Deseret News: In our opinion: Balancing First Amendment freedoms and LGBT rights must be the work of Congress

By The Deseret News Editorial Board

Nov 8, 2019

Congress must begin the pressing work of balancing First Amendment freedoms and emergent LGBT rights.

Only through the gritty, yet noble, efforts of parliamentary coalitions and compromises can the country sustain a welcomed detente over the day’s most divisive social issues. Sadly, until then, the country will likely witness a game of presidential pingpong in which competing administrative rules on social issues are paddled back and forth with each new regime.

Last week, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a proposed rule exempting faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, among other organizations, from having to provide services that would violate their religious beliefs regarding traditional marriage. The rule rolls back an Obama-era nondiscrimination regulation.

While we acknowledge the value of many of these rule changes, without legislative intervention there’s no guarantee that they will remain in place. It’s more likely that the pendulum will continue to oscillate back and forth between successive presidential administrations. Liberal presidents will side with LGBT advocates, sometimes to the detriment of religious freedom. Conservative administrations will emphasize religious rights while sometimes glossing over legitimate discrimination claims by the LGBT community.

There is, however, a middle path. There is a sensible mean between the extremes.

Utah demonstrated as much in 2015 when legislators came together to safeguard religious freedom while simultaneously passing nondiscrimination laws, protecting LGBT individuals in housing and employment. Nearly five years later, Utah now rivals only Vermont and New Hampshire as the state with the highest support for LGBT nondiscrimination laws. It’s worth noting that while Pew and Gallup have both identified Vermont and New Hampshire as two of the “least religious” states, in terms of church attendance and other factors, Utah consistently ranks among the highest.

But anyone familiar with the growing “Fairness for All” coalition of LGBT leaders and faith-based organizations — a coalition which includes thoughtful scholars and advocates, politicians and community leaders — can’t help but begin to appreciate just how many on both sides of the debate are acting in good faith and good will.

These relationships across ideological divides demonstrate that there is a path forward that can extend proper protections without corroding sacred First Amendment freedoms. But the compromises that should occur in this regard are best handled in Congress, rather than in the courts or the vast conference rooms of the administrative state. Public discussion and debate should take place where interested parties can participate fully in the process. The nation is ill-served by the ongoing whiplash that comes with competing administrative rules, warring regimes, and seemingly endless winner-take-all legal challenges.

We call on the nation’s elected officials to engage in the uncomfortable, but nonetheless commendable, effort of reaching across the aisle to find legislative common ground that will uphold religious liberties so central to our constitution while also protecting LGBTQ people and promoting human dignity. Only then can our nation further stretch toward a more perfect union.

This resource is part of the Fairness for All topic.

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