By SHELDON FISHER
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that each of us is a literal spirit son or daughter of God, created in His image. We call God our “Heavenly Father” because he is the father of our spirits. Before this life we lived with Him; He knew us and loved us… and we knew and loved Him.
Because God is the Father of all humankind, we recognize each other as spiritual brothers and sisters. In our faith, the family is central to God’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children, and marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.
Understanding those fundamental theological tenets, many have expressed surprise that the LDS Church has supported the approach of the Respect for Marriage Act, as amended by the Senate, which ensures federal government recognition for lawful same-sex marriages.
As a member and communication director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in Alaska, I write to thank Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan for their votes on final passage to ensure the balanced approach represented in the Respect for Marriage Act.
For some time now, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints has supported a “fairness for all” approach that seeks to both preserve the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters while including religious freedom protections. For us, the foundation of fairness for all comes from the two great commandments taught by Jesus Christ: to love God and to love our neighbor.
We recognize that people in the LGBTQ community and people and institutions in the faith community — including many who are in both — have significant interests at stake in the treatment of same-sex marriage. The Respect for Marriage Act represents a balanced approach to addressing these interests. I am grateful for Sen. Sullivan’s efforts to meet with faith leaders and work relentlessly to advocate for our concerns. Similarly, I thank Sen. Murkowski who has been a stalwart supporter of a balanced approach for some time.
At its core, the Respect for Marriage Act both recognizes same-sex marriage and protects religious rights. Of specific interest to us, the Respect for Marriage Act:
- Affirms explicit congressional support for traditional marriage supporters;
- Directs courts that recognition of same-sex marriage does not diminish current statutory religious liberties;
- Protects the rights of religious and social services organizations from being required to host, participate in, or accommodate same-sex wedding ceremonies;
- Protects such organizations from being sued for not accommodating or participating in same-sex wedding ceremonies; and
- Prevents the federal government from discriminating or retaliating against religious organizations that hold a traditional view of marriage.
While I suppose that neither side got everything it may have wanted, the Respect for Marriage Act balances religious liberties and LGBTQ rights without either side having to compromise core values. We believe in freedom for all, and we believe in fairness for all. In the effort to balance competing demands, we will work to resolve issues in a way that doesn’t extinguish another’s rights and invite others to do the same.
As we hold to our teachings in these important and often very personal issues, we support others in doing the same. We seek to heal rather than injure and to unify rather than divide. We hope to work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of others, and to foster greater understanding along the way.
I thank Sen. Sullivan and Sen. Murkowski for their thoughtful and courageous leadership in addressing what could otherwise remain a divisive issue.
Sheldon Fisher has held various assignments in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which functions through a volunteer or “lay” ministry of its members. He currently serves as a communication director for the Church here in Alaska. Fisher also served as the commissioner of Administration and commissioner of Revenue for Gov. Bill Walker.