In an unexpected move, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Tuesday threw its support behind a proposed federal law that would codify same-sex marriage.
The church said in a news release that the Utah-based faith’s teaching on marriage “is universally recognized and remains unchanged.” “We are grateful for the continued efforts of those working to secure the Respect for Marriage Act, which includes adequate protections for religious liberties while respecting the law and protecting the rights of LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
The church’s statement comes after the bill’s sponsors added to a bill passed by the US House that religious organizations, including faith-based universities, would be barred from providing “services, accommodations, benefits, facilities, goods or privileges be released for a ceremony or a wedding celebration. » Nor can this act be used to change the tax-exempt status of any organization.
The amendment also states that this measure does not apply to polygamous marriages.
“We believe this approach is the way forward,” the church’s release said. “When we work together to protect the principles and practices of religious freedom and the rights of LGBTQ individuals, more can be done to restore relationships and foster greater understanding.”
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, was “thrilled to see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly take this position today.”
He added, “Despite our differences, we can always find common ground on policies and laws that support the strengthening of all families.”
Williams also emphasized that while the latest version of the act “clearly recognizes and protects the diversity of religious and other faiths in America, it does not do so at the expense of the goal of “protecting marriage equality.”
Taylor Petrie, a professor of religion at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College and author of Tabernacles of Clay: Sex and Gender in Modern Mormonism, called the church’s statement a “dramatic reversal of previous teaching.”
He said the faith fought efforts to legalize same-sex marriage until the 1970s, which he saw as “a threat to children, churches and the nation as a whole.”
Those efforts reached a high point 14 years ago, when the church put members and money behind California’s Proposition 8 to oppose same-sex marriage.
The decision of the Supreme Court to legalize these unions was issued seven years later. Since then, Latter-day Saint leaders appear to have abandoned messaging around opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage and instead emphasized their concern for protecting religious liberties.
For example, in 2019, the Church opposed the Equality Act, arguing that it failed to provide any protection. Instead, it passed the Fairness for All Act, which added religious guarantees.
Petrie said if the church was going to back down, now is the time.
“This summer, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” he said, “some conservatives suggested that overturning Obergefell, the 2015 decision on same-sex marriage rights, was next in line.”
The Respect for Marriage Act was drafted in direct response to this threat.
“For the Saints to support the Democrat-backed law in this environment, when some conservatives are preparing to revive the fight,” Petrie said, “signals a serious break with other members of the religious right.”
The professor noted that these apparent changes are similar to other examples of “increasing and positioning the teaching of the Church” that the leaders of the Latter-day Saints have responded to changes in social norms, including issues related to race, birth control, women in the workforce and more.
Keeping the law of the land
Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, is more modest about the church’s approval of the bill.
“It’s perfectly consistent with where they’ve been going since 2015,” Mason said in an interview. “…What they always wanted was that they should not perform same-sex marriages in temples. But apparently they seem satisfied,” which will not happen under the new bill.
Meanwhile, Mason told the Associated Press that the move is “part of the overall theology of the church, which essentially upholds the law of the land and recognizes that what they dictate to their members and do in their behavior is from what that means is different. part of a pluralistic society.”
For example, in 2015, when a county clerk in Kentucky refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple citing his Christian beliefs, Apostle Dallin H. Ochs, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, argued against his decision. Public officials, he said at the time, “are not free to exercise their personal beliefs – religious or otherwise – in lieu of certain responsibilities of their public positions”.
The church’s latest announcement also echoes the spirit of the so-called Utah Compromise, which protects LGBTQ individuals from housing and workplace discrimination and also protects some religious rights.
Utah politicians weigh in
Senator Mitt Romney has thrown his support behind the latest version of the Respect for Marriage Act, telling The Hill that “if it. [religious freedom] the amendment is attached to the bill, I will vote for it.”
Senator Mike Lee, on the other hand, is not convinced that the change goes far enough to protect the rights of institutions that may oppose same-sex marriage.
“Any potential threat to religious freedom must be met with comprehensive and thorough protection,” he said through a spokesman. “The current law together with the Law on “Respect for Marriage” makes some religious organizations, educational institutions and individual exercise of religious beliefs more vulnerable. I am actively working with colleagues on both sides to strengthen this vulnerability. “
However, Lee’s vote may not be necessary. According to CNN, key senators leading the effort believe they have the necessary votes to pass it and are urging the House’s Democratic leadership to bring it up for a vote as soon as possible.
Four of Utah’s House representatives — all Republicans and all Latter-day Saints — voted in favor of the bill in the summer before the latest amendment was added and exempted it for religious organizations.
Rep. John Curtis said at the time that he did not believe the Supreme Court intended to overturn any ruling on marriage rights.
“That said, I also understand how important codifying these protections is to many Utahns,” he said. “I don’t believe the federal government should interfere with a person’s decision about who they want to marry.”
State Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, Utah’s only openly queer lawmaker, also released a statement, saying the church’s announcement was “a long time coming” and “I welcome their evolution on this.”
A “step” action
Clifford Rosky, a professor at the SJ Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah who teaches sexuality and gender law, called the church’s confirmation “amazing news” and said he was “very happy to see both parties in Congress and people of all faiths coming together.” is happy. respect the right of every American to marry regardless of race or sex.”
He called the action a “stage” of bilateral negotiations, and the fact that it took place in such a polarized political climate made it all the more impressive.
“It’s encouraging,” he said, “to see both sides put down the weapons of the culture war and focus on what we agree on instead of what we disagree on.”
Affirmation, a support group for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and their families and friends, “appreciates the work [the church] Nathan Kitchen, the group’s president, said Tuesday that he is “working with the LGBTQ community to secure housing and employment rights,” as well as its support for codifying marriage equality in the United States.
However, “there is a huge gap between the public space and the religious home of LGBTQ people, where the last holy families in the Church have less protection for their LGBTQ children than what the laws of the country give them and equality is offered,” he said. “No amount of success in religious freedom can make up for the failure in our spiritual home.”
Statement by the sponsors of the bill
The bill’s bipartisan sponsors are Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Kirsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; and Tom Tillis, RN.C.
Together, they issued a statement saying, “We have drafted sound language to affirm that this law fully respects and protects the religious freedoms and beliefs of Americans, while maintaining the core mission of the legislation to protect marriage equality.”
Tribune reporter Emily Anderson Stern contributed to this story.