The Mormon Church Supports Gay Rights ... Wait, What?

The Mormon church is supporting gay rights.

Sound a little suspicious? That has been the read around the blogosphere as of late, after the Church of Latter-day Saints announced Wednesday that it would support a Salt Lake City ordinance barring housing and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Cue cynicism: "The Mormon Church views gays as worthwhile human beings in the workplace, but not in their own bedrooms. Got it," quipped a blogger at gay blog Queerty. Over at Seattle's alt weekly: "No one is fooled: this 'rare' action is an attempt to blunt charges of anti-gay bigotry ... in the wake of Prop 8."

We know the Mormon church does not agree with gay marriage—it adamantly opposes homosexuality. But writing off their support, which probably played some role in this legislation passing, is childish, willfully ignorant of how this law came to be and what it means. Like the fact that leaders of gay-rights groups in Utah have, for the past two months, met secretly with LDS officials regarding the proposition. Or that this will actually make a difference in the lives of gay Salt Lake City residents. The Mormon church could have easily sided with the Sutherland Institute, a local conservative think tank that opposed the measure on the grounds that "each new inclusion in the law of such vague terms as 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' represents a mounting threat to the meaning of marriage." As Andrew Sullivan more thoughtfully writes over at The Atlantic, "Someone has decided to offer an open hand. A civil rights movement should never spurn such a good faith effort."

Gay Americans want the right to full and equal marriage, and rightfully so. There's a good chance that, in the relatively near future, a younger generation of voters will make that the norm. But, in the here and now (and especially in conservative states like Utah), the right to marry is not even on the table: 31 states have voted down gay marriage by popular vote. What is available are smaller, albeit imperfect, offerings that the gay community can—and should—embrace, while still demanding more.

Just take a look at how the two gay-rights votes, both in liberal states, fared this past election: the marriage initiative in Maine failed, the everything-but-marriage referendum in Washington state passed. Granted, the Washington state referendum was not ideal: namely, it did not include marriage rights. But it did include inheritance rights, pension benefits, and a whole host of other benefits. These things matter, as does employment discrimination. And, in at least the short term, they are applauding rather than deriding.