Mormons Revise GLBT Stance in Updated Church Policies

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday November 17, 2010

GLBT equality advocates are hailing alterations to the Mormon "Church Handbook" as evidence that the church--famed for its role in supporting Proposition 8 two years ago in California--is changing its stance toward gays.

The Human Rights Campaign responded to revisions in the LDS Church Handbook that departed from earlier editions of the book by not labeling homosexual urges in and of themselves as "sinful." The new edition also departs from earlier editions in not directing church leaders to send gay and lesbian Mormons through so-called "reparative therapy," which purports to "cure" gays.

"The American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have both concluded that same-sex attraction is normal and that "reparative" therapy--like the kind formerly advocated by the Mormon Church--is unhealthy and harmful," a Nov. 16 press release from the HRC said. The release was sent out under the subject line "Mormon Church: Same-Sex Attraction is Normal."

"While still claiming that "homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God," the new policy differentiates between same-sex behavior, to which they continue to object, and attraction, which the church is able to rationalize," the release continued.

"The new guidelines clearly show that advocacy efforts pay off with real change," Joe Solmonese, the president of the HRC, said. "We spoke out against the harms of so-called 'reparative therapies' on LGBT young people. Church leaders heard us and responded by dropping their recommendation that such discredited interventions be forced on LGBT and questioning youth."

"We continue to disagree with the Mormon Church about fundamentally important issues like full respect for the marriages of same-sex couples, but we are encouraged that our advocacy has paid off with real movement that will help save young lives," the director of HRC's Religion and Faith Program, the Rev. Harry Knox, stated.

The Mormon Church responded that the HRC was overreacting and had read too much into the revised handbook, Salt Lake City Fox affiliate KSTU-TV reported on Nov. 17.

"The HRC's representations of the changes in the new handbook are simply absurd," church spokesperson Scott Trotter said.

But HRC spokesperson Scott Guequierre stuck to the HRC's interpretation of the changes, saying, "This is a big deal, this is huge. This is a great step forward for the church and I recognize that. I just hope we can work with them to come even further."

The HRC press release put the changes into the context of last month's controversial remarks by Boyd K. Packer, the president of the Mormon Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Packer "called same-sex attraction 'impure and unnatural,' and claimed that it can be corrected," the HRC release recalled. "Packer's inaccurate and dangerous rhetoric came on the heels of the suicides of a number of teenagers who were victims of anti-gay bullying or harassment." By contrast, the revised handbook stops short of such pathologizing language. Those changes, the church noted in its media response, had not been spurred by Packer's comments or the response they generated from GLBT groups. The revisions had been completed months before Packer's address.

On Top Magazine examined the changes, comparing the 206 edition of the handbook to the new edition in a Nov. 15 posting. "The 2006 edition of the handbook called upon gay members to repent their 'homosexual thoughts or feelings,' " On Top reported. "The new edition says celibate gay Mormons should be allowed to participate fully in the church and to have 'callings,' or church assignments."

On Top reported on other changes--and things that remained the same. "Also dropped is the previous statement that gay unions 'distort loving relationships,' " the posting said. "But the church's policy on transgender people is not expected to change. The Mormon Church currently forbids anyone who has altered their sex from having callings or holding a leadership position in the church."

The HRC followed up with a second press release that called for the Mormon Church to go further with its revisions. A Nov. 17 release read, "Gay & Lesbian Mormons to LDS Church: You Have Further to Go."

"It is good to see the Mormon Church has finally recognized what science has told us for years--people cannot change their sexual orientation and attempts to do so are harmful," Solmonese. "But the church has a lot further to go. Too many kids are struggling with their identities and self-worth. Church leaders must let them know they are loved and worthy just the way they are."

"Although new church policy no longer calls for professional counseling for LGBT people, it still groups homosexual behavior with: attempted murder, forcible rape and spouse abuse," the release noted. "The handbook also says homosexual behavior is permanently noted in one's church records, however heterosexuals found to commit 'sexual sin' outside of marriage receive no permanent annotations."

"The policies in the new Church Handbook of Instruction continue to class homosexual behavior as a choice and as a sin," said the president of gay Mormon group Affirmation, David Melson. "It states that in order to be considered 'worthy,' an LGBT church member must refrain from all sexual activity throughout their life and must remain in the closet in most discussions and conversations.

"Evidence has shown that being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person is a biological function that takes place prior to birth--something that comes from God--and is not a choice, and therefore cannot rationally be considered a sin," Melson continued. "To tell someone that they are less than worthy, or that they should never respond to natural sexual attraction, or that they should live their life dishonestly by living in the closet, has the potential for incredible harm to that individual.

"We applaud the LDS Church for taking this small step, but we strongly urge them to go further, to respect the diversity that God has created within His children, and to withdraw from policies and behavior that harm rather than heal both church members and non-members."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.