The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a rare news conference on Tuesday to address nondiscrimination laws that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as so-called religious freedom legislation that protects churches and religious people in a war between cultures.
The church broadened their 2009 support for the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinance Tuesday by saying it would support such ordinances throughout Utah and the nation as long as there was a balanced approach to protect constitutional religious exercise and conscience.
“Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect religions against discrimination and retaliation while claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.”
The leaders emphasized that those on both sides of LGBT issues must accommodate the views of the other side.
“Rights are best guarded,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.”
Oaks called boycotts and other actions taken when individuals speak out against LGBT rights wrong.
“When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser,” Oaks said. “Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.”
Oaks put forward four principles for religious freedom and discrimination:
- 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.”
Oaks mentioned three specific examples that the church believes were religious discrimination:
- Houston subpoenaing sermon notes last year from pastors who opposed an equal rights ordination. The subpoena was later dropped. Conservatives claimed that lesbian mayor Annise Parker initiated the subpoenas, which she denies.
- Public pressure on Mormon gymnast Peter Vidmar to resign as liaison between the U.S. Olympic team and the International Olympic Committee in 2011 because he had supported California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in 2008.
- The 2014 resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who came under fire because he had donated money to support the passage of Prop 8. He was CEO for 11 days.
“It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals,” said Oaks.
Several bills are before the 45-day Utah Legislative Session that address nondiscrimination and religious freedoms.
Openly gay Utah Sen. James Dabakis said that he has enjoyed meeting with church officials during his tenure and is proud that leaders announced support for the nondiscrimination measure.
“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,” Dabakis said. “Now, lets roll up our sleeves, get to work and pass a statewide nondiscrimination bill.”