More Mormon senators voted for a LGBT anti-discrimination bill this week than those who voted against it.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits most employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, passed in the Senate on a 64-32 vote Thursday. Among those who supported it were Latter-day Saints Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
The vote came the week of the anniversary of Prop 8, a proposition supported by various churches including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church received major backlash for its involvement, but five years later, some see Prop 8 as a catalyst for greater inclusion within the church.
“Before 2008, there was this huge silence around this issue,” said John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of Affirmation, a Mormon LGBT group. “My impression was generally, in Mormon congregations, there wasn’t much discussion about it. Prop 8 began a discussion.”
Although the church remains firm on its position on marriage, it has taken steps many LGBT Mormons find positive. In 2009, the church supported a nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, and in December, it launched a website encouraging love and compassion toward all people, regardless of sexuality. Since the events in California, the church has also remained more neutral on states’ same-sex marriage legislation, encouraging members to be involved in the political process, but not explicitly saying what their position should be.
Gustav-Wrathall said many Mormons in his home state of Minnesota “breathed a sigh of relief” when they found out the church’s level of involvement in the states’ 2012 marriage legislation. “The accounts I heard from California at the time was that it was very painful for those who were gay or had gay family members.”
A letter read over the pulpit in Hawaii in September asked members to study the state’s same-sex marriage legislation “prayerfully and then as private citizens contact your elected representatives in the Hawaii Legislature to express your views about the legislation.”
“Whether or not you favor the proposed change, we hope that you will urge your elected representatives to include in any such legislation a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith,” the letter read.
Hawaii’s same-sex marriage passed the House Judiciary & Finance Committee hearing Sunday, and will go to the House for a vote where it will be voted on today. If it passes, Hawaii will be the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
For Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign, the wave of same-sex legislation across the country has Prop 8 in part to thank.
“I think it’s the best thing that happened to the LGBT community since Stonewall,” Jacobs, who now serves as chief of staff for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said. “It changed forever the attitudes of people across the country. Everyone was impatient all of a sudden.”
Since Prop 8, attitudes toward same-sex marriage have changed. In 2008, 40% of Americans said same-sex marriage should be valid and today, 54% do, according to a Gallup poll.
Mormons are among those whose attitudes have shifted in five years, according to Sen. Harry Reid. When asked by the Washington Blade Wednesday how he reconciled his faith with his support of gay rights, and he said he wasn’t the only Mormon who shared his views.
“When I attend church here in Washington, D.C., I bet more people agree with me than disagree with me, and so the church is changing, and that’s good,” he said.
The church released a statement the following day to clarify their doctrinal beliefs on marriage hadn’t changed and to state that elected officials who were Latter-day Saints “may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position.” “If it is being suggested that the Church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect,” the statement read.
“I think that even those minimal changes without doctrinal change will have a big impact,” said Gustav-Wrathall. “I definitely see Mormon congregations becoming more and more welcoming to LGBT people who want to participate.”