The polarizing conflict between religious liberty (here without the delegitimatizng “scare quotes” so ubiquitous in LGBT circles) and gay rights/LGBT anti-discrimination law was addressed by Jonathan Rauch, a past Independent Gay Forum contributing author, when he spoke at the University of Illinois Law School recently (viewable here via YouTube, about 40 minutes).
Rauch starts by noting that to understand where we are in the discussion of gay rights versus religious liberty, consider two bills now before Congress:
One is called the Equality Act. It would grant [LGBT] Americans…protection from housing, employment and public-accommodations discrimination under federal law, which is something that we lack at present. It’s championed by Democrats and liberals.
The other piece of legislation is called the First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA. It would pre-emptively shield all those people who object to same sex marriages or who choose to discriminate against same-sex marriages…whether on religious or moral grounds…from any federal sanction or disallowance of benefit…. It is championed, as you would imagine, by Republicans and conservatives.
Though coming at the question from opposite corners, the two bills have something in common: each tries to take all the marbles and leave the other side with nothing, or at least with as little as possible. The Equality Act includes a provision revoking any protection which religious objectors might enjoy under the [federal] Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The First Amendment Defense Act shields the objectors from discrimination while leaving gay people wholly unprotected from discrimination under federal law.
If these bills are opening positions in a negotiation, then what should ultimately happen is legislative bargaining leading to the obvious compromise: protections for gay people plus exemptions for religious objectors.
That, however, seems unlikely to happen because advocates on both sides aren’t interested in forging a compromise—which, Rauch notes, is “emblematic of an unfortunate development: an issue on which a few years ago there seemed to be reasonably good prospects for reasonable accommodations…has hardened into legal and political trench warfare.”
To which I’d add, the polarization/compromise-rejection serves those who don’t actually want a solution because they profit from permanent cultural warfare. And that’s because ongoing cultural war equals (1) big money flowing to advocacy groups and (2) hot-button issues that the political parties can use to fire-up their respective bases.