On Wednesday, the predominantly Mormon Brigham Young University (BYU) removed same-sex behavior from the student handbook honor code, instead opting to simply say “all forms of physical intimacy” outside of marriage. The change stands in line with the Church of Latter-day Saints’ recently released new General Handbook.
“The updated honor code no longer includes a section on same-sex behavior,” reported Deseret. “That section had proscribed ‘all forms of physical intimacy.’ Under the code, each member of the BYU community continues to commit personally to ‘abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.'”
“The code continues to say specifically that all sexual misconduct is not permitted,” continued the report. “Based on the new church handbook, that would include same-sex relations. The handbook states that ‘the Lord’s law of chastity is abstinence from sexual relations outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.'”
All Latter-day Saint educational institutions, including BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Pathway Worldwide, and LDS Business College will make the change in compliance with the church’s general handbook. The previous honor code stated the following:
One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an honor code issue. However, the honor code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the honor code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.
Students were, however, confused by the new code’s lack of specificity regarding how same-sex couples should conduct themselves on campus. On Twitter, BYU clarified that the same rules apply.
“In speaking with Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt this afternoon, we’ve learned that there may have been some miscommunication as to what the honor code changes mean,” the administration said. “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same. The Honor Code Office will handle questions that arise on a case-by-case basis. For example, since dating means different things to different people, the Honor Code Office will work with students individually.”
According to HuffPost, LGBTQ advocates welcomed the Honor Code change, viewing it as a sign of progress.
“Less than a year ago I joined my student body in protesting BYU’s honor code, a policy that banned same-gender romantic relationships,” celebrated student Matty Easton on Twitter. As of today, homosexual relationships are now treated the same as heterosexual ones at BYU. Girls and gays, we did it!”
Less than a year ago I joined my student body in protesting BYU’s honor code, a policy that banned same-gender romantic relationships.
As of today, homosexual relationships are now treated the same as heterosexual ones at BYU :’)
Girls and gays, we did it! ❤️🌈 pic.twitter.com/67VGLC3mgU
— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) February 19, 2020
In recent years the cultural debate has centered on whether or not religious institutions violate the civil rights of students and faculty by demanding they live according to such codes of conduct. Marcia McCormick, a professor of law and gender studies at Saint Louis University, argued to NBC News that such institutions can be sued if Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were to be interpreted as including sexual orientation.
“Title VII has an expansive definition of religion — not just of beliefs but also practices,” she explained. “There are a lot of rules in a lot of religions about how people ought to behave when it comes to what it means to be male and female, or to sexual or romantic activity.”
The Supreme Court has taken up consolidated cases this term that could decide whether Title VII indeed covers sexual orientation.