Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is now the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States and counts over 13 million members worldwide. As the gay rights movement began in the 1950s, the church became fiercely antagonistic toward gay and lesbian people. In the past, gays and lesbians were excommunicated from the church as soon as their orientation was discovered. Being gay was considered by church leaders to be a sinful choice, one that required repentance and could be overcome with different types of reparative therapy. If such treatment failed, gay people would lose their membership in the church.
The church also has been a leading, and vocal, opponent of marriage equality for same-sex couples. A central tenet of Mormon theology is that marriages performed in one of the more than 120 temples in the world bind couples together not only for the rest of their lives, but also in the infinite afterlife. Such traditional families, if their members obey church principles, will live together eternally. Mormon leaders stated in a 1995 "Proclamation to the World" that God has defined the family as a man and a woman married with intent to raise children, and that those who strayed from this would "bring upon individuals, communities and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets." This belief makes homosexuality incompatible with a central doctrine of the faith.
As the church has rapidly grown in Africa, Latin America, and other developing parts of the world, non-traditional families are challenging the assumed supremacy of the traditional family in the church. Further, the church has begun to realize that their stridently anti-gay stance is severely splitting many families, the basic societal units the church works so hard to maintain. As a result, the church began to soften its rhetoric and treatment of its LGBT members in recent years. Church publications often counsel members to accept LGBT family members and friends with love and compassion and have repeatedly told parents to refrain from rejecting their children just for being gay or lesbian. At the same time the church consistently tells parents not to condone behavior that is not in harmony with church teachings. At the same time, however, the church has solidified its stand against same-sex marriage, reinforcing its view that full salvation cannot come to those who are not married to opposite-sex spouses.
Bisexual and Transgender Mormons
The Mormon church views bisexual members the same as gays and lesbians. As long as they do not act on their same-sex attraction, they can participate in church activities. An important difference is that bisexual people married to opposite-sex partners can participate in all church activities without any restrictions, as some rites and sacraments are reserved for married couples.
The church has not publically confronted the issue of transgender Mormons. However, a transgender Mormon who has sex reassignment surgery will almost certainly be subject to ecclesiastical discipline.
Because the Mormon church at present rarely speaks about bisexual and transgender people, this piece focuses specifically on gay and lesbian issues.
Not an Orientation but a Behavior
Mormon leaders do not speak of a gay or lesbian sexual orientation, though they now fully acknowledge that many people "struggle with same-gender attraction." In a lengthy 2006 interview on the subject, one leading church authority compared the plight of gay and lesbian people to that of his mentally handicapped daughter, who would never be married but needed to make the best of her lot and be content to receive her reward in Heaven for her righteousness here on Earth.
The church draws a distinction between attractions or feelings and sexual activity. While acknowledging the existence of inclinations and temptations—and admitting they do not know the origins of such leanings—leaders expect of gays and lesbians the same celibacy they require of unmarried heterosexuals. Gay and lesbians can participate fully in church activities as long as they abide by the rule of celibacy, with some restrictions. For example, while a heterosexual adult would be expected to date, gays and lesbians would be viewed with suspicion for similar activities. Leaders counsel gay and lesbian members to avoid associations with LGBT groups and individuals, lest they succumb to the temptation of sexual activity.
Church leaders have expressed the belief that a few people who are unhappy with their same-sex attraction may be able to change their inclinations if they are strongly determined to do so. However, church leaders concede change isn’t possible for everyone and no longer counsel straight marriage as a solution or a "cure." Although not satisfactory this is a marked shift in attitude from the past.
The church considers Mormons who act on feelings of same-sex attraction to have disobeyed church teachings on morality and thus are subject to ecclesiastical discipline. They may be (1) placed on probation (for those desiring to change their behavior), (2) "disfellowshipped" (excluded from participating in the sacraments for a finite period of time while they correct their behavior), or (3) excommunicated. Members who face a disciplinary council and refuse to repent—or insist that their feelings are integral to who they are—almost always are excommunicated. They lose their membership and cannot participate in any way other than attend meetings. They also lose the eternal ties that bind them to their families and their church.
However, church discipline is administered by local congregations, so the treatment of gays and lesbians may vary by geography and congregation. Because Mormons don’t shop around for the church that fits them best, but attend the church that is closest too them, geographical difference is particularly significant.
Treatment of gay and lesbian people by local leaders has moderated in recent years. The church cautions local leaders not to embark on any witch hunts and to leave alone gays and lesbians who do not hold high church positions and who are quiet about their sexuality. This policy, however, hasn’t always been followed in practice and even when it is amounts to "don’t ask, don’t tell." Gay and lesbian people who have been in leadership positions, and are public about their same-sex relationships or are openly critical of church leadership are apt to face church discipline.
The Mormon church opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples and has actively worked to stop it in the past. In 1998, for example, then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley issued a statement, saying: "We cannot stand idle if [gays and lesbians] indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families."
In that same year, the church contributed $500,000 to the Alaska Family Coalition and $600,000 to Save Traditional Marriage in Hawaii. In 2000, the church joined forces with other conservative groups to support a campaign to constitutionally ban marriage for same-sex couples in Nevada and supported a fight against marriage equality in California. The church expressed support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have written discrimination against same-sex couples into the U.S. Constitution.
Support of such ballot measures brought wide-spread criticism both from outside and inside the church. The Mormon church maintains neutrality in partisan politics and has never endorsed a candidate or a political party. So, when the same-sex marriage debate began to polarize political parties, the church stepped into the background. Since 2000 the church has mostly ceased direct funding of such ballot measure efforts and although strong opposition to same-sex marriage remains, church rhetoric has toned down considerably.
After the January 2008 death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the mantle of leadership fell to Thomas S. Monson. In the past he has not spoken specifically about LGBT issues, but his views became clear within a few months. In late June of 2008 the church’s First Presidency, which Monson leads, sent a letter to all congregations in California asking members to give their time and resources to a coalition of organizations supporting Proposition 8, the November 2008 ballot initiative aimed at altering the California State Constitution in such as way as to define marriage as a legal act between two members of the opposite sex. Since then, local Mormon leaders have called in many of their members and given them specific assignments to canvass their neighborhoods for the proposition and have asked for monetary pledges to support the effort. On August 13, 2008, the church released a more lengthy rationale, explaining in depth their position.
As a reaction, there were a number of public resignations from the church and many Mormons spoke out against the church becoming involved in a political matter. Undeterred, the church considers it a moral matter, not a political one, and continued its campaign.
Mormons for Marriage, a group of (mostly) heterosexual people who banded together to oppose California’s Proposition 8.
Resources for LGBT Mormons
- Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons works to attain equal rights for LGBT people within the Mormon church and to support those struggling with their sexual orientation.
- The Family Fellowship is a service and support group for Mormons with gay and lesbian family members. It holds that “gay and lesbian Mormons can be great blessings in the lives of their families, and that families can be great blessings in the lives of their gay and lesbian members.”
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website.
If you would like to communicate with the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, here is their mailing address:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
50 East North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150