Following the LDS Church First Presidency's statement in support of traditional marriage, some of Utah's mainline Protestant religious leaders issued a statement of their own Wednesday opposing a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
In a separate statement, the Most Rev. George H. Niederauer of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said he will not endorse Amendment 3, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, out of respect for those who have expressed concerns over the language, including GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his opponents for re-election.
The religious leaders' concerns Wednesday were centered around Amendment 3's second sentence, which reads: "No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect."
Last week, some 80 religious leaders — mostly Evangelical — endorsed Amendment 3, saying the measure was needed to protect traditional marriage, agreeing with amendment supporters that it would be interpreted narrowly.
On Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it "favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship."
Kelly Patterson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said the number of religious leaders chiming in on the debate is not unusual. He said religion is one of many factors voters consider when casting their votes. Another is which side of the debate has done a better job of framing its legal arguments.
Still, he said, "A religious endorsement can be a very powerful endorsement . . . Religious faith is an expression, normally of the values you hold dear. Voters try to align their religious values with their political values."
In a statement to be published in an upcoming issue of Intermountain Catholic newspaper, Bishop Niederauer said: "We share the concern of all three candidates for the Office of Attorney General (the state's highest legal office) that the second part of the amendment is problematic."
The three candidates have said the amendment is vaguely worded and could have punitive impacts on unmarried couples, negating wills, powers of attorney and other legal contracts.
"While it is true that the Catholic Church is opposed to same-sex marriage, we are reassured that Utah law already prohibits such marriages," Bishop Niederauer said.
A separate statement by 18 Protestant leaders from four faiths said Amendment 3 is a "bad law" and urged voters to "think carefully and seriously" about before casting their votes.
Led by Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, Episcopal bishop of Utah, the leaders said state law already defines marriage as a contract between a man and a woman. "Yet, voters next month are being asked to amend the Utah constitution in unnecessarily discriminatory and damaging ways," the statement says.
The Rev. Dan Webster acknowledged the differing interpretation of scripture and society among Utah faiths.
"This was not in reaction to what the LDS Church said," he said. "There are differing views here — it's called diversity, and that's where we live: in a state that has diverse populations living differently."