Q&A: A practicing Mormon who supports same-sex marriage

The San Jose Mercury News/March 13, 2011

Laura Compton, 43, has lived in California almost all her life, in San Jose and Cupertino. Her parents met at Brigham Young University, and her Mormon ancestry goes back at least to her great-grandparents. She is married and has two little boys. Compton is an active Mormon, but is fairly rare among Latter-day Saints in that she supports same-sex marriage.

How important is your faith to you? How active are you in church activities?

My faith in God is very important. Sometimes I think it's part of my DNA. It's what's gotten me through some very tough times in my life. I haven't been as active in the church since Proposition 8 (the voter initiative to ban same-sex marriage) as I was before, but I still participate regularly and enjoy working with and for others in my religious community. I feel like I'm making a difference for good by being involved and by participating.

Do you think Bay Area Mormons are generally more liberal than Mormons elsewhere?

Mormons, like anyone else, are reflective of the larger societies they live in. Here in the Bay Area, Mormons spend lots of time swimming in liberal waters and their attitudes are shaped by their experiences here. So of course they're more liberal than Mormons who've spent their lives surrounded nearly completely by other Mormons or by other religious conservatives.

On the other hand, there are lots of places in the world where relatively conservative Mormons interact with relatively liberal non-Mormons, so I don't think the Bay Area is the only place you could find less-conservative Mormons.

That affects gay rights issues because there are lots of openly gay people in the Bay Area. There are two kinds of people -- those who know they know gays and those who don't know they know gays.

In the Bay Area, lots of Mormons know gay people and realize that the "gay lifestyle" isn't all that much different from the "straight lifestyle."

Gay people go to work every day, mow their lawns, shop at the grocery store, walk their dogs, check out library books, drop their kids off at school and enjoy date night the same way straight people do, and nobody seems to notice, or care, much because "The Gays" aren't some big, unknown conglomeration of stereotypically flamboyant oddballs who only come out for gay-pride parades. They might just be your really nice neighbors who throw awesome dinner parties, know how to fix a leaky faucet and need pet-sitters when they go on vacation -- real human beings whose sex lives are just a small part of who they are, kind of like everyone else.

What are your thoughts on gay marriage, and Prop. 8?

I wish the LDS Church would not spend so much time, money and energy trying to get its religious doctrines enshrined into secular law.

Given the choice between having the church's influence be known and obvious, like it became in California, or having it be hidden and reserved to political backrooms and obscure legislative committee meetings, though, I'd rather see the influence peddling out in the public light so everyone knows who's driving the legislative bus.

Does your support of gay marriage alienate you from fellow Mormons?

I guess that depends on what you mean by "alienate." Sure, there are Mormons who think I'm crazy, but there are a lot more who appreciate what I've done and how I've done it. For each person who's chosen to walk away from me because of my support for gay rights, there's another (or two or three) who've drawn closer or sought me out. I don't feel any more alienated now than I've felt at any other time in my life, but maybe it's just because I've had a liberal streak running through me ever since I (was young).

How would you describe the current relationship between Mormons and gay-rights supporters in the Bay Area? Does this affect you in any way?

I think they don't listen to each other very much and there's lots of fear and misconceptions on both sides. Lots of Mormons think all gay-rights supporters are out to get them and lots of gay-rights supporters think all Mormons are homophobic prudes. When people on both sides stop shouting at each other long enough to listen, they tend to find that most members in each group are more alike than different -- we all love our families, we all want to live our lives the best way we know how, we all want to be free to raise our kids to be good citizens and community members.

I can't say how many times people on both sides have been truly shocked to find people like me. I've seen lots of walls knocked down as people start to rethink prejudices, and that's been great to see.

If you had to guess, about what percentage of practicing Mormons support gay marriage?

It's hard to say; it's certainly a small minority, but I think that if Mormons could be assured that they wouldn't have to perform same-sex marriages, there'd be more Mormons willing to publicly support marriage equality.

Part of the reason that Mormons don't want to support gay marriage is that, in Mormon doctrine, there's a special place reserved for married heterosexual people in the eternities. People who aren't heterosexually married with Mormon authority and ritual don't receive the same eternal blessings as those who are married. (Single people, as well as anyone who hasn't had the chance to marry the Mormon way, will get the opportunity to be married if they want to before the Final Judgment, so they won't get left out).

By opting out of heterosexual marriage altogether though, and choosing same-sex marriage instead, people are opting out of those eternal blessings. So encouraging and preserving traditional marriage, in Mormon theology, is a major step in saving souls.

Do you have any fear of being excommunicated or ostracized from your church because of your beliefs on gay rights?

No. I suppose it's something that could happen, but it's not something I'm afraid of. I wouldn't like it to happen, and I'd do what I could to keep it from happening, but I'm not going to change my beliefs, say I'm changing my beliefs, in order to appease someone.

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