Around election time, on Hit Coffee I pondered whether Romney’s loss would have any effect on the LDS Church:
[A] change of trajectory somewhere along the line does seem possible. The Romney loss could play a roll in it, but I think being on what will be the losing side of the gay marriage issue will be a bigger one. To be clear, I don’t think the LDS Church will ever formally or informally endorse same-sex marriage. Civil unions and such yes, but marriage never. But I think their experiences with Proposition 8 and the backlash they faced may have jarred them a little (it sure as heck would have jarred me). Not just that they were publicly reviled, but it was the conspicuousness with which they were targeted. It’s not that they don’t like attention – they clearly do – but they have always seemed at least a little wary of being seen as backwards. It’s actually a bit difficult to describe, but many southern evangelicals seem to revel in being the big, bad guy to their opponents. Mormons maintain their distinctness, to be sure, but perhaps because of a history of having been on the wrong side of public backlashes, they are reluctant to be too different.
The LDS Chuch does seem to be shifting its views on homosexuality just a bit:
Among the videos on the site is one featuring the Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks, titled “What Needs to Change.” Oaks says that “what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same-gender attraction.” While that sentence doesn’t quite parse grammatically, the message seems to be: Don’t throw your children out of the house because they’re gay. Do teach them, though, not to have gay sex. The “doctrine of the church, that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married,” Oaks says, “has not changed and is not changing.”
Those who pay attention to verb tenses may notice that Oaks does not say that Mormon doctrine will not change. On one level, this is simply good Mormonism: The LDS Church believes in continual revelation through a living prophet, so no apostle can declare with certainty that something will never change. And the new website, which is hardly a celebration of gay pride, is also a savvy bit of public relations: Brad Kramer, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan who studies contemporary Mormonism (and who is Mormon himself), called the site “an example of the curious space where PR and doctrinal shift intersect and subtly cooperate.”
To be sure, this is a very subtle shift. But it’s not in isolation. In 2010, two years after having getting a lot of negative attention due to their role in Proposition 8, they came out in favor of a ban on anti-gay discrimination in Salt Lake County and came out strongly against anti-gay persecution in schools.
Like I said, I don’t think the church will ever support gay marriage. Nor will they ever be okay with homosexuality. But I think they are at least somewhat subject to peer pressure. And we’re seeing that now.