To put it simply, the Mormons are radically committed to religious liberty, including the (often contentious) liberty of sub-cultures to live by their own particular norms; but they do not indulge in theocratic fantasy of a national regime which imposes their theological line on everybody. That is a position which the Roman Catholic church fully accepted only in the 1960s, when the second Vatican council embraced freedom of thought.
That helps to explain the almost tortured tone of recent Mormon pronouncements on same-sex relationships. The message goes something like this: while sticking to our view that same-sex activity is a terrible transgression (and same-sex nuptials worst of all), we emphatically recognise the newly acquired legal right of people to “think and act” differently, in view of the Supreme Court’s decision in June.
Indeed a Mormon elder, Dallin Oaks, publicly disapproved the action of Kim Davis, the county clerk who went to jail after refusing to issue licences for same-sex marriages. “All government officers should exercise their civil authority according to the principles and within the limits of civil government,” Mr Oaks said in a speech last month, adding that a certain clerk (he clearly meant Ms Davis) had violated that axiom. He called for “civility” not just between church and state, but between those who disagreed over where the church-state boundary should run. Believers, he recalled, had paid a price when that civility broke down; a forebear of his had been jailed in Utah for acting on his Mormon belief, and a forebear of his wife had been murdered in Illinois by an anti-Mormon mob.
Whatever you may think of the Mormon position on homosexuality, this was not an Old-World theocrat speaking, but a particular, perhaps rather peculiar variety of New World libertarian.