But Mormon leaders in Maryland have been silent on the ballot measure to affirm or toss the state’s new same-sex marriage law. Activists in other states voting next month on the issue (Maine, Minnesota and Washington) say they see the same thing. The dramatic turnaround from 2008 reflects the tightrope the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is walking as it tries to maintain a generally apolitical church culture while in the global spotlight of a presidential campaign.
“It’s surprising they haven’t been in the lead on this,” said Mike McManus, head of the Potomac-based Marriage Savers marriage counseling and advocacy group and an organizer for Question 6, the November ballot measure that requires voter approval of the state’s new same-sex marriage law.
Some Mormons are thrilled to see the church publicly stay out of politics, particularly on an issue that has such strong partisan overtones. Mormon scripture calls it “unjust” to mingle “religious influence with civil government,” and politics is generally a taboo topic in church. Which is why Mormon leaders’ decision to become involved in campaigns in California and, earlier, Hawaii, was deeply divisive.
Most Mormons can name measures on which church leaders have taken clear public positions: same-sex marriage in California in 2008, a missile defense system in the 1980s, the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s — all against.
But experts and even church officials say Mormon officials are being especially cautious this year because of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and the danger of their strongly evangelical faith becoming too closely associated with one party.
This year, for the first time in decades, church officials didn’t meet at the start of the legislative session with Utah state lawmakers.
“It’s the political climate we’re in. There was just too much over-interpreting,” said Michael Otterson, church spokesman.
Some experts say Mormonism is in a period of flux when it comes to mixing politics and faith. The community’s identity was shaped by discrimination, including in the late 1800s, when measures aimed at Mormons were passed barring polygamists from voting or holding elected office. Mormonism is also very hierarchical, and ordinary Mormons and local church leaders are discouraged from speaking as individuals. Local clergy don’t take public positions; only the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City does. Several Mormons contacted for this story for their personal view referred a reporter to spokespeople.