A new Salt Lake Tribune poll shows that 32 percent of Utah Mormons believe same-sex couples should be allowed to get state-issued marriage licenses, and 65 percent say they should be permitted to form civil unions or domestic partnerships.
A little more than a third of Mormons (35 percent) report their views on same-sex marriage have changed over time and 80 percent of those Latter-day Saints say they have become more accepting of the practice.
The position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on same-sex marriage is unequivocal. "Marriage should be between a man and a woman," LDS leaders reaffirmed after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. Clearly, though, many Mormons are now comfortable supporting same-sex couples in wider society.
That's where the issue of a "temple recommend" comes in.
A recommend is a card given to devout Mormons attesting to a person's "worthiness" to participate in temple rituals, including "sealings" in which couples are married for eternity.
During recommend interviews, local church leaders ask Latter-day Saints, for instance, if they believe in God and Jesus Christ and the LDS Church as a restoration of pure Christianity. They ask whether members live Mormon principles such as paying tithing and abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee. They also inquire about the loyalty of members to LDS leaders.
"Local church leaders interview a member who seeks a temple recommend to confirm that the member's actions and beliefs are in harmony with church teachings," LDS spokesman Cody Craynor said this week. "Church leaders use a list of questions that are provided for this purpose and are instructed not to add any additional requirements."
Final decisions are left up to local leaders, though, who have been given authority over those in their flocks.
"A leader may choose not to issue a recommend," Craynor said in the statement, "if the member repeatedly acts in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or persists in teaching false doctrine."
Spencer W. Clark, executive director of Mormons for Marriage Equality, has faced no church censure for his public support of gay marriage.
Clark, an expert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is married to a woman, has two children, is active in a French-speaking LDS branch in Maryland, and is an ordinance worker in his faith's Washington, D.C., temple.
"My branch president and I disagree on same-sex marriage but my support for it has never come up in a temple recommend interview," Clark said. "Worthiness is all based on your own assessment. That's how it should be."
Clark does not see his group as "opposing the church," he said. "The church can define what it views as marriage. The question is how we determine the best policy for the country. It's a political question, not a doctrinal one."
The Tribune poll "reveals that Mormons are increasingly supporting equal civil rights by whatever name," Clark said, "and if leaders want to start pulling recommends because of political beliefs, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who should be getting called in to see their bishops."
Mormons past and present have found themselves taking opposite political positions.
In February 2008, The Salt Lake Tribune asked newly installed church President Thomas S. Monson if Mormons could disagree with church politics without being disciplined.
"That depends on what the disagreement is ... if ... [it's] an apostasy situation, that would not be appropriate," Monson said. "If it were something political ... there's room for opinions."
Later that year, the LDS Church was involved in the rancorous debate over Proposition 8 in California, encouraging Mormons to give time and money to pass the act, making marriage exclusively between a man and a woman.
Many Latter-days Saints who disagreed with the measure said they felt pressured to go along, and some reported having temple recommends withdrawn, but that was not church policy, according to general authority L. Whitney Clayton, of the LDS Quorum of Seventy, who helped spearhead the California effort.
Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, Whitney told The Tribune. "We love them and bear them no ill will."
Mormon politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who supports same-sex marriage, also may differ with their church but face no threat to their membership or participation.
"Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position," according to the LDS Church's website. "While the church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent."
That standard applies to members, too, but is implemented differently across the country, said Randall Thacker, a gay Mormon in Washington, D.C., who lives with his partner. He doesn't have a temple recommend but plays the piano in his LDS congregation's Primary for children under age 12 and coordinates his ward's inner-city service projects.
His bishop welcomed him back to church last year, saying, "My role is to bring people to Christ. Please continue to come and I hope you will feel welcome here."
Thacker has heard recently of other gay Mormons and their supporters not having such a positive experience
"There is inconsistency worldwide in the way local leaders view members who support same-sex civil marriage,"said Thacker, president of Affirmation, an LDS gay support group, "Some local leaders, including some in Utah, see this as contrary to sustaining the prophet and apostles, which at times has resulted in threats to revoke or actual revocation of a temple recommend and in other instances the release of otherwise-worthy members from ward leadership callings."
Unfortunately, such treatment has a negative impact both on "the faith of the families affected," he said, and "on the ward unit by losing these individuals' leadership talents."
This week's LDS Church statement on recommends "reiterates a long-standing policy, the enforcement of which has always depended on the particulars of a given case," Armand Mauss, a pre-eminent LDS sociologist who lives in Southern California, wrote in an email. "That is, different bishops and stake presidents have had different thresholds in mind in considering what constitutes 'clear, open and deliberate public opposition.' "
Mauss notes that "the LDS religion, unlike others, establishes a formal and specific distinction between eternal marriage (in a temple), which has important implications for one's future salvation, and regular civil marriage, which does not. This theological understanding gives Mormons, or at least many Mormons, a way out of what would otherwise be a hard dilemma if the only kind of marriage acceptable to Mormons was the temple marriage."
Indeed, The Tribune survey shows nearly 80 percent of Utah Mormons as well as most non-Mormons want to change the state's constitution so that churches and clergy would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. For Latter-day Saints, that means not having gay weddings in their temples.
Where Utah Mormons stand
• 32 percent say same-sex couples in Utah should be allowed to get state-issued marriage licenses.
• 65 percent say they should be allowed to form civil unions or domestic partnerships.
• 41 percent support any legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
• 30 percent say same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children.
• 35 percent say their views on same-sex marriage have changed over time.
• 80 percent (of those whose views have changed) have become more accepting
• 79 percent say the Utah Constitution should be amended so that churches and clergy are not forced to perform same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs.
Source • SurveyUSA poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune from Jan. 10 through Jan. 13.
LDS Church statement
"Local church leaders interview a member who seeks a temple recommend to confirm that the member's actions and beliefs are in harmony with church teachings. Church leaders use a list of questions that are provided for this purpose and are instructed not to add any additional requirements. A leader may choose not to issue a recommend if the member repeatedly acts in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or persists in teaching false doctrine."
Source: LDS Church spokesman Cody Craynor