clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

In religious freedom-LGBT rights debates, we should be free to be ourselves

Utah Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox and Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, shake hands after a historic piece of legislation was announced that will protect Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from discrimination in housing and employment while maintaining equal protection for the expression of religious beliefs at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 4, 2015.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

In order to be healthy and to feel we have integrity, we all want to bring our whole selves to every aspect of our lives. In that sense, the battle between the rights of people of faith and the rights of LGBTQ individuals for voices in their employment, in their desires to provide social services and their needs for such services, and for energetic participation in the public square to advocate for their beliefs, is a battle for a common objective.

Often, though, it seems that we may be content to see the freedom of religious expression and the freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people to thrive pitted against one another, with one side prevailing over the other.

We needn’t look far to find examples of a better way, a way to secure what truly matters to each side so we can move forward in a united and civil way.

In 2015, people of goodwill in Utah, both Republicans and Democrats, and leaders of many organizations with important stakes in the outcome, including Equality Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came together to find solutions to some of the issues at hand that recognized the needs and desires of all residents of the state. That legislation has proven effective in the years since its enactment in securing basic civil rights for LGBTQ individuals while protecting the province of religious organizations to pursue their missions as they deem best.

Among the ranks of both political parties are many individuals whose deep and heartfelt religious faith sustains them and guides their actions in the world, just as there are many individuals in both parties who believe a strong country requires respect for individual dignity and who honor the contributions of their LGBTQ neighbors. Protecting both rights, of religious expression and equal participation, should be the goal of both parties, and any new legislation should seek to balance the needs of both groups.

I am gay, and I am also an active participant in my religion. I know what both subtle and overt discrimination feels like in both spheres of my life, and I want more out of this conversation than either/or solutions. I want to stop hearing religious freedom defined as opposition to LGBTQ equality and stop hearing that my religious faith is incompatible with my LGBTQ identity.

If we focus on what is most important to each community, if we are willing to work to identify solutions that meet core needs, we can eliminate at least one area of contention in our national life.

Positions have hardened, and day by day it becomes more difficult to find a willingness to compromise, but we have seen that it is possible to find common ground, not so that one group will have everything it wants and leave the other side empty-handed, but so that we can live harmoniously with solutions that allow every individual to bring all that they are to every aspect of their lives.

Tom Christofferson is the author of “That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family.”