By Sheryl Estrada
New laws protecting the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people now have the support of the Mormon Church, with the condition that religious freedom not be compromised.
The church, however, still does not support same-gender marriage.
In a press conference on Jan. 27 at church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Mormon leaders called for a “fairness for all” approach that balances religious-freedom protections with reasonable safeguards for LGBT people—specifically in areas of housing, employment and public transportation.
“We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values,” said Elder Dallin Oaks, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
Oaks offered the principles followed by the church:
- We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.
- We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.
- We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values.
- We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation.
He also spoke specifically about the church’s perceived threat to religious freedom.
“Since 1791, the guarantees of religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment have assured all citizens that they may hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as such actions do not endanger public health or safety,” said Oaks. “This is one of America’s most cherished and defining freedoms. Yet today we see new examples of attacks on religious freedom with increasing frequency.”
The church also made clear it is unsupportive of same-gender marriage, which is legal in 36 states.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believes sexual relations, other than between a man and a woman, who are married, are contrary to the laws of God,” said Sister Neill F. Marriott of the church’s Young Women general presidency.
Democratic State Senator Jim Dabakis, who was raised Mormon and is openly gay, said the church’s support of LGBT anti-discrimination laws is significant.
“What the LDS church did today was historic,” he said. “This was a bold, strong, principled statement. … Today we are seeing the fruits of civility and respect.”
Equality Utah, a gay-rights group, also approved and said LGBT rights can coexist with freedoms of religious individuals.
A national LGBT advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign, said some Mormons might consider the statement symbolically significant.
“But, as a matter of public policy, it appears deeply flawed,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said.
Last year, the religious-freedom and LGBT-equality movements famously butted heads when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer buckled under widespread calls to veto a measure that would have made it easier for businesses to turn away LGBT people on religious grounds. Similar legislation was stopped in more than a dozen states.
The LDS church’s new approach could greatly change political calculations in the Mormon strongholds of Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.