Mormons, God, and Gays
BY Matthew Breen
March 05 2014 5:00 AM ET
When the news broke that same-sex couples in Utah were lining up at the Salt Lake County courthouse to marry, a collective “what?” erupted from court watchers and pundits. Really? Utah? It’s the most Republican state, having gone red in every presidential election since 1968. Utah? Are you sure?
Though the overturning of the state’s constitutional ban was the action of a federal judge and not the electorate, nevertheless it happened in a state where religion influences politics to an outsized degree. Over 62% of Utah’s population is Mormon, and in 2008 exit polls, 75% of voters in Utah elections identified as Mormon. What the church says, covertly and overtly, often determines the political course of the state.
But Mormonism is unlike other, older religions. Its capacity for change has rescued it from collapse in the past, and it might make Utah, the reddest of states, a uniquely safe haven for gay and lesbian couples.
Mormonism is a relatively conservative faith that has been opaque to many outsiders—many of whom still imagined polygamist compounds—at least until Comedy Central’s South Park, The Book of Mormon on Broadway, HBO’s Big Love, and the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. Still, the prevailing stereotype is one of blond, all-American Pollyannas with big families who don’t smoke, drink, or watch R-rated movies. And it’s pretty widely known that they aren’t so cool with the gays.
Not so long ago, the Mormon Church excommunicated many members for self-identifying as gay or lesbian. In recent years, the religion’s policy has been refined to be of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” variety, with the view that same-sex attraction is aberrant, but one can be a good Mormon if one never acts on that attraction. The church has been outspoken in its opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples, and the state of Utah has followed suit politically. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog summarized Tim Chambless, a political science professor at the University of Utah, as saying, “Today, a majority of Mormon voters in Utah have two nonnegotiable litmus tests... abortion and same-sex marriage.”
Image credit: Museum of Church and Art, Salt Lake City, 1913, Artist Unknown