SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday it will support proposed federal legislation protecting same-sex marriages, marking the latest support for the measure from conservative groups.
The nearly 17-million-member Utah denomination said in a statement that church doctrine continues to view same-sex relationships as contrary to God’s commandments. Still, it said it would support the rights of same-sex couples as long as they don’t violate the right of religious groups to believe what they want.
“We believe this approach is the right way to go. As we work together to uphold the principles and practices of religious freedom along with the rights of LGBTQ people, much can be done to heal relationships and foster better understanding,” the church said in a statement posted on its website.
Support for the Marriage Respect Act being considered in Congress, is the church’s latest move to carve out a more welcoming stance toward the LGBTQ community while maintaining its belief that same-sex relationships are sinful. Still, her attitude toward LGBTQ people — including those raised in the church — remains painful to many.
Patrick Mason, a professor of religious studies at Utah State University, said the church’s position is both a departure and a continuation of its previous stances — that it respects laws but works to protect religious freedom and ensure they are not coerced to perform same-sex acts marry or give them the ecclesiastical sanction.
“This is part of the overall theology of the church, which essentially supports the law of the land and recognizes that what they dictate and enforce on their members regarding their behavior is different from what it means to be part of a pluralistic society to be,” he said.
Faith contradicts same-sex marriage and sexual intimacy, but it has taken a more welcoming attitude towards LGBTQ people in recent years. In 2016, it declared that same-sex attraction was not a sin while claiming it was a sin.
The bill, which has won support from both Democrats and Republicans, is scheduled for a test vote in the Senate on Wednesday, with a final vote as early as this week or later this month. It comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, with Justice Clarence Thomas issuing a unanimous opinion suggesting a previous Supreme Court decision protecting same-sex marriage could be at risk.
The legislation would repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act and require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed. It would also protect interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages regardless of “gender, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” It clarifies that the rights of individuals and companies would not be affected.
Utah’s four congressmen — all members of the Church — each expressed support for the legislation earlier this year.
The church’s public stance is in stark contrast to 14 years ago, when its members were among the top campaign donors in support of California’s Prop. 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, in response to cities like San Francisco, the marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples.
Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said it was “exciting” to see the church being part of the coalition to support the legislation.
“Despite any differences we may have, we can always find common ground in laws that support the strengthening of all families,” said Williams, who grew up as a member of the Church.
The faith defies laws that would prohibit churches from banning same-sex couples from getting married on their property. But it supported government efforts to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing so long as it demonstrates respect for religious freedom.
The Respect for Marriage Act does not fully codify the US Supreme Court’s decision enshrining a federal right to same-sex marriage, nor does it list all of the religious freedom concerns of those who oppose it.
Faith groups see it as a way to enact religious freedom protections that they have not been able to do in the past, said Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership.
Schultz’s organization advocates for religious freedom on behalf of a coalition working on the issue—a coalition that includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Same-sex marriage has had a lot of traction in our culture because it hasn’t trampled on people who believe in traditional marriage,” he said.
Associated Press News Editor Brady McCombs contributed to this report.