Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gay Day At The Y

Times have changed since I attended BYU. A so called group for the freedom of "gay" folks from religious and political oppression is making its way across the country stopping a various campuses in an effort to spread their message. One of their stops will be BYU, on April 10, 2006. This morning's Tribune notes:

Preachers and proselytizing are nothing new at Brigham Young University. But the missionary force due on campus next month is spreading a doctrine rarely if ever heard at the LDS Church-owned school.

Their message: BYU discriminates against gays and that's not OK.

Soulforce - a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group - is scheduled to visit the school April 10 as part of a nationwide Equality Ride tour. After previous stops at other religious schools and military academies, more than 30 advocates plan to comb the Provo campus to talk to students about how BYU allegedly oppresses homosexuals.
Two immediate problems I have are:

1. Gays are a constitutionally protected class in the same sense as are religious groups, women, and other minorities;

2. BYU is involved in unlawful discrimination.

I know it is politically popular to jump on the gay rights bandwagon, and many courts have done so; however, I think it an incredible stretch to reach the conclusion that gay sexual behavior places someone in a constitutionally protected class of individuals, meriting the same constitutional protections you are afforded if you are black, a woman, or a political or religious minority.
I don't believe the Church (from where BYU gets its guidelines) or BYU specifically discriminates against gays, solely for being gay:

"All these schools teach history, and history shows a wealth of information that religion has been misused time and again to discriminate against people," said Jacob Reitan, co-director of Equality Ride. "Is it really OK that I couldn't be a student at BYU simply because I'm gay?"

BYU's Honor Code - which prohibits extramarital sex and drug and alcohol use - addresses homosexuality in this way:

"Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. Students can be enrolled at the university and remain in good Honor Code standing if they maintain a current ecclesiastical endorsement and conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.

"Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle [whether implied or explicit] or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

I think this is an incredibly fair approach by the Church and BYU. They will respond to actual student behavior, rather than belief or feelings. Once you cross that line, whether it is a gay lifestyle, or drinking, drugs, or even prohibited heterosexual conduct, then you subject to discipline. Gays are, and should be treated just like anyone else in terms of inappropriate conduct by BYU students who have expressly agreed to abide by a specific honor code.

I also don't believe BYU engages is unlawful discrimination against gays, or anyone else. It is clear they target specific behavior. The specific gay behavior they target, is as taught by the Church, a sin. Churches have the right to proscribe certain conduct as sin. Our Church has done this with all sexual conduct outside the bonds of marriage, whether gay or hetrosexual. Like the Boy Scouts of America, I believe the Church and BYU have an absolute First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs by disciplining conduct they have categorized as a sin. Gay sex happens to fall within that category.

That said, I believe that if Soulforce behaves and complies with BYU's regulations they should be allowed on campus to spread their message. Alternatively if they go beyond BYU's requirements for off campus groups visiting campus, they should suffer the consequences of those choices. BYU and some of the students body apparently feel the same way:

In her message, Vice President of Student Life Janet Scharman told students and faculty that BYU's campus is open to all visitors as long as they are courteous and engage in nondisruptive, civil dialogue.

"Individuals may not, however, harass our students, faculty or staff or use our campus as a public forum in violation of BYU's public-expression policy," she wrote. "This policy applies to anyone or any organization that wishes to come onto our campus."

BYU junior Matt Snow doesn't mind Soulforce advocates coming to campus. "If anything, it should solidify how we feel about the matter," said the exercise-science major.

Scharman said BYU has told Soulforce the school will not change its policies or practices to accommodate the group's desire to promote its initiatives. She added if Soulforce activists follow BYU's policies, then students and faculty should show them the same civility.

"They should be treated fairly," said BYU freshman Jessie Cook, a Houston native. "Just because we don't believe in what they're doing doesn't mean we think they're bad or we're discriminating against them."
There was a time where this type of interaction was unheard of at BYU, like when I attended. I did have a friend who was gay, and who lived for a time on campus. He was a student, and later worked at BYU for a time as well. Of course he kept his sexual orientation to himself--for the most part. This was back in the mid 70's to early 80's. Gays would meet in private homes, or apartments. So, it's nothing really new at BYU--though it is becoming more open. I don't know whether that is a good thing or not.


Blogger a random John said...

"Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle [whether implied or explicit] or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

What on earth does that mean? That is so vague as to allow for almost anyone who is SSA to be found in violation of the honor code if the person making the charges wants to go after them.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 8:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Last Lemming said...

