While LGBT Americans and allies have been celebrating our hard-won right to marry, a small but very vocal group of people have been scrambling. Under the guise of “religious liberty,” some conservative organizations are trying to undermine the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, either by claiming exemption or erroneously predicting that marriage equality will lead to an assault on Christianity. Senator Ted Cruz has described same-sex marriage as one of the “greatest threats” to religious freedom in American history—a delusional view that would be funny if he wasn’t running for president. Our right to marriage is now a constitutional one, but you need only look at the pool of Republican presidential candidates to see that the journey to full understanding and acceptance is far from over.
Where I grew up, in the south, the church was the heart of the community. It was where neighbors caught up, where kids were educated, where people came together to celebrate birth, love, and comfort each other in loss. To deny any group the benefits of religion—of a sense of belonging, of support, of its healing and inspirational qualities—is a sad corruption of community and religious values. It hurts individuals. It harms families.
My hope: that the faithful of America will come to realize that, although not illegal, shutting LGBT people out of the comfort and protection of our religious institutions is un-Christian and immoral.
Our first hurdle will be to dispel the lies vote-hungry Republicans are spreading. The First Amendment enshrines the free exercise of religious beliefs, which means that in the United States, as in all other countries with marriage equality, individual denominations are free to embrace their LGBT congregants or continue to stigmatize and ostracize them. The establishment of same-sex marriage does not compel a Catholic priest to officiate at a gay wedding—it does, however, demand that government officials do. The governors of Mississippi and Kentucky are doing their duty, then, when they remind magistrates and clerks refusing to marry same-sex couples that they took an oath to uphold the Constitution. In fact, the same amendment that protects religious freedom also explicitly precludes the government from imposing religion on the American people. In this way, Christians and LGBT people are legally safe from the impositions of one another… despite the harm and misunderstanding such divisions will inevitably create moving forward.
The truth is, the divisive Christianity preached by folks like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum is profoundly out of step with the true Christian spirit, with today’s understanding of LGBT people, and with the American public. Jesus told us to follow the golden rule and to love our neighbors. He spent his time not with princes and priests, but with those that society had rejected. To focus on biblical instances of intolerance and persecution is to miss the purpose. The Bible is filled with genocide, polygamy, and slavery, but religion today focuses on the positive and enduring messages, not those contrary to the values we’ve come to know through greater human understanding—and there are few groups we have come to understand better in the past half century than the LGBT community. That knowledge should lend itself to love and understanding, not vicious attacks from those claiming to represent God.
I grew up Mormon and Southern Baptist, two denominations that have a long way to go still in terms of acceptance. But hope is visible—particularly among everyday believers. Polls show that the intolerance politicians and religious leaders continue to spew is falling on deaf ears. A majority of every religious denomination in America supports increased anti-discrimination laws for LGBTs, from 71% of Catholics to 60% of evangelicals. Incredibly, the religious “protection” laws being introduced by Republicans across the country, laws that would allow for businesses to refuse service to gay people on religious grounds, are opposed by the vast majority of those whose interests they claim to be defending (63% of Protestants and 64% of Catholics). By and large, Evangelicals are pushing forward these divisive bills, but even then, only 51% of their congregants express support. So perhaps the faithful understand the spirit of Christ more than their so-called leaders.
Earlier this summer, Democrats introduced the Equality Act, a federal law that would extend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to fully embrace LGBT people. Conservatives will, without a doubt, try and use religion as an excuse to shut it down. But we who believe that religion and LGBT can go hand-in-hand, that the blending of both communities will only strengthen our collective society, are in the majority. We just need to speak up and let our love drown out the misunderstanding, fear mongering, vote pandering, and hate.
Legitimate religious organizations in our country will never be forced to change their stance on LGBT people, nor should they. But for all of our sake, I hope that these institutions will begin to listen, love, and open their doors to my brothers and sisters who seek their comfort and community.