Yes, there is a win/win on LGBTQ rights and religious liberty

by Chris Stewart in "Deseret News"

This month, America has been celebrating the nation-wide, ever-growing Pride movement. The month of June is an important opportunity to educate one another on the discrimination the LGBTQ community has suffered, as well as enjoy the progress we continue to make as a country in righting that wrong.

For too long, many have thought that the fight for LGBTQ rights are mutually exclusive to the rights of religious liberty. Fortunately, we can fight for the civil rights of both our LGBTQ and religious friends and neighbors. The rights of these two groups can co-exist. We absolutely can and should expand the rights of both groups.

Pitting these two groups against one another isn’t working. And it certainly isn’t necessary. We must stop seeing this problem as an either/or in which only one side can “win.”

A recent Supreme Court ruling illustrated the potential to find middle ground on this issue. The City of Philadelphia sought to exclude a Catholic foster-care agency from providing services unless it agreed to place foster children with same-sex couples. This would violate centuries of Catholic belief and tradition.

In a 9-0 decision – yes, a unanimous decision – the Supreme Court ruled against requiring the agency to violate its free-exercise rights. It did so without abridging the rights of aspiring LGBTQ foster families, who can still participate in foster care programs through a variety of other agencies. Clearly, protecting gay rights and religious liberties are not mutually exclusive.

I strongly believe Republicans in Congress should lead the way in finding win/win solutions to this longstanding problem. That’s why I sponsored the Fairness for All (FFA) Act. At the state level, for the past six years, Utah has effectively balanced the rights of both groups. This legislation applies our successful approach at the national level.

Utah provides a great example for the rest of the nation to follow. Our Utah Compact allows religious groups and the LGBTQ community to coexist without expecting either to placate the other.

The FFA Act aims to protect the dignity of all Americans in public spaces. It protects the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing and education, significantly expanding the definition of a “public accommodation” under federal law.

It also protects religious organizations, colleges, and universities. It further allows them to uphold religious standards without jeopardizing their access to federal resources like PELL Grants and federal research contracts.

In this way, the bill represents the largest federal expansion of both religious freedom and LGBTQ civil rights in a generation. The state-based approach has been helpful as a laboratory to test solutions – now it’s time for a federal statute that settles the civil rights debate in a constitutional manner.

Right now, the alternative to this approach is the Equality Act. This partisan legislation is hostile to religious liberty and would exact a heavy toll on religious Americans. As an indicator of how flawed this bill is, House Democrats’ approach to this problem exempts itself from any religious freedom protections whatsoever.

It’s not like there is only so much freedom to divide up and pass around, as if giving away too much means it will be gone. Civil rights are not a finite resource. We don’t have to take from one group to give to another. We don’t have to demand one group agree with another or penalize anyone for thinking differently.

We have wasted enough time, energy, and money fighting over who deserves which legal protections. It’s time to define the federal protections for our LGBTQ and religious friends and neighbors. I believe the FFA Act is the best approach to balance civil rights for all groups.


Chris Stewart represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This article first appeared in Deseret News.