LDS Church News Conference on Balancing Religious Rights with LGBT Rights


This morning, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a news conference to make a statement regarding Laws, Religious Rights, and the Individual Rights of people who identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender).

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, of the Twelve Apostles of the church, introduced the conference, saying that such news conferences are relatively infrequent and usually called only to make an announcement or when they have something significant to say. He clarified that no changes in doctrine or policy were being announced, but that the church did have something significant to say regarding the increased tensions between advocates of religious rights and advocates of gay rights.

Short statements were then given by Sister Neill F. Marriott of the church’s Young Women general presidency, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Twelve Apostles of the church, and Elder Jeffery R. Holland, also of the Twelve Apostles.

Video of the conference can be viewed at (At this time the video appears not to have been edited from the live streaming, so it starts at minute 48:56) .

Sister Marriott explained that the church’s doctrine that sexual relations other than between a man and a woman who are married are contrary to the laws of God “comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it,” But she also emphasized that God is merciful and His “heart reaches out to all of His children equally and He expects us to treat each other with love and fairness.

Sister Marriott also declared that “We are at our best as fellow citizens when the push-pull of different viewpoints, freely and thoroughly aired in national debate, leads ultimately to compromise and resolution and we move on as a nation, stronger than before.

Because the church is frequently asked about its position on the legal issues involved, Elder Oaks provided the following principles of the Church’s official position:

  • 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.

Elder Oaks cited recent incidents where religious people have suffered job or personal loss because of they have raised their voice publicly in support of their religious beliefs, or donated to a political cause, or voted in an election according to their religious convictions and he declared “When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against…our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.

Elder Oaks also declared for the church, “We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals,families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation.

Elder Holland followed, speaking more on the same issue, enumerating more specifically the religious rights of religious institutions, businesses owned by religious organizations or people, and religious families and individuals. He gave the following examples:

A latter-day saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so. Especially when others are readily available to perform that function.

A neighborhood catholic pharmacist who declines to carry the ‘morning after pill’ when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.

The church’s newsroom release is here:

NOTE: This post has been updated to include the statement by Elder Oaks calling on governments to protect religious rights while also protecting the rights of citizens who identify as LGBT.

22 thoughts on “LDS Church News Conference on Balancing Religious Rights with LGBT Rights

  1. An entire conference on LGBT relations, and not a single mention of gay marriage. The church has moved from the offensive to the defensive.

  2. Nate,

    I’m not necessarily trying to attack your position when I ask, “What difference does it make?” I honestly don’t see what difference the offensive/defensive distinction makes.

  3. It is worth pointing out that gay marriage was not the subject of the press conference. I don’t think every press conference on these issues needs to address same-sex marriage.

    On the other hand, I think that Nate is correct that religious people are mostly on the defensive these days whereas 10 years ago they were on the offensive. So the change in society is notable.

  4. Yes. Yes, the Chuch is on the defensive now on the issue of gay marriage.

    This is an indictment of our society, not of the Church.

  5. I note that the announcement reiterated long-standing Church policy and doctrine regarding GLBT.

    Contrary to Peggy’s assertion in the SLTrib, nothing was said that could properly construed as endorsement for Utah legislative measures proposed by Utah Senator Steven Urquhart recognizing legal status for “gender identity”. Utah SB100 has nothing to do with real “anti-discrimination” and will only promote divisiveness and legal contention. It should be discarded by the Utah Legislature without further consideration. When proposals that include the “balance” suggested by Elder Oaks between religious rights and GLBT issues, then they should be presented before before the public square, and for consideration by the Utah Legislature.

    I found nothing in the announcement that could properly construed as any kind of major shift in policy or doctrine.

  6. As far as I know the Church has always been dedicated to a good offense: encouraging works and independent action of its members in every sphere in which they find themselves; as an institution promulgating welfare and establishing systems to distribute it, incessantly evangelizing, even deigning to take its message to dead people.
    But I guess I get the point that their adversaries have put up a strong front, sufficient to require the church and its members to raise a shield in defense in an attempt to ward off a blow that we see coming.

  7. “But I guess I get the point that their adversaries have put up a strong front, sufficient to require the church and its members to raise a shield in defense in an attempt to ward off a blow that we see coming.”

    The supreme court has, you mean. (i.e. by essentially signally to other judges they were ready to make a ruling requiring gay marriage for all states.) The other so-called ‘adversaries’ are simply doing what any human being would do when they get to take a controversial issue like this out of the political system so that there is no legal resource for those that disagree so they can do what they want without fear of political recourse. Don’t be so sure the right wouldn’t do the equivalent should things be reversed.

