The freshmen's support for "legal marital status" for same-sex couples rose in 2006 to an all time high of 61.2 percent, a 3.3 percentage point increase over fall 2005 when support stood at 57.9 percent. The increase continues a relatively steady upward trend since the question was first asked in 1997 when support stood at 50.9 percent.
This is six out of ten! A poll of college freshmen is a leading indicator of public opinion. It's a predictor of what will be a mainstream view in 10 years. The most amazing part is the rate of increase since the question was first asked in 1997 by the pollsters.
Another fascinating result of the poll is the amount of support for gay marriage among conservatives:
Even among conservative freshmen, almost one out of three now support legal gay unions, a level of support you would not anticipate considering the opposition of prominent conservatives.
I find this number astonishing.
I think that within our lifetimes the prohibition against gay marriage will be as old-fashioned as the prohibition against interracial marriage prior to the civil rights movement.
How will Mormonism deal with this? There is a long history of cultural adaptation in the church. There's lots of historical precedent: blacks getting the priesthood; the end of plural marriage; the expansion of roles available to women.
One of the reasons I'm interested in the experiences of faithful Mormons with SSA is the extent to which they represent a change in thinking in the church more generally. The church will only change from within. If every gay person leaves the church, it will never change; instead, it will only become more marginalized from the mainstream culture, which would be a bad thing for its future viability. (Imagine where the church would be today if blacks could not hold the Priesthood or if plural marriage were accepted.) Despite the rhetoric of in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world, the world of mainstream thinking has a profound effect on the church in the long run. If people with SSA stay in the church and become positive voices for greater acceptance of sexual diversity, then the church has a chance of making the same transition over time as society more generally.
Maybe you say this will never happen. I am old enough to remember the change that allowed blacks to hold the priesthood. It was huge. It was not so different than you might imagine compared to the gay issue. Many people in the church privately struggled with the whole "mark of Cain" distinction just as many people in the church now struggle with the stigmatization of SSA. I remember the Sacrament meeting where the announcement was made, and the expectation afterward that some of the more conservative members would walk out. You might say that there are bigger doctrinal issues with SSA; I'm not so sure. Certainly, these issues are no deeper than those surrounding plural marriage.