Of Mormons and (Gay) Marriage

— By Stephen Richer

Since returning to Utah a week ago, I’ve read a lot about the LDS Church’s (Mormons) changing view on gay marriage.  This matters.  The Mormon Church was one of the leading actors/financiers of the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California (The New York Times estimated that Mormons made up 80% to 90% of Prop 8 volunteers) and has long suggested that homosexuality is a problematic temporary condition that should be “turned off.”  (“Book of Mormon” musical reference, see minute 2;10 onward).  Basically, if we can make it with the LDS Church, we can — hopefully — make it anywhere.

The Church’s new, friendlier, approach has manifested itself in a number of ways: The Church sat out a number of recent state marriage battles, it created the website mormonsandgays.org, and now helps gay homeless men.  (See, generally, Trudy Ring at The Advocate and Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones).

But the newest development on this topic — and the one that prompted this post — is the Church’s action in Hawaii’s gay marriage fight.  The Church’s focus is less on whether or not gay marriage should be allowed than it is on allowing for religious exemption from gay marriage.  Peggy Fletcher Stack of The Salt Lake Tribune writes:

Whether Mormons favor or oppose the potential change, the letter said, they should push for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith” that would protect religious groups “from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities; and protect individuals and small businesses from being required to assist in promoting or celebrating same-sex marriages.”

Obviously this makes me happy.  In my rant against the New Mexican Supreme Court ruling against the Christian photographer who refused, on religious grounds, to photograph a gay commitment ceremony, I wrote:

There are many disturbing aspects of this decision: it cuts against free religious practice (the main argument made by lead defense counsel Alliance Defending Freedom); it compels speech (the argument made by Eugene Volokh, Dale Carpenter and the Cato Institute, an organization that supports gay rights and marriage equality); and it reinforces the simple but toxic idea that private businesses can’t actually make private decisions.

Of course the state shouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals (marriage equality).  But nor should it force gay marriage down the throats of individuals who object (on religious grounds or otherwise).

I’m not sure the LDS Church is quite where I am on this position, nor is its reasoning the same as mine, but it seems we’re converging on the same conclusion.  And in the battle for marriage equality there’s plenty of room for strange bedfellows.

(A few more links on this subject):

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