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In Contradictory Votes, Utah House Passes LGBT Protections and 'License to Discriminate' Bills

Equalityutah

The Utah House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to approve a series of bills relating to LGBT discrimination protections and religious beliefs, with mixed results for supporters of LGBT protections.

HerbertSB 296, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's nondiscrimination laws in housing and employment, passed the House in a 65-10 vote. The bill was supported by both the ACLU and the Church of Latter-Day Saints and exempts religious organizations and their affiliates (schools, Boy Scouts, etc) from the law. Governor Gary Herbert (pictured right) is expected to sign the bill into law in a special ceremony tonight. 

SB 297, approved by a 66-9 vote, would permit government workers to opt-out of same-sex weddings, but would require county clerks ensure someone is available to perform the nuptials. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the bill, which also prevents "government retaliation against individuals who invoke religious beliefs as grounds for refusing to perform weddings or provide accommodations," was endorsed by the Mormon church and "somewhat reluctantly" by Equality Utah. 

HB 322, the state's own "license to discriminate" bill, was slammed by LGBT advocates as a thinly-veiled attempt at stripping away much of the protections that would come with SB 296. The bill passed 54-21 and heads to the state Senate for a possible vote today.

For more on what's playing out in Utah, check out Salt Lake City Fox 13's great breakdown of each bill and vote. 


HRC Throws Support Behind Utah Anti-Discrimination Bill Backed By Mormon Church

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 2.37.26 PMThe Human Rights Campaign today announced its support for a proposed non-discrimination bill in Utah that would extend employment and housing discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity today. HRC President Chad Griffin is pleased with the support behind the bill, including backing from the Mormon Church.

Said Griffin: 

"This is an extraordinary moment for the state of Utah, for LGBT Americans, and for the Mormon Church, which, by supporting this legislation, shows a willingness to align with others on the right side of history. The desire exhibited by the Mormon Church to work toward common ground should serve as a model for other faith traditions here in the United States."

The bill, S.B. 296, is headed to its first hearing tomorrow and contains three consequential provisions. In short, the bill states employers, landlords and property owners are prohibited from denying jobs and housing based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and no religious exemptions from non-discrimination provisions will be permitted for individuals or for-profit businesses. Should Utah legislators approve the measure, the state would join 21 other states that have explicit non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, and 18 other states that have explicit gender identity protections. HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow hopes Utah legislators move quickly on the matter.

Said Warbelow:

"This is a very encouraging step for all of us committed to equality. With just a short time remaining in the state legislative session, we hope for quick and positive action on this important measure."

The HRC had spurned a previously proposed non-discrimination initiative that was supported by Mormon leaders. Many critics, including the HRC, found the proposed initiative's more robust exemptions for religious organizations unacceptable.


HRC Spurns 'Deeply Flawed' Mormon 'Deal' as Utah Gay Dems Celebrate It

The Human Rights Campaign today criticized a proposal from leaders at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which the Mormon church pledged support for Utah LGBT non-discrimination initiatives in exchange for religious exemptions, couching its proposal in "religious freedom" rhetoric.

LdsSaid HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a press release:

"Symbolically, seeing the church leaders advocating so openly for these protections will no doubt be deeply meaningful to Mormon families with LGBT members, and provide encouragement to LGBT youth in the church. But, as a matter of public policy, it appears deeply flawed....We share the church's commitment to freedom of religion. We embrace the principles of the First Amendment and believe churches do and should have the right to make determinations about who fills their pews. But non-discrimination protections only function when they are applied equally. It should be stated that there are countless LGBT Mormons, and Mormon allies, who support equality, not in spite of their faith but because of it. All Americans should have the right to be employed, receive housing and services in environments free of discrimination. We await the day the church embraces that fully, without any exceptions or exemptions."

Meanwhile, gay Utah Democrats were celebrating the 'deal'.

