In Salt Lake City, the Mormon Church’s reiteration of their policy to excommunicate same-sex couples and refuse to baptize their children stirred 1,000 members of the church to march in protest on November 14, with many officially withdrawing their membership. This conflict has left many wondering whether such policies are archaic or even un-Christian, and if they ought to be overruled by government power. Does a Church still have a right to enforce an exclusory and anti-LGBTQA policy when much of America stands against it?
The First Amendment reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This prevents Congress from telling the Church to change the policy. The phrase, “separation of Church and State” comes from Thomas Jefferson’s description of this Amendment.
Ironically, the Civil Rights Act is the nail in the coffin. In short, it prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” However, a provision in the act states that the Civil Rights Commission cannot use the act to “investigate any membership practices” of “any religious organization.” On top of that, the act does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. It focuses on prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and in public spaces, but churches are not included in those umbrella terms. Unless the act is amended, all religious groups, not just the Mormon Church, have nothing stopping them from deciding their individual policies on LGBTQA membership. Unfortunately, it really is just that simple.
Still, even though religious groups have this right, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of the issue.
LGBTQA people have gained much acceptance in today’s America than ever before, with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage being a landmark victory for their rights. Many Christian groups have come to reconsider previous anti-LGBTQA stances, with some openly welcoming LGBTQA believers. If this trend continues, we could eventually see a widespread acceptance of their community in religious spheres, uniting groups that were long assumed to be mutually exclusive.
However, situations such as the rally remind us not only that many still refuse to accept different sexual orientations in Christianity, but also that some LGBTQA believers would rather choose to leave the faith than put up with church doctrine that targets them. Although the particular church at the center of the rally maintained that “fewer than 4 percent of those who pledged to resign identified as practicing Mormons,” that’s still a significant number of people who wanted to be part of the faith, and yet left because of these policies. Unfortunately, it seems that conflicts like this will always occur so long as believers choose to accept specific interpretations of scripture that condemn homosexuality.
However, regardless of whether we think the Mormon Church’s exclusory policies are morally wrong, we must recognize that they have a right to maintain them. The protections granted by the First Amendment and the limits of the Civil Rights Act guarantee that. Likewise, members both heterosexual and LGBTQA are free to distance themselves from the church to show their unity in defiance of that doctrine.