  8. Unfortunately, laws in this area are already being overturned because only people motivated by bigotry, according to the majority of the Supreme Court, could be opposed to gay marriage.

    Pass a law, live under the shade it provides for a day, and soon enough it will wither and die and be overturned for unreasonable animus.

  9. I’m with you Bruce,

    I have ever argued with my progressive friends that they are opposed to democracy, and rather prefer the tyranny of 5 of 9. Nothing could be worse than the outcome of overruling the will of the California voters by: first, a single judge’s ruling claiming higher “natural law” to “identify,” yea, by cosmic revelation to exalted human reason, a basic human right; and second; a Supreme Court, failing to restore the vote of the people because of a technicality, of course by 5 of 9.

    They have their seers and we have ours. One relies on elitist human reason scornful of the intelligence of the masses, and the other on humble prophets who stand on no personal understanding of higher law but rather deflect to the wisdom of an almighty, with love for the masses.

  10. Everyone likes to “win,” and there are those who like to ensure they can win, through whatever means possible.

    In light of Lucinda Hancock’s essay on Patriarchy, it’s interesting to remember the words Milton put in the mouth of Lucifer:

    “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

    There are those who, in pursuit of their ability to reign, are willing to incur damage to society. They would argue that the state of society prior to their machinations wasn’t exactly heavenly, and would assert that the new status quo is hardly a hell. And yet to look at Lucinda’s comments regarding helping men be committed and involved as fathers, a society where fathers are not encouraged to be moral and women are not encouraged to be faithful does seem to resemble something rather hellish, at least if you are a mother or child.

  11. What struck me about the local coverage (admittedly limited, since I’m not in a predominantly LDS area) is that it focused on the supposed support for LGBT rights and failed to see that the emphasis was on ensuring that antidiscrimination legislation did not infringe on religious liberty. The AP article seemed skeptical that this was even possible.

  12. I’d like to see comments from attorneys on how to balance religious freedom and discrimination issues. One problem of course is figuring out where the limits of religious freedom are. If one means by that the idea that one can personally discriminate against gays then yeah, of course there’s no way to reconcile the two. Presumably there’s some middle ground balancing the two views such that gays can buy what they want from stores including services, live where they want including renting, without being discriminated against but church’s don’t have to worry about having to do things they are theologically opposed to.

    I doubt any balance along those lines will please everyone if only because many religions have corporate entities which often are quasi-separate from the religion. Think a Catholic hospital. Would the hospital be allowed to discriminate in hiring gays? Would they be allowed to deny admittance to gays? I’d think both of those types of discriminations should be prevented but I doubt all agree.

    Whether everyone agrees or not there does seem to be a big difference between a priest being forced to marry someone in a way they are theologically opposed to and not giving service in a public facility.

  13. Jim, I’m not familiar with the debate about that bill. Reading it seems like it’d make a difference. Why do you think it’s not really about discrimination?

  14. I think the problem is that when the church leaders ask for “religious freedom” or “religious protection” what they really mean is protection from being bullied or treated uncivilly, which is not really illegal but can become a real problem since it comes out of the same anger that leads to illegal activities. Of the examples they used, none of them was really technically illegal. Ousting Firefox’s CEO, for example, was not illegal in any way. Yet its a golden example of the type of ‘violence’ that is and will be done to those that disagree over this political issue.

    I think what’s interesting is that this is just the flip side of where homosexuals are coming from. They were de-normalized in society, so there was a natural disapproval of their behavior. The liberals worked to create a society in which this wasn’t the case. To accomplish this goal they did something that actually makes a certain amount of sense — they pushed to have society treat their unions identical to heterosexual ones. And note that it is working. There is undoubtedly a dropping off of disapproval of gay behavior that will in turn reduce illegal shows of disapproval (i.e. gay bashing, etc.)

    What churches (including ours) fear is that its now just going to go the other way. As homosexuality is normalized through the process of treating those that disapprove of it as bigots, bigotry will shift from gays to people of faith that disapprove of homosexual behavior. This will be expressed via legal means at first — ousting CEOs for their views, etc. — and then it will start to spill over to illegal means. (i.e. Christian bashing, etc.) In short, we’ve probably just exchanged one form of bigotry for another, at least in the short run.

