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Gay activists protest Mormon church

Beyond the anger over the church's support for a gay-marriage ban in California, some seek dialogue.

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The deal: Get the government out of the marriage business. Couples gay and straight would get civil unions from city hall. Then, if they wanted, they could get married within a church. Religious institutions must be granted freedom to refuse marriage to anyone, and existing same-sex marriages should be considered legal.

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That would be fine with Patricia Cain, a law professor at Santa Clara University and a married lesbian, only if it is the national standard and the federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed. Otherwise, jurisdictions where civil marriage is solely for straight couples will remain.

"Equality has been my goal, not marriage," says Ms. Cain. But, "some people on both sides are very attached to the word 'marriage.' "

Dressed in his "Sunday best" black suit, George Cole joined several hundred protesters in Oakland last weekend. Years ago, when he came out to his parents, he recalls his Mormon mother cried for an hour and asked what she did wrong. He wishes the church would help reassure parents of gay children.

Mr. Cole is a member of a group called Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, which he says has talks scheduled next year with a top church official. The group isn't asking for gay marriage in the temple, but would like to see gay members be able to marry outside the church and remain in good standing.

There are limits to dialogue, suggests Don Eaton, a regional LDS public affairs director. "The theology isn't going to change. Our understanding of them might change, although I hope that we already have a pretty good understanding – there are gay members of our congregations," he says.

The church is on record, he adds, in support of domestic partnerships – just not marriage – for same-sex couples. Cole notes that the church rejects sex outside marriage, effectively forcing gay Mormons to stay celibate singles.

Up the road from the temple, John Burke operates an LDS bookshop. He explains how his family welcomed a young man named Tim, whom he calls a son, who is gay.

"He's a [LDS] member and we love him. We just don't talk about marriage with him," says Mr. Burke. He voted yes for the ban partly because he worries homosexuality will be taught in schools. He says his 7-year-old already got such a lesson at his school – forcing a discussion about Tim that he had wanted to delay.

At the San Francisco rally, marcher David Guzman expressed ambivalence about calls to tax the LDS church. "Their religion should be able to keep [the tax exemption], but they should stay out of politics," says the ex-Mormon.

Since the LDS church says it didn't spend money itself – its members did – the church is unlikely to be penalized, says Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University.