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Arizona senator, Latter-day Saint leader join interfaith leaders calling for LGBTQ equality, religious freedom

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Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock walk in the U.S. Capitol in February 2021.

In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., right, arrive at the Capitol in Washington.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, joined an area leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a joint interfaith statement on Saturday with other Arizona leaders in support of both LGBTQ equality and religious freedom.

“Simply put, protecting people from discrimination is about treating others as we want to be treated,” said Elder C. Dale Willis, an Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Arizona, in a news release featuring the statement. “LGBTQ rights and religious freedom do not have to be in conflict. Instead, we can come together to protect all people and unify our community on what has for too long been a divisive issue.”

The statement, issued as an open letter, published in full below, to Arizona residents and signed by nine leaders, expressed support for “non-discrimination ordinances that protect all people, including LGBTQ people, from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, while also protecting important religious rights.

“No one should be denied these protections for being LGBTQ,” the letter continued, “and likewise religious persons and institutions should be protected in practicing their faith.”

The letter was released on the website of ONE Community, the Arizona group behind the Unity Pledge, which states that diversity is a good for business and that all Arizonans deserve fair and equal treatment.

Interfaith signees included Methodist, Jewish, Episcopal and United Church of Christ leaders.

Sinema, the first openly bisexual woman elected to the Senate, and another signee, Michael Soto, president of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Arizona, are former Latter-day Saints.

“As someone who grew up in the LDS Church in Mesa and is also transgender, this is an incredible moment of love and acceptance of the equal worth and dignity of LGBTQ people,” Soto said.

The Mesa City Council passed an ordinance March 1 to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

“This letter serves as a powerful rebuke of attempts to repeal the ordinance and divide our community using fear and lies,” Soto said. “I hope Mesa residents will join church leadership and decline to sign the petition seeking to repeal the ordinance.”

The letter comes as Congress is considering LGBTQ protections. The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act last month and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about it on Wednesday.

Senior Latter-day Saint leaders have supported the Fairness For All Act. The Equality Act would expand legal protections for the LGBTQ community without adding the protections for people of faith who oppose same-sex marriage as outlined in the Fairness for All Act. The church has supported a joint approach for more than a decade.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply concerned that the ongoing conflicts between religious liberty and LGBT rights is poisoning our civil discourse, eroding the free exercise of religion and preventing diverse Americans of good will from living together in respect and peace,” the church said in a 2019 statement.

Desert Southwest Conference Resident Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata of the Methodist Church said in a statement Saturday that inclusive non-discrimination is the essence of the Golden Rule.

“We are proud to have support for non-discrimination from the LDS Church and faith leaders across the state,” said Angela Hughey, President and Co-Founder of ONE Community. “Equal protections benefit everyone in our community, LGBTQ people and people of faith included.”

Here is the full letter released Saturday:

An Open Letter to Arizona Residents: As citizens and leaders in the community, we write in support of non-discrimination ordinances that protect all people, including LGBTQ people, from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, while also protecting important religious rights. No one should be denied these protections for being LGBTQ, and likewise religious persons and institutions should be protected in practicing their faith. We are deeply concerned that the ongoing conflicts between religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are poisoning our civil discourse, eroding the free exercise of religion and preventing diverse people of good will from living together in respect and peace. We hope that every level of government will apply these common values and core principles in a balanced approach with all stakeholders engaging in respectful dialogue. LGBTQ rights and religious freedom do not have to be in conflict. Instead, we can come together to protect all people and unify our community on what has for too long been a divisive issue. We respectfully urge all Arizona residents to join in support of public policy that provides protections for LGBTQ persons as well as people and institutions of faith. Sincerely, United States Senator, Kyrsten Sinema The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dale Willis The Right Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall, VI Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona Robert T. Hoshibata, Resident Bishop The Desert Southwest Conference The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer, Bishop, Grand Canyon Synod, ELCA Rev. Dr. William Lyons, Conference Minister Southwest Conference UCC Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. Past-president, Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix Angela Hughey, President, ONE Community Michael Soto, Executive Director, Equality Arizona