Mormons have certainly been in the news lately. From Mitt Romney to posthumous baptisms, questions surrounding the church, its history, practices and members abound. Not too long ago, the Mormon Church, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garnered much media attention for its stance and involvement in California’s Proposition 8, which put to a vote the definition of marriage as being between only one man and one woman.
Generally one wouldn’t think that Mormonism and homosexuality mix, but recently individuals identifying themselves as both LDS Church members and gay have been stepping forward. In April, Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, an unofficial student organization at the church-owned Brigham Young University, posted an “It Gets Better” video to YouTube:
This week, Slate Magazine featured two LDS men who identify themselves as gay but in happy heterosexual temple marriages. On the flip side, there are many who feel the church and its tenets don’t garner a very welcoming environment for members of the LGBT community.
Greg Prince, author and historian specializing in the history of the Latter Day Saint Movement, said that there's been substantial oscillation in the Mormon Church's stance on homosexuality in the past 30 years.
"Prior to the 1970s, this was not on virtually any radar screen," he explained. "When the Mormon Church first took a position on it, that position was that being homosexual was the sin, and that was significant grounds for excommunication. Fortunately, we have gotten past that now, and being homosexual is no longer considered sinful, and in fact, young men and young women, who are openly gay, as long as they're celibate, can now serve as full time proselytizing missionaries, something that was unheard of just a few years ago."
The Washington Blade's Stephen Rutgers, engaged homosexual and former Mormon, said that he barely talked with his family after he came out in college, but reestablished connections after the Mormon Church's shift.
"It's amazing to see the change, even just with my sisters, in the past six months or so. I would never talk to them about my boyfriend, my partner, that side of my life. Now that I'm engaged, they're a lot more accepting about it," he said. "They're finally realizing that my happiness is their happiness, and even though we still have differences, they still love me."
Prince added that attitudes towards homosexuality are still changing, but the biggest rift occurs between different generations.
"If you talk to young Mormons, you're going to get a much different read on this than if you talk to their parents and grandparents," he said. "What I'm hearing from [the younger generation] is, 'What's the fuss?' That includes my own children, who are in their twenties. The idea of being gay openly and being an active latter-day saint is something that the younger set just assumes should happen and is trying to make happen."
Ty Mansfield, marriage and family therapist; Texas Tech University doctoral student, said that part of the Mormon shift comes from a willingness to face homosexuality.
"In the past, people were more encouraged to go to therapy if they were to open up to a church leader," he said. "That's changed ... There's more a focus on ministry, how do we love you, how do we help you feel a sense of belonging."
Is it possible to be both gay and a member of the Mormon church?
Greg Prince, author and historian specializing in the history of the Latter Day Saint Movement. He is co-author of 'The Rise of Modern Mormonism'
Ty Mansfield, marriage and family therapist; doctoral student at Texas Tech University
Stephen Rutgers, director of marketing and events, The Washington Blade