Mormon Church stakes out new position in Hawaii same-sex marriage debate

Mormon Temple in Laie, Hawaii

Mormon Temple in Laie, Hawaii

HONOLULU — Just weeks away from a a special session of the Hawaii legislature called by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to move forward on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, the Mormon church is once again calling upon its membership to get involved.

But, according to Ruth Todd, spokeswoman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the difference in this post-Proposition 8 era is that that the emphasis will be focused not on telling members of the Church which side of the issue to take, but to study the Mormon church’s philosophy that endorses marriage as between one man and one woman.

Mormon Temple in Laie, Hawaii

Mormon Temple in Laie, Hawaii

In a letter dated Sept. 15 and read at LDS temples on Sunday, church leadership urged Mormons to “study this legislation prayerfully and then as private citizens contact your elected representatives in the Hawaii Legislature to express your views about the legislation.”

Whether Mormons favor or oppose the potential change, the letter said, they should push for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith” that would protect religious groups “from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities; and protect individuals and small businesses from being required to assist in promoting or celebrating same-sex marriages.”

If lawmakers pass a bill, Hawaii would join 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Owen Matsunaga, an LDS church’s spokesman in Hawaii, affirmed that stance, saying that “senior church leaders … are certainly aware of the issues in Hawaii and elsewhere in the world, and are available to us to provide expertise as needed, but expect local leaders and members to make decisions specific to local circumstances.”

Quin Monson, a political scientist at the LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, notes that the new approach to the same-sex marriage issue is “significant.”

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“It doesn’t seem to be asking for direct involvement in the direction of the legislation, but asking people to defend religious liberty,”” said Monson.

The letter’s language seems to “signal a kind of resignation that there’s a shift in society that we can’t stop,” he added.

The legislative session is scheduled to begin Oct. 28.

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