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The Issue of Religious Freedom for LGBT Community

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Imagine just walking down the street with your partner. You decide to get a bite to eat at an Italian restaurant. You walk into a restaurant and request a table for two. The hostess begins to show you your table then stops and says “I am sorry, we do not serve homosexuals, you and your partner are not welcome.” Imagine, this is legal in Mississippi.

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Discrimination can happen anywhere to anyone. Most recently, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, questioning) civil rights and basic constitutional rights have been directly threatened. Whether at work or in church, this segment of the population is increasingly becoming a target. Recently, many states have passed “religious freedom” legislation which serves to alienate certain individuals based on sexual preference and/or gender identity. This alienation has had a number of effects, none of which are positive. Religious discrimination toward LGBTQ negatively impacts society’s religious associations, increases mental illness cases among the LGBTQ community, and creates divisiveness in our society. There are many ways to address and mitigate the impact of LGBTQ religious discrimination. Religious advisors, politicians, community activists, as well as, the individuals themselves all have the ability to address Religious discrimination within the LGBTQ population.

Many communities across the nation have offered a more inclusive approach to address LGBTQ religious discrimination. This approach is starting to have a positive impact on the number of individuals who identify with a faith-based religion. Religious advisors can further address the diminishing numbers of LGBTQ individuals who identify with a faith-based religion by advertising a more “welcoming approach” to the gay community. Matthew Vines, author of God and The Gay Christian explains “the rising tide of LGBT acceptance is allowing more people in conservative communities to come out who wouldn’t have a generation ago”. To this point society becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ population. In fact, “in the U.S. alone, there are more than 5,000 churches that intentionally embrace the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexaul and transgender people”. This welcoming approach is sporadic and varies by community. Religious leaders can do better.

In order to better serve their congregation, religious leaders must begin to understand and embrace sexual and gender diversity within their community. To that end, these leaders must strive to promote full equality of LGBTQ persons in all areas of society. There are many organizations the secular community can collaborate with to ensure such inclusion. The Institute for Welcoming Resources provides “the resources to facilitate a paradigm shift in multiple denominations whereby churches become welcoming and affirming of all congregants regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity”. Welcoming Resources provides guidance to 32 denominations and serves as an outreach program for the secular community. This group offers training sessions to help congregations implement a process for welcoming individuals of all sexual orientations. They also have a wealth of information on their website “designed to support the unconditional welcome of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and their families in the church home of their choice”. These organization is an excellent way to allow the faith community to bridge the division between religion and sexual orientation.

With the wake of religious freedom laws, many states legislators are under pressure to sign/not sign the laws. Consequently, Politicians have a tremendous amount of power in shaping the culture to accept LGBTQ community. “Many governors are vetoing legislation aimed to discriminate against LGBTQ by passing Religious Freedom laws. Georgia’s Governor Deal vetoed such legislation and has “been showered with praise from business groups, gay rights advocates and others since the veto on March 28”. Politicians have the authority to ensure equal rights are upheld with in their state, regardless of sexual preference.

Religious freedom legislation and gay rights freedom will be clashing soon. In 2015, the Supreme Court effectively made same-sex marriage a fundamental right for all citizens. This ruling gave rise to a virtual civil war in the secular community. What would happen if gay couples wanted to be married by priests who believe gay marriage is a sin? Is that infringing on their right to practice religion? In the Washington Post article, Sharon Wetzstein notes “Traditional values supporters, however, say free exercise of religion is ‘an actual constitutional right’ — unlike the Supreme Court’s June 26 finding in Obergefell v. Hodges that said the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples”. Gay rights activists are pushing back and many state Governors are listening by vetoing any discriminatory legislation.

Not only do politician have the power to make valuable changes, community activists also have substantial influence in shaping public policy. To ensure LGBTQ individuals have equal rights and are able to practice their faith, organized protests and economic boycotts have put financial and public pressure on community leaders. Recently, the state of North Carolina passed religious freedom legislation which banned legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. As a backlash “PayPal and 120 other business leaders signed a letter to the governor protesting the new law, and many pledged not to create any new business ventures in the state until the law is repealed”. Community activists and large corporations are vocal in their message to States that pass Religious Freedom acts. This condemnation has had an economic impact.

Numerous organizations nationwide have publically denounced the laws. “Many of America’s most powerful companies — including Apple, IBM, Wal-Mart, the NFL, the NBA and American Airlines — have voiced opposition to states’ recent attempts to limit anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people”. This motivation is driven by the need for companies to adapt to the culture and climate of the present. “With the Supreme Court upholding gay marriage and the federal government backing anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans, ‘it’s in their interest to be on the right side of history’”. These companies are really driven by the need to be relevant and progressive

The boycotts and condemnations are actually placing pressure on legislatures to think twice before signing the Religious Freedom laws. In 2014, Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer was faced with a decision to sign or veto a bill which would have permitted businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbians. “She came after she came under pressure from the NFL and the state Chamber of Commerce, who said it would damage the economy” . Governor Brewer did veto the bill but never said what the underlying reason for her veto. It’s hard to say whether this economic pressure is working across the nation. But time will tell if economic boycotts and public condemnation will help sway the political forces in our country.

Religious leaders, Politicians, Community Activists can and do have influence over the fight against religious discrimination. Individuals, themselves, can help with this fight. By speaking out or joining activist groups, individuals can and do have an impact on combating religious freedom among the LGBTQ population. Many communities across the US have created local and nationwide organizations which allow individuals of all backgrounds to freely express themselves and practice their faith without being ostracized. A number of secular based movements are cropping up across the US. These organizations “empower people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to work for justice in church and society. There are many resources available and are free to use. The goal is to one day support sanctity of life and freedom of expression.

National LGBTQ organizations are continuously emerging as a way for individuals to help join a cause against discrimination. CenterLink, for example, is a community alliance which supports and develops LGBT community centers. Additionally, the Get Equal alliance was formed to ensure the LGBTQ community attains “full legal and social equality and to hold accountable those who stand in the way”. Finally, Freedom for All Americans is a program which aims for freedom of expression for all citizens. One of their goals is to “defeat overly broad measures that seek to legitimize or promote discrimination and work to ensure that religion is not used as an excuse to discriminate”. Locally, there are many avenues to help fight for religious freedom. These avenues are becoming more and more prevalent in our communities.

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Due to the open discrimination against individuals based on their sexual preference, the notion of Religious Freedom has been a struggle for the LGBTQ community. This discrimination is associated with the decreasing number of individuals associated with a faith based religion. Eventually, these perceived restrictions within the LGBTQ community leads to mental illness, as the stress to “fit in” becomes overwhelming. Religious leaders, politicians, and community activists can make a difference and protect LGBTQ equality. Individuals can join organizations which will allow them to have a voice and to feel more welcome in their community. Companies have begun to speak out publically to denounce such laws.

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