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President Oaks clarifies the position of Latter-day Saints leaders and the Church on the Respect for Marriage Act

Speaking to stake and mission leaders in Illinois and Wisconsin, President Oaks addressed the Respect for Marriage Act — which provided needed protections for religious expression while further codifying same-sex marriage

WILMETTE, Illinois — Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supported the Respect for Marriage Act — signed into law Dec. 13, 2022, by U.S. President Joe Biden — because the legislation provided “necessary protections for religious freedom,” said President Dallin H. Oaks on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Speaking to mission leaders and stake presidents and their wives from Illinois and Wisconsin, President Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said some Latter-day Saints have expressed concerns that the new national law is in conflict with the Church’s teachings against same-sex marriage. 

“We see a need to clarify the Church’s position on that new law,” said President Oaks, speaking on behalf of the First Presidency.

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President Oaks greeting stake presidents and their wives and mission leaders
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, greets stake presidents and their wives and mission leaders in the Wilmette Illinois Stake center in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

While the Respect for Marriage Act codified same-sex marriage in federal law, the act also provided needed protections for religious expression. “Putting such protections in the federal law was a big step forward,” said President Oaks, a former Utah state supreme court justice and professor of law at the University of Chicago. 

He explained that the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges had already established a federal right to same-sex marriage in the United States.

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Respect for Marriage Act: Religious Freedom

The focus of the Church’s efforts in support of the national Respect for Marriage Act “was not on same-sex marriage, but on ensuring the act contained the necessary protections for religious freedom,” he said, adding that at the time the act was adopted, “the Church publicly reaffirmed our Church doctrine approving only marriage between one man and one woman.”

Marriage bills previously proposed in Congress made no attempt to protect religious freedom, said President Oaks. “The Church came out in favor of amendments that added religious freedom protections to the proposed Respect for Marriage Act,” he said. “The amended bill was signed into law, but its overall effect was misunderstood because many news stories focused on only the part of the act that affirmed same-sex marriage.”

President Oaks speaking in front of stake presidents and mission leaders
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, a General Authority Seventy, address stake presidents and their wives and mission leaders in the Wilmette Illinois Stake center in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Oaks said the Respect for Marriage Act, as signed into law:

  • Includes valuable provisions to assure no federal or state laws could be used to harm the religious or conscience rights of faith-based institutions or their members. 
  • Ensures that religious organizations, religious schools and their staff do not have to perform or host same-sex marriages or celebrations.
  • Protects the tax-exempt status of religious organizations. 
  • Protects the grants, licenses, contracts and accreditation of religious schools. 
  • Provides that its own provisions cannot be used to violate anyone’s rights to religious freedom. 

Looking forward, President Oaks said Church leaders will “be alert to proposed future state action and legislation as we continue our defense of religious freedom.”

President Oaks standing at a podium in Chicago
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issues a statement on the Respect for Marriage Act while addressing mission leaders and stake presidents and their wives in the Wilmette Illinois Stake center in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Oaks’ 2021 address

The clarification of the Church’s support for the Respect for Marriage Act came 15 months after President Oaks called for a peaceful resolution to the “painful conflicts between religious freedom and nondiscrimination.”

“Let us unite with those who advocate nondiscrimination to seek a culture and laws that respect the rights of all to the equal protection of the law and the right to the free exercise of religion,” President Oaks said on Nov. 12, 2021, in an address offered from the Dome Room of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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In doing so, he added then, Latter-day Saints must not allow fears about losing religious freedoms make them insensitive to others’ claims for freedoms.

In that address, President Oaks said he is distressed at the way the nation is handling divisive issues.

“We have always had to work through serious political conflicts, but today too many approach that task as if their preferred outcome must entirely prevail over all others, even in our pluralistic society,” he said. “We need to work for a better way — a way to resolve differences without compromising core values. We need to live together in peace and mutual respect, within our defined constitutional rights.”

It is imperative, he said in Virginia, that both sides should not seek total dominance for their own position but should seek “fairness for all.”

President Oaks holding hands with his wife Sister Kristen Oaks.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, arrive at the Chicago Illinois Temple, on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. Earlier in the day, President Oaks, addressing local stake and mission leaders, clarified the Church’s support for the Respect for Marriage Act. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In July 20, 2022, while speaking in Rome, Italy, President Oaks called for “a global effort to defend and advance the religious freedom of all the children of God in every nation of the world.”

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Offering a keynote address at the second annual Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit, President Oaks asked religious leaders to “unite and find common ground for defending and promoting religious liberty.”

“This is not a call for doctrinal compromises but rather a plea for unity and cooperation on strategy and advocacy toward our common goal of religious liberty for all,” he said during the meetings, hosted by the Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative.

The Church’s call for fairness for all is not new.

In a press conference on Jan. 27, 2015, then-Elder Oaks — joined by other senior Church leaders — called for civility, respect and laws that ensure fair access to housing and employment for the LGBTQ community while safeguarding religious freedom.

 President Oaks and Elder Chi Hong Wong standing together at a podium.
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, a General Authority Seventy, address stake presidents and their wives and mission leaders in the Wilmette Illinois Stake center in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Oaks, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “We reject persecution and retaliation of any kind, including persecution based on race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic circumstances or differences in gender or sexual orientation.” 

Church leaders have supported religious freedom and nondiscrimination bills at the state level in Utah and Arizona and expressed support in 2019 for the federal Fairness for All Act introduced at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

In President Oaks’ current statement — as well as the official Church statement released in June 2015, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal — Latter-day Saints leaders have reaffirmed that the Church will “continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman.”

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States,” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote in the 2015 statement. “The court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.” 

President Oaks presenting to stake presidents, their wives, and mission leaders
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong, General Authority Seventy, address stake presidents and their wives and mission leaders in the Wilmette Illinois Stake center in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Oaks’ statement on the Respect for Marriage Act

Following is the complete statement President Oaks shared with 14 stake and mission presidents in suburban Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 11, 2023:

“Some of our members have expressed concerns that the new national Respect for Marriage law is in conflict with the Church’s teachings against same-sex marriage. We see a need to clarify the Church’s position on that new law.

“At the time the national Respect for Marriage Act was adopted, the Church publicly reaffirmed our Church doctrine approving only marriage between one man and one woman.

“Marriage bills previously proposed in the Congress made no attempt to protect religious freedom. The Church came out in favor of amendments that added religious freedom protections to the proposed Respect for Marriage Act. The amended bill was signed into law, but its overall effect was misunderstood because many news stories focused on only the part of the act that affirmed same-sex marriage.

“The Respect for Marriage Act did restate same-sex marriage as the law of the land, but that added little because that law was already in effect under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. The focus of the Church’s efforts was not on same-sex marriage, but on ensuring the act contained the necessary protections for religious freedom.

“As signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act included valuable provisions to assure that no federal or state laws could be used to harm the religious or conscience rights of faith-based institutions or their members. In the end, the total law ensures that religious organizations, religious schools and their staff do not have to perform or host same-sex marriages or celebrations. It protects the tax-exempt status of religious organizations. It protects the grants, licenses, contracts and accreditation of religious schools. And it specifically provides that its own provisions cannot be used to violate anyone’s rights to religious freedom. Putting such protections in the federal law was a big step forward. We will be alert to proposed future state action and legislation as we continue our defense of religious freedom.”

President Oaks and his wife smiling together.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, arrive at the Chicago Illinois Temple, on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. Earlier in the day, President Oaks, addressing local stake and mission leaders, clarified the Church’s support for the Respect for Marriage Act. | Cody Bell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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