Will this summer be remembered as a tipping point in the struggle for gay rights? In June, polls showed that for the first time a majority of voters in two American states -- Maryland and Washington -- are poised to hand same-sex marriage its first victories by popular referenda. Also this summer, LGBT pride parades in 10 American cities are witnessing the arrival of an unlikely new contingent of gay allies: Mormons.
So, I will put on my Sunday dress, tie on my walking shoes, take my daughters by the hand and head for San Diego's LGBT pride parade, the final event of the summer gay pride schedule. Together, we will walk with other believing Mormons behind a banner that reads "Mormons for Marriage Equality."
Many LGBT people resent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' prominent role in California's 2008 Proposition 8 campaign, which eliminated civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Given the bitter legacy of Proposition 8, no one imagines that this summer's LDS LGBT Pride parade delegations will create change overnight. It will take hard work and deep searching among Mormons to end suicide among gay LDS youth, and reconcile our faith's unique teachings about the theological importance of heterosexual marriage with the Christian commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But that work is beginning to happen. On June 3, about 400 members of the LDS Church marched in Salt Lake City's LGBT Pride Parade as "Mormons Building Bridges." Their message was a simple expression of love for LGBT friends, relatives and neighbors. Simple but powerful given the LDS Church's prominent role in national opposition to same-sex marriage, and it has sparked an important conversation about empathy and understanding among Mormons across the country. I hope that conversation will grow.
Throughout the month of June, additional contingents of church-dressed Mormons walked in Pride Parades in Boise, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Washington, D.C, San Francisco and New York City, bearing signs that read "God loves all His children;" "I support marriage equality ... and I'm a Mormon;" "Gay kids grow up Mormon; I'm here to keep them safe."
Skeptics have incorrectly characterized this effort as an election-year gambit to promote presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon and opposes same-sex marriage. In truth, this has been a grassroots movement led by faithful Mormons concerned about deep wounds over gay issues within LDS communities and the LGBT community at large.
Some gay Mormons have been rejected by their families and many have left the LDS Church, which teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful. Rejection has left a powerful need for reconciliation in our deeply felt faith tradition. In Washington, D.C., where about 75 Mormons marched behind a "Mormons for Marriage Equality" banner, a gay man attending the parade rushed from the sidelines toward the marchers. "Mormons are here?" he cried in astonishment, weeping. "I'm Mormon too!"
There are also feelings of anger. In Minneapolis, where about 35 Mormons marched as "Mormon Allies," an older gay man approached the delegation and explained that he had once been a member of the LDS Church. "I was excommunicated three days after my lover died," he said. "I love you people. But get out."
Mormons who support LGBT civil equality know that even as the rest of the nation begins to accept same-sex marriage our community has a long road ahead. But we take strength in a faith that has not been deterred by hard work or long journeys. Perhaps this summer will be remembered as the moment Mormons showed up, in the words of an LDS pioneer hymn, to put our shoulders to the wheel.
Joanna Brooks covers Mormonism, faith, and politics for ReligionDispatches.org and is the author of 'The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith' (Free Press, August 2012).
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