Mormon Leaders Call for Protection of Gay Rights ; Church Also Says Such Measures Must Include Exemptions for Religious Beliefs

By Brady McCombs; Rachel Zoll | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), January 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

Mormon Leaders Call for Protection of Gay Rights ; Church Also Says Such Measures Must Include Exemptions for Religious Beliefs


Brady McCombs; Rachel Zoll, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


SALT LAKE CITY - The Mormon church announced a campaign Tuesday for new laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination while somehow also protecting people who assert their religious beliefs. "We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values and behaviors differ from ours while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs, values and behaviors in the process, a church elder, Jeffrey R. Holland, said in announcing the church's position.

Mormon leaders did not explain just how it would draw lines between gay rights and religious freedoms, and it's unclear how much common ground the church will gain with this campaign. The church insists it is making no changes in doctrine, and still believes that sex is against the law of God unless it's within a marriage between a man and a woman.

But the new approach could profoundly change political calculations in the Mormon strongholds of Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, where the church and its members play a large civic role.

In Utah, where most state lawmakers are Mormon, the announcement was cheered after years of failed efforts to pass anti- discrimination measures.

"What the LDS church did today was historic, said Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who was raised Mormon and is openly gay. "This was a bold, strong, principled statement ... today we are seeing the fruits of civility and respect.

The gay-rights group Equality Utah also applauded, saying LGBT rights can coexist with freedoms of religious individuals.

But national advocates on both sides were dismissive.

The Rev. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention called the Mormon leaders "well-intentioned, but naive about animosity toward religious exemptions. And Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, called it "deeply flawed. The First Amendment's protection of religious freedom "does not give any of us the right to harm others, and that's what it sounds like the proposal from the Mormon church would do - it would allow a doctor to refuse to care for a lesbian because of his religious beliefs, for example, said James Esskes, who directs the LGBT project of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The campaign is the latest example of a shift in tone on gay rights by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts 15 million members worldwide. They have moved away from harsh rhetoric and are preaching compassion and acceptance of gays and lesbians now that gay marriage is legal in Washington D. …

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