After changing the BYU code of ethics, the LDS Church now says same-sex relationships are “inconsistent” with the rules of the faith

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friends Julia Stark, left, and Sophie Gordon join other students who on Wednesday, the 4 Latter-day Saints issued a clarification on the school’s code of honor, stating that Same-sex romantic behavior is still “incompatible” with BYU rules.

provo • Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints removed the “homosexual behavior” section from its code of honor last month, it clarified for the first time that same-sex romantic behavior is still “inconsistent” with the rules at Brigham Young University .

The surprise announcement came Wednesday morning after weeks of questions about the change and after LGBTQ students celebrated what they were hoping for. Many said they had recently come out as gay only because they believed — and had been told by some Code of Honor staff — that school and faith now allowed it.

“We felt like we finally got a spot and then they snatched it away,” said junior bisexual Katie Guerrero.

In the afternoon, hundreds of students gathered in campus neighborhoods to protest what they saw as a painful reversal of BYU. They solemnly sang hymns and marched in circles. One person clung to a placard that read, “Jesus said love all.” And they sang together, “The code of honor is dishonourable.”

In his short letter Wednesday, Paul V. Johnson, a General Authority Seventy and commissioner for the Church’s education system, which oversees BYU’s campus, said the mid-February updates to the code of honor led to “much discussion and some misinterpretation.” Johnson said he wanted to clarify “out of respect for everyone involved.”

The code of honor previously banned “all forms of physical intimacy that express homosexual feelings” at the LDS Church-owned university. Those who responded to such feelings could be fined or suspended.

In last month’s update, this section was deleted. Students have said staff at the Code of Honor office told them they would no longer be disciplined for meeting, holding hands or kissing people of the same sex – as long as they uphold the faith’s existing expectation that couples be chaste before marriage remain and its ban on same-sex marriage.

BYU officials immediately countered that “there may have been a misunderstanding” but declined to elaborate.

[Read more: Rally by LGBTQ students at BYU and allies planned Friday at LDS Church headquarters]

In Johnson’s statement Wednesday, he wrote: “Living a chaste and virtuous life according to the standards of the Lord is, and always has been, more than abstaining from sexual relations outside of marriage. Lasting joy comes when we live by the spirit and letter of the laws of God.”

He then quoted LDS Church The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which states that gender is “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and destiny” and that marriage is for faith only between them is a man and a woman.

He added, “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot result in eternal marriage and is therefore inconsistent with the principles contained in the Code of Honor.”

Students at Wednesday’s protest questioned that, saying kissing and hugging between straight couples also doesn’t always “lead to a forever marriage.”

In addition to the letter, BYU also released a statement from Kevin Utt, the director of its honor code office, who many students spoke to right after last month’s change, assuring them that gay relationships are allowed on campus.

In Utt’s response on Wednesday, he said that “any same-sex romantic conduct is a violation of the principles of the code of honor.”

Utt acknowledged some students will likely feel “isolation and pain” as a result of the announcement. And the school’s spokeswoman said counselors there are “well equipped to deal with student crises,” including expertise in supporting LGBTQ students who are at increased risk of suicide and depression. She did not answer questions from The Salt Lake Tribune about whether school officials had specifically prepared or offered additional mental health resources or reached out to vulnerable student groups in advance before the statement was released.

“We recognize that the emotions of the past two weeks have run the gamut,” Utt wrote in his response. “…We encourage all members of our campus community to reach out to those personally affected with sensitivity, love and respect.”

[Read more: BYU professor says school’s gay Honor Code change is ‘a blessing,’ especially for those who don’t like it]

Hundreds of students originally celebrated the honor code change for the last month before the clarification – many have openly come out as gay or lesbian in response and many more attended an on-campus Rainbow Day event.

Now some say they feel gaslit, like they were tricked into coming out as part of a sting.

“I said it [a therapist] how happy I am now to be at BYU and knowing that I can be myself and talk to people about dating without fear of being suspended,” said senior Danny Dawson, who is gay. “I didn’t realize how much that was hovering over me until it was gone.”

