Something is missing in the New York Times article describing a law that bans psychological treatments to change sexual orientation in minors. Mormons are not mentioned at all. Nonetheless, I think this law could have a profound effect on Mormon attitudes, which are already shifting toward tolerance. (Witness the participation of straight, active Mormons in gay pride parades throughout the country.)
My optimism is founded on two Mormon values: respect for science and respect for the rule of law. When he announced the new legislation, California governor Jerry Brown said that therapies to change sexual orientation had no basis in science. More than other conservative groups, Mormons embrace science. I recently interviewed a geneticist about a rare, genetic disorder named after Ogden, a small Utah city. Its residents, by allowing their genomes to be studied, were key in the discovery of the causative gene. I asked, did the city mind having a horrible disease named after them? And the geneticist (who I do not think is Mormon) told me Mormons embrace scientific advances enthusiastically and so were proud to help.
As an American religion, Mormons resonate strongly with the idea of progress, an idea which is also manifest in science and technlogy. In fact, Mormons have long sought scientific justification for their beliefs, such as promoting archeological expeditions. And though the Church has stopped funding scientific studies that did not have the hoped-for results, the Church remains pro-science and technology. The fact that science is so firmly against the idea of aversion and reparative therapy cannot fail to have an impact.
Also, Mormons are taught to obey government laws. Part of the justification for rescinding polygamy was that Mormons believe in being subject to the laws of the land. If laws point to tolerance and acceptance and protecting psychological health, Mormons will generally follow.
I do want to acknowledge the very real harm gay Mormons have experienced within the Church as well as fundamental doctrines about the role of men and women that demand a too-narrow definition of family. Nonetheless, I think optimism is justified.
But most of all, I think the shift toward tolerance in the Mormon community is that, overall, Mormons would rather help than judge. (Yes, there are horrible, prominent exceptions.) Mormons have a gut reaction to help and support families, and, more than ever, society recognizes families headed by gay coupes. These forces, along with respect for science and the rule of law, can move Mormons toward acceptance.