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Advocates Examine Mormon Church's Stance On LGBT Rights


People are looking closely at just what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant by a historic announcement. Church leaders voiced support for laws to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. That was considered a major move. The question is just how far-reaching it is. Andrea Smardon reports from our member station KUER in Salt Lake City.

ANDREA SMARDON, BYLINE: In a rare news conference, Mormon church leaders said it's time to break the stalemate between advocates of religious freedom and those seeking laws to protect LGBT rights. Jeffrey Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles called for a balanced approach.

JEFFREY HOLLAND: We must find ways to show respect for others whose beliefs, values and behaviors differ from our own while never being forced to deny or abandon our own beliefs.

SMARDON: Church leaders say doctrine still does not permit same-sex marriage. But they called for protections in housing and employment for LGBT people. It was a cause for celebration outside the Utah Capitol building. Troy Williams is executive director for Equality Utah, an organization that has been pushing for a statewide nondiscrimination law for more than six years.

TROY WILLIAMS: We welcome at the LDS Church's statement of support for a nondiscrimination bill. It means a lot to LGBT Utahns who grew up in Mormon households. And truly, the so-call culture war has devastated these homes the hardest.

SMARDON: But at the same time as church leaders denounced discrimination, they also insisted that religious people should not have to compromise their beliefs. Church leader Dallin Oaks said religious freedom is under increasing threat.

DALLIN OAKS: It is one of today's great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.

SMARDON: And those disagreements go beyond issues like gay marriage. Church leader Jeffrey Holland used medical providers as an example.

HOLLAND: A Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function.

SMARDON: Law professor and Equality Utah board chair Cliff Rosky says that's a dangerous and slippery slope. And he rejects the idea that religious liberty is under attack.

CLIFF ROSKY: Equality Utah has grave concerns about the idea that our healthcare providers could pick and choose which patients to treat and which laws to follow.

SMARDON: Regardless of this disagreement, Rosky called the church statement this week a huge step forward. He and other advocates are hoping that the church's support will lead to a statewide antidiscrimination law that includes LGBT citizens. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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