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Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences

Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences

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Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences

5/5 (1 évaluation)
561 pages
7 heures
Apr 20, 2019


The Mormon Church entered the public square on LGBT issues by joining forces with traditional-marriage proponents in Hawaii in 1993. Since then, the church has been a significant player in the ongoing saga of LGBT rights within the United States and at times has carried decisive political clout. 

Gregory Prince draws from over 50,000 pages of public records, private documents, and interview transcripts to capture the past half-century of the Mormon Church’s attitudes on homosexuality. Initially that principally involved only its own members, but with its entry into the Hawaiian political arena, the church signaled an intent to shape the outcome of the marriage equality battle. That involvement reached a peak in 2008 during California’s fight over Proposition 8, which many came to call the “Mormon Proposition.”

In 2015, when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, the Mormon Church turned its attention inward, declaring same-sex couples “apostates” and denying their children access to key Mormon rites of passage, including the blessing (christening) of infants and the baptism of children.

Prince's interview with KUER: https://radiowest.kuer.org/post/gay-rights-and-mormon-church

Prince's Q-Talk with Equality Utah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcnVagLY-lM&feature=youtu.be

Prince's interview with the Press: https://conta.cc/2HHmeTm

Princes's event with Benchmark Books: https://youtu.be/Daz-TFldZDA
Apr 20, 2019

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Gay Rights and the Mormon Church - Gregory A Prince




Four years earlier it would have been impossible to imagine two men, Rick Jacobs and Bill Evans, even in the same room, let alone breaking bread together. At that time they represented major organizations opposing each other in a bitter campaign to determine the future of marriage equality in California: respectively, the Courage Campaign and the Mormon Church.

My friendship with Rick, which had much to do with my decision to write this book, began in a most improbable way. In June 2010, while attending my first meeting of the National Advisory Council of the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, I met Eric Paquette, a vice president of Sony Entertainment. Eric worked in Los Angeles, and when I told him that I was speaking at a symposium at the University of Southern California the following week, he invited me to lunch.

Proposition 8 was still very much a topic of conversation in California at that time, and as we were discussing it Eric was surprised to learn that I, a Mormon, supported marriage equality. Later that day he sent me an email that said, I want to introduce you to my very good friend Rick Jacobs who runs the Courage Campaign here in Los Angeles. I am not afraid to say that he is more responsible for pushing for progressive change and equality across California and the nation than anyone. He is a true hero and someone that I am proud to know. Two days later, the three of us met for dinner in Beverly Hills. Rick and I found that we had much in common, and we quickly became close friends.

A year later, while in Salt Lake City, I was introduced to Bill Evans, who had worked for three decades in the Public Affairs office of the LDS Church. Bill and I also became close friends. When I learned that Bill had been the church’s point man, from the professional side, for Proposition 8, I mentioned my friendship with Rick. Bill stiffened and said, Do you know who he is? I told Bill that I was well aware of Rick’s role but suggested that that was then and this was now and that I saw an opening for dialogue.

A year later, shortly after the November 2012 presidential election, Bill called me at my home in Maryland and said, I sent a request up the ladder, and it has been approved. Would you and JaLynn [my wife], on behalf of the church, invite Rick Jacobs and his partner to attend the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert as VIP guests and fly out to host them? I immediately called Rick, who quickly accepted the invitation.

I then called Jim Dabakis, whom I had met only a few months earlier. Jim, who is the only openly gay senator in the Utah Legislature, agreed to cosponsor a dinner of attendees, prior to the concert, at the Alta Club, a venerable institution only a block from the concert venue. He led the way in assembling a guest list that included Bill Evans, two other people from LDS Public Affairs, and a remarkable group of LGBT luminaries who also were VIP guests of the church: Chad Griffin, the new national director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award–winning writer of the screenplay for Milk; Bruce Bastian, cofounder of WordPerfect Corporation and a major philanthropist and LGBT activist; Trevor Southey, one of the greatest Mormon artists ever; Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center; Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah; Troy Williams, then a Salt Lake City radio personality and now executive director of Equality Utah; Erika Munson, founder and director of Mormons Building Bridges; and Rick Jacobs.

