Chris Herrod on: The “gay agenda”

Obviously, the biggest event of the day (and, maybe even of the entire 2015 General Session) was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ press conference held at the LDS Conference Center this morning. I was impressed with not only the thoughtfulness of the comments, but also the specificity of the written statements. To be honest, at times during the press conference I felt uneasy, but in the end, I felt as though the LDS Church leaders’ recommendations might actually provide the compromise tolerable to everyone. At the very least…it’s worth a try.

But, as this discussion progresses through the coming weeks, and, as everyone begins to place their own unique spin on the statements made by Church leaders (myself included)—both specifically and in general—it’s important to remember what LDS leaders DID and DID NOT actually say.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began by stating:

To those who follow the Church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or Church teachings today. But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone.

Despite what will be claimed in the near or distant future, no endorsement of any specific legislation was given by the Church’s general authorities. Although, leaders were more specific than usual, general principles and guidelines were discussed—not explicit language for any bill.   In my opinion, that means there’s room for debate on any bill—anti-discrimination AND religious freedom protection bills. Unfortunately and prematurely, Equality Utah (lobbyists for the LGBT community) has already claimed LDS Church support for Senator Steve Urquhart’s bill SB100 ANTIDISCRIMINATION AMENDMENTS.

The Church maintained its right to discriminate in specific cases and did not concede exclusions (and exceptions) granted to the Church by the anti-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City—not only for Church operations, but, for Church owned businesses, as well.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave the most direct and specific comments about the loss of religious freedoms I have heard yet. He expressed alarm at “… the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution,” and then listed several situational attacks on religious freedom, and then he added:

Sadly, the list is expanding. Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they raised their voice in the public square, donate to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing, or public services because of race or gender…

It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.   The precious constitutional right of free speech does not exclude any individual or group, and a society is only truly free when it respects freedom or religious exercise, conscience and expression for everyone, including unpopular minorities.

Those of us who have had our religious values and beliefs ridiculed on a regular biases (with what seems to be an ever increasing crescendo) and fear things will only get worse, were reminded today that it was not so long ago when violence and other persecution was used against those who are gay. Although I know of no one who believes such violence was ever right, it is important for all of us to remember such violence against homosexuals did happen, and, that it was and always will be, inexcusable.

Violence is the easy line to draw.

However, where to draw the line exactly—between legitimate expressions of religious freedom and claims of persecution—has proven to be the more difficult undertaking.

Simply expressing an opinion of what marriage IS or IS NOT (especially in our democratic process), is not in fact “hate speech”—as many claim.   In general, most people also believe that one’s sexual orientation should not be a factor in issues of housing or employment.

If the Utah State Legislature decides to move forward this session with a non-discrimination law, here are a couple suggestions for our lawmakers utilizing the previous foundational thoughts:

First, the legislature should remember that once rights are given away—especially in the area of religion, free exercise of conscience, and property rights—they’re almost always given away, forever. This means moving through the legislative and thought processes slowly, deliberately, and vigilantly. Err on the side of caution—rather than having to try to “reclaim” precious rights once they’re gone.

Second, make sure that family owned businesses and individuals with deeply held religious beliefs are protected as well.   The Church maintained this right for itself (while negotiating the previous round of anti-discrimination laws in Salt Lake City), and, such rights are not exclusive to the Church. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the majority of other rights guaranteed and protected within the Bill of Rights, deal primarily with the rights of Individuals.

Special protections and exemptions for the Church, carved out during previous anti-discrimination negotiations, raised deep concerns for many Utahns. When it “signed off” on the Salt Lake City Ordinance, the Church seemed to keep special/exclusive rights for itself, while denying the same protections to others who hold deep religious beliefs (i.e. local LDS and other Christian families who are business owners, or real property owners/landlords, etc.).

Elder Holland indicated:

Certainly, religious rights must include a family’s right to worship and conduct religious activities in the homes as it sees fit, and for parents to teach their children according to their religious values-recognizing that when children are old enough they will choose their own path.

For many family owned businesses, this teaching does not end within the confines of their home, but continues into the business world. (At times, the business is actually operated within the home.) Family owned businesses should be excluded from legislative proposals and mandates. Admittedly, defining what constitutes such a family or home-based business will be difficult, though. Are businesses that employ fewer than 50 people only eligible, or, does a business owner lose such rights because he/she becomes successful (i.e. Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A)?! Elder Holland specifically mentioned the rights of LDS physicians to refuse to perform abortions and/or provide services for artificial insemination for lesbian couples regardless of size of such corporations.

Protections for state government, agency, and political subdivision employees should be a “no brainer.” (We should still have a conversation about what constitutes proselyting for the gay agenda—especially in our K-12 education system. Also, there should be protections for county clerks and judges who do not want preform gay marriages because of personal beliefs and religious convictions). Publicly traded companies should not be allowed to discriminate—although, most already have such protections. (A purist could argue that this begs the question…”is legislation really even needed?”)

Some exemptions will be needed for housing as well. While I cannot immediately see a need for exemptions for single-family housing, some accommodations are needed for roommates or subletting rooms in a home or an apartment.

As previously mentioned, HOW to write such legislation will be the most contentious issue; however, as Sister Neill Marriott stated:

In any democratic society, differences often lead to tensions.   Such tensions are not to be feared unless they become so extreme that they threaten to tear apart the very fabric of society. While that’s happened sometimes in our history, we’re at our best as fellow citizens when the push-pull of different viewpoints, freely and thoroughly aired in national debate, lead ultimately to compromise and resolution and we move on as a nation, stronger than before.

I thought the Most Reverend John Wester—Bishop of Salt Lake City—provided some of the best advice about how to avoid tearing society apart when he described today’s LDS Press Conference as “expressing the need for respect and tolerance” (see KSL Radio – Doug Wright Third Hour).

Frankly, the consideration and enactment of legislation on this issue will take a “leap of faith” on my part, as my political experience has warned me about the dangers of unintended consequences and how laws, unfortunately, seem to be applied only in one direction. Examples, like last Friday’s ruling by the California State Supreme Court (which I will talk about later), still cause me profound concern. At some point, however, we must individually determine to exercise faith and see if the positions of our ecclesiastical leaders provide a path for a lasting compromise. This does not, by any stretch, mean that a person follows his/her leaders blindly—especially our elected leaders. However, if a solution may be reached utilizing true principles, fairness, and equity—principles most often taught by our trusted and authorized religious leaders—then we should look forward to enjoying the inevitable benefits inherently associated with obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.


ps:  Lest you think Utah lawmakers are required to “fall in line” or “march lockstep” when LDS Church leaders take a position on a high-profile issue, you need to read the LDS Church’s statement on POLITICAL NEUTRALITY (found on the Church’s website).