Though the Church’s message was broad, there is no doubt that it will have an affect on two particular pieces of legislation expected to be discussed during the legislation: Representative Jacob Andreregg’s (Republican – Lehi) HB 66, which would allow government agents to opt out of performing same-sex marriages if they have a religious objection to the marriages, and Senator Steve Urquhart’s (Republican – St. George) SB 100, a repeat of last years antidiscrimination ordinance that was shelved as lawmakers waited for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the historic Kitchen v. Herbert decision that would ultimately allow same-sex marriage in Utah.
“The Church has publicly favored laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.” Sister Neill Marriott told the media, reminding faithful (and no doubt LDS lawmakers traditionally opposed to antidiscrimination laws on the grounds of religious objections) that “God is loving and merciful…Jesus ministered to marginalized outcasts” – even those that were not in popular professions.
However, Church leaders were quick to defend religious liberty as well during the press conference. Elder Dallin Oaks pointed pointed to incidents in California and across the nation where those expressing religious objections have been harassed for their views. He would call it “odd” that LGBT advocates, who demand to have their rights heard, were, in his mind, quick to attempt to quiet the objections of those with religious objections to LGBT activities.
“It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals,” Oaks would emphasize.
Elder Jeffry R. Holland took the podium to ask for a new wave of understanding and discussion in the wake of the charged political debates that often take place around the topic of same sex marriage.
“Politically, it certainly requires dedication to the highest level of statesmanship. Nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring or accusations of bigotry,” Holland said, adding that “these are serious issues, and they require serious minds engaged in thoughtful, courteous discourse.”
Holland would then ask political leaders to walk a line that respects the rights both of those who have religious objections to members of the LGBT community and members of the LGBT community themselves, suggesting that both are not mutually exclusive.
‘With understanding and goodwill, including some give and take, none of these rights guaranteed to people of faith will encroach on the rights of gay men and women who wish to live their lives according to their own rights and principles,” Holland concluded.
Liberals and conservatives alike were quick to praise the statement by the Church. In a prepared statement, House Minority Leader, and member of the LDS Church, Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) said “Non-discrimination has always been about supporting and protecting Utah families. As a large employer and moral leader both in Utah and abroad, the LDS Church’s impact reverberates through the world. Democrats are grateful to all the stakeholders who have taken a seat at the table to work to make our state better.”
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), the legislatures only openly gay lawmaker, also praised the statement from the LDS Church, saying that he was proud of the Church for stepping forward on the issue.
“I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination. As a Church,” Dabakis said, “Mormons have a long history of being the victims of discrimination and persecution. They understand more than most the value and strength of creating a civil society that judges people by the content of their character and their ability to do a job.”
In a blog post, the conservative Sutherland Institute also praised the Mormon Church stating that they have “long called for protection of religious freedom for individuals and organizations. This principle must be reflected in any proposed legislation. Residents of Utah and citizens everywhere are entitled not just to belief, but also to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and moral conscience—both in private and in public.”
With the statement coming out on the first day of official legislative business, it is clear that the LDS Church wanted to establish its position early. With the vast majority of Utah lawmakers subscribing to the Mormon faith, such a clear position may ease the legislative process for Anderegg and Urquhart alike.
The full press conference can be found below: