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For Openly Gay Mormons, Church's New LGBT Policy Has Big Implications

NPR's Michel Martin talks to Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Mormon, about the implications of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' ban on same-sex households. Also joining the conversation is NPR's religion reporter, Tom Gjelten.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's check in on another news story we've been following. It's a recent decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about same-sex marriage households. The church announced a policy declaring that those in same-sex marriages are to be considered apostates. And one of the consequences is that going forward, children living with a same-sex married couple cannot be baptized or undergo other rights of the faithful until they are 18 and meet certain conditions. We reported yesterday that hundreds of Mormons resigned from the church in protest of the new policy. But that made us think about the different ways that people navigate matters of faith and personal conscience, so we've called on NPR religion correspondent Tom Gjelten. Hi, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Also with us is Mitch Mayne. He is an openly gay member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he joins us now from San Francisco. Mitch Mayne, thank you so much for joining us, as well.

MITCH MAYNE: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Tom, I'm going to start with you. This came as a surprise to many people - this new policy - because many people believe that the LDS church was moving toward a more tolerant and perhaps even a supportive policy toward LGBT members. So why this, and why now?

GJELTEN: Well, Michel, you're absolutely right that this came as a big surprise. The word that I've heard from members of the Mormon church community is shellshocked, and yet, there is a certain logic to it. In March, the Mormon church - the Church of the Latter-day Saints - was actually very instrumental in supporting the passage of a new law in Utah that forbid discrimination against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation. So it certainly seemed that there was a more welcoming attitude toward gays in the church. But then in June, of course, we had the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. And what appears to be the case is that the Mormon church leadership felt that it was important that people did not get the wrong idea. They felt it was important to restate and even to clarify and strengthen their position, rejecting same-sex marriage and making clear that children living with same-sex couples were not to be baptized.

MARTIN: So, Mitch Mayne, let's turn to you. You were born into the church and are from a devout Mormon family. You came out when you were 16. How did that affect your religious life?

MAYNE: When I told my parents that I was gay, the first words out of my mother's mouth were - it would have been better for me if you had been born dead than gay. And I've come, over time, to understand that those aren't the words of a mom who hated her gay son. They were the words of the Mormon mom who was absolutely terrified because she had just as limited an understanding of what it meant to be a healthy, integrated, gay adult as I did. Shortly after I came out, I ended up leaving the church because it just was not a healthy place for me to be. And, you know, in the late '80s and early '90s in Idaho, as a gay Mormon kid, there just weren't any resources to be able to support me.

MARTIN: But you have come back. As an out man, I think many people would be surprised to understand that you have found a place where you are able to worship as part of the church. How is it that you are still able to remain a member of the church? How does it work?

MAYNE: Actually, there's a couple questions involved in what you just asked me. And one is the logistics and mechanics of how it physically works, and the second is why - why would you come back? Let me address the why. So what people don't understand about Mormonism is this isn't just about an activity we do for an hour, like Christmas and Easter. Mormonism is a very, very rich and deep culture, as well as a religion. So when we're asked to abandon our church in lieu of our orientation, we're asked to give up our entire lives, in some cases, our families, not to mention people that we once called friends. So leaving really rips a hole in an individual's identity when it's over orientation - something we cannot control and did not choose.

MARTIN: So you actually have been a leader in your San Francisco church. What reaction are you hearing there?

MAYNE: Correct. I probably have 150 emails from just devout Mormons alone who are expressing to me - you know, look, I originally did not even support marriage equality for LGBT individuals. But when it comes to this and, you know, making them apostates and then we throw in children to this, this is something that I can't bear. This is making me rethink everything that I thought I knew about LGBT individuals.

MARTIN: Tom, what about you? What are you hearing from people as you've been reporting on this story? What kinds of reactions are you hearing?

GJELTEN: What's kind of ironic about this is that among the various Christian denominations, the Mormons have always been known for their evangelical outreach. The church sends missionaries throughout this country and around the world in an effort to expand their membership. And here, the church is taking a step that is bound to cost it membership, including children who are already in the church. Obviously, this reflects really deeply held beliefs in the part of the Mormon church leadership because they are losing members. And that is not something that is in their interest and never has been.

MARTIN: Yeah, Mitch, could you talk just briefly a bit about that, as well? Because the church is so explicitly evangelical, why would - isolate or turn away families who wish to be or remain within the community, especially children who have no choice in whatever decisions their parents have made?

MAYNE: That is a great question, and Tom said it perfectly. Inside the faith, we have canon, obviously. And one of those articles of canon says, specifically, that we believe that man shall be accountable for his own sins and not the sins of the parents - or the sins of the father. And yet, what we seem to be doing is disregarding that when it comes to these children of LGBT couples. And what I'm seeing happen in the eyes and hearts of the most devout Mormons is this notion that I can either be a good Mormon right now, or I can be a good disciple to my savior. And those two things look very different to me underneath this policy.

MARTIN: Tom, I'm told, though, that this language tracks very closely to the kind of language and policy that was implemented after the church grappled with the whole question of plural marriage. Does that comport with your understanding, as well?

GJELTEN: I think that there are some new elements here, Michel. The notion that someone who enters into a same-sex marriage is an apostate is really sort of a hardening of the church's position. I mean, apostates include murderers, rapists. To be an apostate means you're subject to excommunication, so this is a really extreme step to be taken.

MARTIN: Mitch, I do find myself wondering - you've already made difficult relationships and come through a journey around your relationship with your faith. Does this cause you to question it again?

MAYNE: For me, no. I absolutely will not leave. I know what it's like to be that unsteady 12-year-old kid sitting inside the Mormon church on Sunday, knowing that he's gay and having to, you know, walk on the testimony of others because I haven't formed yet my own testimony. And if I leave, I remove myself from being on the Mormon landscape for today's 12-year-old LGBT Mormon kids. If I leave, they only have the testimonies of the truly fundamental to walk on - and testimonies that are not only going to tell them that they're not OK, but tell them that they're going to be pushed out if they are among the lucky few who happen to fall in love with someone and want to get married. I would be a terrible disciple to my savior if I turned and walked away from the opportunity to help others right now. That is - that is just not possible for me to do in my heart.

MARTIN: Mitch Mayne is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Tom Gjelten is NPR's religion correspondent. He joined us from our studios here in Washington, D.C. Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Michel.

MAYNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.