On July 24th the people of Utah have a tradition of honoring the Mormon pioneers who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In large part, the Mormon pioneers were fleeing from those who were feed up with the Mormon leaders practice of celestial marriage (plural marriage or polygamy). Once they arrived in an unsettled land (with respect to white folks) the Mormon leaders proceeded to take control and run things the way they wanted. This included, no longer hiding celestial marriage and controlling the civil government. Mormon doctrine has been the very definition of alternative life styles.
Because the Mormon leaders believed it was their divine right to lead in all things they extended their controls not only into spiritual things but civil government, economic policy and virtually every other aspect of society. In some respects doing exacting what had been done to them (ie: disfranchising specific groups) only in their own Mormon way, since now they were in charge.
Unfortunately, for the Mormon leaders they had not gone far enough away from American society and in fact the Mormons wanted the benefits of Statehood and full citizenship in the US. They wanted it both ways, to keep control of Utah and practice polygamy, yet still have the full rights of American citizenship.
Mormon history today teaches that the Latter-Day Saints were persecuted in Utah for living their religion and they surely believe this was true. But if you just step to the other side of the discussion for a moment it is pretty clear from historical facts that the US Congress and various US Presidents were in fact quite tolerant of Utah's culture and patient in urging the Mormon leaders to change. All they asked was for the Mormons to obey the law. This is a classic example of a fringe group that refuses to be governed by the law and refuses to conform when unsuccessful in changing the law to their satisfaction.
Because the Mormon leaders believed they were greater than man's law and that God would not hold them accountable for disobeying civil law, they continued to fight a selfish losing battle that inflicted tremendous pain on the Mormon people who were always willing to "follow the prophet" even if it meant following him over a cliff.
The idea of absolutism pervaded and continues to pervade Mormon teaching, which in essence states that "if you follow the prophet, you will always be right". Absolutism at one time extended to politics and every other aspect of society. Today, church leaders have backed off somewhat and say it no longer applies to politics. However, they continue to express that absolutism can apply to any case where the leaders feel a need to speak out. The vagueness of this new definition leaves many Mormons wondering when the prophets are speaking for themselves and when they are speaking for God.
The trouble with absolutism is that it's so absolute. Making a statement that is always true for all time for every person is pretty tough, even for a prophet.
As long as what the past prophets said aligns with what the current prophets want the people to do, no problem. But time and circumstances change and embarrassingly often the prophets end up retracting their pronouncements or retooling them to make them fit the new situation. This can sometimes be almost comical when the new pronouncement is so blatantly opposed to the old pronouncement.
Blacks and the priesthood is an example. The Broadway show "The Book of Mormon" pokes fun at absolutism. In the play, an Elder bares his testimony and says, "in 1978 God changed his mind about Black people." We'll obviously, God did not change his mind about Black people in 1978 if you believe that one of the fundamental characteristics of God is his unchanging nature. What changed was the Mormon leaders policy.
Polygamy is even more interesting. In 1890, Mormon President Wilford Woodruff announced the Manifesto, which he said was a revelation from God stopping the practice of polygamy. He had some trouble getting all the apostles to agree to this revelation but in the end he prevailed. However, just as today their are many members who seriously doubt it was God's will to sponsor Proposition 8 in California, at that time there were many church leaders including a large portion of the apostles who had serious doubts about the Manifesto. They waited for President Woodruff to pass on to his eternal reward and then they started polygamy up again.
The Mormon leaders committed themselves to obeying the law for Utah to secure statehood in 1896. By the early 1900's it was clear they had broken their promise and were not only violating the laws of the land but also the revelation of God to stop polygamy.
Again, the Mormon leaders thought themselves to be above the law because of their divine right. This incredibly selfish behavior of the Mormon leadership brought untold grief into Mormon families that obediently followed the prophet into disobeying the law. In 1904, President Joseph F Smith testified before congress in Washington, DC that he was disobeying both the law of the land and the law of God by practicing polygamy.
How much pain is being caused today in the lives of Mormon families because of absolutism regarding gay Latter-Day Saints? Will the Mormon leaders fight it to avoid the embarrassment of again having to change an absolute truth? In the end, they will change for the same reason they stopped polygamy, it became too economically painful. The Mormon Leaders will be overwhelmed by the public and church members who refuse to financially support a homophobic organization. It won't be quick and it won't be easy because the church is much more financially and politically powerful than in 1900 but it is also more vulnerable to public opinion. Change will come.