The Church has been involved in similar efforts in Hawaii and Alaska where Church headquarters contributed more than one million dollars to bolster campaigns for successful "protection of marriage" ballot initiatives. In the California case, the members were encouraged to raise and donate the money and carry on the effort themselves. Letters were sent requesting specific amounts. Church involvement began in May 1999 with a letter signed by the North America West Area Presidency, which called on Church members in California to "do all you can by donating your means and time" to support the Knight Initiative. A later letter to the Church's Area Authority, identified as the request of the First Presidency, asked that "we assist in every proper way to assure passage of the Traditional Marriage Initiative." The Church has gone on to supporting the "Protection of Marriage" measures in Nevada and in Texas in 2003; 500 Church members showed up to support a bill banning same-sex unions. In 2004, Utahns voted to add a law banning same-sex marriage, already in force, to the state constitution. The Church had issued a statement backing such amendments.
When the San Francisco Examiner investigated Church involvement in the issue in California, a Church spokesman said that although the message should be seen as "inspired and coming from the Lord," members had the "option" to oppose the measure. Some congregations were divided as active gay members, friends, and families charged the Church with exercising undue influence. Some thought that the fund-raising went "beyond the bounds" of appropriate church involvement.
Gays in the Church felt excluded. Stuart Matis, a thirty-two-year-old returned missionary, gay, and a believing member of the Church, called on BYU students to "re-assess their homophobic feelings. Seek to understand first before you make comments. We have the same needs as you. We desire to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives with happiness. We are not a threat to you or your families. We are your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and most importantly, we are all children of God." Four days after this letter was published in the BYU Universe, Matis committed suicide on the steps of an LDS Church Stake Center. His former bishop, Robert A. Rees, noted at his funeral that although Matis had become "increasingly comfortable being truly and openly gay," he had difficulty feeling positive about himself "in the face of lifelong messages that told him such feelings were not only wrong, but that he was evil for having them."
Few stories of Mormons with same-sex attraction end so bleakly. To support its contention that orientation is a choice rather than an inborn trait, the Church expends considerable energy and expense in a social services program with hundreds of full-time professionals trained in nationally accredited programs in social work, psychology, and marriage and family therapy. These professionals work with young Mormons who believe Church teachings even though private feelings lead them in other directions. They choose to undergo therapy to help them adjust to a heterosexual world. Not all who undergo therapy succeed, but apparently many do. Erin Eldridge, a Mormon woman who overcame her same-sex attraction, wrote Born That Way?: A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction, with Insights for Friends, Families, and Leaders, suggesting that others could do likewise. Like Eldridge, many Church members believe that same-sex attraction is a "confusion" to be overcome.
A vocal, liberal faction calls for a change in the Church's position, criticizing the public condemnation of homosexual acts. Others learn to work with the Church. At an AIDS retreat in Salt Lake City, organizer Dick Dotson said the Utah situation was like that of other places in the country. Dotson has a good working relationship with welfare officials who have provided food and clothing for the needy. The program gets all its eggs, butter, and milk from the Church and can even make emergency referrals, as bishops do. Several years ago, Dotson discussed AIDS and HIV with President Hinckley who offered the Church's help.
There are some signs of greater tolerance for gays. A three-day Gay Pride event in Pocatello, Idaho, where Church membership is about 50 percent, was carried on with city cooperation. LDS leaders stayed out of the way, condoning the celebration and leaving controversy to other churches. Supporters noted that "Most people know someone who is gay." "Gays live in our communities. They have regular jobs, they have families, and they pay taxes." This stance in a small LDS community indicates a potential softening on this issue.
Many Church members would prefer to see some acknowledgement of same-sex unions, to see their brothers and sisters in committed longterm relationships rather than in promiscuous, temporary unions. Other members will want traditional boundaries enforced. The acceptance of same-sex marriages in Canada will put quiet pressure on the Church and the United States.
Aspects of sex and gender in all their variety form a crucial nexus in Latter-day Saint thinking. The official Church and millions of Church members are struggling to define gender roles in a rapidly changing world. Gay issues are hard for a slow-changing, basically conservative Church to respond to positively. The powerful image of a faithful family is behind these efforts. Mormons feel they are dealing with fundamental commandments in adhering to conservative standards. They wish to avoid hurting those caught in these crosscurrents, but the struggle inevitably introduces strains into Mormon life.