I literally leapt from my seat with joy when I surfed over to the Church’s web site this week and read that the Church was coming out in favor of a civil rights law protecting homosexuals against discrimination. While we still have a long way to go, it filled my heart with joy to see us taking the fist steps down the path toward more Christ like concern for our fellow men.
In my initial post on Gay marriage I gave the church a C+ for the way in which they were addressing the issue. A part of the reason for the low grade was the failure of the Church to directly repudiate the bigotry that was being carried out under the banner of marriage defense. In the general “battle” to protect marriage the Church had aligned itself with some groups that had more far-reaching and bigoted goals than the protection of marriage (and some of these goals have begun to bleed though and color church members’ thoughts and actions), also some members of the Church were using the Church’s stand against gay marriage as a justification for denying homosexuals other basic rights and legal protections (take as an example the repeated inability of the Utah Legislature to pass a workable hate crimes bill because the supporters insist on including sexual orientation as one of the categories against which a hate crime can be committed.) Even though the Church had specifically stated that they were “not opposed” to extending basic (non-marriage) rights to homosexuals, this message wasn’t loud enough to be heard over much of the bigotry on the right.
Last week that changed. Although I first heard the news on the Church’s web site, it was on the front page of The Oregonian, and reported in the New York Times (also here) as well. The Church’s official public relations spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the Church, explicitly stated the Church’s support for a measure before the Salt Lake City Council granting civil rights protection for homosexuals in housing and employment. While this was presented as being in harmony with earlier statements (and in a sense it was), it represents a radical change. The Church went from being “not opposed” to being in “in support of,” and not just abstractly “in support”; they took active steps to support the civil rights of homosexuals in the face of opposition from groups with whom they were previously allied.
While I still think that we have a long way to go as a church when it comes to gay rights issues and learning to see homosexuals as our brothers and sisters, this is a very welcome step in the right direction. It tells the critics on the far left and the extremists on the far right that we actually do mean what we say and that the position on gay marriage isn’t part of a larger agenda to marginalize homosexuals. Hopefully both the statement itself and the language in the statement will serve as reminder to Church members that bigoted words and ideas are not part of the Gospel of Christ.
If this represents an actual change in position leading to a real sustained effort (as a recent follow-up statement by Elder Holland indicates), in my mind this would move the church from a C+ to B-. Among other things, we still need to admit that there are bigots in our own ranks and address them. We need to help people to understand what bigotry is, why it is dangerous and how to recognize it. We need to learn to acknowledge the arguments on the other side in terms that they would recognize and accept as accurate, fair, and respectful. We need to address our arguments using independently verifiable, universally acceptable, objective data and not pick and choose among studies (we can’t ignore the ones we don’t like and blindly generalize from those we do.) And we can refuse to align ourselves with people and groups using this issue to further agendas of bigotry.