There are some interesting signs of retreat from its earlier position.
You may recall that a member of the church's orchestra at Temple Square named Peter Danzig wrote a letter to the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune in support of gay marriage. Danzig ended up being removed from the orchestra against his will and eventually resigned from the church. There was some press coverage. In response, the church took the extremely unusual step of commenting publicly about an individual.
One of the things the church included in its press release about Danzig was a flat denial that it had ever asked its members to support anti-gay amendments and ballot measures. Speaking of its request from the pulpit that its members engage in unified political action in support of the anti-gay amendment to the U.S. Constitution proposed by the Bush administration in 2006, the church said:
In reality Church leaders had asked members to write to their senators with their personal views regarding the federal amendment opposing same gender marriage, and did not request support or opposition to the amendment.
Cynics might see this as dissembling. I see it as major, major backpedaling.
Fast forward a few months to today. The California Supreme Court has invalidated on constitutional grounds an anti-gay ballot measure passed in November 2000.
In response, the LDS church issued a statement that began in this way:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that same-sex marriage can be an emotional and divisive issue.
In my memory, this is the first time that the church has recognized the possibility that right-thinking, ethical people might have legitimate differences of opinion on the topic of marriage equality.
There has been some discussion on the Mormon blogosphere about this. For example this post asks forthrightly members of the church "How should we feel about this?". I found it interesting that in the many comments, there was very little support for the idea that the church should get involved again politically, as it had in the promotion of the original California ballot initiative. In fact, many of the (faithful LDS) commenters said that they would refuse to put signs in their lawns for the proposed anti-gay amendment to the California constitution if the church asked them to this time around. Several expressed regret that they had gone along with the church in 2000, with the original, unconstitutional ballot measure.
What has changed between 2000 and 2008? I can think of three things.
The first is a general change in public awareness about the injustice of denying marriage to gay people. The experience of Massachusetts (as well as Canada and almost all of Western Europe) has made people realize that allowing its gay citizens to enjoy the security and responsibility of family life promotes social stability, not instability.
The second thing that has changed since 2000 is a general sense of fatigue in the electorate for social wedge issues. The Bush/Rove campaigns of 2000 and 2004 have pretty much used that technique to its limit, and in the current climate, this kind of scapegoating is seen as distasteful. Senator Obama has pointed this out a number of times, and people are responding to the inherent sense of decency that his rebuke of Bush/Rove tactics entails.
And finally, the LDS Church has a new president who may be much more sympathetic to gay issues than his predecessor. And in any case President Monson is much, much less political than President Hinckley, so regardless of his views on the issue of marriage equality, the church with Monson at its helm may be much more circumspect about any kind of overt political action.
Thus, I'm predicting reduced involvement by the church in the effort in California to encode discrimination against homosexuals by means of a referendum that amends the state's constitution. I'm hoping the church will just sit this one out. We'll see what happens.