In a meeting with gay-rights activists last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized the LDS Church for backing a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California, saying the leaders of his faith should have stayed out of the contentious political fight.
Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is the highest ranking elected official who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He previously has not commented on the flood of Mormon money and volunteers who helped propel Proposition 8 to victory in November.
But three organizers of the past weekend's National Equality March said Reid brought up the topic during a conversation in his office.
"He said that he thought it was a waste of church resources and good will," said Derek Washington, a Nevadan who worked as the outreach director for the march. "He said he didn't think it was appropriate."
Before I go on, I just want to commend Stonewall Vice-Chair Derek Washington for organizing that meeting and sharing our community's thoughts with Senator Reid.
And while Reid declined to endorse full civil marriage equality, he at least agreed that his church had better things to do than attack California LGBT families... And for that matter, all of Nevada's LGBT families that were married in California last year.
The LDS Church kicked in nearly $190,000 in in-kind contributions to ProtectMarriage.com, the leading pro-Prop. 8 group. In the end, Prop 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote.
Marchers in Sunday's equality rally, which drew tens of thousands to the U.S. Capitol, repeatedly referenced the Prop 8 defeat in signs, statements and even face paint. But when organizers sat down with Reid, it wasn't a topic they intended to raise. They wanted to thank him for supporting the march and push him on their desire for federal action giving gay Americans the ability to get married, serve openly in the military and fight workplace discrimination.
Reid signed a letter supporting the march and encouraged a sustained lobbying campaign.
In the meeting, those present touched on issues most important to them. Dan Choi, a veteran of the Iraq War, who was booted from the military under the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, thanked Reid for lobbying President Barack Obama on his behalf. Robin McGehee, of California, talked about her own family. Then, McGehee said, Reid brought up his LDS faith and discussed a recent meeting with Mormons in which he criticized the Prop 8 efforts.
"He personally said they needed to be focused on other things," she said, "and he felt it was harmful for the church to focus on such a divisive issue."
While we obviously still have plenty of work to do in convincing Reid to support full equality for LGBT families in all matters, I'm glad to see that he's at least listening to us. And better yet, I'm glad to see him at least pushing for full federal equality and see him show that not all Mormons agree with church leadership that LGBT people don't deserve civil rights.
It's just good to see pushback against LDS leadership reach this high. For Harry Reid to break his silence and condemn their effort to funnel money to anti-equality campaigns in California and elsewhere shows that outrage is growing. I just hope this will eventually lead to new leadership that focuses on what most Mormons would actually want their church to do. After all, when did Jesus ever preach hatred?