DabakisSaid state Senator Jim Dabakis in a statement:

"I am proud that the LDS Church has seen fit to lead the way in non-discrimination. As a religious institution, Mormons have had a long history of being the victims of discrimination and persecution. They understand more than most the value and strength of creating a civil society that judges people by the content of their character and their ability to do a job. Since serving as a Senator, and as the only LGBT member of the Utah legislature, I can say one of the joys of the job has been to meet and enjoy the company of LDS officials. I know that together, we can build a community that strongly protects religious organizations constitutional liberties and, in addition, creates a civil, respectful, nurturing culture where differences are honored and everyone feels welcome. Now, lets roll up our sleeves, get to work and pass a statewide Non-Discrimination Bill."

Equality Utah also saw the Mormon deal as a win.

Said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams in a statement:

“We laud the LDS Church’s statement of support. The Church joins a growing number of faith, civic and corporate leaders who also stand on the side of compassion and fairness. We believe that gay and transgender Utahns can live and work beside people of faith. Many within the LGBT community are themselves people of faith. We look forward soon to the day when all Utahns have the opportunity to live and work freely in the state we call home.”

Watch the Mormon press conference from earlier today HERE.


Mormon Leaders Say They'll Support Gay Rights in Exchange for 'Religious Freedom': VIDEO

Mormons

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered for a rare press conference on Tuesday at which they said they'll back statewide protections for LGBT Utahns in housing and employment in exchange for "religious freedom" exemptions, the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Utah's predominant faith issued the plea for such measures at all level of government during a rare news conference, featuring three apostles — Elders Jeffrey R. Holland, Dallin H. Oaks and D. Todd Christofferson — and a high-profile women's leader, Neill Marriott, second counselor in the church's Young Women general presidency.

Said Oaks in a news release:

"We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country."

The shift in LDS policy appears to be the latest cog in the wheel of the religious right's attempt to reframe the conversation about LGBT rights into one in which religious people are somehow the victims and those who are seeking protections from discrimination, the oppressors.

We saw Jeb Bush blowing a similar dog whistle earlier this month in response to marriage equality in Florida.

ChristoffersonFrom the LDS press release:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (pictured) affirmed that this appeal to government leaders for a balanced approach between religious and gay rights does not represent a change or shift in doctrine for the Church.

Elder Oaks said that “those who seek the protection of religious conscience and expression and for the free exercise of their religion look with alarm at the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution.”

And he explained: “Since 1791 the guarantees of religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment have assured all citizens that they may hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as such actions do not endanger public health or safety. This is one of America’s most cherished and defining freedoms. Yet today we see new examples of attacks on religious freedom with increasing frequency.”

Elder Oaks shared several of those examples. The university system in California, he said, is forcing some groups to compromise their religious conscience if they want recognition for their clubs. And in one of America’s largest cities, lawyers acting for the city government subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new antidiscrimination law on religious grounds. Recently, he noted, the head of a large American corporation was forced to resign from his position in a well-publicized backlash to his personal beliefs.

“When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser,” Elder Oaks said. “Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender.”

The AP adds:

It's not clear how much common ground the Mormons will find with this new campaign. The church insists it is making no changes in doctrine, and still believes it's against the law of God to have sex outside marriage between a man and a woman.

Watch the LDS press conference and an explanation of the church's announcement by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Mormon Leaders Say They'll Support Gay Rights in Exchange for 'Religious Freedom': VIDEO" »


Mormon Church Moves to Excommunicate Critic for Supporting Marriage Equality and the Ordination of Women

Dehlin

John Dehlin, a Mormon advocate for progressive change in the church, is facing excommunication after being charged with apostasy for supporting gay marriage and the ordination of women.

Dehlin, who runs the Mormon Stories website that serves as an online forum for Mormons critical of church teachings, says that his regional church leader has scheduled a disciplinary hearing for January 25.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Dehlin said he would be excommunicated if he refused to take down podcasts that are critical of the church and to disavow his support for women’s ordination and gay marriage.

