Moral Low Ground

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Utah’s Republican, Mormon Lieutenant Governor Makes Emotional Apology to LGBT Community

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican and a Mormon, says his "heart has changed" and he now champions LGBT equality. (KSL screen grab)

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican and a Mormon, says his “heart has changed” and he now champions LGBT equality. (KSL screen grab)

One person at a time. That’s how America is evolving beyond deeply embedded societal discrimination against LGBT people, bigotry that is all too often endorsed or even commanded by the holiest texts and men (and sometimes women) in our leading religions, and the elected leaders who are inspired and motivated by their faith. In Utah, Mormonism reigns supreme, and has traditionally taken a hard line against homosexuality. But over the past few years, the Mormon church has softened its anti-gay stance, urging its followers to show “love and understanding” toward LGBT people. That’s not to say that Mormonism has come anywhere near endorsing LGBT equality. It hasn’t. However, individual Mormons continue to evolve on the issue, as evidenced by a moving speech delivered by Utah’s Republican lieutenant governor in the wake of the horrific massacre of 50 mostly LGBT people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend.

Speaking at a Salt Lake City vigil for the Orlando victims and survivors on Monday, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox recounted how, growing up in a small, rural town, he would mistreat some of his classmates who were different.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay,” he said, his voice welling with emotion. “I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.”

“Over the intervening years, my heart has changed,” Cox continued. “It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me.”

“But now we are here. We are here because 49 beautiful, amazing people are gone,” he said. “These are not just statistics. These were individuals. These are human beings. They each have a story. They each had dreams, goals, talents, friends, family. They are you and they are me. And one night they went out to relax, to laugh, to connect, to forget, to remember. And in a few minutes of chaos and terror, they were gone.”

“There has been something about this tragedy that has very much troubled me,” Cox said. “I believe that there is a question, two questions actually, that each of us needs to ask ourselves in our heart of hearts. And I am speaking now to the straight community. How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”

“So now we find ourselves at a crossroads. A crossroads of hate and terror. How do we respond? How do you respond?” he asked. “Do we lash out with anger, hate and mistrust. Or do we, as Lincoln begged, appeal to the ‘better angels of our nature?'”

America has grown increasingly accepting of LGBT people and gay rights in recent years. Same-sex marriage equality is now the law of the land, enshrined by the Supreme Court and legal in all 50 states. Recall that as recently as a few years ago, even President Barack Obama, who will surely go down in history as the greatest champion of LGBT equality to ever occupy the White House, said he believed marriage should be between one man and one woman. Today, a strong majority of conservatives under age 30 support gay marriage. But it is still perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay in 29 states, and more than 200 pieces of Christian-inspired anti-gay legislation have been introduced in the US in the past six months alone. And as the Orlando massacre reminds us, there is still far too much gay hate among Americans of all races and religions. Fortunately, as the Spencer Coxes of the world prove, this is changing for the better. One person at a time.

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