Split surfaces in LDS policy on same-sex couples: Mormons back it; other Utahns don’t

As much as the state is evolving and diversifying, on some topics there still are two Utahs: Mormon and non-Mormon.

The LDS Church's policy on gay couples and their children is one of those issues.

A new Salt Lake Tribune poll shows Utah Mormons support the policy labeling same-sex LDS couples as "apostates" by a 4-to-1 margin (72 percent to 18 percent). Non-Mormons are practically the mirror opposite, with 71 percent against the notion and 18 percent for it.

Similarly, 70 percent of LDS respondents approve of their faith barring children of gay Mormon couples from baptism and other religious rites until they turn 18, while 21 percent disapprove. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of non-Mormons oppose that stance, while 18 percent back it.

Overall, 50 percent of Utahns endorse the church's policy on same-sex couples, according to the survey, with 39 percent against it. Support slips a bit for church's approach to the children, with 49 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed.

Why should anyone who doesn't belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have an opinion on an internal policy?

"Obviously, the LDS Church holds an outsized influence in the state," said a Salt Lake City non-Mormon respondent, who didn't want her name used because of her employment. "The disapproval [of same-sex families] that the policy reflects does impact the way gay and lesbian people are treated in the state as a whole."

Even new Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, the first openly gay chief executive in the Utah capital's history, expressed concerns about how the Mormon protocol on gay LDS couples and their children might affect the general public.

"I share in the sadness and confusion that this new policy has caused many in our community — both members of the church and nonmembers," the mayor has stated. "The LDS Church has done so much good in promoting the strength of the family, and while I strongly believe they are entitled to live in their doctrine, I hope this policy direction will not last long."

The Tribune poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, amassed responses from 989 registered Utah voters between Jan. 6 and 13. It carries an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

In the middle of the polling period, on Jan. 10, Russell M. Nelson, head of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and next in line to lead the global faith, insisted that the new policy came as a "revelation" from God to President Thomas S. Monson, viewed by Mormons as a "prophet, seer and revelator."

Nelson said the policy reflects "the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord" on the same-sex issue.

It is unclear how many poll respondents could have been influenced by Nelson's pronouncement.

With or without it, though, many Mormons believe the policy came from deity.

"I really support our prophet because I know he receives revelation," said poll respondent Janet Jameson, a Mormon who has lived in Holladay for more than 50 years. "I don't think the church would take this stand if it weren't revelation."

That doesn't mean she is hostile to gays. LDS leaders teach that same-sex attraction isn't a sin, only acting on it is.

"One of our best neighbors is gay, and we think the world of him," Jameson said. "I don't think [the policy] will have any impact on gay Mormons. We respect [our neighbor's] feelings and way of life. ... We've rented to gay couples and they are the best renters we've ever had."

Jameson believes "God loves everybody, but he has certain rules."

Bountiful Mormon Barry McKay echoed that sentiment.

"If someone doesn't believe or fights against the doctrine of the church,"the 85-year-old McKay said, "they're apostates."

The LDS Church's prohibition against baptizing children of same-sex couples, he said, "was done in order to prevent conflict in the homes. You can't pit a child against the parents, or vice versa, on their beliefs."

Mormons and others "who are upset with the church's position can't see it, but I can," he said. "The reasons fit my logic, whether I believed in the church leaders or not."

Another respondent, Holladay resident Keith Bergstrom, who was raised LDS but is now an atheist, sees the church's position, especially in regards to the children of same-sex couples, as "hypocritical."

Growing up in Mormonism, Bergstrom points to the church's Articles of Faith, which include the belief that "men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression."

He was taught that meant "you would be responsible for your own sins," Bergstrom said, "not for the sins of your father."

Though gay LDS filmmaker Kendall Wilcox was not surprised by the overwhelming support among Utah Mormons for their church's policy, he still had a "sense of sadness that so many members approve of [it]."

The findings can be explained, said Wilcox — co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, which works to improve ties between the LDS and LGBT communities — by the LDS mandate to "follow the prophet."

In other words, members are expected to "obey and agree with church leaders' words and policies" — including the one dealing with gays, he said. "If you do not, you are relegated to the status of a 'servant of Satan.' "

That final allusion was to Nelson's speech, which warned his audience of young Mormons about the perils of opposing LDS leaders.

"The somber reality is that there are 'servants of Satan' embedded throughout society," Nelson said. "So be very careful about whose counsel you follow."

Even so, the survey found that one in every five Utah Mormons does oppose the policy on same-sex couples and their children. About one in 10 is unsure.

The Tribune's survey "confirms all existing biases," said Wilcox, who recently helped create a podcast, "Out in Zion," for and about Mormon gays. Still, the policy "is an unfortunate path for my church to take. We are better than this."

Moral authority must be "imbued with the virtues of empathy and compassion," Wilcox said, "to have any power."

This LDS approach to same-sex Mormon couples, he said, has neither.