Much had changed since the bitter fight over Prop 8. The heated and widespread postelection backlash had caught church leaders by surprise, and they had worked ever since to improve the external image of the church. A year after the election, the church gave public support to Salt Lake City ordinances that forbade discrimination against LGBT people in housing and employment. During the 2012 election cycle, in a decision widely viewed by outsiders as an attempt to avoid any negative publicity that might affect adversely the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, the church withdrew completely from the political arena, even though four states—Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington—had ballot measures regarding marriage equality. (All four were decided in favor of marriage equality.) And finally, only a week before the dinner, the church had quietly launched a website, MormonsandGays.org, that was groundbreaking in acknowledging that individuals do not choose to have [same-sex] attractions. Common ground for the church and the LGBT community had expanded, and the atmosphere in the room as guests assembled was upbeat.

We seated Rick and Bill next to each other, not knowing what the outcome would be. At the end of the dinner we found out. Jim stood up and said, We have half an hour before we need to walk to the conference center for the concert. I’d like to call on several of you to express yourselves spontaneously. Trevor Southey, in earlier years, had been outspoken and bitter because of the church’s policies, among them the counsel to marry a woman in order to reorient his homosexuality. Ultimately, the marriage failed and Trevor was excommunicated. Now, gaunt from the cancer that took his life three years later, he wept as he said, Words cannot express how grateful I am for the changes that I have seen the church make in recent months. Lance Black also wept as he spoke of the possibility of rapprochement with his Mormon family. Rick Jacobs said, Four years ago Bill Evans and I were enemies. Now, we are friends. Bill Evans responded, Were it not for Proposition 8, this dinner could not have happened. And he was right: Prop 8 was indeed a catalyst, but the story is far deeper and more complex.



In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. Police raids on gay bars had long been common in the city, and thus the police were surprised at a spontaneous show of resistance from the bar’s patrons, which escalated to riots and protests spanning several days. While not the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States,¹ the Stonewall Riots thrust the movement into the international spotlight.

Three months later, the Mormon Church effectively entered the public discourse on LGBT issues when senior apostle Spencer Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness was published. Prior to Miracle, homosexual was a word rarely used within Mormonism, and when used at all it almost always referred (and still does) to men. Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex were essentially missing from the Mormon lexicon.² The first time homosexual appeared in the Church Handbook of Instructions³—the Mormon embodiment of canonical law that was first published in 1899—was 1968, and then it was part of a lengthy list of transgressions that might result in church disciplinary action. No explanations or guidelines accompanied its mention, and thus a single word inserted into an earlier list was all that defined official policy on LGBT issues after 138 years of the church’s existence.


Attitudes toward same-sex relationships in ancient societies—the word homosexual was not coined until the late nineteenth century—varied from acceptance to tolerance to condemnation. By the nineteenth century the colonization of much of the world by Christian European cultures pushed homosexuality into the closet, where it largely remained until Stonewall. Embedded attitudes treating it as a normal, albeit minority, expression of sexuality were gradually replaced by condemnation as clinicians, aided by ecclesiastics, came to view it as pathological.⁴ This attitude was codified in 1952 when the American Psychiatric Association published the first edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (now universally abbreviated DSM). Public policy mirrored medical opinion, such that by 1960 private, consensual sex between same-sex partners was not only condemned as morally wrong but also defined as a criminal act in every state in the country. Social worker Dr. Caitlin Ryan painted a bleak verbal picture of the LGBT landscape that she experienced in that era, albeit one that was dissociated from localized thriving gay and lesbian cultures in other parts of the country in the 1950s and 1960s:

Until Stonewall, we didn’t have an organized LGBT community. We didn’t have social institutions. We didn’t have health institutions, recreational supports, faith-based settings that would welcome. There wasn’t the foundation of a civil society for LGBT people. There was nowhere for them to fit in. . . . Everything about gay people, all the novels were tragic, all the media representations were distorted, the messages to young people were Hide! . . . You would hide your identity, you would never discuss it, you would dress in certain ways, kids would pretend to be straight. . . . The sanctions for being gay were so extreme that nobody would come out.

