Last week, Brigham Young University, the Mormon school in Utah, made a potentially significant change to its Honor Code. The section that condemned “all forms of physical intimacy” between students of the same gender — a ban on “homosexual behavior” — was removed.
Did that mean students in same-sex relationships wouldn’t be punished for the same actions as their straight peers?
Some students had hopes that BYU had evolved, even if the Mormon Church had not… but BYU is now insisting nothing at all has changed.
“Just know that the Honor Code remains the same and as we have [done] so often in the past, we handle the questions that arise on an individual case by case basis,” a representative from BYU’s communications office told The Christian Post Thursday.
In a brief statement released Wednesday, BYU officials said the updated Honor Code was published to be “in alignment with the doctrine and policies of the Church” reflected in the recently released general handbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code,” the old language for the Honor Code noted.
In other words, being gay is acceptable, but sexual intimacy between members of the same sex is still not — which is par for the course among many evangelical schools and churches.
Perhaps the disciplinary measures were removed because “sexual intimacy” is a relatively vague term. Depending on the person, it could be anything from cuddling to kissing to actual intercourse.
In an article for Slate, Ruth Graham writes about a student, Addison Jenkins, who was questioned about his sexuality. When he asked a school counselor for specifics about which rules he allegedly broke, the response was pretty vague:
Queer students at BYU describe the vagueness of that stricture as causing almost constant unease. Jenkins described the disciplinary process as occasionally surreal. He said that he asked the counselor assigned to him if he could be disciplined simply for hugging another man and was told “there are two kinds of hugs: hugs that are motivated by brotherly love and hugs that are sexual in nature.” Jenkins left BYU in 2018 without graduating, in part because of the difficulty of navigating campus life as a gay man. “It’s not like gay kids were getting called into the office every day, or even every week,” he said. “It wasn’t the Gestapo. But the fear of that being able to happen permeated LGBTQ student life in general.”
On Wednesday, word spread that BYU had quietly changed its honor code, removing the section on “homosexual behavior” that ensnared Jenkins. The changes seem to mean that queer students can engage in ordinary public displays of romantic affection, like holding hands and kissing. Like straight students, they still must abstain from sexual relationships outside of marriage. Unlike straight students, they are offered no promise of future consummation, given that the church does not support gay marriage.
It’s hardly progress if students can’t know how close they are getting to the arbitrary line between what is permissible and what is not. If they intend to graduate, it may be safer to just stay in the closet until you have a diploma in hand.
Which is probably what BYU prefers.
But there’s no reason to give BYU credit for doing the right thing when they’ve gone out of their way to assure everyone they remain stuck in the past.
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