The Deseret News interviewed Elder L. Whitney Clayton regarding the passage of Proposition 8 in California.  In page 2 of the article there are a series of interesting tidbits, including what strikes me as an unfortunate statement on ecclesiastical retribution for opposition to the Church’s political position.  But there are other interesting statements as well:

He said in general, the church “does not oppose civil unions or domestic partnerships,” that involve benefits like health insurance and property rights. That stand was outlined in a statement the church posted on its Web site earlier in the campaign.

My understanding is that this has been the position of the Church since before the Prop 22 fight in California years ago.  I wish that we articulated this position more clearly both to members and to the public at large.  Ten years ago this position was very progressive.

In addition to doctrinal concerns, Elder Clayton said the church’s support for Prop. 8 did involve concerns over “the potential loss of religious liberty. How and where that would play out I can’t say, but we feel religious liberty is safer when marriage is legally defined as between a man and a woman.”

I have to admit that I just don’t see the logic here.  Elder Clayton seems reticent to flesh this argument out any more for fear of making it clear that it is flimsy.  The Church has never had an obligation to perform any sort of religious marriage for any couple that it was opposed to marrying.  I wonder if what they’re really concerned about is a rogue Bishop performing a gay civil marriage and that setting off a controversy.  In any case I don’t see how Prop 8 was a threat to religious liberty and I think that throwing that out into the debate without any detail behind it is a poor way to influence public policy.

Finally we have the part of the interview that I find concerning:

When asked about whether Latter-day Saints who publicly opposed Prop. 8 would be subject to some kind of church discipline, Elder Clayton said those judgments are left up to local bishops and stake presidents and the particular circumstances involved.

“All we can say is that the LDS Church gives way to the spiritual discernment of local leaders in the handling of any matter that might involve the kind of question you have raised.”

A vocal minority of Latter-day Saints opposed the measure, organizing Web sites and protests that involved church members in California and beyond.

I understand that extremely strident opposition to the Church’s efforts might include stepping over the line in being critical of the Prophet and other leaders.  If members have done that rather than simply speak out on the issue then I could see how there might be potential for discipline.  But this statement doesn’t make any clarification like that.  All along the Church has said that members were welcome to form their own opinion on this matter and vote as they saw fit.  This vague statement puts a real cloud over the situation.  It seems to be saying, “You can vote however you want, but if you articulate your position in public watch out!”

Personally I find this very concerning.  Members should be free to come to their own conclusions on matters of public policy, taking into account the words of our leaders.  I think that there are legitimate policy reasons to oppose Prop 8.  Members who publicly opposed Prop 8 for legitimate public policy reasons should not face any ecclesiastical consequences.  If some, in strident opposition to Prop 8 crossed a line and began to be critical of our leaders personally rather than critical of their arguments then discipline might be appropriate.

By not making such a distinction clear Elder Whitney’s interview with the Deseret News has the (probably unintended) effect of silencing members who have legitimate disagreements with the Church over political issues.  Such an effect makes our Church and our communities poorer by depriving them of diversity of opinions and arguments that makes our democracy work.