LDS leaders reemphasize protection of religious freedoms, support for LGBT nondiscrimination laws

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 27 2015 10:20 a.m. MST

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Dallin H. Oaks shake hands inside the Conference Center in Salt Lake City after a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, as LDS leaders reemphasize support for LGBT nondiscrimination laws that protect religious freedoms.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Senior LDS leaders reiterated Tuesday the church’s longstanding support for laws that ensure fair access to housing and employment for LGBT people while safeguarding religious freedom.

Three apostles and one of the faith's women's leaders clearly outlined the position at a landmark news conference, spelling out concerns about what they see as an erosion of religious liberties and calling for fairness for all people.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called for governments to seek balance as they consider nondiscrimination laws.

"Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment," he said. "The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect religions against discrimination and retaliation while claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens."

Elder Oaks told the Deseret News the statements made in the press conference were official church statements. They were intended for national and international audiences in and outside of the church, but he said they were general principles that didn't refer to any specific proposed legislation.

"It's not appropriate for us to endorse a given bill without knowing fully what is proposed," he said.

Debate about nondiscrimination laws has included voices that say balance is neither possible or necessary. Elder Oaks offered a different perspective.

"It's also an issue that is getting to a point of divisiveness for the body politic," he said in an interview, "where we need to speak about to try to take the temperature down and increase the likelihood that people will communicate with one another and give a little here, take a little there and work out compromises that don't apply to religious doctrine but do apply to public policy."

An alternative

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said the church was offering an alternative to rhetoric and intolerance that characterizes debate on the matter and that accommodating the rights of all people will require the highest level of statesmanship.

"Rights are best guarded," he said, "when each person and group guards for others those rights they wish guarded for themselves."

The church used the hashtag #fairness4all on Tuesday in its messages about the news conference on Twitter.

Nondiscrimination legislation protects gays against inequity in employment, housing and places of public accommodation like restaurants and hotels.

Most of American society recognizes that "such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend on a person's sexual orientation," said Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the church's Young Women General Presidency.

An overwhelming majority of Americans — including Latter-day Saints, Elder Oaks said — supports nondiscrimination legislation, but many nondiscrimination bills lack exemptions or include only limited exemptions for religious accommodation.

Another of the Twelve Apostles, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in an interview that religious liberties should be included in nondiscrimination ordinances and laws to specify how the First Amendment guarantees to the free exercise of religion apply in each case.

Elder Christofferson introduced the speakers at the briefing and noted the rare nature of Tuesday's new conference.

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