Mormon Support of Gay Rights Statute Draws Praise
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By KIRK JOHNSON
The Mormon Church has been a target of vituperation by some gay rights groups because of its
active opposition to same-sex marriage. But on Wednesday, the church was being praised by gay
rights activists in Salt Lake City, citadel of the Mormon world, for its open support of a local
ordinance banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing and employment.
The ordinance, which passed unanimously Tuesday night, made Salt Lake the first city in Utah to
offer such protections. While the measure probably had majority backing on the seven-member
City Council anyway, the church’s support was seen by gay activists as a thunderclap that would
resonate across the state and in the overwhelmingly Mormon legislature, where even subtle shifts
in church positions on social issues can swing votes and sentiments.
“It’s the most progressive and inclusive statement that the church has made on these issues,” said
Will Carlson, the manager of public policy at Equality Utah, the state’s largest gay rights group.
“What they’ve said here is huge, in protecting residents in other municipalities, and statewide.”
In its statement backing the ordinance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that
while it remained “unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage
between a man and a woman,” the question of how people were treated on the job and in finding
places to live were matters of fairness that did not have anything to do with marriage.
“Across America and around the world, diverse communities such as ours are wrestling with
complex social and moral questions,” Michael R. Otterson, a church spokesman, said in a
statement to the City Council. “The issues before you tonight are the right of people to have a
roof over their heads and the right to work without being discriminated against.”
Mr. Carlson at Equality Utah said the wording of the church’s statement was crucial. The church
previously had used more neutral language when asked about anti-discrimination statutes or
hate-crimes legislation, often saying that it was “not-opposed” to such measures.
About 100 cities in the United States have passed similar housing and employment protection
statutes, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national gender rights organization. Salt
Lake’s ordinance will take effect next April, and will authorize the mayor to appoint an
administrator to investigate complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender