This is a post examining the number of members living in jurisdictions where the legal status of marriage changed due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Among members of the church in the U.S., Obergefell triggered celebration from some, angst from others, and plenty of Facebook conflict between the two. It also triggered an unusual, highly visible step by the brethren: sending a letter to all U.S. bishops, accompanied by lengthy member education talking points, to be read to all teen and adult members of the church. The impending reading of the letter unleashed a wave of concern among members at variance with the church’s position, questions about whether to attend or skip, and worry about emotional harm to LGBTQ members. The primary message of the letter is that a change in the nation’s laws does not affect church doctrine, to correct any notion some might have had that Obergefell would cause or force a change.
Living in a state where gay marriages have been occurring on and off since San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom began performing them in 2004, and where 157 stakes and 7 temples have happily and unchangingly operated throughout all that time, I didn’t see Obergefell as particularly impactful for members in my area. Of course it was an important symbolic victory, and a day whose anniversary will long be celebrated, but its immediate practical relevance was only to other states where gay marriage was not yet legalized. I decided to run the numbers on exactly how many members of the church were affected by the decision, to try to understand why church leaders felt such a strong step was necessary and why all members in the U.S. needed to hear the letter.
Above is the map of states where same-sex marriage was legal prior to Obergefell. The dark blue states are states where same-sex marriage was already legal. Below is the same map with the full color legend included, explaining the precise status of the remaining states:
The following states and territories were impacted by Obergefell: (states) Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, (territories) American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands (only Guam had previously allowed same-sex marriage).
I also used the church’s reported members of record numbers, broken down by U.S. state and territory, sourced from Wikipedia and the conference report. These numbers include all members on church records, including both active/self-identifying and inactive or not self-identifying. Based on these, we have the following raw data:
- All U.S. members (incl. states and organized territories): 6,509,596
- All U.S. wards (incl. states and organized territories): 11,752
- All U.S. temples: 72
- All worldwide members: 15,372,337
- All worldwide temples: 144
- Members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 916,669
- Wards in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 1,306
- Temples in states or territories affected by Obergefell: 16
Here is how it all stacks up proportionally:
- 22% of U.S. temples located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
- 14% of U.S. members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell
- 11% of U.S. wards located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
- 11% of worldwide temples located in states or territories affected by Obergefell
- 6% of worldwide members living in states or territories affected by Obergefell
- 86% of U.S. members, 89% of U.S. wards, and 78% of U.S. temples operating in areas where same-sex marriage was already legal prior to Obergefell
- I have not tallied the list of other countries where same-sex marriage was already legalized and where the church operates, but they include many areas of large LDS populations, such as: Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, and New Zealand.
Given the high percentage of U.S. members, wards, and temples operating in areas where same-sex marriage was already legal prior to Obergefell, the First Presidency letter must have been more of a symbolic reaction to the victory for marriage equality than a letter designed to address pressing practical concerns about implementation of church programs in the face of legally equal marriage.