MARNI ZOLLINGER is as Mormon as they come. Married on her 20th birthday to a fellow Brigham Young University student, Zollinger is raising her four kids in the faith. But her two eldest sons spent Sunday morning in a surprising place: Holding a Mormon banner in the Portland Pride parade. Zollinger herself followed behind, holding a sign that read, "Sorry We're Late."
Mormons have been popping up at Pride parades around the country this month, in a pro-gay marching movement instigated by Portlanders. Local member of Mormons for Marriage Equality Sara Long says she pitched the idea of marching in Portland and Seattle's Pride parades to a Mormon Facebook group in early May, and the idea took off like wildfire—sparking Mormon contingents in Washington, DC, and Salt Lake City's parades before Portland's this past weekend.
"There is a huge groundswell among Mormons who feel bad and who want to get in on the action," says Long. "The Mormon grapevine is pretty small."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a well-known history of excommunicating or shunning people who have any kind of sex other than the straight, married kind. Portland has a relatively large population of LGBT ex- and current Mormons ["More than Missionary," Feature, Dec 17, 2009], but Long and Zollinger are both straight, married, devout Mormons who are pushing the church to change from the inside.
Their group and others like it are probably our best chance for reforming Mormons' officially intolerant view on queerness. On one hand, it shouldn't matter to LGBT folks what 12 old male apostles in Salt Lake City think of their lives. But it's impossible to ignore the political and cultural power of the church in society. As Zollinger puts it, "We're unstoppable, we're an army. However, we're pushing in the wrong direction."
Ironically, the church's financial support for 2008's anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California is what drove more liberal Mormons to found Mormons for Marriage Equality. Criticizing church leadership or doctrine is taboo, so members who are publicly pro-gay risk social isolation. When Long started talking with her mom about same-sex marriage, the conversation didn't go well.
"I said, 'Mom, what do you think of gay rights?'" says Long. "She said, 'I believe that the anal canal is meant for the excretion of waste.' That is her opinion of gay rights." Long has no idea how she ended up so different from her family on this issue, but she remembers when she saw how a longtime family friend, a bishop, treated his daughter who came out as a lesbian.
"The reaction was just about as bad as you'd think. They essentially forced her out," says Long. "Individual Mormons need to see people stand up and say, 'I'm a Mormon, I go to church, I have a calling, and I absolutely am for equal rights for all people.'"
Zollinger was raised in an equally conservative home ("I remember my dad laughing in glee when Ronald Reagan won," she says), but her pro-gay path began after the passage of Proposition 8. With same-sex marriage in the spotlight, Zollinger felt compelled to work through her own beliefs. Unlike church leadership, she came to the conclusion that god created gays the way they are.
"How do we explain them as part of the eternal family? We have come far enough to say we don't understand," says Zollinger. "In the meantime, I'm going to go with what the spirit tells me and that's 'love 'em anyway.'"
Before the Pride parade, she had a big conversation about the church and gayness with her older kids. Her sons, nearing the age when they'll travel abroad as missionaries, wanted to join in. Zollinger couldn't be a prouder Mormon mother: "I want them to be able to say, 'Yes, the church did that, but I stood up for equal treatment of everyone.'"