Yesterday, Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City tried to call a culture-war truce, announcing at a rare press conference that they are willing to support anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community as long as those laws also protect people who say they oppose gay rights for religious reasons.
"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," said Elder Dallin Oaks, a member of the church's elite Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, citing recent instances where religious opponents of gay marriage—including a Mormon Olympic liaison and the CEO of Mozilla—lost their jobs ostensibly because of their beliefs.
It's an attempt by the church to square two different sides of the cultural debate and adapt to the rapid countrywide shift in attitudes about LGBT rights. But while the announcement may be historically significant, gay rights leaders say that as a matter of policy, it could be a wolf in sheep's clothing, allowing anyone to legally discriminate against gays in the name of religion.
The announcement also won't change the Mormon belief that the only acceptable sexual interactions are between husband and wife. A top Mormon official affirmed the church's opposition to same-sex marriage at the biennial LDS conference last year, saying that "while many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not." Church leaders reiterated this Tuesday, saying that support for anti-discrimination laws would not alter LDS doctrine. "This commandment and doctrine comes from sacred scripture and we are not at liberty to change it," Sister Neill Marriott said at the press conference.
In recent years, the church has made efforts to soften its tone toward gays while maintaining its doctrinal stance that homosexuality is wrong. The LDS website mormonsandgays.org, launched in 2012, lays out this new, gentler message: "The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people... The attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them."
The position leaves gay Mormons in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between their religion and a life of celibacy or heterosexual marriage—a struggle that received lots of attention this month thanks to the TLC special "My Husband's Not Gay."
The show followed a group of Mormon men who identify as SSA—or same-sex attracted—but are married to women because they refuse to act on their sexual desires. The men openly talked about wanting to bone dudes, worrying their wives with plans for "camping trips" with their bros, and even designed a danger scale to assess how tempting certain guys were to them. Despite all this, they claimed they aren't gay because they eschewed the "gay lifestyle" for a more traditional home with a wife and kids.
Obviously, all this promotes a dangerous idea to people struggling with their sexualities; it's like saying that an immutable characteristic can be cured through sheer force of will. (The American Psychiatric Association recommends that medical professionals refrain from offering gay reparative therapy on ethical grounds, because it can cause harm to patients.)
So while yesterday's announcement might seem like a big concession for gay Mormons and their families, the church's expectations about homosexuality remain deeply flawed. "The new Mormon position is like the candy with the razor blade in it that your mom warned you about on Halloween," says Brooke Hunter, a Mormon apostate who identifies as a lesbian.
"I do hope this move helps bring legislation into being. But the LDS Church isn't showing compassion or humanity. They want to codify their right to discriminate against LGBT people."
Follow Allie on Twitter