SALT LAKE CITY — Brigham Young University in Utah has revised its strict code of conduct to strip a rule that banned any behavior that reflected “homosexual feelings," which LGBTQ students and their allies felt created an unfair double standard not imposed on heterosexual couples.
The university is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members that being gay isn't a sin, but engaging in same-sex intimacy is.
BYU's revisions to what the college calls its honor code don't change the faith's opposition to same-sex relationships or gay marriage. The changes were discovered by media outlets Wednesday.
Students found out Wednesday, too. BYU student Franchesca Lopez, tweeting under the handle @fremlo_, wrote, "It's confirmed. Gay dating is okay, kissing and hand holding from the mouth of an HCO [Honor Code Office] counselor," and included a photo of her kissing a friend in front of the campus statue of Brigham Young.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said an email that the updated version of the code aligns with a new handbook of rules unveiled by the faith, widely known as the Mormon church. She didn't elaborate on the thinking behind the change, saying only that the changes removed “prescriptive language” and “kept the focus on the principles of the Honor Code, which have not changed.”
The faith has tried to carve out a more compassionate stance toward LGBTQ people over the last decade, while adhering to its doctrinal belief that same-sex relationships are a sin.
An entire section in the code that was dedicated to “homosexual behavior" has been removed. The clause that upset people was the part that said "all forms of physical intimacy that that give expression to homosexual feelings" is prohibited.
Students had previously complained about the clause that was eliminated was interpreted to be a ban on gay couples holding hands or kissing. Those behaviors are allowed for heterosexual couples, though premarital sex is banned.
Former BYU student Addison Jenkins had advocated for years for the college to remove the language, which he said codified homophobic ideas. He said he's glad the section is gone.
“It treats queer students the same as straight students, which is something we have been begging the university for,” said Jenkins, who is gay.
But he said he still has major concerns about how school administrators will implement the change after seeing BYU officials issue a series of tweets late Wednesday afternoon about what the college called some “miscommunication” about what the changes mean.
“The Honor Code Office will handle questions that arise on a case by case basis,” BYU tweeted. “For example, since dating means different things to different people, the Honor Code Office will work with students individually.”
BYU's Honor Code bans other things that are commonplace at other colleges — including drinking, beards and piercings. Students who attend the university in Provo, Utah, south of Salt Lake City, agree to agreed to adhere to the code. Nearly all students are members of the faith. Punishments for violations range from discipline to suspension and expulsion.
Last year, several hundred students rallied to call on BYU officials to be more compassionate with punishments for honor code violators.
The code was criticized in 2016 by female students who spoke out against the school opening honor-code investigations of students who reported sexual abuses to police. The college changed the policy to ensure that students who report sexual abuse would no longer be investigated for honor code violations.