Just hours later, he received an email from the school with Johnson’s statement. “I read it and said, ‘Please tell me that doesn’t say what I think it says,'” Dawson said.

After the move was announced last month, bisexual Franchesca Lopez grabbed a friend on campus and kissed her in front of the statue of Brigham Young. She posted pictures online. She is now feeling heartbroken and devastated.

“I feel so incredibly stupid for believing that BYU cared about me or anyone else,” she said.

Wednesday’s apparent reversal leaves many LGBTQ students far more vulnerable than they were before BYU updated the honor code last month, said Ciera Galbraith, a bisexual BYU senior. “Everyone is so scared now,” she added.

Galbraith helped organize Wednesday’s rally on campus. Nearly 1,000 students marched for three hours with rainbow flags. They started out singing softly in chorus, “As I have loved you, love one another.”

Some female couples held hands – despite the reaffirmed ban – while others hugged and cried. And they walked together in a circle that kept expanding. It was one of the largest protests to ever take place on campus.

“There’s a lot of sadness right now,” said Zach Ibarra, a senior who is gay.

Tiauna Lomax said she came out as bisexual last week and is feeling hopeful after the removal of the “gay behavior” section of the code of honor. After the change on Wednesday, she felt “traumatic whiplash”.

“I thought BYU took care of me,” added Lomax. Now she is considering going to another school.

During the rally, a few individuals spoke out against the massive crowd, but everyone was drowned out by chants of “gay rights” and “love, not hate, will make BYU great.” ‘ although he didn’t make it to the second sentence before being overwhelmed by LGBTQ protesters who surrounded him with their placards. “Love means love,” read one. “Let gay students go out,” said another. Others had scripture references scribbled in black marker.

Lilly Bitter, a junior, said she doesn’t know if she’ll be allowed to continue attending BYU after celebrating the previous move with her friend.

[Read more: Hundreds of BYU students protest over Honor Code for a second day]

“There are pictures of me on the news kissing a girl in front of the statue of Brigham Young. People who didn’t know before know now because I figured it didn’t matter,” Bitter said. “It’s so much more scrutiny and I feel like I’m not safe here anymore. I blew my cover as an LGBT student.”

In a Q&A attached to the campus-wide email, Utt said students don’t have to turn their classmates in for “romantic behavior” but said they should “encourage others in their commitment to upholding the code of honor.” However, it is unclear whether those who have been open about their sexual orientation in recent weeks will be questioned or disciplined.

Michael Austin, executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of Evansville, an Indiana Methodist school, said Wednesday that BYU’s explicit ban will produce more negative press for the school than it did a month ago.

The Provo-based university received a lot of “positive national press” — including from CNN and ESPN — when it first appeared to allow LGBTQ romantic behavior, said Austin, a Latter-day Saint. “Until two weeks ago nobody knew what their politics were; now everyone knows. It’s not just that they made that political decision, but they made it when everyone was paying attention.”

There is no legal problem for the private school, he said. It has the right to ban same-sex couples from dating. The school board of trustees largely overlaps with church leadership. And the changes have been made in line with recent updates to the Handbook of Faith.

But other schools have the legal right to protest BYU’s action, Austin said, by refusing to affiliate with the university or advertise its job openings in its publications, which happened to two nationally recognized academic societies last fall.

There will likely be more such incidents, Austin said, where “affinity groups” — including athletic conferences, academic disciplines and social organizations — choose not to allow the LDS-affiliated school to attend events or host events based on the attitude of the Code of honor to host LGBTQ behavior.

Next week, the Provo campus will be the site of the prestigious national ballroom dancing championships after the school announced it would allow same-sex couples to compete. To do this, she had to change her long-standing rules.

But with Tuesday’s clarification, the policy for BYU students hasn’t budged. After changing the BYU code of ethics, the LDS Church now says same-sex relationships are “inconsistent” with the rules of the faith

Joel McCord

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