The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, also known as The Mormon Church surprised some yesterday when they voiced their support for the Senate gay marriage bill. In their statement on the issue, they said that LGBTQ+ individuals are entitled to rights even while affirming its belief that same-sex relationships are a sin.

“The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related between a man and a woman is well-known and will remain unchanged.” the church said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are grateful for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.” They added, “As we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom together with the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.”

The Senate gay marriage bill wad voted on and passed Wednesday. Officially titled the Respect for Marriage Act, it will repeal a Clinton-era law that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. The bill also prohibits states from denying out-of-state marriage licenses and benefits on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin.

While the church has a history of opposing same-sex relationships – it spent $20m trying to pass proposition 8 in California, a 2008 measure which banned same-sex marriage in the state – in recent years, their stance has slowly softened with this endorsement being the latest in that softening.

In 2016, the Mormons said that it welcomed members who identified as LGBTQ+, though it retained its stance that marriage is between a man and a woman.

In 2019, the church repealed a 2015 rule that banned baptisms for children of gay parents and said gay marriage is a sin and such members would be expelled. At the time, the church maintained the position that same-sex relationships were still a “serious transgression”.

In response, Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said: “We are heartened to see the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints support the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act. Despite differences we may have, we can always discover common ground on laws that support the strengthening of all families.”

The endorsement probably influenced Utah Senator and devout Mormon Mitt Romney to defeat the GOP led filibuster and vote to pass the bill.

In a statement, Romney had this to say about the passage …

“This legislation provides important protections for religious liberty—measures which are particularly important to protect the religious freedoms of our faith-based institutions,” Romney said. “This legislation provides certainty to many LGBTQ Americans, and it signals that Congress — and I — esteem and love all of our fellow Americans equally.”

Now, the Senate will have to do some more procedural votes, which will probably pass as well, before sending the bill back to the House of Representatives, where it will most likely pass as well.