I want to be as supportive of the new Mormon position on anti-gay discrimination as possible. Their leadership has agreed to support legislation that protects against housing and employment discrimination, as long as it includes religious liberty protection as well. This is a major announcement from a major religion that has spent a lot of time and capital fighting against our equality in the civil sector. I am grateful that they took this bold step.
Unfortunately, I think it’s a bad deal. Not for the reasons the Human Rights Campaign articulates, though. They are concerned that the religious freedom protections would serve as a loophole. I can’t argue with that, and I have a lot fewer problems with it than HRC does.
For me, the problem with the deal is what church leadership is willing to fight for. Nearly all of the problems we have had with religious liberty over the last couple of decades have been due to the anti-discrimination laws the church now finds worthwhile. HRC has illustrated exactly why that continues to be the problem.
The one thing the church leaves off the table is support for civil marriage equality. Virtually all of the lawsuits, government actions and agita that religious individuals and businesses have brought to public attention have not been over the legality of same-sex marriage, they have been because of laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation itself.
If I can have anti-discrimination laws or marriage equality, I’ll pick marriage equality every time.
I do not want to diminish the significance of this move. It will have positive repurcussions both among gay LDS members (not to mention their families) and the broader faith community. But by choosing to support the kinds of anti-discrimination laws that are most subject to civil abuse, and then carving out only the abuse that they are most subject to, they have done the political thing rather than the right one. There is more wrong with anti-discrimination laws in today’s world than just religious difficulties.
Worse than that is the necessary implication in the whole deal: denying that the civil laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are, themselves, the core discrimination that undermines the liberty this nation guarantees. The church will now be able to say that it opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, while continuing to support civil laws that demand discrimination.
On balance, this concern may make little difference. I am hoping the Supreme Court will ultimately resolve marriage equality the right way, and call that form of discrimination what it is. That decision will make not a bit of difference to the Mormon church, or any other religious denomination.
But years after that happens, we will still have to deal with the legacy that anti-discrimination laws, long past their sell-by date, have left us. This may give them a bit more legitimacy than I think they deserve.