On day two of the Utah State Legislative session, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints issued its resounding support for laws that would forbid discrimination against the state’s LGBT community.
Church officials also expressed concern over erosions of religious freedoms, saying its support for the LGBT community is linked to its belief that all people, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, should be treated equally.
The constitutional right to peacefully assemble and practice religion, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, is one the “most treasured and defining freedoms.”
“We believe laws ought to be framed to achieve a balance in protecting the freedoms of all people while respecting those with differing values,” Oaks, a member of the church’s governing body, the Twelve Apostles, said. “We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender of sexual orientation.”
Elder Jeffery R. Holland, also a member of the church’s Twelve Apostles, cited LDS scripture dating back to the 1830s as evidence that the church has long held the belief that freedom and fairness are pillars of the church. So, too, he said, is “freedom of the soul.”
This belief, Holland said, “remains undiminished.”
Although the overarching tone of the news conference was one of inclusion, Holland spent some time pointing out that at church-owned businesses or schools, churches should continue to have to right to enact rules for things such as employment and dress-code that are important to the church.
"That is because church-owned businesses or entities that are directly related to the purposes and functions of the church must have the same latitude in employment standards and practices as the church itself," Holland said.
On and off over the past six years, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would make it illegal to discriminate against those who identify as LGBT. And each year, state lawmakers, the majority of whom are LDS, squash these efforts.
But some lawmakers have been relentless in their efforts to see a non-discrimination law through. This year, just as in 2013, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, introduced his non-discrimination bill, the keys for which, he told City Weekly
in a recent interview, lied with the LDS Church.
“I think the fate of this bill is in the hands of the Mormon Church,” Urquhart said. “If they do nothing, that silence will kill it because there are members [of the Legislature] that think they are supporting their God by not ending discrimination against LGBT individuals.”
While church leaders spent much of the news conference speaking on the importance of religious freedom, it wasn’t explicitly clear where the church stands on a controversial bill from Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi that would reinstate the long-held constitutional protections against forcing a religious leader from performing a wedding ceremony for a gay couple, for instance, that is against the religious leader's beliefs.
Critics of this bill say these protections already exist for religious officials, but the bill’s language could rope in municipal and elected officials whose must treat all citizens fairly, regardless of sexual orientation.
Democratic leaders were quick to praise the church for its stance.
“I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination,” said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. “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."