Mormon Church Defends LGBT Protections — As Long As Religious Groups Can Still Legally Discriminate January 27, 2015

Mormon Church Defends LGBT Protections — As Long As Religious Groups Can Still Legally Discriminate

At a press conference in Salt Lake City today, Mormon church officials requested a truce with the LGBT community.

The Mormon church will support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in matters of housing, employment, and public services, one elder said, as long as those laws carve out protections for the expression of “religious freedom,” too. 

Essentially, they’re saying discrimination against LGBT people isn’t okay, unless it’s done in the name of religion.

“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.”

Nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people should not take precedence over religious groups’ “right” to discriminate freely and with no consequences, Mormon officials said:

Perhaps with an eye on the high court, Mormon leaders said Tuesday the rights of gays and lesbians must not trump the religious freedom of faith communities.

“What kinds of religious rights are we talking about?” said Elder Jeffrey Holland, a member of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles.

It begins with the rights of faith communities to preach their beliefs from the pulpit, teach them in church classrooms and freely select their own leaders and ministers, Holland said.

But religious freedom should also extend to Mormon physicians who refuse to perform abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple, or a Catholic pharmacist who declines to carry the “morning after” pill, he added.

The church’s official stance on issues like marriage equality is unchanged, and the majority of Mormons are still opposed to homosexuality. It has taken small strides toward cultural acceptance of LGBT people previously; the church supported the Boy Scouts of America’s 2013 decision to allow gay scouts to participate, for example, and supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in Salt Lake City way back in 2009. But overall, the Mormon outlook on LGBT people is not positive.

Tuesday’s offer 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…

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.

The Mormon church does hold some influence over heavily religious states like Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, but this announcement is unlikely to spark major political change outside those states. The Mormon church is the second-largest church in the United States to back LGBT nondiscrimination protections, after the United Methodist Church, but officials say it will never budge on issues like marriage equality.

Mormon leaders said Tuesday that they would not — and could not — alter their opposition to gay marriage, calling such unions, “contrary to the laws of God.”

“This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it,” said Sister Neill Marriott, a leader in the church’s women’s organization.

“But, God is loving and merciful,” Marriott continued. Jesus ministered to marginalized outcasts, she said by way of example, while also obeying religious commandments.

“It’s for this reason that the church has publicly favored laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.”

The Mormon church may be attempting to set a place for itself at the table as LGBT rights take center stage nationwide. But does that mean Mormons have any intention to stop treating LGBT people as second-class citizens? Absolutely not.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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