In 2008, I was a Mormon sitting on the receiving end of congregational announcements about Prop 8, which happened in Mormon chapels around the country. It’s been a long five years since then, and I’ve since left the church and worked to organize around the legalization legalizing same-sex marriage. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that DOMA and Prop 8 – measures which were both heavily supported by the Mormon front – are both unconstitutional, I’ve come to realize that among the populations impacted by the decision are the members of my former faith.
When I was active in the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), I was constantly told that same-sex marriage was a zero sum “us” versus “them” argument. It’s important to note that I was raised to be aware of the church’s early persecution, and that in light of those attacks many moons ago it made sense when my church told us that the movement to legalize same-sex marriage was just one more attack on our faith. To remain neutral on the subject of Prop 8, therefore, obviously meant you didn’t take your Mormon identity seriously enough – something which I think drove a lot of people out into the streets to prove their religiosity. Supporters of Prop 8 from the LDS church like Alan Ashton, grandson of former LDS President David O. McKay, played a huge role in making sure the measure was passed in its final crucial hours of need with his million dollar donation; many other faithful members also actively committed their time and effort to the cause.
Within hours of the SCOTUS decisions Wednesday, official LDS spokesman Michael Otterson said the court had “highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates.” Wholly ignoring the homophobic discrimination present explicitly in both pieces of legislation, he focused on the idea instead that Prop 8 was popular. “Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong,” he said, “when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.” But Otterson missed the point, and misrepresented the progress that’s been made within his church.
While California’s constitution was moving up to the Supreme Court, states across the nation were busy making their own changes to advance equality, and not hate. Currently 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. I was confused by the eerie silence emanating from the Mormon anti-gay marriage camp throughout those years: there was neither an apology nor a public call to mobilization. Did heteronormative families around the rest of the country just not need as much protecting anymore? Where were the pulpit announcements now?
Truthfully, many Mormons realized somewhere along the way that fighting for Prop 8 meant fighting a losing battle and jumped ship – especially among the new generation of Mormons being raised in these changing times. I’m increasingly grateful that I was one of those young people able to break out of a mold of intolerance and help bring about a cultural shift within the church in regards to homosexuality. Since 2008’s Prop 8 ruling and my own spiritual growth out and away from the church, it’s been bittersweet to watch the LDS Church’s actions around homosexuality shift from homophobic activism to encouraging tolerance, discussion, and acceptance. These steps are much needed and much appreciated by members who have both stayed and left, though they are far from being enough.
The Mormon church chose to publicly declare a political opinion in 2008 and lost, and there’s no way they can back-peddle now. But as an ex-Mormon who will probably never be completely “free” from my religious roots, I think the shifts in attitudes within the LDS church are worth watching as legislation continues to pop up supporting same-sex marriage. I know from personal experience that there are more religious moderates than many like to admit, and they are a great untapped resource in mobilizing for social equality. I truly believe working with people on both sides of any religious divide is going to be key to producing sustainable movements for progress. Who knows: maybe those of us who decided not to jump ship in the LDS church will have the strength, voice, and power to endure and steer that ship toward inclusivity for LGBT persons in more religious spaces. Let’s all stay tuned and not count the Mormons out just yet.