Tuesday, November 17, 2009

News Flash: LDS Church comes out in favor of (some) equal rights for gays

So by now, you've all heard the news that the LDS Church has backed a Salt Lake City ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Elder Holland has even suggested that the statute should be applied more widely, leading some to wonder whether this will give momentum to the Common Ground Initiative, which ended up stalled in the last legislative session. Even conservative Senator Chris Buttars admitted that "a person ought to be able to have a roof over their head and have a job. I don't have any problem with that."

Many in the gay community have argued that this is a transparent PR move. Maybe they're right, but I don't think it matters. Any softening of the Church's position deserves a great deal of praise, regardless of the reason the change was made. If the gay rights movement is only for those on board 100% of the time, we will fail. Being encouraging, civil, and looking for areas of common ground and agreement does more to help the cause of gay rights than insisting on ideological purity will. I agree with Andrew Sullivan:

For this degree of respect - even if it is not fully what I want or what gays truly deserve - we should reciprocate with respect as well. This is a moment of genuine dialogue and civil compromise. And it was accomplished in Salt Lake City among gay and straight Mormons and gay and straight non-Mormons in a way that other Christians in other places have been unable to replicate.

I communicate often with an LDS man from California who is totally rational in just about every topic that I have talked to him about, except for the gay issue. He is unable to believe that the gay community is willing to enter into dialogue. He is a person who many would say is anti-gay to the core, and yet it is clear to me that he is someone who can be reached if he can get over the bitter taste in his mouth. While I am not suggesting that we offer the Church unfettered praise for their actions, the Church needs to be recognized by our community for their efforts in trying to bridge the gap--that is the best way to encourage future progress.


LA VIDA said...

Wow. That is all I can say.

Nate W. said...

In regards to the Church's position, my position, or something else?

sister blah 2 said...

I'm really enjoying your comments over at T&S. What a thread. Just thought I'd give a shout-out over here on your blog.

Charlie said...

I'm actually split in my reaction. Part of me wants to be like you and say, "Thanks, LDS Church, for being a little more reasonable than some of the other churches who have a history of demonizing gay people." And I certainly agree that we can't limit ourselves to only being friendly to those who are on board with us 100% (in recognizing us a equal citizens, that is).

The other part of me, though, sees this as a strictly PR move (as you pointed out) to taper some of the post-Prop 8 backlash that has painted Mormon leadership as aggressive in their efforts to marginalize people who are gay. Sarcastically, I think to myself, "Oh really? We ought to be able to work jobs, earn money, and keep a roof over our heads so that we don't end up on welfare and/or in homeless shelters? How reasonable of you!"

I also find it hilarious that they added to their statement a reference to marriage equality doing "violence" to the institution of marriage, since it leads us to the epistemic violence game: a game whose history is full of violent discourse from some LDS leaders (such as Packer's "To Young Men Only" pamphlet in which he condones physical violence against gay people and portrays them as a lurking threat, constantly plotting to molest and take advantage of unsuspecting heterosexuals; or Kimball's "The Miracle of Forgiveness," in which he asserts that "it were better such a man were never born" [because gay men are clearly more problematic than gay women] and that simply being gay, no matter how decent or kind-hearted, means a "repugnant [...] embarrassing [...] abominable and detestable crime against nature"). Has LDS leadership really had to wonder about the unusually high suicide rate of their gay youth? Talk about violence.

I know my rant is probably counterproductive to the point you were trying to make in this post, so I apologize, but I have to say that attempts by some LDS leaders to say "See! Our homophobia is reasonable!" prompt a pretty strong reaction from people like me who grew up with gay Mormons who killed themselves pretty early on (not that an entire institution can be blamed for the actions taken by these individuals to take their own lives, but I think the connection is pretty clear). By the same token, I recognize that this development is an example of leadership taking a very small step in the right direction and is indicative of a wider debate within Mormon culture. I'm very glad to see that many of my LDS friends are questioning the morality behind some of the violent rhetoric of the past and are creating an internal debate that is just beginning to take shape. I'm also grateful to LDS parents of gay children who have been outspoken in voicing their concerns, facilitation dialogue, and pressing for a more humane approach. It appears this stance is a step in that direction, so I guess I should taper my critical reaction to it.

Nate W. said...


I don't disagree with one thing you say here. I just worry that sometimes we treat half a loaf (or in this case, less than half a loaf) as worse than nothing at all. I don't think that you are doing this in your response and I think that we need to keep up the pressure, but make sure that we foster dialogue in a way that encourages future cooperation.

There are so many good people who want to do the right thing in the LDS Church. I've seen so many people in the Church struggling with cognitive dissonance over the issue. We need to make sure that we can't be written off as mean or unreasonable in order for further dialogue to occur. It's a fine line to walk, but it is what we have to do to see real progress in the relationships with our families and friends in this issue.