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How The Mormon Church Could Impact Idaho Gay Rights Laws

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

Earlier this week, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a rare press conference announcing their support of laws that would protect gay and transgender people from discrimination while still safeguarding religious freedom.

Jon Young says this week's announcement from his church leaders in Utah is a big deal. Young lives in Boise and helps run a Facebook group for Mormon Democrats in Idaho. He testified in favor of the Add The Words bill earlier this week, asking lawmakers to protect gay and transgender Idahoans from discrimination.  

"It's absolutely new and important that the church has said that it does support public accommodations," says Young. "It says there's room for religious freedom and nondiscrimination to find a good balance point."

Young thinks the church took a bold step this week by opening up the conversation about public accommodations. Under current law in Idaho and Utah, someone could be denied service for being gay or transgender. 

But Mormon leaders walked a fine line in their announcement, and didn't explicitly back any particular piece of legislation. Young says with a shift like this, it's going to take time for the conservative-leaning church and its members to figure out exactly how policy will be affected.  

"Members of the church do make their own decisions and sometimes we talk about how we follow our leaders in lockstep. But in practice we don't -- whether you're conservative or liberal that's absolutely true," Young says. "We learn good principles and then we figure out how to implement them. The implementation is going to become more understanding of our LGBT brothers and sisters."

Nearly a quarter of all Idaho residents are Mormon. Many Idaho lawmakers also belong to the church. And Young thinks it will take some time to see how the shift will affect Idaho policy – things like the state’s Add the Words bill.

"I think there's definitely a way to move forward that will be easier than what we had before and perhaps give members of the legislature -- especially LDS -- and think about the nuances involved in religious freedom and nondiscrimination."

Young says people on all sides of the issue need to be patient with each other.

"And you need to allow time for different members of the church with different opinions to speak up with how they feel in a setting where they can slowly socialize with each other and change hearts and minds over time," Young says.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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