    The key point here is that there is an existing solution to this problem. It’s called the political system. If you’re a liberal and you win gay marriage in one state, you stay on your best behavior so that you can demonstrate that nothing bad came from it. You do not seek political retribution for fear that you’ll lose other states. Had we done this via the political system you’d see gays out in the streets picketing against the ouster of CEOs and in favor of ‘religious freedom’ so that they can demonstrate that gay marriage is a good thing. You’d probably also see a lot of compromising — i.e. civil unions in more conservative states that are identical to marriage in all but name only. In fact, that was precisely what was happening prior to Judge Kennedy (let’s call a spade a spade) interfering with the process.

    Once courts take something like this out of the political system, the result is predictable. There is no reason at all to do anything but express your moral outrage at your equally well intentioned opponents. So you start to go after them in every way possible and this causes you to actually become more and more angry. Under the political system anger is contained for pragmatic reasons which actually does reduce anger over all. The result is what we see today and it will likely magnify over time unless there is the (unlikely in the short run) event that the courts kick it all back to the political system at some point and let people work out their differences via the political system.

    It’s interesting to watch it all — and very scary. Liberals honesty believe that they’ve won this war via political opinion not realizing that what they actually won was a single person: Judge Kennedy. If that one position were to change for some reason, it will all immediately change across the board, and even public opinion would shift.

    I think what liberals are hoping for — those that understand what is really happening — is that if you put gay marriage in place now over time the victory will become real. And in fact, they might be right. The civil rights era shows how this can happen. If they turn out to be right (i.e. if you find some future date where all religions have made peace with homosexuality without the slightest impact to their wellbeing — this seems very unlikely to me, but its what liberals are betting on) then from a purely Benthamian it would be hard to argue with their success. In the long run, you actually did increase ‘wellbeing’ over time. (Not that I fully agree with Bentham’s view of morality — and I know of no one that does).

    On the other hand, if the liberals miscalculated their view of the future, then we’ll see that some religions have a harder time accepting homosexuality than they think and we’ll see increasing amounts of anger and disapproval being aimed at them until it spills over to violence. In this scenario, it will be a (Benthamian) moral loss. We will have exchanged bigotry towards one group for bigotry towards a larger group.

    (I should note that I do not doubt that there has been significant bigotry towards gays in the public, religious or otherwise. I once watched a room full of liberals, back when I was in high school, say they would punch any gay that tried to go to the prom. It was shocking and eye opening. And it was bigotry that had nothing whatsoever to do with religious belief.)

    In any case, I think the simple truth is that gay marriage might have been implemented in a way that didn’t cause religions to legitimately fear liberals and even to fear the law but that we didn’t go that route, unfortunately. It would have taken longer and it would have involved a lot of compromises. But it also would have allowed *far* more experimentation to find the best ideal solution. Ultimately, if what you are after is a reduction to bigotry and violence, using the political system is the most likely way to achieve it.

  15. “If one means by that the idea that one can personally discriminate against gays then yeah, of course there’s no way to reconcile the two.”

    Sure there is.

    Lose this thoroughly unliberal idea that government should dictate who private parties can associate with, hire, or do business with.

    Might this mean people will feel free to systematically refuse to hire Mormons? Sure. I’m good with that. Not in the sense that it’s *right* — in the sense that I don’t want a government powerful enough to prevent it.

    Acts of violence are a different matter. But then acts of violence against gays were illegal all along.

  16. Tangent – I’ve heard that at least one major online dating site refuses to find matches for self-identified Mormons. I don’t think they admit up front that they have no intention of serving Mormons. It appears they will take Mormon monies. They just don’t offer any matches. If true (versus true for individual Mormons who have commented on this phenomenon), this would be an instance of a large business systematically refusing to provide service to Mormons. But rather than tell Mormons up front that they won’t be served, they take the money and *then* don’t provide the service.

    Perhaps they’ve subscribed to Dehlin’s premise that belief in Mormonism, itself, is a relationship killer.

    It seems it should be possible to find a legal way to accommodate both religious belief and legal protection of those who do not believe. This duality is covered several times in the Book of Mormon, for example in the case of Nehor.

  17. “It seems it should be possible to find a legal way…”

    Yeah, and I just explained how its done. We just didn’t.

  18. If landlords and business owners’ religious rights can be abrogated in deference to “basic [positive] rights such as securing a job or a place to live [which] should not depend on someone’s sexual orientation” as per the press conference.

    I don’t understand how this logic fails to prevent religious rights being violated in deference to the “basic right” of marriage.

    I’d be very happy if somebody can provide a logically consistent reconciliation.

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