Top leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced their support of employment and housing protections for Utah’s LGBT community, as well as protections for people who object to such measures on religious grounds.
In doing so, the Mormon Church became one of the biggest sects in the country to publicly advocate for laws that protect gay rights.
"We call on local, state and the federal government," Elder Dallin H. Oaks said in a news release, "to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country."
Under the legal framework being proposed by the church, the religious liberties of those who work in government or health care would still be protected if their beliefs conflicted with their professional responsibilities. A physician could refrain from performing an artificial insemination procedure for a lesbian couple, and ordained ministers could still refuse to perform the marriage for a gay couple.
Nonetheless, politicians and advocates on both sides of the debate are aware of the impact that the church's support carries, especially in other states like Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona, where it has significant influence in the civic sphere, and where LGBT protections often lag behind those of other states.
"If the LDS Church gets behind it and gives its blessing, then 81% of the body who are LDS will likely get behind it," Rep. Jacob Anderegg told the Salt Lake City Tribune after the press conference. "And it's not because the church is coming out and saying, 'Vote this way or that way,' but an endorsement from them does carry weight."
The decision was a result of escalating discussions within the church about the intersection of religious freedom and human rights.
"Ultimately, most of society recognized that such treatment was simply wrong, and that such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person's sexual orientation," said Neill Marriott, a public affairs representative for the church.
While the endorsement marks a significant step towards smoothing tensions between gay rights advocates and some Mormon church members in Utah, it is not the first time the LDS has pushed for better treatment of LGBT people.
In 2009, the Mormon church came out in support of two ordinances protecting the LGBT community from employment and housing discrimination. Almost immediately, the Salt Lake City Council approved the measure.