LDS Church Supports Salt Lake LGBT Protections

Jim Burroway

November 11th, 2009

 Yes, you read that right:

Hours after the LDS Church announced its support Tuesday night of proposed Salt Lake City ordinances aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination in housing and employment, the City Council unanimously approved the measures.

“The church supports these ordinances,” spokesman Michael Otterson told the council, “because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

The Mormon church has come under withering criticism over its overwhelming support in passing California’s Proposition 8, which stripped LGBT couples in that state the right to marry. The LDS’s massive efforts have led some to dub Prop 8 “The Mormon Amendment.” In addition to overall criticism, that campaign also proved to be highly divisive within the church itself.

Last year in the wake of that criticism, LDS leaders said that they had no problem with non-marriage related protections for LGBT people. In August 2008, the church issued a statement titled “The Divine Institution of Marriage” in which church leaders claimed to support “rights regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights.” That spawned the “Common Ground” initiative, which consisted of a set of LGBT protections based on the LDS statement. But the LDS church turned around and blocked every single proposal in the state legislature which they had earlier said they could support.

LGBT leaders in Salt Lake City hail last night’s vote as a historic step, and the result of several months of quiet, behind-the-scenes meetings with church leaders. But noting that four-fifths of Utah’s LGBT citizens live outside the city, they vow to reintroduce the Common Ground proposals in the state legislature again this year.

Why the sudden turnaround after the Common Ground initiative failed to even make it out of committee in the state legislature last year? There are a couple of possibilities. First, Salt Lake City is not a Mormon bastion as the rest of the state is. Many former LDS people who wrote in to BTB this morning believe that this ordinance would have passed without LDS support. After all, this is the same city that has already instituted a domestic partnership registry. So by coming out in support of this ordinance, the reasoning goes, the church is able to turn what would have been seen as a defeat into positive publicity.

Meanwhile, others speculate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried (D-NV) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, both Mormons, may have played a hand. At any rate, the real test will be when the Common Ground initiative is brought back to the state legislature again next year.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the ordinances passed last night would:

  • Forbid housing and employment discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Salt Lake City.
  • Exempt religious organizations, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and some small landlords. (The exemptions mirror those in state and federal laws.)
  • “Not create any special rights or privileges,” the ordinances state, because “every person has a sexual orientation and a gender identity.”
  • Create a complaint and investigation process. The complaint could be resolved through mediation or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Not create a “private right of action” to sue over alleged discrimination.
  • Require annual reports by the city’s Human Rights Commission on the effectiveness of the statutes.


November 11th, 2009

I’m really not sure how I should feel about this. On one hand, I’m thinking, “Yay! A small victory!”

But on the other hand, I just feel like the LDS church will bring this up the next time a gay group gets mad at them for sticking their nose into the marriage equality issue. They’ll say something like, “Look we don’t hate you, look what we did in Salt Lake for you gays! Aren’t we nice and tolerant?”

Ugh. I really hate being cynical.

Ben in Oakland

November 11th, 2009

“because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage.”

Neither did my marriage, nor my domestic partnership, nor my civil union.

Glad for the small change but i still want to barf.


November 11th, 2009

I think the steady stream of legislative victories on issues like discrimination and expansion of hate-crime legislation can’t be disconnected from the prominence of the issue of same-sex marriage. Once the center of debate has moved all the way to complete equality before the law (e.g., access to civil marriage), it gets harder and harder to maintain opposition to including LGBTs in laws against employment and housing discrimination (and in many cases providing some form of recognition for same-sex partnerships).

I don’t think it reflects a real change of heart so much as a tactical move, but I’m still pleased when one of the most active opponents of full equality for LGBTs (the LDS church) actually claims to support something positive for LGBTs.

Stefano A

November 11th, 2009


Bearchewtoy75 it’s fine with me if you want to call me a cynic. I firmly believe that following the blackeyes of the Prop 8 battle, last year’s Common Ground battles, and more recently the re-opening of the barely scabbed over ill-will created by purchase of public land with the “kissing incident” and protests this small support by the LDS was indeed little more than PR.

