Written by Ryan Neuhaus, April 18, 2019. Originally published in The Daily Signal.
Brigham Young University is known for a lot of things: a great football team, superior academics, but most of all, being the flagship school of the Mormon church (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Yet today, BYU’s identity is being challenged. Not by political forces from Washington, but from within its own student body.
What began as an effort to reform the enforcement of BYU’s honor code has morphed into a movement that could end up opening bathrooms to the opposite biological sex, and would compromise the school’s unique and defining mission.
The honor code is a voluntary contract that students agree to before enrolling at the university. It contains a set of standards that students and faculty agree to uphold while attending BYU.
The #RestoreHonor movement, led by a group of students who garnered support after creating an Instagram account (@HonorCodeStories), which went viral, has attracted over 37,000 followers and prompted hundreds of students to submit anonymous stories to the page’s creator.
This student-led movement has now resulted in a petition that has garnered over 22,000 signatures and is calling for the university to self-impose a ban on discrimination on the basis sexual orientation and gender identity.
That might sound fine, but in practice it would be very bad.
In other schools—and, in fact, in other U.S. cities and states—similar policies have been used to require institutions to open up their bathrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-specific spaces to members of the opposite biological sex. This would create obvious privacy and safety concerns for many students.
Some have also taken advantage of this ambiguity to use these policies as a weapon against those who hold traditional views about marriage or the reality of biological sex.
Such a policy would also undermine BYU’s religious mission. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints continues to uphold a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, and Brigham Young should remain free to operate consistent with these religious beliefs.
Beyond the school’s own mission, this policy would do a disservice to students by adding to confusion over sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since sexual orientation and gender identity are fluid and subjective by their very definition, it’s hard to determine what constitutes discrimination on these terms. It’s much easier to determine discrimination on the basis of an immutable and objective trait like race or biological sex.
#RestoreHonor organizers are not just calling for a sexual orientation and gender identity anti-discrimination policy. They are also asking the school to change its policy on same-sex relationships, which would mean breaking with the doctrines and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And those teachings are rooted in reality itself.
The traditional understanding of marriage is based on the fact that children deserve a mother and a father, that men and women are complementary, and that biologically, reproduction can only occur when a man and a woman comprehensively unite to procreate. BYU’s policies on romantic relationships reflect this truth.
This truth is not discriminatory. It is never discriminatory to recognize and uphold the unique and important roles that mothers and fathers play in the lives of children.
Speaking as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a current student at BYU, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that this conviction should not considered discriminatory by those who live the LGBT lifestyle. Understanding that others may have different opinions on marriage, I also believe that everyone ought to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBT individuals.
My beliefs are founded in the principles that this country was built upon, and the knowledge that God loves each and every one of us as his children.
BYU’s current policy is consistent with these beliefs. The school welcomes any and all students, regardless of their identity. It also encourages us to live our lives consistent with our beliefs. It is up to students to decide whether or not BYU is the right fit for them.
Not everyone agrees with me or my church on the meaning of marriage, and that’s OK, so long as we all remain free to speak and act in accordance with our different beliefs.
If we are all to remain free, we must recognize that the traditional view of marriage and sexuality is a legitimate point of view to hold. But sexual orientation and gender identity policies are increasingly used to punish that view until it is no longer welcome in the public sphere.
Self-imposing a sexual orientation and gender identity policy and putting BYU’s code of conduct in conflict with the church’s broader teachings would be a mistake.
A healthy understanding of human dignity should lead us all to treat others with respect and compassion, even when our beliefs conflict. In an attempt to negotiate and find common ground, BYU has publicly discussed the honor code, publishing a Q&A and privately meeting with the disgruntled students leading the movement.
True tolerance is not a one-sided affair. It requires the understanding of both parties involved. BYU has done its part to hear out the concerns of the #RestoreHonor movement, and #RestoreHonor should recognize that. People should remain free to disagree with BYU’s policies, but we should not misconstrue a disagreement over marriage and sexuality as an attack on the dignity of LGBT people.
One can hold to principled, traditional views on these matters while approaching LGBT issues with great compassion. The other side, like many of us, want to protect the right to live and speak according to one’s beliefs.
For that right to truly extend both ways, Brigham Young University and the church it represents must be free to disagree with the LGBT community.
Ryan Neuhaus is a graduate of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation and a graduating senior at Brigham Young University.
Volunteers of Utah Eagle Forum.