In an unexpected move, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lent its support Tuesday to a federal bill which would codify marriages between same-sex couples.
The Utah-based doctrine of the faith “related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged,” the church said in a statement. Press release. “We are grateful for the continued efforts of those working to ensure respectful marriage law includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and safeguarding the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
The church’s remarks come after the law’s sponsors added an amendment to the bill passed by the House exempting religious organizations, including faith-based universities, from providing “services, accommodations, benefits, facilities, property or privileges for the solemnization or solemnization of a marriage. “The law also could not be used to change an organization’s tax-exempt status.
The amendment also clarified that the measure did not extend to polygamous marriages.
“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church statement said. “As we work together to uphold the principles and practices of religious freedom and the rights of LGBTQ people, much can be done to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utahwas “comforted to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly take this position today.”
He added, “Despite the differences we may have, we can always discover common ground on policies and laws that support strengthening all families.”
Williams also pointed out that while the latest version of the law “clearly recognizes and protects the diversity of American religious and other beliefs, it does not do so at the expense” of its goal of “safeguarding marriage equality.”
Allison Dayton, Founder of Lift and Love Foundation for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints, said the church’s message is “huge”.
“He answers, once and for all, the question, ‘Can church members support same-sex marriage?’ The answer is yes, and so is the church. [as long as it’s outside of the faith]”, Dayton said. “This news is a huge relief for families of gay children who can now comfortably shower their gay children with the same love and support they give their heterosexual children who are getting married.”
“A spectacular turnaround”
Taylor Petreyprofessor of religion at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College and author of “Clay Tabernacles: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonismcalled the church’s statement a “dramatic reversal of previous teachings.”
Dating as far back as the 1970s, he said, the faith fought efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, which it called a “threat to children, churches and the nation as a whole. “.
These efforts reached a crescendo 14 years ago when the church placed its members and money squarely behind California Proposition 8 oppose same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court decision legalizing these unions came seven years later. Since then, Latter-day Saint leaders appear to have largely moved away from messages regarding opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage and instead emphasized concern about religious freedom protections.
If the church were to back down, Petrey said, now would be the time.
“This summer, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” he said, “some conservatives suggested overturning Obergefell, the 2015 ruling granting same-sex marriage rights, was next. step to take.”
The Respect for Marriage Act was drafted in direct response to this threat.
“The fact that Latter-day Saints have chosen to support Democratic-backed legislation in this environment as some conservatives prepare to re-ignite this fight,” Petrey said, “signals a major rift with other right-wingers. religious”.
The professor noted that this apparent shift is consistent with other examples of “growth and adaptation of Church teachings” employed by Latter-day Saint leaders in response to changing social norms, including questions about race, birth control, women in the workforce and more.
Support the law of the land
Patrick Masonresponsible for Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, takes a more modest approach to interpreting the church’s approval of the bill.
“It seems very consistent with what they’ve been doing since 2015,” Mason said in an interview. “…What they always wanted was that they wouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriages in temples. But apparently they seem satisfied,” that won’t happen with the new bill.
mason said The Associated Pressmeanwhile, that the movement is “part of the church’s overall theology essentially supporting the law of the land, recognizing that what they dictate and enforce on their members in terms of behavior is different from what it means to be part of a pluralistic society.”
In 2015, for example, when a Kentucky county clerk, citing his Christian faith, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, spoke out against her decision. Civil servants, he said at the time, “are not free to apply personal beliefs – religious or otherwise – in place of the defined responsibilities of their public office.”
The latest church announcement is also in keeping with the spirit of the so-called Utah Compromisewhich protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing and employment while protecting certain religious rights.
Utah politicians intervene
Senator Mitt Romney has thrown his support behind the latest iteration of the Respect for Marriage Act, telling The Hill “if it [religious freedom] amendment is attached to the bill, I will vote for it.
Senator Mike Lee, on the other hand, remains unconvinced that the changes go far enough in protecting the rights of institutions that may oppose same-sex marriage.
“Any potential threat to religious freedom must be defended thoroughly and thoughtfully,” he said through a spokesperson. “The current law, coupled with the Respect for Marriage Act, leaves certain religious organizations, educational institutions, and the individual exercise of religious beliefs more vulnerable to attack. I am actively working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to shore up these vulnerabilities.
Lee’s vote may not prove necessary, however. According to CNN, the key senators leading the effort believe they have the necessary votes for it to pass and call on the Democratic leadership of the chamber to put it to a vote as soon as possible.
Utah’s four House representatives – all Republicans and Latter-day Saints – voted in favor of the law this summer before the addition of the recent amendment and its exemptions for religious organizations.
Rep. John Curtis said at the time that he did not believe the Supreme Court intended to overrule decisions regarding the right to marry.
“Having said that, I also understand how important codifying these protections is to many Utahns,” he said. “I don’t believe the federal government should interfere with an individual’s decision about who they want to marry.”
State Senator Derek KitchenD-Salt Lake City, and Utah’s only openly queer lawmaker, also released a statement, saying the church’s announcement was “a long time coming” and “I applaud their progress on this.”
A “remarkable” act
Clifford Roskyprofessor at the University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law who teaches sexuality and gender law, called the church’s endorsement “wonderful news”, saying he was “delighted to see both parties in Congress and people of all faiths come together to uphold the right of every American to marry regardless of race or gender.
He called the act a “milestone” in reaching bipartisan agreements, made all the more impressive by the fact that it is taking place in such a polarized political climate.
“It’s encouraging,” he said, “to see both sides lay down the arms of the culture war and focus on what we agree on rather than what we disagree on. ‘OK”.
Affirmationa support group for LGTBTQ Latter-day Saints and their families and friends, “appreciates the work [the church] made with an outside LGBTQ group to secure housing and employment rights,” Nathan Kitchen, president of the group, said Tuesday, “as well as its support for codifying marriage equality in the United States.
Yet, “a great disconnect exists between the public sphere and the religious home of LGBTQ people, where Latter-day Saint families are offered less protections and equality within the church for their LGBTQ children than what granted to them by the laws of the land,” he said. “No amount of success in religious liberty can compensate for failure within our spiritual home.”
Statement from the sponsors of the bill
The act’s bipartisan sponsors include Meaning. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona; and Thom Tillis, RN.C.
Together they issued a statement saying “we have drafted common sense language to confirm that this legislation fully respects and protects the religious freedoms and diverse beliefs of Americans, while leaving intact the legislation’s primary mission to protect the equality of marriage”.
Tribune reporter Emily Anderson Stern contributed to this story.