Mormon Support for Same-Sex Marriage isn't a Total SurpriseRoundup
tags: religion, mormons, LDS, LGBTQ history
Benjamin E. Park is the editor of A Companion to American Religious History (Blackwell), co-editor of Mormon Studies Review and assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. His award-winning book, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier, is now out in paperback.
Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints surprised many Tuesday when they announced their support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill enshrining protections for marriage equality that cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday. This bill, the church stated, “includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” and it is therefore “the way forward” for the nation to address the topic.
Observers correctly noted the seismic departure from the Mormon Church’s traditional staunch opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. From the 1990s through the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision legalizing LGBTQ marriage across America, Latter-day Saints were at the forefront of the fight to maintain the “traditional” definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
But this new statement is less surprising when viewed in the context of changing LDS thinking over the past decade. Even as it has tried to acknowledge the changing broader cultural circumstances, the church has also battled to protect the right to vigorously police boundaries around gender and sexuality for its members.
The Mormon Church’s organized opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage originated in the wake of its successful contribution to the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. This activism earned Mormons a place in the ascendant religious right. It also proved the church’s ability to mobilize over “moral” issues in a way that flexed its cultural influence without explicitly aligning with a political party. The campaign laid the groundwork for future incursions into legal battles over what the LDS Church deemed “traditional” gender roles, which had become increasingly central to the faith’s identity since World War II. Latter-day Saints leaders had bought into the conservative myth — cultivated in the culture wars — that defending these principles was crucial to society’s future, and they were also interested in entrenching patriarchal power.