12-05-2016  2:33 am      •     

SALT LAKE CITY (CNN) -- A gay pride parade in Mormon-heavy Salt Lake City drew thousands of participants, including a few hundred Mormons, whose church has been criticized by gay rights activists for its activism against same-sex marriage.

The Mormon contingent for Sunday's parade wasn't made up of gay members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but rather straight Mormons who want to show support for gay and lesbians, according to CNN affiliate KSTU-TV in Salt Lake City.

The Mormon group marched near the front of the parade, just behind the event's grand marshal, Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter ("Milk") who grew up in the church, according to KSTU.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that sex is only acceptable within heterosexual marriage. The church played a major role in passing California's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8.

Since then, the church has been subtly softening its posture toward gays and lesbians, appointing an openly gay Mormon to an official role in the church in San Francisco. Individual Mormon bishops have addressed recent meetings of gay and lesbian groups.

"I have a friend who asked me ... why I wasn't at church today and I said, 'I'm going to the gay pride parade,' " said one Mormon who marched in Sunday's parade, according to KSTU.

"'He said, 'Don't Mormons hate gay people?' " the marcher continued. "I said, 'Some do, but I don't.'"

The Mormon group that marched in Salt Lake City was organized by Mormons Building Bridges, a group of lay Mormons who want to show support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. The group is promoting Mormon participation in gay pride parades across the country this year.

"This Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history," the group says on its Facebook page. "Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex.

"... Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ's second great commandment -- to love one another."

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