Mormons Clarify Gay Marriage Stance

Edge, Boston/September 10, 2008

A new document from the leadership of the Mormon faith offers support for domestic partnership benefits, but continues to claim that marriage equality damages "the integrity of the family" for straights.

The document, a six-page clarification on the anti-gay-family position taken by the Church of Latter Day Saints, drew praise from GLBT Mormon group Affirmation, while at the same time prompting that same group to denounce the way the church dismisses the concerns of gay families and other family structures in which two mixed-gender parents are not present, reported the Deseret News in a Sept. 10 article.

The document, titled The Divine Institution of Marriage, was posted last month at the official Web site of the Mormon Church.

Affirmation released a statement on the document earlier this month.

The Deseret News article noted that in June, the Mormon faith's leadership requested church members to contribute to the push in Calif. to rescind marriage equality rights by rewriting the state constitution in a way that will reserve marriage as a special right exclusive to heterosexuals.

Should voters approve the ballot initiative in Nov., gay and lesbian families will be left with no future access to marriage rights.

However, the new document does express support for some domestic partnership provisions, also currently legal in Calif., that benefit both unmarried heterosexual couples and gay families.

The article quoted from the new text's introduction, in which it was written, "The church does not object to rights (already established in California) regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference."

That passage was seen by Affirmation as a reversal from a 2004 statement issued by the Church's leadership, in which it was declared that the LDS faith "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship."

The Deseret News observed that the earlier statement was issued just before Utah voters approved an amendment to their state's constitution that was even more unfriendly to gay families than the measure proposed in Calif.

The 2004 amendment to the Utah constitution not only specifically reserved marriage as a special right for heterosexuals, but took the additional step of outlawing any legal support or recognition for gay and lesbian families by forbidding any union other than one man and one woman from being "recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."

A new attitude toward gays and lesbians was also indicated by the church in saying that its "opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women," a statement that, as with the support voiced for domestic partnerships in Calif., was hailed by Affirmation.

The gay Mormon group called the partial thawing of the church's stance toward gays "by far the most affirming statement of both human and civil rights of gay people" since last year's equally surprising publication of a circular titled God Loveth His Children, which, said Affirmation's media spokesperson, David Melson, "acknowledged that being gay is not a disease or a sin."

Added Melson, "We applaud the courage of the leaders who chose to make this statement, which is contrary to many of the church's words and actions of the past, and we see this as a positive step."

However, added Melson, "We would have been more pleased if it had not been issued during a time of contradictory action by the church to repeal the civil rights of gay U.S. citizens and to seek to break apart families."

Further, Affirmation denounced a passage in the new document that states, "strong families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor of civilized society."

Affirmation responded by noting that that statement from the church "marginalizes families headed by widows, single parents, adoptive parents, grandparents or foster parents and ignores the church's own history honoring polygamous marriage."

The new document also justifies the church's anti-gay-family stance by saying that LDS opposition to GLBT civil equality does not constitute hate speech because "tolerance as a gospel principle means love and forgiveness of one another, not 'tolerating' transgression."

The text of the new document goes on to declare that, "in today's secular world [the word tolerance has] come to mean condone-acceptance of wrongful behavior as the price of friendship."

The document continues, "Jesus taught that we love and care for one another without condoning transgression," and further states that, "tolerance does not require abandoning one's standard or one's opinions on political or public policy choices."

The church document continues in the same thread, arguing that, "speaking out against practices with which the church disagrees on moral grounds-including same-sex marriage-does not constitute abuse or the frequently misused term 'hate speech,'" the Deseret News reported.

Adds the text of the document, "We can express genuine love and friendship for the homosexual family member or friend without accepting the practice of homosexuality or any re-definition of marriage."

The text continues, "As church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility."

The new document also addresses fallout that the church leadership imagines might result from the continued legalization of marriage equality, citing concerns for heterosexual families and their children should families headed by same-sex couples continue to gain legal recognition and social acceptance.

Affirmation, however, took a dim view of those posited concerns, saying in its statement that the LDS leadership had resorted to "half-truths and fear to paint a picture of gay marriage leading to an end of religious freedom and of societal standards."

Melson's comments to the Deseret News indicated that Affirmation sees the new statement from the church as, in part, motivated by the faith's own GLBT members.

Melson was quoted as saying that the new document's "introduction directly addressed gay issues in a manner much more straightforward and positive than the church has done before, [and] it's hard not to think our actions didn't have some influence on that."

Added Melson, "The church has recognized this is an issue they need to deal with.

"I think they are starting to prepare the way for that day."

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