LGBT rights are not incompatible with religious liberty unless we make them so

by Marian Edmonds Allen and Derek Monson in "The Washington Examiner"

In September 2017, Marian Edmonds Allen and Derek Monson came together to argue for humility, humanity, and open-mindedness in the quest to find agreement and solutions for LGBT equality and religious freedom together.  In this article, they assert that a dialogue centered on equality is a better way forward than winner-take-all culture wars.

–This article was previously published in The Washington Examiner by Marian Edmonds Allen and Derek Monson

Last month, in Charlottesville, Va., Americans were given an unfortunate lesson in how extreme political fights can quickly mutate into literal fights to the death. But there is a better way to resolve many contentious issues in American politics today. And it can begin at the U.S. Supreme Court.

We, the two authors of this piece, are something of an odd couple. One of us is an advocate for LGBT equality, the other an advocate for religious freedom. Two years ago, we began a discussion about gay rights and religious liberty. We learned something that the country sorely needs today: Dialogue centered on genuine equality, through mutual accommodation, is a better way forward than culture wars grounded in political fights to the death.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court received briefs concerning religious freedom and LGBT equality in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. When it eventually rules, the court can give the country something it desperately needs: an example of living together peaceably while disagreeing politically. We agree that the law must protect the LGBT community’s basic civil rights. We also believe it is wrong to use the law to coerce religious individuals to choose between their religious identity and their job. But can this delicate balance be achieved?

Utah resolved a similar issue for county clerks: The state chose to recognize that the clerk’s office must provide a way for any couple to obtain a marriage certificate, but it protects the First Amendment rights of religious clerks by allowing them to designate another willing person to perform such duties. An analogous solution can be crafted for religious business owners or employees asked to participate in same-sex weddings.

Those at both extremes who continue fighting this culture war are laboring under a false premise straight out of the Harry Potter series: That neither side can live (or win) while the other survives. Under this view, LGBT equality and religious freedom cannot coexist. The protection of one is defined as an attack on the other.

But as with the fictional rivalry between Harry Potter and Voldemort, this premise belongs to a fantasy world.

Through dialogue, we have learned that there is ample opportunity to find agreement and practical solutions to protect LGBT equality and religious freedom together.

Through dialogue, we have learned that there is ample opportunity to find agreement and practical solutions to protect LGBT equality and religious freedom together.

We have also learned that a solution-oriented dialogue requires humanity, humility, and open-mindedness from everyone involved – attributes sorely lacking in today’s politics.

We must have the humanity to see “the other” – whose views and priority of values differ from yours – as a human being instead of a malicious danger to society. We must have the humility to recognize the human psychological reality, established by science, that we are all prone to bias and prejudice. The solution is to associate with, listen to, and seek to truly understand people with values and thoughts that are different from ours, not to oppress the opinions and rights of “the other.” Finally, we must have open-mindedness toward diverse viewpoints and the recognition that being exposed to a diversity of views can elevate and expand our own minds.

Such elevated dialogue can produce practical solutions for LGBT equality and religious freedom. It led to the so-called “Utah compromise.” This law protects LGBT individuals from being fired or denied housing due to sexual orientation or gender identity. It also accommodates the First Amendment rights of employees and employers who hold traditional or orthodox religious views regarding sexual morals and marriage. Extremes on both sides disagreed with components of the policy – a good indicator that it accomplished its aims.

Finding solutions through dialogue is not easy, but it is what we do in America. It is infinitely better than culture wars that divide communities and fuel hatred toward political or ideological opponents. Hate and equality don’t mix, on either the left or the right. This is a principle our country needs now more than ever.

The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is executive director at Parity, a faith-based LGBTQ-focused organization based in New York City. Derek Monson is executive director at Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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