Earlier today (it’s just before midnight for me!), the LDS Church issued a statement endorsing (kind of?) the Respect for Marriage Act.  The brief statement reads:  

“The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged.

We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

We believe this approach is the way forward. As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”

In some ways, this position is unprecedented.  While the LDS Church has for several years advanced its “fairness for all” approach to LGBTQ rights–endorsing anti-discrimination legislation in areas like housing and employment in exchange for religious exemptions that mean those protections don’t apply to religious institutions–it has never, until now, endorsed a law regarding same-sex marriage.  For example, in a 2015 Q&A describing the Church’s support for anti-discrimination legislation in Utah, the Church clarified that the “bill [did] not support gay marriage.”  Of course, well before 2015, the Church mobilized opposition to gay marriage in Hawaii and California.  While the Church has acknowledged that the Supreme Court decision made marriage equality “the law of the land,” supporting federal legislation that protects same-sex marriage is a significant move.  And, given Justice Thomas’s references to overturning Obergefell (the 2015 Supreme Court case that ensured protection of gay marriage), the legislation is critically needed to protect marriage equality.  

In other ways, of course, it’s the same old story:  the Church is taking a pragmatic step to endorse legislation so long as it contains exemptions for itself and other religious institutions (all the while reminding everyone that its doctrine has not and will never change).  Since 2015, the tide of public opinion has moved in favor of gay marriage:  in 2019, Pew reported that 61% of Americans favored the legalization of gay marriage (as opposed to the exact opposite ratio in 2004); in September 2022, a poll by Deseret News & Hinckley Institute of Politics reported that 72% of Utahans supported legal protections for same-sex marriage.  This battle has been lost.  

The Church’s move here seems particularly disingenuous:  its announcement came the day after it was announced that the bill had enough votes to overcome a filibuster and pass in the Senate; it had already passed in the House in July (without comment or endorsement from the Church).  I have to wonder if the Church was waiting for midterm elections before deciding to give in on this.   

I don’t have much more to say on this.  Just a bunch of questions that I’d like to ask the Church.  But since the Church won’t answer, readers, you can take a stab:

  • If we are led by prophets, seers, and revelators, then why couldn’t they have come up with this solution (religious exemptions to laws permitting gay marriage) in the late 90’s?  Would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, and money, and would have truly been prophetic and innovative at the time. 
  • How should people who donated their time & money–for some, a lot of time and a lot of money–fighting the Prop 8 battle at the Church’s express request feel about this change?  Is this actually a meaningful change from the Church’s earlier positions or, given that the Church’s doctrine opposing gay marriage hasn’t changed, is this really the same old stuff? 
  • Will the Church stop supporting organizations that oppose gay marriage & fight against LGBTQ rights in countries that are not favorable to gay marriage?  Is the Church willing to support the rights of queer folks, including the right to marry the person of their choice, globally? 
  • Why do Church leaders continue to insist, as they do in this statement, that “The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged.”  How do they know that future leaders won’t receive revelation to change the doctrine?  How do they explain that the doctrine of marriage between a man and (several) wom[e]n has already changed?
  • Will this have any impact on the statements that BYU faculty and other CES employees are allowed to make, or personal beliefs they re allowed to hold, regarding gay marriage? 
  • How will the Church ensure that its message of “loving gay people” but “not supporting gay marriage”–except now we support it legally but not doctrinally–won’t marginalize queer members of the Church?  How is it possible to truly show love to a queer person, and allow them to feel and receive that love, if we continue to insist that they cannot date or marry people whom they are attracted to or that their marriages are not valid in God’s eyes?  Can you provide an example of how one would walk this line?  Does the Church support the idea that parents should not allow their children and same-sex partners to stay overnight in their home?*  Is there any reason a high-ranking Church leader should avoid posting pictures with a child and a same-sex partner on social media?   
  • Does the Church continue to endorse its assertions in its statement “The Divine Institution of Marriage”, in which it argues (among other things) that legalizing gay marriage may “erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children”, and that it is “detrimental to the long-term interests of society”, or that it will “weaken the institution [of the family] over time”?  Does the Church still “unequivocally affirm” that “marriage should remain the lawful union of a man and a woman”?  Does it still assert that [w]here same-sex marriage becomes a recognized civil right, it inevitably conflicts with the rights of believers, and religious freedom is diminished”?  

*By way of reminder, the below is how Dallin Oaks responded to a question about how to deal with a gay child who wants to visit with a partner.  I hadn’t read it in a while and I honestly couldn’t believe it when I reviewed it tonight.  Let me be very clear:  this is disgusting, filthy, horrific, tragic, immoral, hateful advice for a parent.  I know Oaks doesn’t believe in institutional apologies, but he should apologize personally for this statement and it should be removed from the Church website with all deliberate speed:    

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’

ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”