“I would prefer for them to leave me alone,” he said in an interview, “but if given the choice between denying my conscience and facing excommunication, I’d much rather be excommunicated.”

Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded the Ordain Women movement in the church, was excommunicated last June, and Mr. Dehlin was warned then of the charges against him. But after the excommunication of Ms. Kelly created an uproar, the Mormon church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held off on excommunicating Mr. Dehlin while simultaneously disciplining dozens of others who had publicly questioned their faith.


Their Husbands Aren't 'Gay,' So Let's Stop Acting Like They Are

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The Interplay is a special biweekly series exploring the intersections of sex, pop culture, and current events.

BY CHARLES PULLIAM-MOORE

Last Sunday TLC invited us into the homes and lives of married Mormon men who, despite being in committed relationships with women, still felt sexual desires for other men. Taken at face value “My Husband’s Not Gay” is exactly the kind of contemporary sideshow attraction that TLC specializes in. As casual viewers we’re meant to poke fun at the documentary’s subjects and to decry TLC’s morally questionable exploitation of them. Having watched the show, however, there’s a much more interesting story being told about the complexities of modern relationships and broader cultural difference.

The joke built into the special is eye-rollingly simple, if a bit heartbreaking: here’s a group of men living in denial about who they really are; ain’t that funny? If we accept the show’s central premise as being true, then sure, there’s potential for some dark humor at the couples’ expense. When you really stop and think about it, though, there’s a degree of truth to the show’s title. These men aren’t gay, at least not socially.

Not a day goes by that someone somewhere makes the valid, though cliched, point that there is no real “X-community.” The idea is that queer people come from too diverse a set of backgrounds to simply lump together. In terms of political correctness, that’s all true.

But in our day-to-day interactions we all participate in various activities that compose a larger LGBTQ or queer culture. You there, sir or madam who’s reading this post? Congratulations; you’re creating queer culture. Everything from the music that we listen to to the legal happenings we follow is a part of of a group subculture that we, as non-straight people, are a part of.

It’s important to point out, though, that the LGBTQ community is about more than not being heteronormatively straight. Similarly, the gay community, culture, and identity cannot be reduced to gay men not wanting to have sex with women. Gays and lesbians who choose to remain celibate in accordance with Catholic beliefs, for example, shouldn’t be denied right to their identities simply because they choose not to have sex with others of the same sex. The husbands of “My Husband’s Not Gay” are up front about their urges, but they’re also fundamentally removed from the gay culture and community in a way that’s worth thinking about.

These families’ lives are built around the teachings of the Mormon Church that require certain behaviors that the typical gay man would find untenable. Unlike many popular examples of cultures that forbid homosexuality, the families here deal with the elephant in the room in an open way that comes across as both endearing and, for lack of a better term, weird.

These men are able to openly discuss their thoughts and desires with their wives and each other. If we think about these men as self-identified homosexuals, rather than gay men, who have chosen to abstain for religious reasons, then there’s a novelty to seeing them discuss their thoughts frankly.  As off putting as the the documentary’s premise may be to you or I, it isn’t fair to write off their entire way of living simply because we can’t imagine ourselves in their situations.

To be clear, there are many things about “My Husband’s Not Gay” that are problematic and made all the worse by TLC’s decision not to contextualize some of its content. Though none of the Mormon characters explicitly endorsed reparative therapy during the course of the first episode, three have been directly linked to the practice in their personal lives. Other plot elements such as the sliding danger scale and the implicit pathologization of same-sex attraction also deserve a more appropriate counterbalance that TLC could have easily provided.

That all being said, “My Husband’s Not Gay” profiles a group of families united in their faith that have somehow managed to carve out a curious, but valid cultural niche for themselves. Though we may not agree with their beliefs, the documentary is an opportunity for us to learn across our differences and perhaps come to understand that certain similarities don’t always equal sameness.


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