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Mormon leaders call for ‘balanced approach’ in clash between gay rights, religious freedom

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Accommodations for religious objectors have factored into every state legislative debate over gay rights. But political pressure on rights groups to make concessions to religious conservatives is plummeting as support for same-sex marriage grows around the country.

Gay rights advocates say broad religious exemptions perpetuate discrimination. In some states, such as Arizona, business leaders now side with gay advocates, saying extensive religious exemptions hurt a state’s image.

When the U.S. Supreme Court set a broad expansion of gay marriage in motion last year, religious conservatives said they would press states to allow some groups, companies and people to refuse some benefits or service for gay spouses. And gay rights groups seeking job and housing protections have faced an uphill battle in the more politically and religiously conservative states. Under these circumstances, advocates for broader religious exceptions believe they can win some concessions.

The Mormon church operates an extensive network of charities, schools and for-profit businesses around the country, with total operating budgets in the billions of dollars, but the new LDS approach is likely to be especially significant in the Mormon strongholds of Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, where the church and its members play a large civic role.

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After coming under intense criticism for leading the fight for California’s Proposition 8, church leaders have been trying to heal tensions by telling Latter-day Saints to be more loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church.

“Accommodating the rights of all people – including their religious rights – requires wisdom and judgment, compassion and fairness,” Holland said. “Politically, it certainly requires dedication to the highest level of statesmanship. Nothing is achieved if either side resorts to bullying, political point scoring or accusations of bigotry.”

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