In the wake of Dobbs, Justice Thomas expressed his interest in overturning other rights of Americans, including gay marriage and access to contraception. While all reproductive rights for women were dead on arrival due to near total opposition by Republicans, including Mormon legislators, a surprising number of Republican legislators supported codifying gay marriage rights by voting yes on the Respect for Marriage Act. This includes all four Utahn congressional representatives, and one from (mostly crazy) Idaho. (Andy Biggs of Arizona who is a QAnon nut job and unfit for dog catcher, let alone Congress, voted against). Given the Church’s “official” stance on gay marriage, this surprised me slightly. It was also a pleasant surprise on ex-Mormon Reddit.
This makes Mormon legislators a real outlier in the the GOP. Only 23% of Congressional Republicans voted yes. That’s 1 in 5, vs. the 5 in 6 Mormons I just listed who voted yes. In terms of 80/20 principle, that’s saying only 20% of Republicans support protections for gay marriage whereas 80% of Mormon Republicans do. Big difference. Huge.
Some Redditors speculated that this support for the act must have been at the behest of Church leaders. I consider that quite unlikely. It’s more likely that the Church didn’t weigh in on this one, instead leaving it up to individual legislators (not that the Church doesn’t sometimes weigh in). It’s also going to be a squeaker when the act hits the Senate since there are only 4 Republicans on board to approve it; neither Romney or Lee are considered shoo-ins, although Romney is certainly more persuadable than insurrectionist Lee who is less crazy than Andy Biggs, but still plenty terrible.
What is the basis for higher support? Here are a few possible theories:
- Voters. There is a very vocal LGBTQ voting base in Utah. There are also higher levels of LGBTQ support among Mormons in general. Mormons on the whole are more educated than Evangelicals. The Utah voting base is more white suburban due to population distribution (a group in which support for gay marriage is a majoritarian perspective), and less reliant on rural votes than other states.
- Wisdom. If we want to be optimistic, perhaps there’s a higher degree of earnestness (desire to govern wisely) among Mormons. If so, they must have a higher awareness of the utter legislative chaos that would ensue if states don’t have to respect the rights of gay married couples. This is another “dog that caught the car” scenario. It may sound great to some really awful people like Clarence Thomas to undo people’s marriages, but how do you really do that in practice?
- Scope. Unlike the efforts to protect reproductive rights, this act was only 4 pages long. Its simplicity improves the ability to support it. The act is limited in scope and doesn’t require states to perform gay marriages, just to recognize them legally. This lowers the risk of supporting the measure.
- A Mormon Angle. This would allow the state to recognize polygamous marriages (theorized by a Redditor) It also provides protection for miscegenation, which is not that common in Mormon marriages, but also lets legislators off the hook for looking like racists despite belonging to a Church with a pretty racist past.
- Personal Conscience. It’s entirely possible that these legislators, like the majority of their constituents, simply support the measure and felt no pressure to vote against their conscience. (Likewise, Republican legislators from other faiths may want to overturn gay marriage; support for non-discrimination of LGBTQ people is higher among Mormons by 5% than it is nationwide).
Mormon support for gay marriage still lags nationwide support, but has increased dramatically from 2011 to 2021, from 23% to 46%. Nationwide support during that same time period shifted from 51% to 68%. In short, Mormons are supportive of LGBTQ rights in roughly this order:
- Protections against discrimination in housing & employment (84%). Only 61% of white Evangelicals support anti-discrimation protections for LGBTQ people.
- Gay marriage, the right to marry whom you choose (46%); this tracks closest to Republicans in general (50%). Evangelicals are far less supportive of gay marriage (only 34% in 2020).
- Equal access to public services (44%); during this same time frame, Evangelical opposition to equal access to public goods and services remained at only 38% support. (This is the cake baking question).
In general, these results  are fairly consistent with Church leaders’ statements about public policy, even though the private institutions they own may behave differently . While some have theorized that Mormon support for things like gay marriage are driven by so many having gay family members, this is not a uniquely Mormon phenomenon and has failed to move politcal bedfellows in the Republican party in similar ways. To me, it feels more like Mormon legislators and voters following a combination of dog whistles from the Church Office Building, and feeling a sense of relief when they can follow their own conscience and live the Golden Rule without fearing they are apostatizing in the process.
- Why do you think so many Mormon legislators supported the Respect for Marriage Act?
- Do you expect this to pass the Senate? Do you think Mormon Senators will vote yes? Which ones?
- Why is there such a split between Mormons and Evangelicals on this issue? Is it due to Mormons being more moderate, college educated, suburban, or some other factor?
- What role do you see the Church’s stances on these issues taking in how Mormons legislate?
 Including insufficient support for access to contraception. They do literally want to make it impossible for women to escape forced pregnancy and birth.
 Yes, I am saying that being homophobic in 2022 is linked to lower levels of college education. Conservatives might consider this due to “liberal brainwashing” at higher institutions, but IMO, it’s also indicative of a higher likelihood to understand and accept scientific explanations.
 I consider this one in the ridiculous pile. The Church can’t distance itself enough from the branches of Mormonism still practicing polygamy (even though top leaders doubtless expect to have multiple wives in the eternities and do absolutely nothing to doctrinally disavow it or to equalize multiple sealings for widows).
 79% of Americans support anti-discrimation protections for LGBTQ people; 84% of Mormons do. This likely reflects the effect of the “Utah Compromise” of 2015 and LDS leaders’ attempts in the last several years to publicly support nondiscrimination laws while also continuing to teach that homosexual behavior is wrong. Mormons in the U.S. appear to have received the message that the church wants to ban employers and landlords from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. (source).
 As a private institution, BYU does engage in active discrimination against LGBTQ students, professors and allies on doctrinal grounds. Their right to do so is protected legally as a private religious institution.