I had basically the same question as ARJ. What nonsexual behaviors indicate "homosexual conduct"? Flower arranging? Knitting? Listening to Barbara Steisand?

Thursday, March 23, 2006 8:30:00 AM  
Blogger Julie M. Smith said...

"I think this is an incredibly fair approach by the Church and BYU. They will respond to actual student behavior, rather than belief or feelings."

I agree with you. However, I am worried about the reception that these advocates will get on campus. I hope no one is rude or even violent--that would only further their claims about homophobia. I hope BYU students greet them with polite smiles and radio silence.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:14:00 AM  
Blogger a random John said...

I should ammend my previous comment. This rule is so vague as to allow even straight people to be found in violation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:23:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

arJ; last lemming: I'm not sure I have a good answer you. You may have a good point here. And, perhaps BYU needs a more clear articulation in what they mean by advocating homosexual lifestyles or inappropriate behavior that will subject one to an honor code violation; however, that said, I still believe BYU has the right to proscribe certain conduct, including homosexual behavior. Are you suggesting they don't, or that their current guidelines are just too vague and ambiguous to be useful? I would agree with you on the latter, but disagree on the former.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:46:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...


Yes, I agree with your observation on the reception. It has to be as though Christ Himself were there to receive these--His children. I read a report about this group's reception last year on Liberty campus in Lynchburg, see here. Some students had actually made muffins and other baked goods for these visitors. That part went well. BYU students could learn some valuable lessons here. There is an opportunity to show a Christ like love while at the same time maintaining high moral standars.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:58:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

arJ: Yes, the current wording needs some serious work; however, you would agree that even a straight person who were either to advocate a homosexual lifestyle, or engage in behavior indicating homosexual conduct--if that were determined--would be subject to some discipline?

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Justin B. said...

BYU's Daily Universe just published an editorial calling for a respectful reception.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger a random John said...


What is non-sexual behavior that indicates homosexual conduct? Does homosexual conduct have to have taken place for that to have happened?

What is implied advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle?

Could publically asserting that sexual orientation is an innate trait be a violation of the honor code? Could debate over gay marriage?

BYU can (and does) make the honor code say anything they want. Hopefully students fully understand the comittment they are making when they sign it. I think that extremely vague sections such as the one pointed out could be seen as an abridgement of free speech and are probably not well suited for a university setting. They could be read as, "Don't discuss these issues or else there might be reason to kick you out for what you think."

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Kaimi said...


You write:

"Two immediate problems I have are:

1. Gays are a constitutionally protected class in the same sense as are religious groups, women, and other minorities;

2. BYU is involved in unlawful discrimination.

I know it is politically popular to jump on the gay rights bandwagon, and many courts have done so; however, I think it an incredible stretch to reach the conclusion that gay sexual behavior places someone in a constitutionally protected class of individuals, meriting the same constitutional protections you are afforded if you are black, a woman, or a political or religious minority."

However, no one in the article has made any such argument. No one at all is cited for any kind of constitutional or protected-class argument. None.

Not to say that people haven't made that argument from time to time. But there's no indication that anyone's making that argument in this article. And so you're countering an argument that no one is making, in this context. In other words, you're arguing against a straw man.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

Justin, Thanks for this link. It's a good editorial. I agree with it, and hope the Y students and general Provo community take the "higher road" before they even arrive. It should be an interesting few days in Provo

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

arJ: I don't think you or I disagree much with the actual wording here. I too would like to see a better articulation. I think you make good, valid points in the questions you raise. And I don't know that I have a good answer for any of them. (Though a recent former U.S. President has an interesting definition of sexual relations).

That said, I still believe that BYU and/or the Church should be able to clean up their definitions here and develop better written standards in their sexual honor code provisions. Having spent several years at BYU I've had my share of disagreement with the system. It's certainly not perfect, and you've clearly identified some of the imperfections here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:11:00 AM  
Blogger a random John said...


I'm not claiming any disagreement at all with you, just with the honor code.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...


I think a fair inference from the article, as well as from this group's website is that BYU and/or the Church unlawfully discriminate against gays. In fact, the second paragraph of the article specfically states:

Their message: BYU discriminates against gays and that's not OK.

If you go to Soulforces' website you see Ghandi and MLK, Jr. proudly displayed at the top. Their logo on their site specifically states:

Freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.

