What if Mormons ceased their anti-gay marriage political agenda?
I found Ms Jack’s recent question intriguing, mostly because I think it points to a possible future of Mormon discourse on the question of homosexuality. Ms Jack asked:
Say that we have a Latter-day Saint who agrees with the churchs stance that homosexual relationships are wrong and never wants to see homosexual marriages offered in the temples. However, she is politically in favor of LGBT rights (including the right to the term “marriage”) and she treats her LGBT friends no differently than she treats anyone else. She might sometimes try to dissuade people from engaging in homosexual relationships because of her religious beliefs, but she recognizes that the only power she has in the matter is gentle persuasion.
Is this person a bigot?
In other words, what if the “core” of Mormon beliefs — that of “eternal gender” in which males and females must wed for salvation — is left intact, as well as the idea that homosexuality is “sinful?” The idea of a Mormon supporting same-sex marriage, but still thinking “homosexuality is sinful” strikes me as paradoxical, but for the sake of the discussion, consider a Church that isn’t public about its stance against same-sex marriage (rather simply “affirms” internally its position of marriage between a man and a woman and homosexuality as sinful), and as a result of this stance, many Mormons fall comfortably into a paradoxical position in which the internals and externals of their culture have a kind of dissonance. Indeed, this is already the case for Mormons in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Church experienced this dissonance. The cultural situation would be much like the 1970s on the question of black male ordination. Many Mormons were highly supportive of the civil rights movement, but when the Church was subject to boycotting due to its position on black male ordination, these same Mormons were annoyed. “Why is the world getting involved in the Church’s internal affairs?” This sentiment is representative of what some label “the Mormon persecution complex” that finds its roots in the ousting of Mormons to the West and the US government’s forceful end to polygamy. The Church often brings this past up vaguely as if it were a minor historical trauma. The “trauma” manifests when Mormon beliefs are effectively changed by outside influence faster than the culture might change on its own, overlaying a kind of fragility into Mormon historiography. The truth is, though, that it is a two-way street. Mormons are interested in the outside world as citizens and for proselytizing reasons. Mormon leaders know the culture must deal with the consequences of being a participant in the public arena because the public must “deal with” the consequences of Mormon participation.
The Church actually already engages in the paradoxical behavior Ms Jack is describing. In November of 2009, it came out in favor of nondiscrimination in housing and employment. The Church justified the stance by saying that gay people have a right to anti-bullying; I can picture church leaders imaging a poor kid “struggling with same-gender attraction” who is also mistreated in society. No doubt these leaders also know that when gays want housing, they’re often getting a place together as couples — which more conservative Mormons felt demonstrates a “slippery slope” for the Church. The Church has effectively “supported” homosexual behavior outside its borders, these more conservative Mormons declare, making the job of maintaining homosexuality as sinful harder. “Marriage will die by a thousand cuts,” the Sutherland Institute warned.
To answer Ms. Jack’s question, though, as to whether the person she describes above would still be a “bigot,” I would say they are indeed homophobic. They are unable to view homosexuality in a light that does not strike a kind of fear about the core of their beliefs. They are unable to see how homosexuality remains sinful in their culture only because without this belief, their beliefs about “eternal gender roles” would have to be altered in order to make space for same-sex relationships in the Church. Homophobia is not just a fear of same-sex attracted people. It’s an aversion to homosexuality in practice. The Mormon who supports LGBT civil rights and the word “marriage” for same-sex couples, but subjects her LGBT friends to “gentle persuasions” that homosexuality is sinful is paradoxically homophobic.
Consider this passage from a 2009 Ensign article about a sister trying to “love” her sister without “condoning her lifestyle”:
While I may never know in mortality how to love Leigh in a way that has power to change her involvement in same-sex relationships, I can learn to love her without condoning her lifestyle, and I can reach out to her in a way that she needs. After all, it is the Saviors role, not mine, to heal her.
The homophobia here lies in the notion that Leigh needs “healing” or that there could be a utopian “love” strong enough to change Leigh’s actions.