What Utah can teach the country about gay rights and religion

A new video celebrates the state of Utah’s efforts to broaden LGBTQ rights and religious freedom protections at the same time

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As Congress weighs federal gay rights legislation, Utah leaders are celebrating their own work on LGBTQ issues over the past six years.

A new video, released Friday by Equality Utah, explores how the state has worked to protect religious freedom and gay rights at the same time. It calls on policymakers elsewhere to embrace that approach.

“There are people who don’t believe that religious liberty can coexist with LGBTQ rights, but that’s simply not true. We have proven that here in Utah time and time again,” says Troy Williams, Equality Utah’s executive director, in the video.

Much of the video focuses on SB296, a 2015 law that protects LGBTQ Utahns from discrimination in the housing and hiring contexts. Williams and others explain why the measure earned the support of residents from across the political and religious spectrum.

“The key to passage was our willingness to engage each other and always demand ... mutual respect,” Williams says.

Utah Sen. President Stuart Adams notes that, as he worked on the bill, he felt like he was putting his faith into action.

“It was actually kind of life-changing,” he says.

The law has also been life-changing for members of the LGBTQ community, according to Stacey Harkey, an actor and small business owner in the state.

“It’s not just that we have legal protections, but now the LGBTQ community is being treated differently by their neighbors, by their family,” he says in the video.

The 2015 bill laid the groundwork for other important legislation, since it helped gay rights activists, conservative politicians, faith leaders and others feel comfortable working together, Williams says. In the past six years, Utah has passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes laws and a ban on conversion therapy, among other gay rights-related measures.

What’s happened in Utah has been miraculous, according to Orlan Johnson, who works for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But he’s among those who feel Utah’s miracles can be repeated if lawmakers in other states prioritize finding solutions over fanning the flames of conflict.

“If we can do it in Utah, we can do it throughout the entire country,” Williams says as the video draws to a close.

Doug Andersen, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement that he hopes Utah’s experiences will pave the way toward legislative solutions in Congress and other states.

“We believe we are all brothers and sisters, and that by working together we can find common ground. As was demonstrated in the state of Utah in 2015, there need not be conflict between religious freedom and LGBT rights. We hope our success in Utah will show the way for a national solution,” he said.

Fresh off the press

Term of the week: Malleus Maleficarum

This week’s term will get you in the mood for Halloween. “Malleus Maleficarum” is the title of a popular medieval guide to witchcraft that was often at the center of witch trials in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

“The book’s instructions helped convict some of the tens of thousands of people — almost all women — who were executed during the period,” according to Melissa Chin, a professor and librarian at General Theological Seminary.

“Malleus Maleficarum” was written by two priests and urged people of faith to guard themselves against the threat of witchcraft. Several schools, including General Theological Seminary, have copies of the book on hand for researchers studying the medieval period.

What I’m reading ...

After 17 missionaries affiliated with Christian Aid Ministries were seized in Haiti earlier this month, Mennonite congregations across North America rallied together to pray for their safe release. The New York Times put together a beautiful piece on this prayer effort, offering snapshots of the people and communities turning to faith in the midst of their fear. “We do believe God is in control,” said Rosemary Petersheim to the Times. “When Daniel was put in the lions’ den, there was nothing logical about him coming out alive.”

My colleague, Mya Jaradat, spoke with faith-based immigration activists about President Joe Biden’s move to raise the refugee cap to 125,000. I am fascinated by the idea that this number could be simultaneously too high and too low. (Side note: Mya also had a great story out last week on interfaith marriage.)

Lifeway Research released a new study Monday morning on being a pastor during the COVID-19 pandemic. It showed that although few faith leaders resigned from their position in the past 18 months, many did feel overworked and overwhelmed.

Odds and ends

Pope Francis is among the “elders” featured in a forthcoming Netflix documentary on the value of having intergenerational conversations. He will play a small role in each of the four episodes and share his thoughts on topics like love work.

Need a reason to smile? Check out this New Yorker cartoon.