We feel that it is a small step in the right direction for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the LDS or Mormon Church) to post a website on this topic and to express agreement that bullying and public discrimination against gays in employment and housing is wrong. However, we believe the information on the site is slanted and lacks full disclosure.
It was legal for gays to marry in California before voters passed Proposition 8, heavily funded and backed by the LDS Church. Although Proposition 8 banned gay marriage, fortunately, this discriminatory law was found to be illegal. In his decision, appeals court Judge Stephen Reinhardt stated that "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."
The LDS Church has the legal right not to recognize its members' same-sex marriages. However, we object to their encouragement of pressure tactics – such as changing state laws – to coerce their members into discriminatory activities and the denial of basic human rights.
The LDS Church's new website clearly indicates that the Church expects gays to be celibate throughout their entire lives without any hope of marriage. They state that there should be no sex before marriage, but also deny recognition of any same-sex marriage, thus putting gays in an impossible situation. This is no different than expecting gays to live their entire lives as monks or nuns, without children or companions over many long decades of complete celibacy. Few people can live healthy, happy lives under such extremely difficult and lonely circumstances.
The Church is setting a bar so high for gays that almost no one could reach it and stay there. But if someone fails to do so, according to LDS teachings they suffer losing their eternal family and salvation. Even though this new website has attractive people and lovely, warm music, I can't understand or see any real kindness or compassion in such beliefs.
Church leaders previously taught and advised gays that they could change, become heterosexual and marry opposite sex partners — and that opposite-sex partners should marry gays. Gays were taught that if they prayed hard enough, suffered cruel shock, vomit or reparative therapies, they could become heterosexual and live happy family lives as heterosexuals.
Today a large body of scientific evidence proves these teachings are false and these experiments don't work.
A large number of LDS members who followed LDS leader advice for mixed-orientation marriages or suffered cruel experiments are speaking out. Their lives were shattered and great emotional and even physical damage was caused by following this advice. It appears now the LDS Church is backing off from giving advice on mixed-orientation marriage and experimental reparative therapies. Instead, they are expressing a more subtle, almost kind-sounding approach in expressing their rejection of gay marriage and homosexual relationships (see http://www.mormonsandgays.org/ .).
Unfortunately, while the new site may model LDS members being kinder to gays, their beliefs on gay marriage and lifelong celibacy leave little hope for gay LDS members. Thus they suffer high levels of loneliness that cause deep depression and even a high number of suicides. In fact, Utah is known as the state with the highest level of suicides among young men because of a high LDS population and these specific LDS beliefs.
"Back in June, Max Perry Mueller asked in Slate whether one could really be both gay and Mormon, concluding that the "answer depends, to some extent, on how you define both these identities." Gay sex is expressly forbidden by the LDS Church. But if you're comfortable with a definition of gay that does not include having sex with someone of the same gender, you can plausibly be a devout gay Mormon. That doctrinal wiggle-room is one of the reasons Mueller cited for signs of change in the attitude of the church—which played a famously crucial role in passing Prop 8 in California—toward homosexuality.
Today, the LDS Church launched a new website, mormonsandgays.org, which, according to a press release, aims "to encourage understanding and civil conversation about same-sex attraction." The site presents itself as a "collection of conversations"—with LDS leaders, Mormons "who are attracted to people of the same sex," and the loved ones of such Mormons ("who are dealing with the effects of same-sex attraction in their own lives").
Among the videos on the site is one featuring the Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks, titled "What Needs to Change." Oaks says that "what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same-gender attraction." While that sentence doesn't quite parse grammatically, the message seems to be: Don't throw your children out of the house because they're gay. Do teach them, though, not to have gay sex. The "doctrine of the church, that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married," Oaks says, "has not changed and is not changing."
Those who pay attention to verb tenses may notice that Oaks does not say that Mormon doctrine will not change. On one level, this is simply good Mormonism: The LDS Church believes in continual revelation through a living prophet, so no apostle can declare with certainty that something will never change. And the new website, which is hardly a celebration of gay pride, is also a savvy bit of public relations: Brad Kramer, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan who studies contemporary Mormonism (and who is Mormon himself), called the site "an example of the curious space where PR and doctrinal shift intersect and subtly cooperate."
But it's hard not to see some real change in the comments as well. Consider that in 1995, Oaks wrote that "erotic feelings toward a person of the same sex are irregular"—or that in 2006, he made a highly defensive statement about the "unrelenting pressure from advocates of that lifestyle to accept as normal what is not normal." In contrast, today's statement emphasizes uncertainty and compassion. And even the url for the site, while probably reflecting the church's knack for SEO, reflects a significant change in the terminology the church uses. As one blogger put it this morning: "Even the fact that in their official statement they have used the terms ‘gay' and ‘lesbian' to refer to members with same-sex attraction, I think, is huge."
Over at BuzzFeed, McKay Coppins, who is a member of the church, refers to the site as an "evolution from its past teaching." To which some might say: Evolve already. But at least there is some movement, and in a more compassionate direction."