The Mormon Church has called on its members to “express their views”, on equal marriage legislation pending in the US state of Hawaii.
The church did not instruct its followers on which side of the argument to take, but did direct them to a document titled The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which specifies the church’s support of marriage as between one man and one woman.
Governor Neil Abercrombie released a draft for the bill in August. If Hawaii legalises same-sex marriage, it would become the 14th US state to do so.
The letter, written by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church, was read to congregations across the state.
The church encouraged followers to “study this legislation prayerfully and then as private citizens contact your elected representatives in the Hawaii Legislature to express your views about the legislation.”
The church also said Mormons, irrespective of their position on equal marriage, should push for “a strong exemption for people and organizations of faith”, in order to protect religious groups “from being required to support or perform same-sex marriages or from having to host same-sex marriages or celebrations in their facilities; and protect individuals and small businesses from being required to assist in promoting or celebrating same-sex marriages.”
Speaking to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ruth Todd, a spokeswoman for the church said officials at the Salt Lake City headquarters” are aware of the letter recently read in local Relief Society and Priesthood meetings in Hawaii.”
“The Church’s positions on these issues are well established,” she wrote in an email, “including our encouragement for members to be good citizens and to be involved in their communities. As the stake presidents’ letter says, members in Hawaii have been asked to study these issues and to consider becoming involved as private citizens.”
The new approach by the church echoes sentiments posted its website last week, including that “essential freedoms of conscience, embedded in religious liberty, must be diligently preserved and protected.”
In past years the church has changed its stance on equal marriage. The Mormon Church explicitely supported the now overturned California’s Proposition 8, which banned equal marriage in the state.
Members of the church make up more than 5% of Hawaii’s population also helped to defeat the state’s mid 1990s gay civil unions legislation.
Leaders of the Mormon Church launched a new website in December which, despite saying the church was still opposed to same-sex marriage, encouraged churchgoers to be more compassionate in discussions over homosexuality.