LDS Church does right by marriage equality, Editorial Board writes

Church’s acceptance of civil same-sex unions a step toward diffusing the bombs of America’s culture wars.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) The angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple is silhouetted against a cloud-covered sky, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Feb. 6, 2013.

“No matter whether the Constitution follows the flag or not, the Supreme Court follows the election returns.”

Finley Peter Dunne

And, in recent days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has wisely decided to follow the Supreme Court.

The church’s support for a new federal law recognizing civil marriage equality was a welcome, if tardy, move by Utah’s leading religious and cultural institution.

The immediate benefit of the church’s acquiescence to the clear shift of legal and public opinion throughout the western world will be to help diffuse at least one of the ticking bombs in the culture wars that have caused so much pain and division in our state and our nation.

It should help to rehabilitate the image of a church that was horribly damaged, in the larger world and within its own membership, by the LDS Church’s assault on the whole idea of marriage equality, including its all-hands-on-deck involvement in California’s Proposition 8 in 2008.

In time, this move may even help to reconcile the many families and individuals within the church who have been harmed by the church’s hurtfully retrograde attitude on this matter.

In announcing its support for the Respect for Marriage Act, the LDS Church recognizes, as the court did in 2015, that the right of same-sex couples to enter the institution of civil marriage was not only protected by the Constitution of the United States but also posed no threat to the marriages, family life or religious beliefs and rights of anyone else.

The fears raised by LDS leadership and others as same-sex marriage became legal in several states and, finally, throughout the nation were never to be taken seriously and have been shown, over the past seven years, to have been thoroughly bogus. The idea that legal recognition of same-sex marriages posed any threat to existing or future heterosexual unions, to children raised in any kind of family or to the larger society have been proved false.

As Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy so eloquently expressed in the court’s Obergefell v. Hodges opinion, moving to extend legal recognition and all the benefits and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, and their households, does not undermine marriage. It strengthens it. It recognizes that same-sex couples seeking to marry were not attacking the institution of marriage, but confirming its inherent value by petitioning to join it.

Kennedy also recognized that hundreds of thousands of children were already being raised in households headed by same-sex couples, and that to deny those families the equal protection of the laws would do great harm to those children while benefiting no one.

The court, Kennedy effectively said, was not disrupting American culture so much as it was catching up to it.

So, now, will Congress, assisted by the support of the LDS Church and one its most prominent members, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney. The House of Representatives, with the backing of all four of Utah’s members, has already approved one version of the bill and is expected to ratify the Senate’s version within weeks.

Romney and his church were moved along by a bipartisan effort to add to the bill language that specifically recognizes the rights of churches and other religious organizations, including the schools they run, to maintain their belief that marriage is an institution limited to one man and one woman. The statue, as it now stands, would protect any such institution from being forced to participate in or solemnize same-sex unions or to put their tax-exempt status at risk by sticking to their beliefs.

It is sad, but not surprising, that Utah’s other U.S. senator, the freshly reelected Mike Lee, remains opposed.

Lee’s claim that the bill — even as amended and supported by the leadership of his own church and the all-GOP House delegation from his own state — remains insufficiently respectful of religious freedom only serves to reinforce the idea that “religious freedom,” to some, means a freedom to enforce one faith’s bigotry on society.

The stance taken by Lee and 36 other Republican senators also illustrates why the Respect for Marriage Act is not just a performative statement, but a necessary bulwark against other threats to individual liberty in America posed by a reactionary Supreme Court.

Despite what Dunne said about the Supreme Court and elections, the fact is that the current court’s recent torpedoing of abortion rights has led many to rightly fear that other rights we have long taken for granted — not just marriage equality, but also contraception, interracial marriage and integrated schools — might also be at risk, no matter what the American people might want.

All of our institutions, cultural, civic and religious, should be standing guard against that risk. The recent move in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a big step in that direction.