Mormon Church Backs Gay Rights… With One Condition

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Pro and Anti-Gay Marriage Activists Rally At Utah's CapitolSALT LAKE CITY, UT — In at least one big and bruising culture-war battle, the Mormon church wants to call a partial truce.

Convening a rare press conference on Tuesday at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Mormon leaders pledged to support anti-discrimination laws for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, as long the laws also protect the rights of religious groups.

In exchange, the Mormon church wants gay rights advocates — and the government — to back off.

When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser,” said Elder Dallin Oaks, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

“Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.”

The Mormon church is one of several religious groups to complain about religious freedom coming under attack in recent years. The Catholic church and Southern Baptists, among other evangelicals, have sounded the alarm as well.

 Oaks cited several examples on Tuesday, including:
  • The mayor of Houston subpoenaing sermon notes last year from pastors who opposed an equal rights ordination. The subpoena was later dropped.
  • Public pressure on a Mormon gymnast to step down as an Olympic liaison in 2011 because he had supported California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in 2008.
  • In 2014, Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign because he had donated money to support the passage of Prop 8.

“It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals,” said Oaks.

Tuesday’s announcement doesn’t change church doctrine — including its opposition to gay marriage, Mormon leaders said.

“But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek solutions that will be fair to everyone,” said Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, one of the church’s top tiers of leadership.

Christofferson said Tuesday’s announcement came after years of dialogue with LGBT groups in Utah and elsewhere, and was timed to the convening of a new Congress and new legislative sessions nationwide.

“It seemed like the right time to speak, before positions get anymore hardened on either side,” he said.

Shortly after the church’s press conference, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and a Mormon, said he will work to “ensure that legislation designed to promote greater equality includes robust religious exemptions and nonretaliation provisions.”

Utah state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is openly gay, said “Amen,” to the church’s “historic announcement.”

“I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination,” he said. “Now, let’s roll up our sleeves, get to work and pass a statewide nondiscrimination bill.”

Oaks, however, said it’s “unfair” to characterize the church’s announcement as a national nondiscrimination campaign. Mormon leaders are merely seeking to square competing claims of gay rights and religious liberty, he said in a brief interview on Tuesday.

Officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church, like other religious groups, has tried to strike a delicate balance on gay rights.

Mormons have fought the legalization of same-sex marriage, for example, while trying to avoid the “anti-gay” label sometimes affixed to conservative faiths. Many church members were particularly stung by the fierce backlash to Prop 8. The Mormon-backed referendum was later struck down in court.

Nearly two-thirds of Mormons say homosexuality should be discouraged by society, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The church’s official position is that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is.