A prop they’ll try to hold up while quietly hedging their bets the state legislature will will shred the SLC ordinance along with others statewide which was intimated back in July. (Which, considering their abysmal failure to support any of the Common Ground initiatives last year, wouldn’t surprise me if that’s not what they’re counting on happening again.)

IF state-wide initiatives pass and they openly support them, and IF they support federal measures such as ENDA, then I’ll believe they might be sincere, but not until. Meanwhile, I’m not holding my breath or relinquishing doubt that they’ll continue to oppose statewide or federal rights of any kind.

Timothy Kincaid

November 11th, 2009

I think that werdna is partly right, but I see it from a different perspective.

The issue truly isn’t about who can and who cannot be included in the definition of marriage. It has nothing to do with sanctity or sacrament or institution.

Were the issue truly about the preciousness of marriage, then the Mormon Church (and the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, etc.) would oppose marriage by Wiccans and Hindus and drunken Vegas hookups and Elvis Impersonators and mixed faith marriages and divorced people and a whole host of other “threats” to the traditional institution of sanctified Christian marriage sacraments.

The real issue is whether gay people are full citizens entitled to equal treatment under the law, or whether they are noxious threats to the stability of society. Once we are viewed as real citizens, then objections to equal treatment will seem arbitrary and cruel.

This step by the LDS Church is a concession, a shift in thinking. If they come to see us citizens deserving to live and work as other citizens, it is a step in the direction of seeing us on the same terms as Wiccans or Hindus or divorced people or Pentecostals or social drinkers or any other group that they may not think are holy or righteous, but whom they see as an equal under the law.

Once you start to think of gay people as people, it becomes increasingly hard to justify to yourself exactly why you are mistreating them. And I think that this support, even if it is only a concession and is tactical rather than heart-felt, changes the starting point. It says, whether they believe it or not, that the Mormon Church now considers – in the area of employment and housing – that gay people are to be thought of as people.


November 11th, 2009

Agreed, Timothy. I am under no illusions about how hard the LDS Church is going to continue to fight us on true legal equality for the foreseeable future, but now our foot is in the door.

Timothy (TRiG)

November 11th, 2009

Jeremy at Good As You is a bit less forgiving. Or more cynical.


Nevada Blue

November 11th, 2009

I’m mostly cynic on this one. Most churches do have these small, compassionate, love the sinner, hate the sin gestures where they don’t have to give up as much as they get back. A Christian food kitchen where you have to hear a sermon before you can eat comes to mind as an example – not exactly an unconditional act of doing what is right.

The Mormon church has taken heavy blows to their reputation in the last year. Even pro Prop 8 people were left with a bad taste once the church’s full involvment came to light (and the kissing incident buggaboo). This will help them without really giving anything up. I mean look, even in all my cynicism I can’t help but be pleased.

And lets not forget all the Mormons that gave money as demanded even though it disrupted family, friendships, and even livelihoods.

I’m glad they did it, but I don’t see it as an indication they have softened their stance in any way.


November 11th, 2009

I grew up Mormon, in Utah, so I have the cultural perspective to see what’s going on here. And, from my perspective, I see it as purely a PR stunt aimed towards the hardcore members of the church.

The thing to note is that they didn’t send any of the church leadership (presidency, quorum of the 12, seventies, etc) nor the official church spokesman to make this statement to the city council. They sent the PR director whom I have never before seen as an official, acting “spokesperson” for the church.

You have to understand that the guy that made the statement has no place whatsoever in the hierarchy of the church. Zilch. Zip. Nada. In the eyes of the typical LDS member, they are not going to take the statement as official direction from the church leadership because of who made the statement. Therefore, it is not going to carry any weight with the general membership when it comes to shifting attitudes towards GLBT folk.

Now when they fight against marriage equality they will say, “Look how awesome we are! We aren’t bigots! We promote gay rights!”


November 11th, 2009

Its not cynical at all to say this is BS. Its common sense. As far as I can tell all the church has done is say they support it, they arent spending truckloads of money on it, they arent ordering their members tovote for it, they arent doing any of the stuff they did in prop 8. Because they dont actually care about this, they just want something they can point to so they can prove they arent bigoted.

