Year in Review: 2015

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At the Supreme Court the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision

November 2015 was so destabilizing that I nearly forgot the rest of the year. But the rest of 2015 was by no means uneventful. Beginning with a surprise announcement in January, some of us sensed a subtle shift toward greater openness and acceptance in the church. Near the end of the year, a few unexpected policy changes materialized, signaling a sharp reversal in trajectory that left us disoriented. Here I try to sort out the narrative by reviewing some of the more memorable moments in the LGB conversation from the last year.[1]

January: TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay”

On January 11, the reality show “My Husband’s Not Gay” debuted. It introduced three men who were attracted to men and each married to a woman, as well as another man who is attracted to men and currently single but wants to eventually marry a woman. All the men featured in the show are Mormon. It unsurprisingly received negative publicity including a change.org petition calling for its cancellation. The Mormon church’s PR department issued a statement calling for “support and respect.”

January: Fairness for All

On January 27, four Mormon leaders held a news conference to announce the church’s support for legal protections of LGBT rights in housing, employment, and public transportation. They referred to their vision as “fairness for all.” During the conference, Sister Neill Marriott said, “…after centuries of ridicule, persecution and even violence against homosexuals…most of society recognized that such treatment was simply wrong…” Elder Jeffrey Holland later added, “These are serious issues, and they require serious minds engaged in thoughtful, courteous discourse.” The conference received fairly positive responses, with Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis commenting, “I am truly appreciative of the courage of the LDS Church.”

February: John Dehlin Excommunication

On February 9, Mormon Stories founder and LGBT rights activist John Dehlin was excommunicated. The excommunication was officially in response to public statements he had made regarding foundational Mormon teachings such as the nature of God, The Book of Mormon, and the church’s claims to authority. Dehlin, however, suggested his LGBT advocacy was a primary factor in the excommunication process. He was actively involved in a study of LGBT Mormons and had presented his findings at a TEDx conference.  The Mormon church released official response denying the connection.

March: Utah Nondiscrimination Law

On March 11, the Utah House of Representatives passed a law that prohibited discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment in the state. It also clarified protections and exceptions related to religious expression. It was seen as a compromise between competing interests and was supported by Mormon church leaders.

April: General Conference

On April 4-5 (and March 28), the Mormon church’s semiannual general conference celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Family: A Proclamation to the World, and included a number of messages focused on the divine role of traditional families. Elder L. Tom Perry’s message included the phrase “counterfeit and alternative lifestyles,” which was viewed as a reference to same-sex relationships. Separately, a small group of conference attendees announced opposing votes during the sustaining of church leaders.

June: JONAH ruling

On June 25, a jury found Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), a New Jersey-based organization offering sexual orientation conversion therapy, guilty of consumer fraud for misrepresenting its program. Testimonies in the case include descriptions of the counseling, workshops, and other forms of therapy provided by the organization. Michael Ferguson was a plaintiff on the case and Sam Wolfe was an attorney for the plaintiffs. Both Ferguson and Wolfe were raised Mormon.

June: SCOTUS and The Letter

On June 26, the Supreme Court announced a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. The decision was bemoaned by some and celebrated by others. Justice Kennedy presented the opinion of the Court, which concluded with these words:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza- tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

There were four dissenting opinions filed by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. A primary concern raised by the dissenting justices, and by many others, was that in reaching this decision the Supreme Court had encroached on constitutionally delineated legislative powers.

On June 30, top Mormon leaders sent a letter to the local congregation leaders to read to their congregations. The letter reinforced the church’s teachings on marriage and sexual relations and included answers to commonly asked questions, including “What if I have reservations of my own regarding the Church’s position on this subject?” The letter-reading occurred in a variety of formats, with some leaders inviting questions and discussion among the congregants and others reading the letter without additional comment.

July: Donation to Utah Pride Center

On July 1, the Mormon church made a donation to the Utah Pride Center. Kent Frogley, chairman of the center’s board of directors, said, “We’re just excited that we’re able to actually come together on something we think is really beneficial to people in our community who are in need.”