Although scientific research over the subsequent two decades increasingly challenged the DSM classification, resulting in the deletion in the 1973 edition of prior characterizations, the larger society continued to view homosexuality as aberrant, dangerous, even contagious—becoming, in a word, homophobic. The 2016 massacre of forty-nine mostly LGBT persons in Pulse, an Orlando, Florida, gay bar, underscores the persistence, depth, and danger of homophobia in the United States.

The societal reaction to Stonewall and the DSM reclassification, among other factors, resulted in significant, albeit geographically variable, gains in public acceptance of LGBT persons, coupled with occasional local legal protection of their rights. Those protections, in turn, elicited a strong reaction from religiously motivated activists who were personified by Anita Bryant, a popular singer and runner-up for Miss America in 1959. Following the enactment in Dade County, Florida, of an LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance, Bryant led a successful campaign to invalidate the legislation through a county referendum that passed by more than a two-to-one margin. Emboldened by her success, she dominated the national anti-LGBT scene, helping to roll back LGBT protections in communities throughout the country by portraying homosexuals as continually proselytizing children to join their ranks.

Bryant’s message resonated well in Utah. Barbara Smith, general president of the Relief Society (the women’s organization within the LDS Church), sent her a laudatory telegram in 1977: On behalf of the one million members of the Relief Society, we commend you for your courageous and effective efforts in combatting homosexuality and laws which would legitimize this insidious life style. The following month, Apostle Mark Petersen, in an editorial in the LDS Church–owned Church News, wrote, Every right-thinking person will sustain Miss Bryant, a prayerful, upright citizen, for her stand. Righteous people everywhere also should look to their own neighborhoods to determine to what extent the ‘gay’ people have infiltrated their areas.

Later the same year Spencer Kimball, now church president, stated in a press conference that Bryant was ‘doing a great service’ by attacking the homosexual rights movement. . . . ‘We feel the homosexual program is not a natural and normal way of life.’⁷ In the two decades following Bryant’s activities in Dade County, more than sixty jurisdictions across the country held referenda to dismantle gay-rights protections, with the large majority being approved by voters.

Amplifying the national pushback against LGBT rights was the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome epidemic in the United States. Introduced into the country in the mid-1970s through male homosexuals, AIDS became known as the gay disease, even though in other parts of the world its transmission more frequently occurred through heterosexual intercourse or through shared needles among intravenous drug users. President Ronald Reagan turned his back on the epidemic for the first four years of his presidency, until his friend Rock Hudson became ill with AIDS in 1985. Moved by Hudson’s illness, Reagan finally spoke publicly on AIDS, but by that time the epidemic was in its sixth year in the United States, and thousands had died from it. (In a tone that stood in contrast to increasing national empathy toward the AIDS epidemic, Mormon apostle and retired cardiac surgeon Russell Nelson, who now [2019] presides over the LDS Church, publicly called AIDS a plague fueled by a vocal few who exhibit greater concern for civil rights than for public health, a plague abetted by the immoral.⁸ Decades later, as described in a later chapter, Nelson played a key role in one of the most divisive LGBT policies the church ever enacted.)

The enormous toll that AIDS took on the male homosexual population in the United States, coupled with the exemplary manner in which the LGBT community coalesced in response to the epidemic, gradually worked to destigmatize homosexuality and increase its acceptance within the larger society.


The ripple effects of World War II continued for many years after the cessation of hostilities. Of the sixteen million people who served in the armed forces during the war, countless thousands were gay, albeit closeted, for being openly gay was justification for dishonorable discharge. Many, sheltered in the towns of their upbringing, did not become aware of their own homosexuality until they passed through the military induction process. Their exposure to the wide world that they had not previously experienced included in many cases awareness that big cities—particularly port cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle, which had a heavy military presence—were more gay tolerant than small towns and cities, and after the war those cities and others, including Salt Lake City, became congregating places for gay men in particular.