They call themselves "equality riders." The civil rights protesters in the 50's and 60's were called "freedom riders."

This, to me, clearly implies civil rights, (constitutionally protected ones) and non violence. We're all for civil rights, and we're all for non-violence. To me, they draw the inference directly to constitutinal rights--those that BYU and the Church discriminate against. In this case, gay rights are the same as civil rights--or so they would have us believe.

You are right, the article doesn't specifically reference constitutional protection--but I don't think there's any doubt that's what the argument is. At least that's the inference I drew, and I think its a fair one.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Kaimi said...

Dang it - I just typed up a lengthy reply, and then lost it in a comment glitch. Grrr.

Here's the short version.

Guy, your evidence undercuts your argument. You state that this group is making a claim of illegal or unconstitutional discrimination, and you cite their mention of MLK and Gahndi as evidence.

MLK and Ganhdi didn't really fight illegal and unconstitutional discrimination. They fought discrimination that was perfectly legal and perfectly constitutional. That's why they used freedom riders and so forth. Most types of discrimination were perfectly legal until the 64 Act. King wasn't marching to drive out illegal discrimination - he could have just gone to court for that. He marched to get rid of legal discrimination.

I think the same applies here. This group is neither saying nor implying that anything the church is doing is illegal. Rather, like King and Gandhi, they're attacking what they see as discrimination that is legal, but is also wrong.

(I had more evidence and argument lined up, but I think that still captures it pretty well.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006 1:18:00 PM  
Blogger Steven B said...

Whereas the line for discipline of gay church members is normally based on sexual activity, BYU's Honor Code takes it a step further and prohibits anything that even appears to resemble a gay relationship, even non-sexual in nature. This includes holding hands, kissing, receiving gifts, associating with known gay people, hanging out with people who appear to be gay or might be gay. (Cross dressing, at least for men, of course, is prohibited.) People with SSA certainly are not permitted to "date." A lot of this stuff isn't really written down, so it will vary from one administration to the next. I've heard horror stories about all the male drama students being questioned about their orientation and asked to name names. And then there were the witch hunts back in the 70s.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 7:29:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...


Sorry I missed the long version--I enjoy reading your legal analysis. I see where you are going here. I guess my disagreement is that I don't see them as modern day MLK's or Gandhi's as civil rights crusaders. To me it's not a civil rights issue comparable to the MLK and Gandhi crusades. I don't see BYU's discrimination as wrong, unlawful or unconstitutional. And, you are right, I jumped to the ultimate extension of their argument:

1. BYU is unlawfully discriminating;, and,

2. They (gays) are a protected class.

I know they didn't specifcally make the argument in the article--but I think it is pretty clear that's their argument and where they are headed with all these "equality rides" and protests.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 7:45:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

steven b: No question that the current honor code language relating to homosexual conduct is extremely vague. I don't think it gets the university where it wants or needs to be: with a reasonble, workable and understandable framework to punish proscribed offensive conduct. Are you saying or implying BYU's honor code should not have a prohibition against certain homosexual conduct, or just that the one they have needs to be better articulated?

Thursday, March 23, 2006 8:14:00 PM  
Blogger Steven B said...

Are you saying or implying BYU's honor code should not have a prohibition against certain homosexual conduct, or just that the one they have needs to be better articulated?

I am primarily saying that the BYU standard is different from that of the church in general. For example, church leaders repeatedly state that gay people are treated no differently than single heterosexuals (no sex before marriage). But whereas BYU will allow heterosexual students to hold hands, date, and certainly encourage that sort of courtship behavior, the same non-sexual behavior between two men or two women will get them expelled and their transcripts frozen/siezed.

Some people point to the BYU standard as an example of the church saying one thing but actually doing another. Perhaps if the policy were more explicitly defined upfront, people wouldn't judge the church by BYU standards. Clearly we can't expect the entire church to live according the BYU Honor Code. But when people expect one thing (standard church policy) but experience something else, not clearly defined up front, they see it as discrimination by the church.

Given the strictness of the BYU code we should not be surprised that the Equality Riders have included BYU in its itinerary. Most of the universities have had the activists arrested as soon as they step foot onto university property. I am glad to see that is not expected to happen at BYU.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 9:04:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

steven b: I think the Church standards and BYU standards have been, and always will be different for all people, not just gay people. When I was a student at BYU, I had to wear my hair a certain length, could not have facial hair (beard), had to live in BYU approved housing, in short had to live all types of standards and regulations not applicable to general church membership.

