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Mormon Leaders Appeal for Balance of Gay and Religious Rights

The Church of Latter-day Saints says it supports anti-discrimination legislation as long as religious freedom is also protected.

Mormon church leaders held a rare press conference Tuesday to back legislation that bars discrimination against gays in housing and employment, but also demanded laws that protect religious freedoms.

"To those who follow the church closely and who are familiar with its teachings and positions on various social issues, it will be apparent that we are announcing no change in doctrine or church teachings today," elder Todd Christofferson said. "But we are suggesting a way forward in which those with different views on these complex issues can together seek for solutions that will be fair to everyone."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes only married men and women should have sex and it crusaded for California's Proposition 8, which sought to ban gay marriage.

"Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures," elder Dallin Oaks said.

"At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens."

As an example, the leaders said a Mormon doctor who objected to performing artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced to do it. And, they said, the church should have the right to use its property in accordance with its beliefs "without second-guessing from government."

The Human Rights Campaign, which pushes for gay equality, called the announcement "deeply flawed."

"The Mormon church in recent years has been adjusting its language around LGBT people to be kinder, more accepting. Today’s announcement reflected that, but falls far short of embracing full inclusion and equality for LGBT people," the group said in a statement.

The church has spoken out against anti-gay discrimination in the past. But it has also made news in recent weeks for moving to excommunicate a progressive podcaster who has spoken out in favor of same-sex marriage.

"The church was a little surprised by the amount of blowback they received for public support of Proposition 8," said Patrick Mason, chairman of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

"Since then, they have tried hard to walk this fine line, this balance between affirming church’s doctrinal position...and taking a responsible position against legalized persecution."

The Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered qualified praise for the LDS leaders, saying the comments against discrimination were welcome but noting that the church only supports public-accommodation protections for restaurants, hotels and transportation.