Mormons back gay rights in housing, employment in Salt Lake City

It looked like a stunning reversal: the same church that helped defeat gay marriage in California standing with gay rights activists on an antidiscrimination law in its own back yard.

On Tuesday night, after a series of clandestine meetings between local gay rights backers and Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would support proposed city laws that would prohibit discrimination against gays in housing and employment.

The ordinances passed and history was made: It marked the first time the Salt Lake City-based church had supported gay rights legislation.

The Mormon church — which continues to suffer a backlash over its support last year of Proposition 8, the measure banning gay marriage in California — emphasized that its latest position in no way contradicts its teachings on homosexuality.

But the action is one of the strongest signs yet that even conservative religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage might be willing to support legal protections for gays that fall short of that.

At the same time, the church's position has angered some of its conservative allies on social issues, prompted questions about whether public relations is its real motivation, and put the church on the spot over how far it will go on similar legislation on the state and federal level.

"This is a very good public relations response that has the additional benefit of actually representing the way the current church leadership thinks," said Armand Mauss, a retired professor at Washington State University and scholar of Mormonism.

Some of the church's conservative allies in the gay marriage battles, however, call it a setback. The two ordinances make it illegal to fire or evict someone for being gay, bisexual or transgender.

Such legislation robs employers and landlords of their rights and gives legal ammunition to judges sympathetic to gay marriage, said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the conservative Family Research Council.

Michael Otterson, director of public affairs for the Mormon church, said that church leaders were able to support the ordinance because it doesn't carve out special rights for gays.

Supporting "basic civil values," Otterson said, does not compromise the church's religious belief that homosexuality is a sin and that same-sex marriage poses a threat to traditional marriage.

Mormons back gay rights in housing, employment in Salt Lake City 11/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 9:04pm]

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