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Mormon-owned BYU: Same-sex romantic behavior still banned

Brigham Young University in Utah reiterated that “same-sex romantic behavior” is not allowed on campus, dashing the hopes of LGTBTQ students.
Image:  Brigham Young University
Students protest outside the student center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on March 4, 2020.Francisco Kjolseth / AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Brigham Young University in Utah reiterated Wednesday that “same-sex romantic behavior” is not allowed on campus — dashing the hopes of LGTBTQ students who thought they could be more open after the college previously revised its code of conduct.

The university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a letter online, saying it was clarifying a misinterpretation after it dropped a section of the code banning behavior that reflected “homosexual feelings.”

A college administrator wrote that the recent revision doesn’t change the “moral standards” of the church or the faith’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter and an accompanying Q&A posted online don’t provide details about what romantic behaviors are and aren’t allowed, but seem to shut the door on the notion that gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to kiss and hold hands on campus like their heterosexual classmates.

“Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the honor code,” wrote Paul V. Johnson, commissioner of the church education system.

BYU officials said on Feb. 19 that questions about permitted behaviors by same-sex couples would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but the issue hadn’t been addressed again until the letter was released Wednesday.

The clarification letter caused fury and heartbreak among LGBTQ students and allies, said former BYU student Addison Jenkins, a past president of a campus support group for gay and lesbian students. He called it “cruel” to dash the hopes of LGBTQ students who felt the campus climate would become more welcoming, and then two weeks later issue this new letter that shows “anti-queer rules” remain.

“This says: We do not care and we are no longer embarrassed about not caring about queer people,” Jenkins said.

Dozens of students gathered on campus Wednesday to protest the letter, holding signs such as “Stop harming our LGBTQ students” and “Love one another,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported. They sang “Love One Another” and chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, the Honor Code has got to go.”

Image: Brigham Young University
Students protest outside the student center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on March 4, 2020.Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

BYU student Franchesca Lopez told NBC News she is heartbroken over the ban. “When I found out, I was devastated," she said.

“I started to feel safe when they changed it to allow same-sex dating but this just shows me that they don’t care," Lopez continued. "They don’t care about me.”

On social media, LGTBQ students expressed sadness and anger and openly spoke of transferring.

Nathan Cazmersen, a 25-year-old neuroscience major from Seattle, said he objects to changes that don’t feel like they reflect the Christ-like behavior that church leaders encourage. Cazmersen is straight and considers himself an ally for LGBTQ friends. Some of them came out for the first time after the changes were made to the honor code, thinking it was safe, he said.

He called it particularly difficult to accept the letter a day after high-ranking church leader M. Russell Ballard said in a speech on campus that it is “evil and horrifying” to marginalize people based on gender, religious preference or sexual orientation.

“I feel like it empowers homophobic rhetoric on campus,” said Cazmersen.

When asked what the changes meant, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins referred The Associated Press to a Q&A posted Wednesday by Kevin Utt, director of the honor code office. In a section about whether same-sex couples can hold hands and kiss, it refers to an aforementioned line from Johnson and says, “Any same-sex romantic behavior is a violation of the principles of the honor code.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, teaches its members that being gay isn’t a sin but engaging in same-sex intimacy is. The faith has tried to be more welcoming toward LGBTQ people over the past decade, while adhering to its doctrinal belief that marriage is reserved only for heterosexual couples.

An entire section in the BYU code that was dedicated to “homosexual behavior” was removed last month. The clause that upset people said, “All forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings” are prohibited. Students complained that it 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.

BYU’s honor code bans other things that are common at other colleges, including drinking, beards and piercings. Students who attend the university in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, agree to adhere to the code, and nearly all are members of the church. Punishments for violations range from discipline to suspension and expulsion.

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