In 1948 two straight business partners, Elvin Gerrard and Lee Caputo, opened the Radio City bar in Salt Lake City. It gradually evolved into a gay bar that is believed to have been the oldest in Utah. Nikki Boyer, onetime manager of the Sun Tavern, another Salt Lake City gay bar, recalled, We had no rights, but we were rich in gay bars. . . . This is where we felt safe. It was the only place we felt safe.¹⁰

The safety that may have existed in the late 1940s and early 1950s eroded in the face of a wave of Cold War–driven hysteria over homosexuality. Upon becoming U.S. president in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower banned federal employment of homosexuals. A July 1953 article in the LDS Church–owned Deseret News, carrying the headline 107 Fired in State Department, underscored the determination of federal officials to purge government agencies of what Eisenhower’s executive order called sexual perversion. The challenges facing a young LGBT person in Utah at that time were daunting, as portrayed in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune in 2014:

To a young homosexual awakening to his or her sexual orientation in Utah, there were no positive role models in the 1950s to which one could aspire. Society’s predominant view of homosexuality was typified by the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board’s opinion that it was a social evil that must be fought. The Idaho Statesman, even more virulent, called homosexuals monsters to be crushed. Virtually all editors of newspapers along the Rocky Mountain region called homosexuality everything from moral perversion to a cancerous growth. Children learned at an early age that to be called queer was about as demeaning as any name-calling could be.

Homosexuals in Utah were virtually invisible because the concept of homosexuality was revolting to the general public who viewed it akin to a social disease. The archives of Utah’s largest circulated newspaper, Salt Lake Tribune, revealed few articles on homosexuality from 1950 to 1959 and those were mostly in regards to criminal conduct and national security. The Deseret News [wholly owned by the church] was even less inclined to report on homosexuality as if the very mention of it might incline some to indulge in the practice. These few news reports would have been the only way in which a homosexual in the 1950s saw him or herself portrayed in the media.

For Utah homosexuals of the 1950s it was mostly a time of quiet desperation. Sexually active homosexuals guarded their sexual identity closely without any institutional or community support. The legal system regarded them as sex offenders, perverts, molesters, deviants, unnatural, degenerates and security risks. All churches of the 1950s viewed homosexuals as immoral reprobates and sinners, while society described them in a whole catalog of disparaging names: queer, faggot, sissy, pansy, fruit, pretty boy, pervert, effeminate, tom-boy, lezzie, lesbo, dyke. It was a bleak time to be gay.¹¹

The legal landscape in Utah became increasingly homophobic after the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. A 1977 bill in the Utah Legislature outlawing homosexual marriages—this in the background of the ongoing national battle over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which many held to be the first step toward marriage equality—passed in the Utah House of Representatives by a vote of seventy-one to three, without any floor debate. Later the same year, Democratic U.S. congressman Gunn McKay announced in a press conference, I do not believe that the Gay’s right to be free from discrimination is greater than the right to live and work in a community whose moral standards reject homosexual activity. People should not be compelled against their will to hire, rent to, or have their children taught by homosexuals.¹²

Public sentiment reflected the legal landscape. A poll conducted the same year by the Salt Lake Tribune showed that 75 percent of LDS respondents opposed equal rights for gay teachers or ministers (versus 64 percent of non-LDS respondents), and 62 percent favored discrimination against gays in business and government (versus 38 percent of non-LDS).¹³ The majorities among LDS respondents paralleled, in turn, the developing gay-unfriendly attitudes and policies of their church.


The policies and attitudes of the LDS Church and its members toward homosexuality have been shaped by three basic tenets: it is a grievous sin that requires punishment by the church (often excommunication in earlier times) and is caused by a conscious choice of the LGBT individual rather than being biologically determined.


In the early 1950s, when U.S. government hysteria over communism spilled over into hysteria over homosexuality, particularly in the State Department, former undersecretary of state—and now First Presidency counselor—J. Reuben Clark Jr. lashed out at homosexuality at a time when the word was rarely heard from a Mormon pulpit. Speaking to the annual conference of the Relief Society in 1952, he condemned the person who teaches or condones the crimes for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed—we have coined a softer name for them than came from old; we now speak of homosexuality. Two years later he broadened his audience by condemning that filthy crime of homosexuality during the semiannual church General Conference.¹⁴

