As the Church was once considered to be racially prejudiced, so it is now considered to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Church leaders have long stood against sexual relations between males and between females, asserting that those involved in same-gender relations harm spouses and children.
Historian D. Michael Quinn, the openly gay Mormon dissident, argues that same-sex relationships were tolerated in the early twentiethcentury. Later leaders took a stronger stand. President David O. McKay considered homosexuality a "filthy and unnatural habit." In 1968, the General Handbook of Instructions added "homo-sexual acts" to other sins for which a person could be excommunicated. In 1976, the word was changed to "homosexuality." As with the Christian Right generally, strong negative reactions by LDS members have continued.
Church leaders distinguish between homosexual feelings and homosexual activity. People may be helpless against the first, but they cannot act on their desires and remain in good standing.
Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others. To be morally clean, a person must refrain from adultery and fornication, from homosexual or lesbian relations, and from every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice.
The justification for the pro-family (rather than anti-gay) activism is provided by the 1995 document, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," which asserts the divine nature of the patriarchal, nuclear family and speaks implicitly against homosexuality. The Church has opposed recognition of same-sex marriage in several states, soliciting financial contributions and member labor, sharing the success of Nebraska's Initiative 416 against such unions. In 2003, eleven states recognized same-sex marriages; thirty-four states had so-called "Defense of Marriage" laws, but Nebraska's law alone banned any legal protections, health insurance, and other benefits for same-sex couples. This most extreme anti-gay law was challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and struck down by a federal judge. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court struck down Texas's anti-sodomy law.
U.S. senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon), a Latter-day Saint, supports gay and lesbian political organizations. Although he does not agree with all the goals of the gay community, he wants fair treatment and protection against violence. Senator Smith distinguishes between the civil rights of constituents and the policies of the Church.
The issue of homosexuality has struck close to home in conflicts within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The Church calls men to be scout leaders as Church service, and Mormons sponsor more than half of the national scout troops. In 1990, the BSA fired James Dale, a gay assistant scoutmaster from New Jersey. Dale appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in 2000, in a divided decision, that the BSA could exclude gay leaders. Public opinion divided over whether the organization should welcome all or exclude some. Whereas the media and much of the public favored nondiscrimination, more conservative groups saw themselves preserving traditional lifestyles.
A year later, Newsweek magazine explored the issue, noting that Catholics and Mormons had together sponsored 750,000 scouts. Those churches had supported the Scout stand against homosexuality, although other churches opposed it; and the United Way, formerly a major supporter, had blocked and reversed gifts. Scout membership dropped 4 percent nationally. Some BSA executives, wishing to open membership to gay members and leaders, feared that the Mormons, with 400,000 scouts in Church troops, would fight the change, and if overruled, would bail out and start their own program. "The Mormons have all the cards," said one official. Mormon apologists object to gay Scout leaders because studies show that gays are more likely to abuse drugs and report a larger lifetime number of sexual partners. Apologists see boys' behavior as malleable, requiring leaders with healthful lifestyles. Camille Williams, the conservative columnist for online Meridian Magazine, said, "For gay activists to characterize those who disagree with them as ignorant, fearful, or prejudiced squelches public dialogue about public health issues and impoverishes moral reasoning on issues of central importance to individuals, families and organizations."
Often unspoken in these debates is the fear that leaders, particularly homosexual leaders, will become abusers. The issues of homosexuality and pedophilia are intertwined, although most pedophiles are not homosexuals. Following in the wake of the abuse cases that rocked the Catholic Church are similar accusations and cases in Mormondom. As some respected Catholic priests have been accused of mistreating their young parishioners, so LDS priesthood and Boy Scout leaders have been accused of inappropriate behavior. Jeffrey Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who sued the Roman Catholic Church in sexual-abuse cases for twenty years, winning settlements of more than $60 million, surveyed green fields in Utah. "We're launching a major assault on the Mormon Church." He procured a $3 million settlement with the LDS Church in Oregon, charging that leaders knew of abuse they failed to report. In another Oregon case where the former scoutmaster was accused of six years of abuse, the attorney charged that the leader was acting as an employee or servant of both the Church and the Scouts, and both were liable. Several LDS scout leaders have pled guilty to similar charges. The Church has spoken out repeatedly against abuse and has pledged to "aggressively defend itself and its leaders." As in the Catholic cases, the abuse is worse because it destroys public trust.
This disapproval of homosexuality, particularly same-sex marriage, could also be seen in the Church's support of California Proposition twenty-two, the Definition of Marriage Initiative known as the Knight Initiative for sponsor, State Senator William J. "Pete" Knight. The ballot measure prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages that might be performed in other states. Working within a coalition of conservative Christian churches, the LDS Church was involved in the election, which led to the endorsement of the measure by 61.4 percent of those voting. LDS leaders directed members to vote "Yes," to donate money, and to canvas voters door-to-door and by phone. During almost a year of activity, the involvement brought intense media scrutiny, some dissension in wards, and considerable pain to gay Mormons and their families.