Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Mormon leaders softening on LGBT issues — to a point

L. Tom Perry, second in line for the LDS Church's presidency, left, shakes hands with Troy Williams, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Utah, following a press conference at the Utah Capitol. Photo by Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune.
L. Tom Perry, second in line for the LDS Church's presidency, left, shakes hands with Troy Williams, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Utah, following a press conference at the Utah Capitol. Photo by Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune.

L. Tom Perry, second in line for the LDS Church’s presidency, left, shakes hands with Troy Williams, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Utah, following a press conference at the Utah Capitol. Photo by Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune.

Yesterday afternoon, the Brookings Institution sponsored two high-profile panels on the new legislation just passed by Utah that guarantees LGBT residents nondiscrimination in housing and employment. Called “Gays, Mormons, and the Constitution,” the panels asked whether there are “win-win answers” for both LGBT rights and religious conscience.

The consensus seemed to be yes.

No high-ranking Mormon leaders were on the panels, but the influence of the LDS Church was apparent throughout. Mormon panelist Mike Leavitt acknowledged that he has helped advise the Church in his role as a former governor of Utah, and Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams described the years-long détente that has characterized relations between the Church and the LGBT community since the Church’s roundly criticized involvement in Proposition 8 in California in 2008.

Leavitt’s remarks demonstrated the brand of pragmatism that I’m sensing as a new party line from the Church.

Neither the LGBT community nor the LDS Church obtained everything it wanted in the legislation. Leavitt said this is typical of politics, where each side starts with an uncompromising, “zero-sum game” approach and then begins to move to meet the needs of both sides simultaneously.

Compromise is not always popular. We’ve seen in the last two weeks that the Church’s conservative partners are disappointed by its softened position. The New York Times reported last week that the Southern Baptist Convention and the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have parted ways with the LDS Church because of the Utah legislation.

Moreover, some conservatives within the Mormon fold aren’t happy with the compromises the Church is making. Utah radio host Cherilyn Eager tweeted during the panels yesterday:

Zero sum game on Twitter

While conservatives think the Church has gone too far, liberals and some LGBT activists have criticized the bill for not going far enough. It doesn’t address whether businesses have to serve gay customers, for example, or other public accommodations.

The LDS Church is walking a tightrope here, wanting to stand firm on its doctrinal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage while also doing what law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson said is the “fundamentally right and decent” thing: protecting people who are vulnerable to oppression.

When asked directly about whether the LDS Church would ever change its doctrine about same-sex marriage, Leavitt replied that “the doctrine of the Church is as it is and as it will remain . . . marriage is between one man and one woman.”

This exact balance was in full play last Friday when LDS Apostle D. Todd Christofferson was asked about marriage equality in an interview for KSL. As the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Elder Christofferson explained that the Church won’t take disciplinary action against Mormons who support same-sex marriage.

In fact, he affirmed that they can even be public about such support by posting about their views on social media, belonging to gay-friendly Mormon organizations like Affirmation, and marching in gay pride parades without fear of reprisal. I haven’t heard clarification on that before, and it was welcome news.

What they can’t do is organize efforts to oppose the Church’s stated position or change its policy.

It’s not exactly “live and let live,” but it’s a huge leap forward over some previous LDS leaders’ statements on same-sex marriage, such as when Pres. Boyd K. Packer warned in 2010 that “If we’re not alert, there are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that will legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature … what good would a vote against the law of gravity do?”

Same-sex marriage is now a reality in Utah, and many support it. The state has not crumbled into the Great Salt Lake. Life has gone on, and the Church has begun building bridges.

It’s good to see that while change is sometimes slow, it does happen.

 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

11 Comments

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  • I am happy about this new legislation because I don’r think people should be discriminated against regarding housing and employment because of their sexual orientation. However, people still have the right to their own beliefs and should not be condemned just because they do not support homosexual relationships. But the line between tolerance, acceptance, and support is a very thin one. Even though I do not support gay marriage, if I owned a bakery, I would not refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. At the same time, I affirm the right of some other bakery to refuse. It is not only the LGBT community that has rights. I do not think the Church will ever change its doctrine on homosexual relations. The couldn’t without God’s say-so. It’s His church, after all. And he’s the one who called homosexual relations an abomination.

  • “The LDS Church is walking a tightrope here, wanting to stand firm on its doctrinal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage while also doing what law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson said is the “fundamentally right and decent” thing: protecting people who are vulnerable to oppression.

    There is no tightrope, and there never has been. It is VERY telling that this so-called tightrope has to be stretched over the chasm of religious intolerance only when gay people are involved. T prove it, let’s make a small change in the statement.

    “The LDS Church is walking a tightrope here, wanting to stand firm on its doctrinal opposition to ALL FAITHS BUT MORMONISM while also doing what law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson said is the “fundamentally right and decent” thing: protecting people who are vulnerable to oppression.”

    Sort of tells you what this is really about, doesn’t it? They can live with people that reject the entirety of their religious beliefs and support anti-religious discrimination laws with absolutely no problem.

    All that this law means is this: making as little progress as possible in order to avoid being shunned as completely backwards, while simultaneously trying to maintain as much permissible religious discrimination as possible. There are enough exclusions in it to make it resemble swiss cheese. Public accommodations are notably not covered at all.