July: Boy Scouts of America

On July 27, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) officially ended its policy prohibiting openly gay adult leaders, but clarified that church-sponsored units would be able to decide whether or not to allow gay leaders within their sponsored troops. The Mormon church announced that it was “deeply troubled” by the decision and would reconsider its relationship with BSA. The church later decided to continue the relationship.

September: Elder Rasband Devotional

On September 15, Elder Ronald Rasband delivered a devotional address at Brigham Young University, in which he discussed LGBT and religious rights and called for fairness in daily interactions. He encouraged the audience to initiate conversations with people who were different from themselves and to share their experiences on his Facebook page. Reactions were generally positive (see blog post by USGA at BYU). Rasband would go on to join the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles the following month.

September: Helping our Children Choose Heterosexuality

On September 29, Meridian Magazine published an article called “Helping Our Children Choose Heterosexuality.” The article suggested ways to demonstrate the value of heterosexual relationships in order to encourage children to seek such relationships. The article received strongly negative responses (see here, here, here and here). The editors initially changed the title to “Can You Help Your Children Choose Heterosexuality?” and added a clarifying note, but the article was taken down later the same day. Two weeks later, Meridian followed up with a series of articles that included a response by the original author.

October: General Conference and Elder Holland

On October 3, Elder Jeffrey Holland gave a talk called “Behold Thy Mother” during the church’s general conference. In the talk, he shared three stories emphasizing the role of mothers, including a story about a young same-sex attracted man and his mother’s tireless efforts to love and support him. Affirmation, a group for LGBT Mormons, families, and friends, published a response written by Jody England Hansen that discussed the positive and negative messages that could be taken away from the talk.

October: Elder Oaks vs. Kim Davis

On October 20, Elder Dallin Oaks delivered a speech in which he repeated a call for more accommodation and less “belligerence between religion and government.” During the speech he referred to Kim Davis (though not by name), a Kentucky county clerk who had refused to issue marriage licenses in protest against same-sex marriage. Oaks said that government officials had an obligation to carry out the law without imposing their religious convictions.

October: World Congress of Families

On October 27-30, the World Congress of Families (WCF) was held in Salt Lake City. WCF describes itself as “the premier global gathering of parents, youth, lawmakers, scholars, religious leaders, and advocates united to support the natural family,” while the Human Rights Campaign and Southern Poverty Law Center classify it as a hate group. A number of Mormon leaders spoke during the proceedings, including Elder M. Russell Ballard, who called for less “divisiveness” in our interactions on the topic of families.

November: Jackie Biskupski

On November 4, Jackie Biskupski was elected mayor of Salt Lake City. Upon taking office, she will be the first openly gay mayor of the city. In a statement responding to the changes to Mormon policies for same-sex couples and their families, she wrote the following,

As a mother of a young son — who will grow up in this community — I want him to feel welcome wherever he goes and judged based on the content of his character, not on his mother’s sexual orientation. My son will make many important decisions in his life, and if he chose to become a member of the LDS Church, I would support his choice, and I would hope he could find acceptance in his faith community.

November: The Policy and The Clarification

On November 5, the Mormon church updated its Handbook of Instructions with two significant policy revisions related to same-sex couples. One established same-sex marriage as a form of apostasy that required mandatory discipline. Another prohibited children of same-sex couples from receiving a baby blessing and from being baptized, unless they were at least 18 years old and disavowed same-sex marriage. On November 13, the church issued a clarification with some exceptions. The updates attracted national attention and initiated a strong response on social media.[2]

What is on your list? What did I miss? What did I get wrong? Let me know.

 

Notes:

[1] By using the abbreviation LGB, I mean to suggest that these events are primarily related to the conversation about sexual orientation rather than gender identity. This is not to imply that the two issues should necessarily be considered separately or that LGB is the ideal label for referring to all expressions of sexual orientation.

[2] An upcoming post will address the online response to the policy changes in greater detail.

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2 thoughts on “Year in Review: 2015

  1. I’d forgotten about a bunch of these! Some of it seems so long ago. I wonder how much is going to happen in 2016.

  2. Pingback: The Policy: A Collection of Responses | Out of Obscurity

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