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FINDING MY WAY

Finding My Way: The way forward

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A recent news headline, covered by everyone from The Washington Post to FOX News threw a national spotlight on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Whether the story is good news or bad depends on your point of view.

Last Monday the “Breaking News” banners flashed when the Church released a statement announcing it supports the proposed Respect for Marriage Act under consideration in Congress. The act would create protections for the rights of same-sex and interracial marriages across the United States, as long as the marriages are valid in the states in which they were performed.

The proposed law was introduced and passed in the US House of Representatives last July.

This week the Senate approved the bill by a hefty 62-37 margin.

The Respect for Marriage will effectively repeal portions of the 1996 law known as DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act). DOMA defined marriage as being solely between one man and one woman, and allowed states to decide on their own whether to legally recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

But now the significantly more tolerant Respect for Marriage Act appears to be on track to become the bipartisan law of the land. And if it does, it will do so with the blessing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church is widely known (along with several other religious denominations) for its adherence to the doctrine of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. And in this week’s statement, the Church makes clear that no changes to that particular doctrine is forthcoming. But the Church also states that “we are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure that the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”

Here’s how the bill will work if it is passed: all churches will continue to be free to approve or prohibit same sex marriages, but civil laws will require all states to recognize the validity of legal-performed same sex unions.

This, the Church wrote in its statement, is “the way forward.”

As a long-time Church member, this strikes me as a meaningful change in both tone and direction. In my view, it is a welcome change.

For the record, this isn’t the first time the Church has spoken out in support of the legal rights of gay Americans. In 2015 the Church publicly stated its opposition to laws that discriminated against gays in housing and employment, “while ensuring that religious freedom is not compromised.” Some saw the Church’s “religious freedom” disclaimer as rendering the statement toothless, but it was generally received as a serious attempt to build bridges where none previously existed. But many also remember the Church’s decision in 2015 not to baptize the children of LGBTQ parents until (1) the children were legally adults, and (2) they disavowed same sex cohabitation and marriage—a decision that sparked controversy within the Church and was widely condemned outside of it. In 2019 the Church reversed its policy, saying only that the reversal was made “to reduce the hate and hostility so common today.” And in 2008, the Church also backed California’s Proposition 8, which proposed banning all same-sex marriages in the state. The Church encouraged its members to actively work to support the measure, saying in an official statement that, “our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”

But that was then, and this is now. In supporting the Respect for Marriage Act, the Church is publicly and officially—some would say finally—accepting without argument the right of same sex unions to exist in the United States, while still maintaining its freedom to adhere to its own “one man and one woman” doctrine.

Liberal critics will say the Church hasn’t gone far enough, and conservative critics will say it has gone too far.

Personally, I think it’s an effective and honorable compromise for the age in which we currently live. As for the future, only God knows how it will all shake out. I’m not kidding on that last sentence, by the way.

Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist living in the Magic Valley. Connect with Chris on Facebook and Instagram at Chris Huston-Finding My Way and at chrishustonauthor.com.

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