Religious liberty is cherished by all Americans as a foundational element of what our country values. Sadly, the Trump administration has distorted and weaponized religious liberty to attack the LGBTQ community.
House Democrats are providing much-needed accountability today as the House Oversight Committee convenes for a hearing on the topic. But progressives should be wary of buying into the Trump administration’s and religious right’s framing of the issue. It’s not about religion.
I’m baffled every time I hear President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE, the religious right — and, yes, sometimes progressives fall into this trap as well — pitting religious liberty and LGBTQ rights against one another. As a gay Christian, my right to religious liberty and my right to marriage equality played an equal role in my marriage being recognized legally by my country and religiously by my church. Conservatives suddenly invented this “religious liberty” argument as another means of trampling the dignity of other LGBTQ Americans, many of whom are people of faith.
It’s sad to see the American ideal of religious liberty tarnished by turning it into a license to discriminate. It’s sad because we have so many real threats to religious liberty today, including the ugly rise of anti-Semitism and the Trump administration’s travel bans involving largely Muslim countries. Protecting the rights of religious minorities to be able to live with dignity should unite all Americans across the political spectrum.
There are also real attacks on the LGBTQ community by the Trump administration. These attacks impact many aspects of LGBTQ Americans’ lives, including health care, employment, housing, education, commerce, sports, military service and more. But these attacks aren’t about religious liberty any more than Bob Jones University’s racist interracial dating policies were actually about religion. They’re about the troubling use of religion by people who want to discriminate.
People of faith exist on both sides of the divide over whether LGBTQ Americans should be free to live without fear or discrimination. “Solid majorities of all major religious groups in the U.S. support laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and the workplace,” according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Even a majority of the religious groups most opposed to these kinds of protections — white evangelical Protestants — support the idea.
That’s why many religious groups have taken action for LGBTQ rights such as rallying support for the Equality Act. The bipartisan bill passed the House of Representatives last year and would clarify and add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics to existing civil rights law, including the Civil Rights Act.
Faith groups also have filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of Title VII prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, opposes the Equality Act and is fighting LGBTQ rights at the Supreme Court. One in three of Trump’s nominations to the federal circuit court have a history of anti-LGBTQ bias. They may repeat over and over again that they are defending religious people, but that doesn’t make it true.
I am grateful that progressives are highlighting the ways the Trump administration is misusing religious liberty to undermine the protections for LGBTQ people that were expanded under the Obama administration. But let’s not give into conservatives’ framing of the issue. Instead, let’s remember that President Obama himself cited his own Christian faith in supporting LGBTQ rights.
“[Michelle Obama and I], we’re both practicing Christians,” President Obama reminded the nation in his groundbreaking interview to support same-sex marriage in 2012. “And when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf but it’s also the golden rule, you know? Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids. And that’s what motivates me as president.”
Faith motivates many LGBTQ people and our allies in our ongoing struggle for equality. Let’s not cede all the talk of religion to the religious right, when many people of faith see things differently.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.