Back in March of this year, I wrote about the “Utah Compromise,” the anti-discrimination bill passed in Utah for which the Mormon church was partly responsible. The Mormon church was the beneficiary of a decent amount of positive press. The New York Times, for instance, called it “an extraordinary moment for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” But as I pointed out then, the Mormon church could be involved in this “Compromise” because the bill exempted them from any of the anti-discrimination measures as a religious organization.
Back in March I expected the “Utah Compromise” to become a model for other states because of the cover it gave to conservative religious organizations.
The Utah Compromise, for all its practical shortcomings, is a rather savvy political move. It relies on the naturalized distinction between “religious” and “non-religious” to co-opt the narrative of the oppressed in a manner that presents the Mormon church and Utah Republicans as supportive of LGBT rights yet allows them to continue their “God-ordained” discrimination.
What I did not expect in March was for the Mormon church to enact changes to their handbook just 8 months later that completely reversed the positive image the “Utah Compromise” helped them craft. This is what happened last week, as they announced a new policy directed not just at LGBTQ people, but also at their children.
Children of same-sex couples will not be able to join the Mormon Church until they are 18 — and only if they move out of their parents’ homes, disavow all same-sex relationships and receive approval from the church’s top leadership as part of a new policy adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The new policy also subjects current members in same-sex marriages to excommunication. And so now children of same-sex parents are being punished because of who their parents have to be, and are then told that once they are 18 they must disavow their parents’ completely. The policy is already impacting children. Jana Riess tells the heartbreaking story of a 12-year-old boy who was about to be ordained to the priesthood in the church but no longer can be because of the new policy.
So what do we make of this? German Lopez over at Vox rightly points out that this is something we should get used to with the increased tension between religious liberties and LGBTQ rights that means getting non-discrimination legislation passed in conservative states will most certainly come with very broad religious exemptions.
The Mormon Church also exemplifies this kind of exemption: Although it supported a law that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against LGBTQ people, it wanted to keep its own right as a religious institution to discriminate — not just against mere members but against employees, too.
I must also point out that the Mormon church could have instituted this policy even without the “Utah Compromise,” as that dealt specifically with employees and housing practices. But we would be remiss to not see some connection between this latest policy change and the “Utah Compromise.” The “Compromise” did, for a brief time anyway, allow them to present themselves as progressive while not actually enacting any progressive policies. We need not expect progressive policies from the LDS, by any means, but many read the “Utah Compromise” as a signal that the church may have been moving in a more LGBTQ-friendly direction. That seems now not to have been the case.
Some will say that no one should have expected anything different because the LDS church is, at its core, anti-gay. I cannot accept that explanation due to its essentialism. Rather, I think we see in this latest move we have witnessed the Mormon church going on attack, as it were, against what it sees as a grave sin that is being celebrated all across the land. And what better way to do that than to go after the children. This is a power play. Good parents, the thinking would go, would never stand in the way of their children becoming part of the Mormon church. So, they can either stop living in this gay “lifestyle” or they can relinquish custody of their children to non-reprobate straight people.
As groups feel increasingly threatened, they draw their boundaries ever tighter. Group purity is stressed and those who may have existed in ambiguous peripheral positions are shut out. After all, the Mormon church can’t exactly stress their group’s purity and maintain a stance against homosexuality while still allowing those who are living in sin (i.e., in a same-sex marriage) to remain members and allow their children to be treated like everyone else. As Paul maintained in his letter to the church in Corinth in the 1st century, sin spreads through a community like yeast through dough. It is infectious, contagious. The only way to ensure the group’s purity is to cut off those members who are infecting the body. It seems the Mormon church is trying to do just that.