As a prelude to Salt Lake City becoming the first city in Utah to enact an LGBT-inclusive employment and housing non-discrimination ordinance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) made the stunning announcement that it supported the measure.
LDS top leaders negotiated behind the scenes with LGBT organizations in Salt Lake City, before making the pronouncement. In the mean time, pro-gay Mormons provided the back drop of repeated public protests over church meddling in legislation and harmful anti-gay teachings.
Straight allies from the Foundation for Reconciliation accessed GLAAD media assistance and garnered media coverage of their meeting with the governor of Utah and their symbolic five mile trek with a pioneer handcart carrying more than 2,000 petition signatures, letters from religious leaders, and memorials for gay LDS suicide victims.
Affirmation Mormons also used GLAAD’s media assistance to garner local Fox News coverage of the high rate of homelessness among Mormon gay youth and launched "Keep them and Love Them," a web site to help Mormon families with LGBT members.
This week, in response to the LDS support of housing and employment protection, Affirmation’s Executive Director David Melson said,
“Discrimination based on a person’s identity, including race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, has always been wrong. It is commendable that the LDS Church is taking a step toward living up to its own teachings of valuing of all humanity. It is a vital first step…we await the second.”
Tuesday night, Michael Otterson, LDS director of public affairs, told the Salt Lake City Council “In essence, the Church agrees with the approach which Mayor Becker is taking on this matter. In drafting these ordinances, the city has granted common sense rights that should be available to everyone, while safeguarding the crucial rights of religious organizations, for example, in their hiring of people whose lives are in harmony with their tenets, or when providing housing for their university students and others that preserve religious requirements.”
According to The New York Times, the ordinance most likely already had the support of the seven-member Salt Lake city council as it passed unanimously. However, the Church statement is viewed by many as a breakthrough. While the Church issued a statement in 2008 saying that it did not condone abuse toward gay people, this is the first time it backed an actual ordinance to protect gay rights. Will Carson, manager of public policy for Equality Utah, told the NY Times,
“It’s the most progressive and inclusive statement that the church has made on these issues.”