Federal legislation designed to protect gay marriage rights has a somewhat surprising new supporter: the Mormon church. On Tuesday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it will get behind the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act, after senators worked out an amendment that would protect how religious groups view same-sex unions, reports Reuters. Church doctrine "related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged," the LDS statement reads. "We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the [legislation] includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters." The statement adds: "We believe this approach is the way forward."
The change to the legislation that helped bring the church on board included adding an exemption for religious groups, including faith-based universities, from having to offer "services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage," per the Salt Lake Tribune. In short, a church or other religious organization can't be sued if they refuse to perform a marriage or allow one of its facilities to be used for such an event if it conflicts with the church's religious views. Also included in the amendment: a clarification that the legislation doesn't include polygamous marriage.
The Tribune calls the church's compromise on the matter a "stunning" and "unexpected" move, considering for much of its history the church has done whatever it could to push back on gay marriage, including throwing money into supporting California's Proposition 8, which sought to ban such unions. Kalamazoo College religious instructor Taylor Petrey says the move also "signals a major break with other members of the religious right," though he adds the Mormon church has shown willingness to evolve on other issues, such as birth control and women in the workforce, among others. Troy Williams, head of the nonprofit Equality Utah, says he's "heartened" by the church's stance. "Despite differences we may have, we can always discover common ground on policies and laws that support the strengthening of all families," Williams notes. (Read more LDS stories.)