This past Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this newspaper, formally announced its support for a Salt Lake City proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination against the gay community in employment and housing. Both the church and the city are to be commended for their actions.
Mayor Ralph Becker and his colleagues on the City Council were rightly concerned about the problem of discrimination. Recognizing that discrimination against gays was bound up in a host of contentious issues, the city carefully drafted an ordinance that addressed the problem but balanced competing interests. In short, the parties involved didn't have to choose between virtue and victory. They got both.
In particular, the ordinance addressed the constitutional protection of religion. Not only was the proposed ordinance fairly and narrowly drafted, the mayor engaged in a transparent process, taking into account all the various perspectives. The process was free of the histrionics that often accompany the discussion of gay rights.
Though many expressed a mixture of surprise and relief at the church's position, it should not have been surprising for a number of reasons. In the run-up to the vote on California's Proposition 8 last year, the church issued a statement, "The Divine Institution of Marriage". In its statement, the church noted that it "does not object to rights regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the family or the constitutional rights of churches and their adherents to administer and practice their religion free from government interference."
The church noted here that Salt Lake City's ordinance is "fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage." The church's support modeled its own principles. Notwithstanding the often withering invective of its opponents, the church has always responded in a kindly way. Its public comments have always been civil, even while being clear on differences. In its statement to the City Council, the church noted that it "remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman."
Would that all of our public discussions were characterized by the church spokesman's words: "I represent a church that believes in human dignity, in treating others with respect even when we disagree — in fact, especially when we disagree. In these comments and in our actions, we try to follow what Jesus Christ taught. Our language will always be respectful and acknowledge those that differ, but will also be clear on matters that we feel are of great consequence to our society."