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Mormon LGBT Announcement Met With Cheers, Skepticism


This week, Mormon leaders made a rare joint appearance before reporters at church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Church leaders said they will support anti-discrimination legislation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons. But they also asked for respect for religious beliefs, including some exemptions for members of the church who believe that homosexuality is a sin. The announcement has been met with both cheers and some skepticism.

Elder Dallin Oaks is a member of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles - one of the Mormon leaders who spoke at this week's press event. He's also a former president of Brigham Young University and a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court. And he joins us from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, despite a bad cold and we appreciate that, Elder Oaks. Welcome to the program.

DALLIN OAKS: Good to be with you. I'm sorry I'm not in better voice.

SIEGEL: Well, now, just to be clear, the church has not changed its position on same-sex marriage or gay relationships, has it? It's still opposed.

OAKS: No change in that, no change in our doctrine.

SIEGEL: This would then be more of a change in tone.

OAKS: It is a change in tone, but it's also an appeal to both sides of a very divisive debate. That they speak to one another with respect and avoid public intimidations and boycotts and some of the tactics that have been used so far.

SIEGEL: The church was very much identified with the campaign in California for the proposition that would ban same-sex marriage. Should we infer from the statements made this week that now we're talking about a very different approach to the entire issue?

OAKS: I don't think it's a different approach. We were really the victims of intimidation and retaliation and boycotts in California. Many of them lost jobs or publicly intimidated and boycotted against the businesses, and we're pleading that that not be repeated.

SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you about a specific example of the kind of exemption for faith that the church would support. Could a Mormon doctor who might do artificial insemination for one couple not do it for a lesbian couple because of his or her personal conscious?

OAKS: If you're asking me about whether he would be free to do that and remain a good member of the church, yes. But I think you're asking about whether laws should give him the right to do that.

SIEGEL: Or would you exceed to and approve of such a law if that was a provision of it?

OAKS: We don't predict what position we would take in legislation, so I can't answer a question like that. I think that ought to be looked at in the context of the overall circumstance. That's what we hope lawmakers will do. We have nothing but feelings of love and compassion for LGBT persons. Where the issue arises for us is when they do something that we consider to be contrary to the laws of God. So it's a behavioral issue, not a status issue.

SIEGEL: Well, I can hear a gay or lesbian listener saying right now, well, that's - it's a catch 22. Yes, it's the behavior that's being objected to, but if we could get married then we would have relations within marriage, but they're against our getting married.

OAKS: Yes, but objection to marriage other than for a man and a woman is - that runs contrary to the plan that God has established for raising his children. And helping them get on toward their eternal destiny.

SIEGEL: Well, Elder Oaks, thank you very much for struggling with laryngitis to answer our questions today about The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints and issues facing gays and lesbians.

OAKS: It's a delight to be with you, thank you.

SIEGEL: Elder Dallin Oaks is a member of the Mormon church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also a former president of Brigham Young University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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