Elder David A. Bednar of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Thursday the church supports the civil rights of LGBTQ people and is working to advance legislation that also protects “the freedom of belief that we hold so dear.”
Mr. Bednar, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest executive body in the 16.8 million-member church, spoke at a Headliners luncheon at the National Press Club, the first time in 22 years a leader of the Mormons spoke there.
The statement departs from the Utah-based church’s successful 2008 California effort to pass a state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
That provision, known as Proposition 8, was approved by voters and later overturned in court. In 2015, the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a constitutional right nationwide in its Obergefell decision.
Mr. Bednar told the press club audience that his church backs an Arizona gay-rights bill that includes religious-freedom protections.
“This year, a bill in Arizona was introduced that would provide similar and even expanded protections for LGBTQ people. And we are working with other states on similar initiatives. Such legislation is the result of positive relationships fostered over time,” he said.
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Mr. Bednar added, “You also should know that at the federal level, we have been working with our LGBTQ allies to advance legislation of a similar nature.”
An LDS church spokesman later said the organization was not endorsing specific legislation but rather Mr. Bednar was enunciating “guiding principles” on the matter.
At the same time, Mr. Bednar appeared to close the door to having same-sex unions solemnized in the church’s temple ceremonies for marriage and the “sealing” of families as eternal units.
“We believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and that the family is central to the Father’s plan for the eternal destiny and happiness of his children,” Mr. Bednar said in response to a question read by Jen Judson, NPC president and a reporter at Defense News.
While Mr. Bednar’s speech highlighted the roles women play in the church’s leadership, he reiterated that women could not be a prophet in the lineage of Joseph Smith, the church’s founder, by noting the all-male nature of the early church’s leadership.
“We follow the pattern of the ancient church. We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands, by those who are in authority to preach the gospel and [administer] the ordinances thereof, the pattern anciently was that the apostles were men,” he said.
Mr. Bednar said the church engaged in 3,909 humanitarian projects in 188 countries, and said this “was just one portion of a comprehensive $906 million effort to care for those in need.”
He added that “we are assisting with the refugees and those displaced by the conflict in Ukraine, as well as in 27 other neighboring European countries. The church is supporting multiple organizations, including U.N. agencies as well as Kyiv Red Cross, in providing items such as shelter, bedding, food, and hygiene and baby supplies.”
Asked whether he has viewed the recent streaming Hulu adaptation of “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a book depicting fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy and are estranged from the official LDS Church, Mr. Bednar first quipped that with all the church is doing, “Who has time to watch television?”
More seriously, he said the group has “been mischaracterized since 1830. … I don’t think it will ever go away. We don’t like it. But we don’t spend all of our time trying to respond to it. We have a mission to fulfill and we’re moving forward to accomplish that mission.”