SALT LAKE CITY – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Tuesday morning it is in favor of legislation protecting the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in housing and employment, while also pressing government leaders to protect individual religious freedoms.
In a news conference that included three members of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder D. Todd Christofferson – as well as one female church leader, Neill F. Marriott, of the Young Women’s general presidency, the church 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.
Oaks said in a news release:
Because we are frequently asked for our position on these matters, the Church asserts the following principles based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, and on fairness for all, including people of faith:
- 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.
In 2009, the church supported a Salt Lake City ordinance protecting the housing and employment rights of LGBT individuals. The church broadened its position Tuesday by calling for similar protections on the state and national levels, as long as there is a balanced approach to protect constitutional religious exercise and conscience.
In Utah, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, has been attempting to get a nondiscrimination bill passed in the state for the last three years that is focused on protecting LGBT housing and employment rights. With the issue of same-sex marriage and the court fight over Amendment 3 out of the way, Urquhart said he believes the legislation will pass during the 2015 legislative session.
Though the LDS Church representatives did not mention Urquhart’s legislation specifically, the church’s general support of such measures may help push it through the Legislature and finally into codified state law.
In November 2014, the St. George City Council heard a request for the creation of a nondiscrimination ordinance modeled after the one adopted by Salt Lake City in 2009. The city has yet to make any public move on the matter.
“Those who seek the protection of religious conscience and expression and for the free exercise of their religion look with alarm at the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution,” Oaks said during the press conference.
Holland said people of faith must maintain their constitutional right to live their lives in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs. That includes choosing their profession or employment or serving in public office without intimidation, coercion or retaliation from another group, he said.
“Accommodating the rights of all people – including their religious rights– requires wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness. Politically, it certainly requires dedication to the highest level of statesmanship,” Holland said. “Nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring or accusations of bigotry. These are serious issues, and they require serious minds engaged in thoughtful, courteous discourse.”
While the church supports fairness in housing, employment and facets of public accommodation, speakers for the church also reminded the public and media that its stance on same-sex marriage has not changed.
During the press conference, Marriott said the church believes that sexual relations, other than between a man and a woman who are married, are contrary to the laws of God.
“This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it,” she said. “But, God is loving and merciful. His heart reaches out to all of His children equally and He expects us to treat each other with love and fairness.”
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, issued the following statement in response to the church’s announcement:
We laud the LDS Church’s statement of support. The Church joins a growing number of faith, civic and corporate leaders who also stand on the side of compassion and fairness. We believe that gay and transgender Utahns can live and work beside people of faith. Many within the LGBT community are themselves people of faith. We look forward soon to the day when all Utahns have the opportunity to live and work freely in the state we call home.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also applauded the church’s support of the measure but expressed concerns about its “limited scope of public accommodation protection…namely only restaurants, hotels and transportation. Equality means that gay and transgender people should have full protection in public accommodations on par with race, gender, religion and other categories.”
Sen. James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, also stated:
I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination. As a Church, Mormons have a long history of being the victims of discrimination and persecution. They understand more than most the value and strength of creating a civil society that judges people by the content of their character and their ability to do a job.
Since serving as a senator, and as the only LGBT member of the Utah legislature, I can say one of the joys of the job has been to meet and enjoy the company of LDS officials. I know that together, we can build a community that strongly protects religious organizations constitutional liberties and in addition creates a civil, respectful, nurturing culture where differences are honored and everyone feels welcome.
Now, lets roll up our sleeves, get to work and pass a statewide Non-Discrimination Bill.
- City hears request for possible nondiscrimination ordinance
- Sen. Urquhart plans to reintroduce nondiscrimination bill
- Community celebrates marriage equality at Vernon Worthen Park
- Governor says Utah will recognize same-sex marriage
- US Supreme Court denies hearing Utah’s petition on marriage statute
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