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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. Johnson

    I doubt Mitt is ready to flipflop on this issue.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      Nawp, he dresses to the right most o the time.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • downinfront

      @ Alpa Chino: LOL!

      April 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  2. Michael

    People on these boards who support reform within the Mormon church as well as gay rights should be applauding this news as a step in the right direction.

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

      You just hit the central issue here, bro! What is "right"? If you're saying the church is now moving in the right directing, that implies that the previous direction was wrong. And if God does indeed speak directly to the Mormon prophet, then what would the church have us believe? That God is essentially admitting he was wrong? Or that changing societal norms influence His opinions on various topics?

      April 17, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  3. Steve

    Interesting way to get at Romney CNN. Make him open up about being a Mormon which is not really accepted as a "normal" religion, especially by the conservative evangelical right. Romney then has to once again state the hard right side by denouncing gay rights to marry, a position that might affect votes with independents.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  4. sksk

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

    April 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  5. will

    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 2:50 pm |
  6. Kenrick Benjamin

    CNN I guess this is not an open dialogue. Good luck.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • ZoeyJ

      TO THE MORMON PEOPLE..................

      WE GAYS WILL FORGIVE THE MORMON RELIGION/PEOPLE.........BUT WE WILL REMEMBER WHEN WE VOTE IN NOVEMBER !!!

      OBAMA 2012

      April 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Kenrick Benjamin

      CNN Politics as usual.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Kat

      TO THE GAY PEOPLE: OBAMA HAS DECLARED MARRIAGE AS BEING BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN!!! MITT 2012!!!

      April 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  7. Dont buy the BS

    This is simply another PR push to try to get Mitt elected. Like every other religion this one is made up to give power to the few and comfort about mortality to the weak.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  8. Mark

    Doubtful this is anything but political. They bankrolled Prop 8 in CA and were the first church to be fined for violating the law. And they tried to hide the true level of their involvement (money) in that debacle.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  9. Dont buy the BS

    This is simply another PR push to try to get Mitt elected. Like every other religion this one is made up to give power to the few and comfort about mortaility to the weak.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • person

      You're right. I am weak, and I'll admit it. I do want some comfort about my mortality. I do want to see my mother and grandfather again, and I'll go on believing that until proven otherwise. Have fun being strong.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  10. downinfront

    Tax them.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  11. Birch please

    fair and balanced= right wing propaganda for Romney it seems.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  12. fmfgots

    another attack on christians

    April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • YeahRight

      As it should be since the Church is the one promoting all the hate and bigotry towards this group. They are also the ones in the background trying to deny them their equal civil rights.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  13. lucentsky

    Has the Mormon Church changed it's mind about fraud conviction yet?

    April 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Dave

    What a croq. They spend $20million to get Prop 8 passed and now that one of theirs is running for President they say "Oh, we're sorry we promoted so many lies and so much hate. Please be patient with us". To that I say "Bite me you hypocrites". Their status as a non-profit should be taken away immediately and they should have to pay back taxes for the last 10 years at least because they promoted a political cause within their churches. Their leaders instructed their members on what to do and demanded donations to promote Prop 8. They are so far from Christian it cannot be described. It is my mission to help defeat any Mormon who every runs for any office anywhere in the country.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • LDSinSC

      Do you need a new history book? A "Mormon" was also running for President in 2008, same year as Prop. 8. Not so much a "PR" stance as much as a human rights stance. Why are we forcing those who don't believe in Deity to have a religious ceremony for the sake of our Government? If you have to have a joint union, why can't you just sign a form saying you want someone you love to receive benefits if you die. A couple shouldn't have to ask the Governments permission for that. And it shouldn't have to be called a "marriage". That is a religious practice.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Marriage is not strictly a religious practice. If it were, it would not be possible to get married by anyone except a clergyman.
      I've never had a marriage ceremony, yet I am classified and taxed as a married man simply by virtue of prolonged cohabitation.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  15. DUH

    it's a trick, don't believe them! They'll gain your trust and then feed you to the wolves.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  16. AnneSD

    "The church’s Proposition 8 activism angered many gay rights groups around the country..." It also angered many California voters that were (and remain) irritated at a Church - most of whose members are not from this state - interfering in our state politics.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • BetterOption

      thats funny Ann.. but any church has more members outside california than inside california except for perhaps scientology... Which isn't much of an arguement for someone not to represent their beliefs and values. The fact that prop 8 passed (which means a majority voted for it) means it wasn't just mormons in favour of it.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  17. tiffany

    Well according to them they wont be in Heaven so they might as well just deal with it lol, worried about the wrong thing. Ugh i hate religion.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  18. maggotfist

    Not likely

    April 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  19. Somebody

    Romans 1:24-25 says it all.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Observer

      Somebody,

      Romans (12:20) also says “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

      Do you believe and practice EVERYTHING that Romans says?

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

      So does 2 Kings 2:23-24.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Frosty

      If you can only find a couple lines in a book as large as the Bible to support your stance, you need to stop using the Bible as a crutch for your bigotry and just man up and say your hate comes from your heart, not from God's mouth. For every one line you can cite to support bigotry against gays, I can cite 5 that instruct you to love thy neighbor, leave the judging to god, and mind your business.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Actually, the GOLDEN RULE says it all, but there are too many Christian hypocrites who ignor it.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Wingrider

      Nice verses, but these deal more with idolatry than whether being gay is an issue. After you get past the idolatry we learn that following the path of sin and self-righteousness leads to all kinds of immoral acts, but more as they relate to rejecting God and worshipping idols, than being gay.

      April 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  20. Callmeishmael

    It was the Mormon church that funded Proposition 8 in California recently in order to deny gays the right to marry. And we're supposed to believe that Mormon Church has suddenly had a change of heart?? Not likely!

    April 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Michael

      Too bad. I'd think supports of gay rights, as well as of reform within the Mormon church, would view this as a step in the right direction.

      April 17, 2012 at 2:46 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.