Harry Reid’s Mormon fumble

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Our good Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the news last week when he interjected religion into the debate prior to the Senate passing a bill that expanded workplace civil rights to embrace gays, lesbians, bisexuals and persons who are transgender.

To be fair, he was asked by a group of LGBT news reporters how his Mormon faith could be reconciled with his support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

What Reid should have done is separate his duties as a lawmaker to his constituents from his personal religious beliefs. But he didn’t. What he did was say was that members of the Mormon Church are coming around in favor of gay rights.

Two things. First, the key word here is “members,” which could be true in his circles. Maybe the Mormons in his liberal-leaning progressive circle feel that way, which is good. Which leads to the second point: the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not changed its doctrine on homosexuality, despite Reid’s contention of its members softening.

“Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position,” the church said in a statement following Reid’s comments.

Then came the hammer.

“If it is being suggested that the church’s doctrine on this matter is changing, that is incorrect.”

Much has been made of the church’s decision not to voice an opinion on workplace protection for gays. Passing of the Act would make it a crime for employers to discriminate based on sexual identification. Federal law already prevents the practice of discrimination for age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and disability. The church had endorsed a similar law passed by the Salt Lake City Council four years ago.

But the workplace is not the family structure, where the church still remains opposed to same-sex marriage. According to the Mormon Newsroom, the official media arm of the church, “the church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with kindness and understanding…Marriage between a man and a woman is central to God’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. As such, traditional marriage is a foundational doctrine and cannot change.”

This was made clear five years ago when the church put its full weight behind Proposition 8, the proposed amendment to the California state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. Top church officials broadcasted from Salt Lake City to church buildings in California to discuss the strategy to support the measure (although the measure passed, the federal courts ruled it unconstitutional in 2010).

Interest in, and fear of, Mormonism was rekindled during Mitt Romney’s run for president last year. While unsuccessful, questions during the campaign centered around the American homegrown religion having a potential hotline to the Oval Office. Romney and his supporters did well to separate themselves from the worries, even if opponents questioned how could “President Romney” turn down a call from the church president?

Reid should get some credit for separating his governing from his church’s beliefs, even if he fumbled that message.

ARNOLD M. KNIGHTLY is the editor of CityLife. Follow him on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.