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Mormon-owned BYU: Same-sex romantic behaviour still banned

Students protest outside the student center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, after an official with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints school issued a clarification to the school's Honor Code, which said that same-sex romantic behavior is still "not compatible" with the rules at BYU. Brigham Young University says “same-sex romantic behavior” isn't allowed on campus, even under recent changes to its strict code of conduct. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
March 04, 2020 - 4:40 PM

SALT LAKE CITY - Brigham Young University in Utah reiterated Wednesday that “same-sex romantic behaviour” is not allowed on campus — dashing the hopes of LGTBTQ students who thought they could be more open after the college previously revised its code of conduct.

The university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a letter online, saying it was clarifying a misinterpretation after it dropped a section of the code banning behaviour that reflected “homosexual feelings."

A college administrator wrote that the recent revision doesn't change the “moral standards” of the church or the faith's opposition to same-sex marriage.

The letter and an accompanying Q&A posted online don't provide details about what romantic behaviours are and aren't allowed, but seem to shut the door on the notion that gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to kiss and hold hands on campus like their heterosexual classmates.

“Same-sex romantic behaviour cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the honour code,” wrote Paul V. Johnson, commissioner of the church education system.

BYU officials said on Feb. 19 that questions about permitted behaviours by same-sex couples would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but the issue hadn't been addressed again until the letter was released Wednesday.

The clarification letter caused fury and heartbreak among LGBTQ students and allies, said former BYU student Addison Jenkins, a past president of a campus support group for gay and lesbian students. He called it “cruel” to dash the hopes of LGBTQ students who felt the campus climate would become more welcoming, and then two weeks later issue this new letter that shows “anti-queer rules” remain.

“This says: We do not care and we are no longer embarrassed about not caring about queer people," Jenkins said.

Dozens of students gathered on campus Wednesday to protest the letter, holding signs such as “Stop harming our LGBTQ students” and “Love one another,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported. They sang “Love One Another” and chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, the Honor Code has got to go.”

On social media, LGTBQ students expressed sadness and anger and openly spoke of transferring.

Nathan Cazmersen, a 25-year-old neuroscience major from Seattle, said he objects to changes that don't feel like they reflect the Christ-like behaviour that church leaders encourage. Cazmersen is straight and considers himself an ally for LGBTQ friends. Some of them came out for the first time after the changes were made to the honour code, thinking it was safe, he said.

He called it particularly difficult to accept the letter a day after high-ranking church leader M. Russell Ballard said in a speech on campus that it is “evil and horrifying” to marginalize people based on gender, religious preference or sexual orientation.

“I feel like it empowers homophobic rhetoric on campus,” said Cazmersen.

When asked what the changes meant, BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins referred The Associated Press to a Q&A posted Wednesday by Kevin Utt, director of the honour code office. In a section about whether same-sex couples can hold hands and kiss, it refers to an aforementioned line from Johnson and says, “Any same-sex romantic behaviour is a violation of the principles of the honour code.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, teaches its members that being gay isn't a sin but engaging in same-sex intimacy is. The faith has tried to be more welcoming toward LGBTQ people over the past decade, while adhering to its doctrinal belief that marriage is reserved only for heterosexual couples.

An entire section in the BYU code that was dedicated to “homosexual behaviour" was removed last month. The clause that upset people said, "All forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings" are prohibited. Students complained that it was interpreted to be a ban on gay couples holding hands or kissing. Those behaviours are allowed for heterosexual couples, though premarital sex is banned.

BYU's honour code bans other things that are common at other colleges, including drinking, beards and piercings. Students who attend the university in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, agree to adhere to the code, and nearly all are members of the church. Punishments for violations range from discipline to suspension and expulsion.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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