Last October, Dallin H. Oaks, a leader in the Mormon church, proclaimed that human laws cannot “make moral what God has declared immoral.”
A year later, a lot has changed. Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled illegal—a decision upheld by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and which went into effect when the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. Same-sex marriages began on October 6, and on October 9, Oaks—a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)—issued a very different statement: “We should be persons of goodwill toward all, ejecting persecution of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.”
Reflecting this shift, a Seattle branch of LDS has admitted that the church can be a “painful” experience for homosexual members (the church has historically had a strong anti-LGBT stance, canvassing door to door and contributing 50 percent of all campaign funding for Proposition 8, which attempted to ban same-sex marriage in California). In an attempt to remedy this, the Washington Park LDS Ward in Seattle intentionally invited LGBT members to a church sacrament on October 19. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the letter acknowledges “that it might be intimidating to return,” and invited large numbers of the LGBT community to “help them feel ‘strength in numbers,’ rather than singled out.”
The letter read, “Your faith and your fellows need your strength, your testimony and your unique perspective on our gospel. You will be valued and welcomed as part of our ward family,” echoing the Vatican’s recently released (and later revised) statement.
The Telegraph suggests that while this is a big adjustment for an older generation, the younger generation has “strong majorities in favor of gay marriage.”
Trace Mannewitz, a student at Brigham Young University (owned and operated by LDS), stated, “I believe we should just be kind and loving to everyone, regardless of their decisions,” adding that he has gay friends.
Church member Autumn Hickman said of her partner, “My dad once joked that Becca has everything on the Mormon checklist, except she’s a girl.”
However, another Mormon leader, Lynn G. Robbins, warned of a distinction between being accommodating and giving in: “Some members don’t realize they are falling into the same snare [of wickedness]when they lobby for acceptance of local or ethnic ‘traditions of their fathers’ that are not in harmony with the gospel culture.”
But as Oaks signaled, the church’s stance on LGBT acceptance will impact its wider relevance. As James Ord, who became a Mormon before he realized he was gay, put it, “You get tired of being part of a group that doesn’t want you.”