At the Intersection of Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights

On January 27 of this year, four of the top leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon church) held a press conference to announce the church’s public support for the rights of LGBT individuals. Dallin Oaks, Todd Christofferson, Jeffrey Holland, and Neill Marriott each took a few moments to voice the church’s public position that everyone should have equal rights in access to employment, housing, and public accommodations. While the Mormon church holds firm in its doctrine that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and thus opposes gay marriage, this particular announcement was meant to promote balance and fairness for all people.

The announcement drew some criticism not because of its support for the basic rights of LGBT people, but rather for the leaders’ insistence that LGBT rights should not restrict religious freedom. Oaks brought up several cases to illustrate this point: some California schools refused to recognize Christian student groups; 1984 Olympic gold medalist Peter Vidmar decided to withdraw as the symbolic head of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team after being criticized for his support of Proposition 8 in California; and finally, the CEO of Mozilla stepped down from his post when his public support of Prop 8 created an uproar. Oaks’s main point was that people should be able to voice their religious beliefs in the public square without worrying about being intimidated or fearing personal loss for doing so. While some commentators saw Oaks’s remarks as an attempt to secure the religious right to discriminate, he was simply calling for more civil dialogue and mutual understanding as lawmakers work things out in the coming years (For more details about the story, see here).

Although this issue clearly has many nuances that I do not have room to discuss here (including those related to a specifically Mormon context), I am most interested in how people across the ideological and religious spectrums view the boundary between religious freedom and LGBT rights. Many faith communities, especially those of a more conservative character, are having to face difficult choices about how to approach the changing landscape of secular America, and those choices sometimes cut deep into cherished beliefs. Even beyond that, though, is the question of what rights religious organizations really have under the law when it comes to their public actions. For example, should faith organizations be allowed to discriminate in matters of who they hire, who they provide services for, who they perform marriages for, who they house in church-owned buildings, or who they allow into church-owned schools? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions because cases can be made for either side.

I am admittedly not on the front lines of this discussion and I don’t have much experience writing about polarizing issues. My personal opinion is that everyone should have equal rights under the law regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. How exactly the rights of both LGBT individuals and religious organizations are to be balanced I do not know. I just hope that the result is as fair as possible for all involved.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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2 thoughts on “At the Intersection of Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights

  1. I am a Wiccan priestess, and feel very strongly that the separation of church and state enables our civil rights to be available to all, while religious values stand with each religion. So while I am married civilly to my same-sex wife, I believe that a religion has the right to make its own rules. Those religious rules surely can evolve from within the adherents to a faith, however I am apposed to messing with the separation of civil rights and religious values.

  2. What’s most fascinating to me regarding the issues of religious inclusivity and freedom of religion, is the fact that few, if any, religions actually codify discrimination of any kind. Christianity in particular (though they love to quote Leviticus) is a doctrine of love, compassion and acceptance. Any form of exclusionism for any reason is fully anti-Christian, and there are no two ways about it. One cannot say that Jesus saved us from our sins only to continue to practice Old Testament ways that are ultimately trumped by his teachings. The Bible is not an infallible document, but when discerning the truth of God’s love, love is the authority. Does love support or deny? When one looks at the Leviticus concept of homosexuality, 18:22 states that it is a detestable abomination and in 20:13 that practitioners should be put to death. Is this love? Christianity came to supplant old ideas that destroy relationships rather than creating them.

    Religions that are founded on principles of love do not then have a right to claim religious freedom to discriminate when they have no authoritative doctrine to support it. Discrimination is not a religious right of any kind. What would Jesus do?

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