Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Church Supports Nondiscrimination Ordinances

The Salt Lake City Council passed two nondiscrimination ordinances which make it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. The Church sent Michael Otterson, the director of its public affairs office, to make a statement supporting the ordinances.

This will no doubt come as a shock to many members of the Church who have taken a hard-line stand against homosexuals, especially after Prop 8. Perusing the internets and the comment sections on the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, I found three reactions to this news:

1) Good for the Church. This shows that they are not bigots or anti-homosexual, only that they are trying to protect marriage between a man and a woman.

No surprise, this is where I fit in. I am happy that the Church made this effort to affirm the basic dignity and rights of all people, no matter their sexual orientation. I may not have thought Prop 8 was a great idea, but I absolutely understand the desire to protect the institution of marriage. God purposely created the traditional family as the means to best prepare us for eternal life. Protecting the LGBT community against bigotry and discrimination in no way harms or undercuts this belief.

2) This is just a public relations stunt. Where was the Church during the Common Ground Initiative debates? Why should we believe the Church is committed to gay rights after the bigotry that was the Prop 8 campaign? This is merely a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done to secure equal rights for gays.

I don't think it is dissonant for the Church to have supported Prop 8 while at the same time support these nondiscrimination ordinances. The one was a direct change of the definition of marriage, the other is a basic affirmation of human dignity and human rights. The Church, doctrinally, will never change its belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual acts are a sin, but that does not mean that they will not support rights for gay people that fall short of marriage. It is of no use for the LGBT community to get upset over it.

3) The people running to the right of the Church. They see this as just another assault on traditional marriage and will not accept any rights for homosexuals. The epitome of this is the Sutherland Institute which vigorously opposed the ordinances and put out this message yesterday:

The LDS Church, like all religions in Utah, has a vital role to play in making Utah a better place to live, work, and raise a family. Sutherland’s important role is to help elected officials craft sound, principle-based public policy toward that same end. We recognize the growing differences between religious and secular cultures within Salt Lake City and commend the LDS Church for its earnest desire to keep cultural and political tensions to a minimum.

As a public relations opportunity, the LDS Church’s statement before the Salt Lake City Council may assuage the minds and soften the hearts of advocates of “gay rights” in Utah. As a policy statement, it is problematic. The approved ordinances before the Salt Lake City Council are unsound in principle, clarity, and effect.

We have learned from California and other states that the meaning of marriage will die by a thousand cuts. Each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage. Of course, each one, singly and in isolation, does no violence to the meaning of marriage. However, the legal debate is far ahead of such parochial analysis. Unfortunately, homosexual activists seeking to redefine the meaning of marriage – as well as activist courts seeking to do the same – do not view these types of ordinances singly or in isolation but as a pattern of public opinion to justify radical changes to law as we saw in California.

As we have stated previously, we hold that the approved ordinances are vague, dangerously broad, and unjust to the parties they seek to regulate.

We, once again, call on the Utah State Legislature to overturn these local ordinances on the basis of sound public policy.

The Sutherland Institute is a Utah-based conservative think tank, made up mostly of LDS members, whose agenda is primarily to stop any progress to humanize immigrants and homosexuals, and to support the radical de-governmentization of society. I imagine it is very uncomfortable for its many LDS members to realize that the Church is taking a decidely more centrist view on its core issues of immigration and gay rights. I don't think it is wrong to disagree with the Church's stance on these ordinances, it's just that so many people try to pin their politics to what they perceive are the Church's politics of the Republican Party that it must be astonishing when they don't line up completely.

I am not suggesting that I think the Church, as an institution, practices liberal politics. Just like don't think it practices conservative politics. My feeling is that the guiding principles the Church espouses when it comes to involvement in political debates are to: 1) defend our beliefs and 2) show Christlike love to all. If that means opposing gay marriage but supporting gay rights, then so be it. If that means requiring all members to obey the law but turning the other way when it comes to illegal immigrants, so be it.

We get so caught up in our understanding of American politics that we, and I'm absolutely including myself here, try to pigeon-hole the Church into one American political ideology or the other. It should be clear by now that this is a mistake, and that God works so far above these human-created distinctions that it is embarrassing to even put them in the same sentence.

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