How overturning Roe threatens LGBTQ+ rights — faith leaders need to defend them

Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.
Greg Nash
Protesters are seen outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3, 2022 after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade later this year.

The Supreme Court’s apparent readiness to overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision is being rightly seen as an assault on women’s reproductive rights and control over their own bodies. But make no mistake: the conservative assault on progressive values won’t stop with abortion — and same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ+ rights could be the next to fall.

The depressing reality isn’t simply that millions of LGBTQ+ Americans could soon lose the right to marry the person of their choice and be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Instead, we also need to focus on the fact that many of the same far-right Christian leaders who have been leading the crusade against abortion rights are now threatening the basic freedoms of yet another group of Americans.

As with abortion, these faith leaders are using a fundamentally twisted interpretation of the Bible to condemn LGBTQ+ people as sinful and work to undermine the protections that community has gained in recent years, most notably the right to same-sex marriage guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision.

As ministers and heads of a seminary that is training the next generation of progressive faith leaders, we are outraged by this blasphemous use of the Bible as a tool of hatred and division, and not as one of unity and love. And we know it is up to faith leaders from all major religious traditions — both in the U.S. and abroad — to fight against those twisting the word of God to justify bigotry, hatred and discrimination. 

These reactionary faith leaders aren’t simply going against some of the Bible’s most fundamental precepts; they are also out of step with the vast majority of religious Americans. A March 2022 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that religious communities overwhelmingly support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people — and that the support increased during the Trump years. The figures are staggering: 83 percent of Hispanic Catholics back those protections, along with 82 percent of white mainline Protestants, 80 percent of white Catholics (80 percent), 85 percent of Jewish Americans, 84 percent of Mormons, 87 percent of Buddhists, and 75 percent of Muslims. The poll that large majorities of those religious groups also support gay marriage.

Our nation prides itself on freedom and tolerance, but misguided and unjust policies that outright target the LGBTQ+ community are growing far more common. In Texas, parents of trans youth can now be investigated by state child services authorities for letting their children medically transition. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican-dominated legislature passed a law opponents dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” that would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through grade 3. Similar bills have popped up in legislatures across the country, and more than a dozen states have proposed their own versions of Florida’s bill. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, hate crimes motivated by biases against trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2021 surged by almost 30 percent, compared to the previous year. Even worse, 2021 was officially the deadliest year on record for transgender people, according to the Human Rights Campaign, with murders reaching their highest numbers since the organization began recording fatal violence in 2013.

As theologians, what troubles us most is that these hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ+ policies aren’t simply being advanced by opportunistic politicians and outright bigots. They are instead being fueled by vocal support from far-right leaders across the United States. For example, earlier this year, evangelical pastor Franklin Graham bashed corporations, such as Disney, who opposed the DeSantis bill, stating that “LGBTQ activists [were] using corporations to force their agenda on the public.” 

Right-wing religious leaders profess that the Bible supports these acts of hatred and division, but they ignore the lesson core to all of the major faiths: love a fellow human as you’d love yourself. And as Hebrews 12:14 notes, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Faith leaders have a moral obligation to spread this message. Faith leaders should be at the forefront of efforts to publicly protest these abominable laws and rally their congregants to oppose them. They should provide shelter and financial support to those who fled their own states to find places where they can medically transition in safety. And they should encourage members of their communities to donate to the groups challenging these hateful policies in court. 

Here’s the bottom line, and we want to say it as clearly and bluntly as we can: God loves LGBTQ+ people and demands respect for their dignity and humanity. It’s up to faith leaders of conscience to combat the far-right extremists saying otherwise. 

Rev. Serene Jones, Ph.D., M.Div., is president of Union Theological Seminary, a globally recognized graduate school of religion devoted to putting faith into practice for the common good.

Rev. Fred Davie is senior strategic adviser to the President at Union Theological Seminary.

Jones and Davie have helped launch the “Elders for Equity & Inclusion” initiative, which aims to form a network of well-known faith leaders to with government and promote policies that support LGBTQ+ rights.

Tags Abortion civil rights LGBTQ rights Roe v Wade Supreme Court

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