Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing Deseret News series curating diverse opinions and responses to the Respect for Marriage Act. Read Robert P. George’s response here.
In 2015, Utah surprised the nation with a compromise on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom that has since become a model on finding common ground. Can another “Utah compromise” help to broker the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate?
I think so. Recent reports suggest there are efforts from Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and his colleagues to reach a bipartisan solution that would aim to protect both marriage equality and religious freedom — two things which have blessed my life.
As a wife, mother, ordained clergy person and LGBTQ advocate, I’m pulling for the bill’s passage, particularly with proper religious freedom protections.
The Respect for Marriage Act, which has passed the House and now awaits a vote in the Senate, would ensure that same-sex marriage and interracial marriage remain legal. With the right balance, the law could be a bold step forward in the devastating culture wars.
Like the widely praised “Utah compromise,” amendments favored by Romney and others would show that providing respect and protections for all people is possible, while protecting the beliefs and practices of those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
There is a myth that LGBTQ people are against — and even the enemy of — faith and family. I stand as a witness that we are not. For starters, some 50% of LGBTQ people are religious, and many of us are highly religious. I am one of many LGBTQ ordained clergy.
It is because of my own Christian religious tradition that I value my marriage highly. To me, it is an expression of my faith, and marriage to my wife has provided a loving, stable home for our four children.
I used to believe that I was an outlier, that other LGBTQ people didn’t care about marriage. But when I directed a center for LGBTQ youth, I came to understand that many young people — perhaps even especially, LGBTQ young people — want a future that includes marriage and family.
I clearly remember the day when same-sex marriage became legal in Utah; some of the loudest cheers were from LGBTQ youth. One youth said: “Now I can plan for a family! I need to start thinking about college and a career so that I can be a good husband and father.”
This young man, who had faced bullying and homelessness and the loss of friends to suicide, was now planning for his future, in part because of marriage equality.
The lesson I learned then was that while I was worried about preventing youth homelessness and suicide, these young people already knew what would help them the most: the hope of a bright future, with a loving family to provide and care for. The clearest step for keeping our young people safe from risk is faith and family.
For me, Marriage equality has been key to both.
LGBTQ young people aren’t the only ones who value marriage equality: 71% of Americans do, according to the latest Gallup poll. Marriage equality is an American value, as is religious freedom, which polls equally strong, with 68% of Americans in support of religious freedom.
The stereotype that religious freedom is only for a few is also wrong. Religious freedom is a right that ensures freedom of belief, nonbelief and conscience for all people. The right to religious freedom is as much for a nonbeliever as it is for the weekly church attendee. It is for people of every political persuasion and ideology, from the furthest left to the furthest right, with no exceptions. In fact, ensuring religious freedom for all is the only way forward in our divided country and world.
Robust religious freedom allows a LGBTQ person to marry while allowing a clergy person to choose whether or not to be available to perform that wedding ceremony, without fear of reprisal. The need for equality is balanced by the need for freedom, and it is religious freedom that makes the impossible possible, navigating the conflict of beliefs and ideologies in a way that honors each and every person and guaranteeing their dignity, freedom and equality.
In a world where moral courage and sensible solutions are uncommon, Romney and his colleagues who support such an amendment have taken the lead to ensure the freedoms that most Americans support. And they have done so in the American tradition of rejecting fanfare and simply doing the right thing, for the right reasons.
On behalf of my family, thank you. And thank you also on behalf of the families of the future, who will be created and nurtured with love, equality and religious freedom.
The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is the executive director of Parity, a New York City-based nonprofit that works at the intersection of faith and LGBTQ+ concerns, and the director of Blessed by Difference, a project that seeks to promote curious and collaborative bridging across the LGBTQ+ and faith divide.