    Are clerks and judges permitted to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs, when they are employed by the tax payers? Why do they get to choose whether they will do their jobs, when no one else can?

    It excludes landlords with fewer than THREE rental properties, which probably means the majority of them. What do their religious beliefs have to do with the fitness of their prospective tenants to BE tenants? The irony of Christians saying “there is no room at THIS inn” is, shall we say, a but much.

    There is also a “severability” clause in this legislation: if any part of it is found unconstitutional, the entire law goes. It’s what we call a “poison pill”. Both Utah law and federal law prohibit discrimination on the basis of religious belief. If someone virulently antigay chooses to challenge this, you can bet it will go– with no loss of face to the Mormon church. “See, we TRIED!” Or, if someone pro-gay gets sick of the permissible discrimination, they WILL challenge it on the basis of religious discrimination.

    In any case, I suspect that all of the nice protections they are putting in to protect illegal discrimination on the basis of religious belief will have a number of unintended consequences. When the “wrong people” end up discriminated against, these will become more and more apparent.”

    And the hands of the Mormon Church, like the hands of a certain roman consul, will remain whitesome and delightsome.

  • Ben, I agree with your analysis. If you think about it, this law prevents discrimination by those who in my humble opinion, are the LEAST likely to discriminate in the first place. I don’t see corporate-owned complexes fretting too much about the source of rental income. It’s the mom and pop landlords who are likely to be in high dudgeon about the orientation of their renters. A generalization I know, and subject to individual exceptions, but still accurate I think.

  • Thanks. I believe this bill is something, and comprises a first step in the right direction. But I have also learned not to trust the Mormon church where gay people are concerned. And, as far as I can tell, this is just a kinder, gentler version of the bills the religouslatures in several states have passed or wish to pass.

  • This issue gets a little more interesting by the day. I’m reading a book by Patrick Cheng where he talks about how the LGBT Christian community organizes and defines Queer Theology. It’s very interesting. I also read a comment by a LGBT LDS Church member about this issue of gays in the church and this person’s words really echoed M.L. King, Jr’s from 52 years ago “There are those who are asking the devotees of [gay] rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’…No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'”

    I am not a fan of the legislation, personally. I think it allows for discrimination by a number of people who simply claim “religion” which is something that you cannot ask them to prove. This is not going to be a pleasant situation, I don’t think.

    Finally, I’m interested to see where they want to draw the line as far as “association” and things like that. How much pro-LGBT Facebooking and Blogging is acceptable? Hmm…

  • A great comment, Mr. Moore.

    When will we be satisfied? Obviously, when gay people are treated no differently under secular and civil law than are straight people in general, or a thrice married, fornicating, adulterous former Republican Congressman in particular, or a former Southern Governor who hiked long distances on a trail to meet his fornicating, adulterous mistress…

    or, for that matter, another former southern Governor who has been faithfully married to the same woman for over 60 years.

    Contrary to the paranoia-laced fantastical imaginings of our resident Christians hysterics, convinced most fervently and credulously that they are being persecuted for someone’s name’s sake, I have no interest in forcing any legal changes on any church, faith, or minister. I simply ask– no, demand– the same courtesy they routinely extend to all of the other people they believe are going to burn in hell forever, for not believing what that certain class of so called Christian claims to believe.

    That’s what get’s them so upset: being uppity. That’s what makes them ask “When will you be satisfied.”

  • It should be made clear that this law’s exceptions are not binding on the Church, as the Lord as already commanded us to house, hire, feed and care for those outside our faith without exceptions:

    “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: He … loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:16-19

    Religions are protected by the Fist Amendment, so that part of the bill is moot. Any non or for profit entities tied to them should not be void of the law as they are not religious in nature. The rest is clearly written to protect the BSA, a group founded by a Nazi sympathizer. This does not represent the Lord, but then neither does the Church nor has it since the death of Joseph Smith Jr. in the matters of equality. The Church rejected the Lord in relation to the “blacks,” the Jews, women, and now men and women in every ethnic group that are born with homosexual urges. We do not show, as a Church, Christlike love for our fellow man. This evil must be rejected by the body of the Church, as the leaders are unclean in this regard.

  • Ben, I agree with most all you are saying, but your quote of:

    “… its doctrinal opposition to ALL FAITHS BUT MORMONISM while also …” didn’t make sense to me.

    I also don’t quite get the point about a southern Governor being faithful for 60 years. There is George W Bush that is creeping up on 40 years and seems quite stable. I don’t think politicians should be where we look for moral compass – on either party.

    I do agree that there should be 1 standard – no discrimination period. Make the same rule apply everywhere.

  • Thanks, AHH.

    Mormons believe that they have the final revelation from god about the nature of Christianity, the truth of everlasting heaven, and so on. They believe that the “latter day saints” are the ACTUAL saints, and that all other Christians are in error. That’s why they are “latter day.” This is flatly contradicted by the Gospels and Paul in Galatians. I don’t have a savior in this race; I’m merely reading their press kits. And if course, if you’re not a Christian, then you are committing the worst error possible.

    George bush? Hardly. Try Jimmy Carter. Actually, 59 years. And far more moral than the entire Southern Baptist Convention, which he left in 2000 over its stance on women. Too bad he couldn’t do it over their stance on segregation (finally repudiated in 1995, I think) and gay people as well.

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