Last week, the same church that propelled a campaign prohibiting gay marriage in California came out in support of a statute in Salt Lake City that would protect the GLBT community from discrimination in housing and employment. Before the Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved the measure to a standing ovation, the LDS Church sent a spokesman to officially represent them and show support for the proposal. The representative recognized the complexity of the issue and the strong feelings involved, and went on to say the ordinance would grant “common-sense rights that should be available to everyone.” He finished his statement by emphasizing the importance of human dignity and respectfulness.
While gay-rights supporters were surprised and articulated their gratefulness to the church, others have not been so respectful. Gayle Ruzicka, president of a conservative interest group in Utah and host of a talk radio show, has since called the anti-discrimination ordinance “very discriminatory,” because it “discriminate[s] against people who have personal religious beliefs.” I’m sure Ruzicka’s opinion of Mormons being persecuted and eventually expelled from the state of Missouri in 1833 simply because of their faith is similar: the residents of Missouri were the real ones being discriminated against. And, of course, if Mormons were kicked out of their apartment or fired simply for being Mormon today, Ruzicka would not find that to be discriminatory either. In fact, according to her logic regarding discrimination, she would probably side with the persecutors. They are the victims after all.
There are talks among state legislators of attempting to overturning the ordinance, but it’s iffy so far and probably lacks the support needed to pass. Even Chris Buttars, a legislator who has compared gays to radical Muslims, has said he has no problem with the Salt Lake ordinance. Even he agrees that “a person ought to be able to have a roof over their head and have a job.” It seems to me that if this ordinance is good enough for Salt Lake City, it should also be good enough for the entire state, given that roughly 80 percent of gay Utahns live outside of the capital city.
Nonetheless, the passage of the statute is momentous, especially in the state of Utah. There have been talks between gay rights advocates and LDS leaders for months now, which ultimately resulted in a small but meaningful change. The Church showed the ability to compromise and willingness to engage with the gay community (albeit on a small scale), and that is commendable. That is more than we can say for many fundamentalist or orthodox religions.
No, the LDS Church did not come out in support of gay marriage. They have not expressed support for civil unions, nor have they fully committed to supporting the Common Ground Initiative, which would extend the same protections that are now law in Salt Lake (as well as other rights) across the state of Utah. But they did send an official representative to back a non-discrimination proposal in their own backyard, and an Apostle of the church has since said these rights could be modeled anywhere with a process of goodwill. Call it expediency or call it compassion, but the narrative has certainly changed.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.
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