Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LDS Church Expresses Official Support For Salt Lake City's Proposed Gay Nondiscrimination Ordinances During Testimony At City Council Meeting

During a public hearing on Salt Lake City's proposed gay nondiscrimination ordinances taking place at a regular meeting of the Salt Lake City Council on November 10th, 2009, a representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed the Church's official support for the ordinances. Media stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, KSTU Channel 13, and KSL Channel 5. Official news release by the LDS Church HERE.

The proposed ordinances are buried within this 152-page package. The proposed Salt Lake City Code Chapter 10.04, banning employment discrimination, is on pp 6-22, while the proposed Chapter 10.05, banning housing discrimination, is on pp 22-37. Even without LDS Church support, the ordinances are expected to pass. According to the Tribune, here's what the proposed ordinances would do:

-- Forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity in Salt Lake City.
-- Exempt religious organizations, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and some small landlords. (The exemptions mirror those in state and federal laws.)
-- "Not create any special rights or privileges," the ordinances state, because "every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity."
-- Create a complaint and investigation process. The complaint could be resolved through mediation or a fine of up to $1,000.
-- Not create a private right of action to sue in court over alleged discrimination.
-- Require annual reports by the city's Human Rights Commission on the effectiveness of the statutes.

The LDS Church's full statement is available HERE. Michael Otterson, managing director of the LDS Church's public affairs office, said "The church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage". Otterson added that the statement of support is consistent with the church's prior position on such matters, as well as its stance on marriage. Both are found in the church's August 2008 statement entitled "The Divine Institution of Marriage". Shortly after Otterson made the statement, the city council passed the ordinances. KSTU video embedded below:


In addition to agreeing with Becker's approach to the ordinances, Otterson said the Church also recognizes that the proposal attempts to balance vital issues of religious freedom. But Otterson still reminded the audience that the Church's fundamental definition of marriage has NOT changed, saying "The church remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman."

The Tribune reveals that the announcement may have been the culmination of two months of secret meetings between midlevel LDS officials and five of Utah's most prominent gay leaders. Those meetings have their roots in the "kiss-in" protests that took place after LDS security detained two gay men on the church's Main Street Plaza after they were seen hugging and kissing. Salt Lake City Council Chairman Carlton Christensen then intervened, suggesting to LDS leaders that a dialogue with Utah's gay community may ease hostilities. The LDS officials decided it was worth a shot, and reached out to the leaders of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center.

And reaction from gay leaders was immediately forthcoming - and positive. "We're really excited. This is a great step," said Will Carlson, director of public policy for the gay-rights advocacy group Equality Utah. But he also noted that four out of five gay Utahns live outside of the capital and should be afforded protection as well, pledging that Equality Utah will continue to work to expand protection statewide. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon as the Republican majority has been opposed to statewide protection. But since most of the Republican majority is LDS, the Church's support of the Salt Lake ordinance may soften their opposition, except for those on the extreme like Chris Buttars.

Jim Dabakis, who founded both Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, was also positive. "The discussions we have had over the last several months have shown what a caring, loving concerned institution [the LDS Church] is," Dabakis said. "It changed all of our lives. They haven't given up any beliefs, and we are likely to continue to disagree on issues, but we developed serious friendships...They are really trying to put some of the Prop 8 stuff behind them."

The gay Mormon group Affirmation also responded. "We pray that the words spoken tonight are to be followed up with positive action," Affirmation's assistant executive director Micah Bisson. "It is time to eliminate the heavy-handed church actions to defeat marriage equality and protections for transgender people. When LDS officials arrest gay people for public affection on Temple Square, we need to realize that all Mormons, and the LDS church itself, look small-minded to people who are outside the tradition." Affirmation's complete statement is available HERE.

But some people think differently. The Sutherland Institute, a conservative Salt Lake City think tank, opposes the anti-discrimination laws. The group has encouraged the Utah Legislature to quash the measures, if they pass, and prevent other municipalities from following Salt Lake City's lead. The institute argues laws that recognize sexual orientation and gender identity lead to gay marriage.

Unofficial LDS reaction is likely to show up in the LDS Bloggernacle later. First reaction posted by A Soft Answer.

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