Mormons have some of the most conservative opinions when it comes to homosexuality. The survey asked Mormons if homosexuality should be accepted by society or discouraged by society, with an option for neither, both or "don't know." The response — 26 percent said homosexuality should be accepted, 65 percent said it should be discouraged — puts Mormons as the least likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society. But a 26 percent acceptance rate, with roughly 1 in 4 Mormons saying homosexuality should be accepted, might be surprisingly high to some.
Of particular interest is the fact that only 8 percent of Mormons surveyed identified themselves as liberal, and 66 percent said they were conservative. That means some of those who said homosexuality should be accepted also identify themselves as politically conservative, Bowman says. That distinction illustrates the complexity of Mormons' opinion on sexuality — that it is rooted more in religious precepts than politics.
Still, it's difficult to draw a conclusion about Mormons' views on homosexuality based on the study, says Pew Research Center adviser Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond.
"Results need to be viewed cautiously," Givens says. "Official LDS pronouncements insist there is a distinction between (sexual) orientation and behavior, but the survey blurs that difference, probably leaving many Mormons unsure how to answer that question. What is clear, however, is that Mormons are trending toward greater acceptance of same-sex relationships, just as society as a whole is, although by a much smaller percentage."
At one point 120 years ago, some Mormons practiced plural marriage, hence the association between Mormons and polygamy. The practice was discontinued in 1890, but the cultural association persists, perhaps in part because Mormons are sometimes confused with members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church, a polygamist group not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the October-November 2011 study of a national sample of 1,019 Mormons, 86 percent said polygamy is morally wrong. That's a number that surprises Bowman.
Were it not for the confusion surrounding Mormons and the FLDS Church practice of plural marriage, Bowman says that statistic might not be as high.
"It's my experience that Mormons have a fraught relationship with polygamy," Bowman said of the study results. "There is a sense that rejecting polygamy identifies a member of the LDS Church and distinguishes us from the fundamentalists. That is a cultural signifier as much as a theological statement."
Some who responded to the survey, 11 percent, said polygamy is not a moral issue.