I dont buy it, the mormon church is still a HATE GROUP that despises homosexuals. This is the equivalent of beating someone with a lead pipe for half an hour, putting a bandaid on one of their scratches that was already almost healed up and saying you’ve repaid them.


November 11th, 2009

The classless use of the word “violence” to describe equal rights is absolutely disgusting. Even when they concede a little bit of decency they decide to twist the knife?

What’s more violent? Treating people like everyone else and acknowledging love? Or RIPPING children and property from couples who have done nothing wrong?


November 11th, 2009

The Mormon Church will have to do a great deal more than this minor effort that only applies to Salt Lake City and not the rest of the state. They are so wedded to discrimination and bigotry that it is hard to imagine this tiger changing it’s stripes.

There will be no real debate about this move publicly by Mormons. Those True Believing Mormons who have opposed any and all rights for gay people based on their understanding of church teachings won’t make any fuss at all about this.

For such a major about face by the Mormon Church, the lack of controversy raised among Mormon members of the church is going to raise again the question about how much control the church has over the members. I am predicting no significant dissention over this latest move.


November 11th, 2009

I listened this morning to Mormon-owned KSL radio and its talk-show host: Doug Wright. The accolades heaped repeatedly by Mr. Wright on how wonderful the LDS Church was for making these statements; it made me nauseous.

I see the Mormon statements like a gift of a pair of hand-knitted socks from Grandma. Nice gesture but I have no need for them.


Mormons are going to get as much PR mileage out of this as they possibly can.

Then, I hear a radical Mormon conservative think-tank organization is going to do its damndest to undo the Salt Lake City resolution. They are already planning their strategy for this coming January when the 90% Mormon Utah Legislature is in session. In the sound-bites on the news tonight, they use terms like: “special groups” and conjure up imaginary threats to their livelihood. The big bad gay is the boogieman and it gives these pitiful people something to puff up their chests in indignation, bully the minority and pull the wool over the weak-minded.

And it’s pure speculation on why Mr. Otterson was sent to the City Council meeting last night.

It could be a culmination of a lot of things. Could it be the Stephen Colbert piece on his cable show about the gay kiss in front of the holy LDS Temple? The play: Sister Dottie Dixon that was a huge success? The likelihood of who controls the purse strings at NOM? The soon-to-be-released documentary about Mormons and California Proposition 8?

I’m slightly more angry about “secret” meetings by some gays with some LDS General Authorities. What was said and what was the eventual outcome from these meetings? Elder D. Oaks flipped-the-bird at the gays with his recent comments made at BYU Rexburg, ID. A lot of good those meetings did.


November 12th, 2009

the LDS church did not “block” the Common Ground Initiative, they did not take a position on it one way or the other.

the LDS church and the state legislature are not one and the same. if you think they are i suggest you watch the next session in january and see how many of these bigoted legislators reverse themselves on Command Ground now that the church has indirectly blessed it (hint: none).

our mormon legislators don’t oppose such things because they’re mormons, they oppose them because they’re conservative republicans and assholes and a lot of them backwater hicks besides.


November 12th, 2009


the position of this spokeperson or PR guy that adressed the city council is irrelevant.

an official statement like this is not made (and posted on the church’s press release site) without first being approved at the highest levels of the hierarchy.

i’m not claiming that the statement was not in some sense a PR move, even a tactical move in the church’s larger fight against marriage equality. but there is no reason not to also see it as a positive step for the hierarchy, a real concession of the sort they have never made before, and a product of at least some people inside the church office building working in good faith to try to find common ground with their gay neighbors in SLC.


November 12th, 2009

“and a product of at least some people inside the church office building working in good faith to try to find common ground with their gay neighbors in SLC.”

And when are they gonna spend a single dollar, much less prop 8 levels of cash, supporting equal rights in places were it wasn’t already on the way to being passed? Why haven’t they thrown their support behind one that actually needed their support? unless they just accepted they couldnt stop equality for gays here and decided they might as well get some PR out of their inevitable defeat on this ordinance.

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