Shortly after the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (CJCLDS; “Mormons”) released updated policies upholding membership penalties for the children of same-sex couples and automatic excommunication for individuals in same-sex marriages. These two landmark policy changes represent two differing tides in the American political spectrum: one pushing for greater rights and acknowledgment for LGBTQ individuals, and the other suggesting hesitancy and caution when approaching LGBTQ rights.
The question remains, in the time since the Obergefell decision and the CJCLDS policy announcement, how have these two tides affected Latter-day Saints’ views and behaviors? And perhaps more pressing still, how will these two forces continue to affect Latter-day Saints’ views and behaviors? Data from PRRI provides some important facts that suggest what may happen.
Fact #1: The Majority of Americans Support Nondiscrimination for LGBTQ People
Data from the 2021 American Values Atlas, which included responses from over 20,000 Americans, suggest that 79% of Americans support nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people, while only 20% oppose such protections. These trends hold true for Latter-day Saints, with 84% of Latter-day Saints also supporting nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Nondiscrimination protections toward LGBTQ people have been formally endorsed by Latter-day Saint leaders, rendering Latter-day Saints who support nondiscrimination to be in line with both public opinion and church teachings.
Fact #2: Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage Has Decreased Dramatically Among Americans
Support for nondiscrimination may not always translate into support for rights. For some people, it may be easier to advocate that no one is treated poorly than that everyone be treated equally. Given that backdrop, it is notable that opposition to same-sex marriage has decreased dramatically since 2007, when 55% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, to 30% in 2021. This decrease is most pronounced among younger Americans (ages 18–29), of whom only 22% oppose same-sex marriage.
Fact #3: Almost Half of Latter-day Saints Support Same-Sex Marriage
Given the strong position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on marriage and family and potential membership consequences for Latter-day Saints who support groups who hold opposing views, it is even more striking that nearly half of Latter-day Saints (46%) report supporting same-sex marriage. Indeed, only 18% of Latter-day Saints report strongly opposing same-sex marriage (36% oppose).
Pulling It Together
Taken together, these statistics suggest that both Americans generally and Latter-day Saints specifically are becoming more supportive of LGBTQ individuals. Unsurprisingly, Latter-day Saints have followed church leaders and the American public in embracing nondiscrimination of LGBTQ individuals. More surprisingly, and even despite strong cultural currents pushing Latter-day Saints away from supporting same-sex marriage (i.e., church policy remains in place), increasingly more Latter-day Saints are feeling empowered to stand in direct opposition to official church policy. Certainly, this increasing opposition will spell complicated times for church leaders and future policies, particularly if the trends continue.
Tyler Lefevor is a member of the 2021-2022 cohort of PRRI Public Fellows.