Students at Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University celebrated with same-sex kisses Wednesday as the school appeared to remove a ban on such actions, but some worried that officials were backtracking.
The university quietly issued a new form of its Honor Code without the long-standing section on “Homosexual Behavior,” which prohibited “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings,” The Salt Lake Tribune reports. That had been understood to ban kissing, holding hands, and other displays of affection between people of the same sex. The code retains a ban on “any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.”
Students Franchesca Lopez and Kate Foster marked the occasion with a kiss near the statue of early church leader Brigham Young at the university’s main campus in Provo, Utah, the Tribune reports. Lopez, who identifies as bisexual, “then danced around the campus … holding hands with other female students and singing the Katy Perry hit ‘I Kissed a Girl,’” according to the paper.
Lopez said a counselor at the BYU Honor Code Office told her the new code meant students would no longer be expelled or otherwise disciplined for same-sex kisses or handholding, and other students and alumni said they had been given similar guidance. However, school administrators were publicly more cagey about what the change meant.
In a series of tweets Wednesday, BYU officials said there had been “miscommunication” about the new code. “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same,” the tweets read. “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.”
The university “did not explicitly say Wednesday whether certain forms of affection, such as holding hands or kissing, would now be acceptable between people of the same gender,” the Tribune notes.
Recent BYU graduate Jaclyn Foster told the paper it appears the school wants “to retain the power to punish queer students” but doesn’t want “to have a written rule against it for plausible deniability reasons.” She called this “the cherry on top of the transphobic sundae.”
The transphobia was evident in a new policy handbook released Wednesday by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially known. The new book makes clear that members who transition either medically or socially will face restrictions, and it reaffirms the church’s belief that gender is fixed at birth.
The handbook did remove widely condemned language that called same-sex marriages “apostasy” — rejection of church teachings — although the church still considers them a serious transgression. It also removed a policy denying baptism to children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple.
Watch the response to the new Honor Code below.