Mormon Church Backs Bill Supporting Same-Sex Marriage

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave its support on Tuesday to a federal bill that would provide increased protections for same-sex marriage, a limited but notable step from a church that historically has aggressively opposed gay rights.

The move came on the same day senators announced a religious freedom amendment to the legislation in hopes of securing broader support. It signaled church leaders’ tacit backing for Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah to support the bill. Mr. Romney and Mr. Lee, both Republicans, are members of the church.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate voted to advance the measure, 62 to 37. Mr. Romney voted yes, and Mr. Lee voted no. In an evenly divided Senate, Republican support was needed to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

The amendment clarifies that the bill “will not lead to the recognition of polygamous unions and has no negative impact on religious liberty and conscience protections,” according to senators who supported it.

It also says that nonprofit religious organizations “will not be required to provide any services, facilities or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage,” and that the bill cannot be used to change the tax-exempt status of groups like churches and universities.

The church’s statement, just four sentences, revealed an effort to draw a line between faith and politics.

Church doctrine recognizing marriage as between a man and a woman “is well known and will remain unchanged,” it said.

But, the statement went on, “we are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our L.G.B.T.Q. brothers and sisters.”

The church has tried in recent years to carve out some qualified acceptance for L.G.B.T.Q. people in the church and broader society.

The church announced in 2019 that it would allow the children of same-sex couples to be baptized, reversing a policy from 2015 that declared that church members in same-sex marriages were apostates and subject to excommunication, and that their children were banned from rituals.

But also in 2015, Dallin Oaks, a top leader in the church, said that public leaders should not let their religious beliefs override public duty to uphold the law, including issuing same-sex marriage licenses. In the same year, Utah passed an anti-discrimination bill backed by church leaders.

About 46 percent of Latter-day Saints support same-sex marriage, less than the 84 percent who support nondiscrimination protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

The church’s latest position shows its long and slow departure from its public support of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage in the state and was later struck down in court. But there is also reason for caution, said Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, an assistant professor of history at Montana State University who studies the church and sexuality.

“It still maintains that language that says they will support L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights in the public sphere, but want to retain the ability to sort of discriminate, honestly, in a religious and private sphere,” she said. “They don’t want to be compelled to accept those as a religion or an institution, and want to maintain a religious exception.”

Other Christian groups with conservative leadership, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, have not come out in support of the legislation. Mainline denominations with smaller populations, including the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, support the legislation.


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