-old girl when he was in his late twenties. She converted to Mormonism for him. I always wondered how that worked out.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  9. strategynode (@strategynode)

    Are we ready to have a Mormon as a president even if they are growing gay friendly? http://shar.es/rxm2M

    April 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Tammy

    The reasons that Mormons don't like gays is because gay people don't turn out ten cute little blonde haired children for every family which can then be indoctrinated into the church. The church can't grow unless everyone has kids.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • melikeydrinky

      Really? I went to BYU for my freshman year, and as far as I could tell everyone there was gay LOL

      April 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Fiona

      Have you been living under a rock for the last 20 years? Gay couples have been creating families for some time now - whether biological children or adopted. Of course, they don't tend toward the Duggar-style hoarding thing. Two kids for two people is plenty.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    I'm sure the photograph of that gay couple holding hands in from of the Mormon church was actually shot at a different location and pasted as though it was shot in front of the Mormon church! You know, etch-a-sketchers have multiple skills and they're good at these kinds of postings!

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • sksk

      I'm sure a torch and pitchfork mob errupted from the church moments after this photo was taken......chanting as they chased these poor guys down the street.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  12. IndyNC

    Sign of the times, recruitment numbers must be hurting

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  13. white boys for Obama

    @ COLIN, WORD, you nailed it, it is an absolute mith that dead joe smith called dead Brigham & they both talked to God. Man you talk about a STUPID AS_ story., & all the tabbys fell for it.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Whatever

    ...and Hitler loved the Jews. Gimmie a break- this is such garbage. Welcome to election year religion everyone! Unfortunatley they are all like snakes- like Rainer Braendlein who has posted on here. He his just like the mormons- he will smile to your face, as he thinks he is 'virtuous and wonderful' and when he gets you alone he will tell you to repent as you are going to hell. He is false and deceitful and does not truely carry Christ in his heart...He thinks he's right, he thinks he is- but his thinking is flawed...He needs to spend a few days in a glass house...he, like some others claiming to be christians but judging others so harshly have some pent-up hatred they should be copeing with on a spiritual level, instead of hiding behind a false smile- and using scripture to propetuate hate...stabbing people in the back at every chance...thats how wars start....saying they are bring christ like but acting quite the opposite.... like a snake in the garden...beware of the snake.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  15. gregor1971

    The Church would support Prop 8 just as vigorously today as it did a few years ago. Read what the official spokesman of the church was saying. He said that in concert with supprting traditional marriage they wanted to reiterate that the Church loves all of God's children. CNN was very liberal with a couple of exceptions and tried to intimate that the Church was making some sort of change when that is clearly not the case. The Church has had conferences for gays and lesbians that are struggling for decades.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  16. sksk

    Complete and utter political garbage. Anything to get some votes for Mitt. They are mocking the gay/lesbian community.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Robert De Santis

      I could not agree with you more! What a sham they are. I guess Mitt's upbrining has made him the man he is today. Say anything, do anything to get everything. Shameless people!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  17. Sane

    We all know where Romney gets his flip flop from.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  18. bob

    I can't comment...I'm laughing too hard..... I can't breathe....

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  19. melikeydrinky

    Mormon's are so funny. They adjust their doctrine from time to time in order to gain acceptance from society (polygamy, African Americans, now gays), but at the same time claim that God personally directs the church. So, basically God changes his mind now and then depending on popular opinion....yeah, OK, I buy that.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • intramural

      What's wrong with a religion becoming more progressive over time in order to accept and love people for who they are? Isn't that the main idea behind religious teachings?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • RightCoastVA

      How many animals have you sacrificed on an altar recently?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Birch please

      Yeah just about every religion does that... eg the god of the old testament is a very different deity then in the new testament.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • melikeydrinky

      No. God is constant. God is now as he has been for all eternity. He does not wake up one morning and say, "I think I like black people now....or maybe I should rethink this gay thing...." C'mon man!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Birch please

      Your a troll or a fool.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Appalled

      Oohh.....good observation!! I wonder if the other doctrine changes were during election years, too.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • JustAThought

      melikeydrinky: Your name has already killed your ethos, so a sensible comment to you will probably go straight to your drink, anyway. But, I'm still gonna say it: there is a difference between positions and doctrines. And if you think Mormons are "funny" for realigning positions in order to legally and socially function within a society, then you must be too naive to realize that all religious and ideological organizations in human history that have ever survived have learned to adapt to the tides of social, governmental, and ideological apparatuses in order to thrive. The God in Heaven doesn't "change his mind" or his doctrines. But the Church he runs in order to help people strive to become something better requires some conforming, else it be limited in its potential outreach to humankind.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  20. Patricksday

    Let me see a Gay Marriage Ceremony at the Temple, then I will believe the have seen the "Light".

    April 17, 2012 at 2:28 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.