SALT LAKE CITY — Court decisions this week paving the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in dozens of states, including Mormon strongholds like Utah, Idaho and Nevada, have emboldened a growing group of Latter-day Saints who are pushing the conservative church to become more accepting of gay members.
The church’s stance toward gays has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California’s ban on gay marriage in 2008, but high-ranking leaders have reiterated time and again the faith’s opposition to same-sex unions.
Some Mormons hope to change that, or at least work to make congregations more welcoming places for gays and lesbians.
Erika Munson, co-founder of a group that is neutral on gay marriage but is trying to work within church doctrine and policy to make congregations more accepting of gays, said she worries about losing younger Mormons because of the church’s stance. One of her five children, an adult son, has chosen to not to practice Mormonism, in part because of the way lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated at churches.
“People under 30 all know somebody who has come out. They are not the other, they are not scary. They understand that they are just like them,” said Munson, whose group Mormons Building Bridges stays neutral on gay marriage because they want to work within church doctrine. “So, that’s really hard to reconcile with a Christian church where we follow the teachings of Jesus.”
On Monday – after the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly rejected appeals by Utah and four other states trying to protect their same-sex marriage bans – the church said in a statement that the decision will have no effect on church doctrine or practices, while acknowledging that “as far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.”
Still, church leaders are not ready to accept gay unions. Dallin H. Oaks, one of the church’s highest-ranking leaders, told a worldwide audience last week at a Mormon conference in Salt Lake City that legalizing same-sex marriage is among the world values threatening Mormon beliefs.
Yet he also urged members to be gracious toward those who believe differently in what many gay advocates in the church saw as the latest example of the softer tone leaders are taking.