Church president David O. McKay, while never addressing the issue publicly, made it clear in private that he and Clark were of one mind on the subject. Ernest Wilkinson, president of Brigham Young University (BYU), wrote that in a meeting with senior apostles, I was informed that President McKay, in one of the temple meetings, had said that in his view homosexuality was worse than immorality, that it is a filthy and unnatural habit.¹⁵

In the same time frame, Bruce McConkie, an LDS General Authority by virtue of his membership in the First Council of Seventy, published an encyclopedic book with the audacious title Mormon Doctrine, which many church members then and now consider to represent the official doctrines of the church, even though it was never endorsed by the church, was criticized by other General Authorities, and now is out of print.¹⁶ He listed prostitution, and whoredoms . . . and homosexuality among sins that are condemned by divine edict and are among Lucifer’s chief means of leading souls to hell.¹⁷ What little downside remained was filled several years later by Apostle Mark Petersen who, in an editorial in the Church News, placed homosexual offenses next to murder in his hierarchy of sins.¹⁸

Although the initial mention of homosexuality in the Church Handbook was in the active sense—Cases handled by church courts . . . include, but are not limited to: fornication, adultery, homo-sexual acts¹⁹—the emphasis soon shifted to the passive. The subsequent edition of the Church Handbook, and the first published during the presidency of Spencer Kimball, listed homosexuality, rather than homosexual acts, as grounds for church court action.²⁰ For many years thereafter, being homosexual was cause for church disciplinary action, including excommunication, even if the person was celibate, and subsequent editions of the Church Handbook equated the passive sin of homosexuality with the active sins of adultery, fornication, and child molestation.²¹

The 1989 edition of the General Handbook, which was the first published after the death of Spencer Kimball, signaled a slightly softening approach by equating homosexual relations to adultery, fornication, and child molestation. A First Presidency circular letter two years later emphasized the shift by noting, There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.²² While homosexual behavior—generally considered to be sexual intercourse—remains highly placed among the hierarchy of Mormon sins, there has been an increasingly tolerant attitude toward LGBT church members who do not engage in such behavior or who are willing to discontinue it. The most visible evidence of such change is the fact that openly gay church members, whether celibate or repentant, can serve full-time proselytizing missions—something that would have been unimaginable during the Kimball years.²³

While the official church policy remains one that accepts homosexuality as nonsinful if not acted upon, interpretation by lay leaders and family members sometimes differs. Anecdotal accounts of harsh treatment continue to be received, with none more poignant than that of Mitch Mayne, a gay church member who gained national prominence when his bishop called him to be his executive secretary. He wrote retrospectively, in an article published in a national magazine in 2012, I mourned for my mom, who wanted so much to do the right thing and keep me safe and yet, without the resources to understand and support me, instead told me it would have been better for her if I had been born dead than gay.²⁴


Given that homosexuality was not even mentioned in church canonical law until 1968, it should not be surprising that there was no standardized church response either to homosexuality or to homosexual intercourse. The most frequent de facto response for well over a century was usually benign neglect,²⁵ although the attitude of some church leaders was hardly benign. For example, three years prior to the publication of the 1968 Church Handbook, church president David O. McKay told his counselors, They [homosexuals] should be excommunicated without any doubt, that the homosexual has no right to membership in the Church. . . . I said I think they should be dealt with immediately if they are guilty.²⁶

Although men at the top often had strong feelings about homosexuality, they gave discretion to local leaders over the nature and exercise of church discipline. For example, the 1983 Church Handbook stated, "Church courts may be convened to consider . . . homosexuality," and options for local leaders ranged from acquittal to excommunication.²⁷ Only in the case of homosexual behavior on the part of members holding a prominent church position was a disciplinary council mandatory,²⁸ and even then local leaders had (and have) those same options.

Unofficial injuries can be more severe and damaging than the punishments administered by church disciplinary councils. These punishments continue to the present day, as noted by Mitch Mayne: "I have been told by Church leaders that I am unworthy of ever taking the Sacrament.²⁹ I have been told that I will never work with the youth of the Church. I have been told in meetings that it is because of people like me that the AIDS pandemic has come upon the Earth—that my sins are bringing punishment upon the wicked and the sinless

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