By The Deseret News Editorial Board
Rep. Chris Stewart stood before a gaggle of reporters at Utah’s state Capitol on Monday and made a confession. Not since his time in the Air Force had he felt the same esprit de corps among a group of colleagues than while working with LGBT advocates and diverse faith groups in crafting the Fairness For All Act, which Stewart has introduced as a federal effort to strike a balance between religious freedom and LGBT rights.
In an era in which so many fundraise and gain followers off of feigned rage at their ideological adversaries, cooperating across political lines — let alone forging friendships — requires considerable courage and trust.
Incoming political fire from both flanks is inevitable.
Activists on one side have already dismissed Stewart’s efforts as “anything but fair.” Those on the other side, meanwhile, have dubbed it a “surrender” to the “LGBT agenda.” Some voices have been a bit more sanguine — an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner, for example, says the legislation “strikes the perfect balance between gay rights and religious liberty.” Other voices, like Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said although his organization does not support the bill, its introduction is a “milestone.”
A win for America is too often framed as a loss by those who have strong financial motives to divide the citizenry. It’s perhaps little wonder that, while reporting on this “latest effort to find a compromise” at the U.S. Capitol, NPR’s Tom Gjelten observed that inside its walls “win-win proposals haven’t gotten very far.”
From health care and immigration to the economy and the culture wars, the broad crosscurrent of Americans hope to see Congress cooperate. According to a Pew Research Center survey published earlier this year, more than 80% of U.S. adults say the president should cooperate with Democratic congressional leadership; a smaller (but still significant) majority of Americans also say congressional Democrats should cooperate with the president.
Data similarly indicate that a sizable swath of the population supports both religious freedom and LGBT rights.
A Becket Fund for Religious Liberty survey found that fully “87% of Americans support the freedom for individuals to practice their religion in their daily life without facing discrimination or harm from others.” Additionally, 70% of Americans also said they believe religious groups should be free to make hiring and other decisions free from government interference. A separate study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a similar percentage of Americans “favor laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing.”
Taking a stand and starting a conversation takes courage, and it requires people of good will banding together for the common good.
As is often the case with many such issues, Americans appear to agree more than they disagree. But when policy makers are too beholden to special interests, breaking ranks to broker compromise — or even collaborate — invites both friendly and not-so-friendly fire. Taking a stand and starting a conversation takes courage, and it requires people of good will banding together for the common good.
Such courage is critical not only with regard to issues related to religious freedom and LGBT rights, but also with regard to the many pressing political questions facing the nation. Stewart and his coalition colleagues know something about what it takes, and hope other members of Congress will begin to follow their lead.