In a major step forward, the Mormon Church has decided that there should be laws to protect LGBT people against discrimination in housing and employment.
In a major step backward, the Mormon Church has also decided that anyone an ignore those laws by citing religious liberty.
That’s the gist of the big announcement to come out of the Church of the Latter Day Saints on Tuesday. The Mormon leadership considered the news to be earth-shattering enough to interrupt church television and radio broadcasts with live coverage of the rare press conference announcing the purported breakthrough.
After years of opposition to anything remotely pro-gay, Church leaders are now supporting “reasonable safeguards,” as long as those safeguards include provisions that are “ensuring that religious freedom is not compromised.”
The church insists that “this appeal for a balanced approach between religious and gay rights does not represent a change or shift in doctrine for the Church.” In fact, at the press conference Sister Neill Marriott of the church’s Young Women general presidency made a point of stressing that the church “believes that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman who are married are contrary to the laws of God.”
Indeed, in its statement, the Church specifically positioned LGBT people and religious people as equal victims and the Mormon Church as trying to Rise Above It All. “[The decision] does represent a desire to bring people together, to encourage mutually respectful dialogue in what has become a highly polarized national debate,” the church proclaimed.
There have been signs for a while that the Mormons were backing away from their stenuous opposition to gay rights. Unlike their advocacy for California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, the church has been largely silent about the current marriage equality debate. Then there was that computer glitch last month that signaled a change of policy was in the works.
In retrospect, perhaps the biggest tip-off came in 2013, when five of the seven Mormons in the Senate voted in favor of ENDA. That’s not a move they would have undertaken without some clearance from the church.
Of course, what kind of protections are they if they don’t protect you against people who want to discriminate against you? All anyone has to do is cite Sister Marriott’s statement at the press conference and you’re out of work or an apartment. Try to imagine another legal protection that offered that kind of loophole. You can’t.
This isn’t to question the sincerity of church leaders, who genuinely believe that they have arrived at a Solomonic decision. And perhaps the decision will start to shift attitudes among the rank-and-file, which is a good thing. But civil rights aren’t subject to compromise. Either you’re all in or you’re not. And right now, the Mormon Church still is not.