I've not had the experience that people either confuse the BYU standard with the Church standard, or vice versa (perhaps you have). I do agree with you, though, that the BYU standard or the honor code be more explicitly stated up front.

I do hope the "equality riders" experience at BYU is positive. It would be helpful to have a more human face placed on the LDS differences with the gay lifestyle. It would be encouraging if people, particularly gay people, could see that others can disagree with their lifestyle and not be considered homophobes.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger a random John said...


When the honor code implies that speaking out in support of homosexuals (or even people that might be homosexual?) is a violation then that will influence the perceptions of those who have lived under such rules. This will be subtle and most will not be aware of it, but it will foster prejudices that will be carried into the LDS community.

Friday, March 24, 2006 8:44:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Did I miss something? Is BYU not a private school. I don't think what they are doing here is discriminatory, but so what if it is?

Friday, March 24, 2006 2:14:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

arJ: I think the honor code is poorly written--we've agreed on that. But, I'm not sure it's a fair inference to say speaking out in support of homosexuals would be a violation of the honor code. By its terms it says advocating a homosexual lifestyle, either impliedly or expressly--that would potentially be a violation. I'm not sure I'd agree that just speaking out in support of homosexuals would be necessarily be a violation. That could mean a lot of things short of actually advocating the lifestyle (certain acts or actual conduct)--I think.

The honor code still speaks in terms of conduct--which admittedly is poorly defined. I still interpret the code to require at least speaking out to encourage certain types of conduct--not just speaking in support of a gay person per se.

In terms of prejudices--well I don't really have a good answer to be truthful. People both in and out of the Church have, and will continue to have prejudices regarding gays both postive and negative.

President Hinckley's statement, which is posted on the Church web site, I think is instructive--while maybe not perfect:

"Question 2: What is your Church’s attitude toward homosexuality?

In the first place, we believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. We believe that marriage may be eternal through exercise of the power of the everlasting priesthood in the house of the Lord.

People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are.

We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties. But we cannot stand idle if they indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation. To permit such would be to make light of the very serious and sacred foundation of God-sanctioned marriage and its very purpose, the rearing of families."

Now perhaps President Hinckley's statement is more clear, and would make a better articulation for the BYU Honor Code--I don't know. It does speak in terms of conduct, and states explicitly that gay members do not run afowl of Church doctrine, or risk their membership if they do not act, (engage in proscribed conduct) in contravention of the laws of chastity.

So, I guess I'm not sure I'm willing to read the same into the honor code that you are . . . but like you would like to see it better defined. I do like President Hinckey's statement.

Friday, March 24, 2006 3:47:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

eric: Yes, BYU is a private school. And, I agree with you that BYU is not discriminating unlawfully. It is discrimination--just not unlawful discrimination. Any time you make a distinction like BYU is doing, by definition you are discriminating; however, where many seem to have difficulty here is in BYU's articulation of what will subject one to an honor code violation, that invokes that discrimination.

I would be more comfortable if the honor code were more explicit in its terms of what is a violation. I think BYU has every right to have an honor code. I also think they have every right to establish certain conduct that, if engaged in would constitute a violation of that honor code thereby invoking certain consequences. At least that is where my concern is, not on whether BYU is unlawfully discriminating, or whether they have a right to discriminate, based on certain sexual conduct.

Friday, March 24, 2006 4:01:00 PM  
Blogger a random John said...


My more recent point is that the poorly defined honor code might create perceptions about what is appropriate/righteous that BYU students will carry with them after college. And people do think that those standards are some sort of "higher law", I've witnessed this myself more than once. Given that the honor code is both stricter and more ambiguous than what Pres. Hinckley has stated I think this makes the honor code all the more unfortunate.

Saturday, March 25, 2006 2:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This includes holding hands, kissing". Yikes! When I went on my mission 25 years ago to Southern Germany the culture was for the maidens to kiss (greeting) and hold hands and/or arms while walking and conversing. I wonder how this would go over on BYU campus today?

Monday, March 27, 2006 9:02:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

arJ: That is indeed unfortunate. While I belive BYU has the right to establish an honor code, I don't belive they have a right to imply it's at all a "higher" standard, or that one is more righteous by living the BYU honor code than by keeping the commandments. But, I suppose that's a different post altogether.

Monday, March 27, 2006 10:27:00 PM  

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