Last month, hundreds of boisterous protesters converged in Washington, DC, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California's anti-gay marriage initiative, Proposition 8. Faith-based groups were on prominent display: the Methodists supporting marriage equality, the Westboro Baptists suggesting (per usual) that "God hates fags," the Catholics both for and against gay marriage, clergy of all stripes. But one group that wasn't there in any official capacity was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a.k.a. the Mormons—which perhaps more than any other religious group was responsible for getting Prop. 8 passed in the first place.
In the five years since the LDS church sent busloads of the faithful to California to canvass neighborhoods, and contributed more than $20 million via its members to support the initiative, it has all but dropped the rope in the public policy tug of war over marriage equality. The change stems from an even more remarkable if somewhat invisible transformation happening within the church, prompted by the ugly fight over Prop. 8 and the ensuing backlash from the flock.
Although the LDS's prophet hasn't described a holy revelation directing a revision in church doctrine on same-sex marriage or gay rights in general, the church has shown a rare capacity for introspection and humane cultural change unusual for a large conservative religious organization.
"It seems like the [Mormon] hierarchy has pulled the plug and is no longer taking the lead in the fight to stop same-sex marriage," says Fred Karger, the LGBT activist who first exposed the church's major role in the passage of Prop. 8. "The Mormon Church has lost so many members and suffered such a black eye because of all its anti-gay activities that they really had no choice. I am hopeful that the Catholic Church cannot be far behind."
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