Dallin H Oaks, an elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaks to the media after the Church announced it supports the passage of laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination, as long as they also protect religious freedom. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Note: This photo is not available for republication

Mormon leaders advocate gay rights . . . with protections for "religious freedom"

Dallin H Oaks, an elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaks to the media after the Church announced it supports the passage of laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination, as long as they also protect religious freedom.  RNS photo courtesy REUTERS/Jim Urquhart.

Dallin H Oaks, an elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaks to the media after the Church announced it supports the passage of laws protecting the LGBT community from discrimination, as long as they also protect religious freedom. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart *Note: This photo is not available for republication

I’m proud of my Church’s statements yesterday affirming equal rights under the law for all LBGT persons.* The day was not a slam-dunk, however.

Some critics are already saying that the Church’s statements are too little, too late. As for the “too little” argument, I'd point to what CNN’s Daniel Burke noted yesterday:

With nearly 6.5 million members in the United States, the Mormon church is one of the largest in this country to offer support of LGBT anti-discrimination laws, second only to the United Methodist Church. The country's two largest Christian denominations, the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention, have opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. None of those groups condone gay marriage.

So the LDS Church is now the second-largest denomination to go on the record as opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

And as for the “too late” criticism, let’s take a look at what the Salt Lake Tribune reports about the potential political impact of yesterday’s announcement. To date, every anti-discrimination measure introduced in the Utah state legislature has been voted down, even though many Utah cities have passed ordinances that protect the LGBT community. But the LDS Church’s historic advocacy on this issue yesterday may well turn the tide on a bill just introduced in the Utah State Senate.

“I think the bill now passes,” said its sponsor, a Republican from St. George.

So there’s plenty to celebrate today – the Church’s public statements, the possibility that those statements will influence Utah policy for the better, and the leadership’s renewed commitment to the underutilized website mormonsandgays.com.

Last but definitely not least, an apostle confirmed that contrary to previous statements by members and even some fellow general authorities, it is entirely possible to be a believing Mormon in good standing and support same-sex marriage.

So why do I not feel 100% jubilant?

Where they lost me is in playing the victim card.

I don’t want to overstate this, because some commentators have already rushed to judgment, including a New York Times op ed carrying the headline “Mormon Church Wants Freedom to Discriminate.” That’s unfair.

But we do need to reflect on the careful dance the Church is trying to do around the words “religious freedom.” Elder Oaks said yesterday, as quoted in the Tribune,

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 . . . Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.

One of the examples he brought up of this public intimidation is that of gymnast Peter Vidmar, who resigned from his position with the U.S. Olympic team in 2011 after it was reported that he had given money to support Proposition 8 in 2008.

I’ve been a zealous fan of Peter Vidmar for more than thirty years, and in all that time I’ve seen him as an outstanding athlete, commentator, and ambassador for the sport of gymnastics. It’s hard to imagine a nicer guy.

But what happened to Vidmar is not, as Elder Oaks suggested, “every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.” The USOC is a private organization, not a government whose laws affect everyone living within its boundaries. And Peter Vidmar resigned his position. He was not fired for his beliefs.

The Church has long said, and reiterated yesterday, that private, non-governmental organizations should be able to determine what standards they uphold for their own members. This is, in fact, the exact same privilege the LDS Church wants to retain for itself.

In all, yesterday’s press conference was a breath of fresh air, a sign that the Church is moving forward on LGBT equality. However, it also showed a glimpse of the old Mormon persecution complex that has been with us for nearly 200 years.

 

* For an outstanding summary of many of the key news articles on yesterday's press conference, check out today's Mormon News Report at the Cultural Hall. While you're at it, sign up to receive the almost-daily emails from the News Report. You'll be glad you did.