If you’ve never seen or attended one of the semi-annual General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), it’s truly a sight to behold. 20,000 faithful members attend a two-day conference in Salt Lake City to listen to their leaders, while millions more around the world tune in to watch on live TV, hanging on every word from men they believe have spoken directly to God.
While many Americans still view the Mormon religion as an oddity or curiosity, the Church’s numbers are growing quickly as it continues to send every young man on a two-year proselytizing mission around the world at age 18.
Unlike many religions today, where each congregation or parish holds some level of autonomy over their teachings, the Mormon religion’s power structure is top heavy—meaning no individual or local clergy has the authority to preach anything not authorized by the Church as a whole.
Historically, the Mormon religion has taken a proactive stance against civil rights issues, from their refusal to allow people of color full membership until the late 70s, to their political fight against gay marriage.
In Political Research Associates’ publication “Resisting the Rainbow: Right-Wing Responses to LGBT Gains” (p. 72), I wrote about the Mormon Church’s heavy involvement in the fight to ban gay marriage in Hawaii in the 90s, a sort of text of their capabilities and a battle in which they masked much of their involvement at the time. Emboldened by their overwhelming success in that fight, the Mormon leadership then turned their attention to California, infamously leading the charge to pass Proposition 8 in 2008. Unlike the Hawaiian battle in the 90s, the Mormons took a much more public position this time, fueling the “Yes on 8” campaign with millions of dollars in donations and thousands of door-knocking volunteers, and flooding the airwaves and cyberspace with ads and websites promoting false propaganda (such as the all-too-common lie that if gay marriage were legal, religions would be forced to perform gay marriages in their holy buildings).
The backlash against the Mormons was severe. Protests launched nationwide with thousands of angry LGBTQ people, concerned citizens, and even some members of the Church itself marching around Mormon temples. Even in Salt Lake City at the Mormon Church headquarters, 5,000 protesters surrounded the Mormon complex with chants of protest.
For a religion that is already viewed as a bit odd by the majority of the world, the Mormons cannot tolerate continued bad press, as it heavily damages their ability to proselytize and bring in new members. The backlash for their involvement in Prop 8 was so severe, and so sustained, that the Church finally capitulated and made some overtures to the LGBTQ community, including an endorsement of a non-discrimination law in Salt Lake City in 2009, and (after a 4,500 person protest surrounded their Salt Lake City temple in 2010) an official retraction of 2nd-in-command Boyd K. Packer’s speech claiming that gay people can somehow become heterosexual if they try hard enough.
However, since 2010, the fight seems to have been on hiatus as both activists and Church leaders waited to see what the other would do.
Now, it seems, the Mormon Church is testing the waters to see if it is safe to once again begin their antigay political campaigns. This last weekend at their latest General Conference, two of the Mormon’s “Prophets” told their 15 million members that they have a duty to oppose gay marriage.
Dallin H. Oaks bemoaned America’s dropping birthrates, later marriages and rising incidence of cohabitation as evidence of “political and social pressures for legal and policy changes to establish behaviors contrary to God’s decrees about sexual morality and the eternal nature and purposes of marriage and child-bearing.” These pressures “have already permitted same-gender marriages in various states and nations … Other pressures would confuse gender or homogenize those differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan of happiness” … An LDS eternal perspective does not allow Mormons “to condone such behaviors or to find justification in the laws that permit them,” said the apostle, a former Utah Supreme Court justice. “And, unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable.”
And yet another of the Mormon’s highest ranking leaders, Russell M. Nelson, later added:
“Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord’s doctrine and crucial to God’s eternal plan,” Nelson said. “Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fullness of life on Earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued.”
These overt anti-LGBTQ sentiments have not been seen for several years from the Mormon leadership, and indicate a strong desire to reenter the culture war and political fight to block civil rights for LGBTQ Americans.
If history is the best teacher, the only thing that will stop the Mormons’ political power, money and manpower from flowing back into the fight against equality would be an immediate and strong reaction from activists and citizens who care about civil rights. The Latter Day Saints have made their opening move, and it remains to be seen what will happen next.
A version of this article originally appeared at Political Research Associates and is reprinted here by permission.
Eric Ethington is the Communications Director for Political Research Associates, and has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Hailing from Salt Lake City, he was the original founder of PRIDEinUtah and the Queer Quorum. He also has a background in electoral politics, working on more than 20 winning campaigns. Eric’s writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Public Eye. He has also worked as a radio host, pundit, blogger, and activist.
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