I met recently with a pastor friend and a gay member of his congregation. They came to my office to enlighten me about discrimination against homosexuals that still plagues our state and asked me to lend my voice to the cause.
As a Christian minister, I continue to affirm biblical values and will not compromise my faith; a belief in the biblical view on homosexuality and same-sex marriage does not constitute bigotry. It is the same Bible that commands me to defend the oppressed even if we disagree strongly on many divisive issues.
Equality Utah, an organization that seeks to secure and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns and their families, notes that the state does not have a law barring discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some cities and counties have passed such ordinances but in much of Utah it remains legal to be fired or evicted based solely on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The organization's website asserts that more than 43 percent of gay and 66 percent of transgender Utahns have been fired, denied a job or a promotion because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Utah Antidiscrimination Act and Utah Fair Housing Act cover discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disabilities and family status. Equality Utah is championing amendments that would insert sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.
Endorsement of the bill by Utah's faith community would increase the possibility of its passage. However, many religious leaders and people of faith fear the implications of their support for various reasons.
First, it must be reiterated that supporting the amendment does not equate to advocating homosexuality. The Bible commands us to love our neighbors. There is no restriction given to that command. We are not told to love only those who agree with us on theological issues. Jesus himself kept company with societal outcasts, drawing sharp criticism from religious leaders.
Second, religious organizations are exempt from nondiscrimination laws and this would remain intact with the amendments. Thus, communities of faith would not be forced to compromise their convictions. A preacher would not be banned from voicing beliefs on homosexuality or same-sex marriage even if the congregation has gay members. A church would not be forced to hire LGBT clergy or staff.
Some denominations condone openly gay ministers. I do not support such a stance. The nondiscrimination act is important for secular entities, but to mandate faith-based organizations to comply to a law that violates its religious doctrine is unconstitutional.
People of faith should lend their support to this bill no matter how strongly we disagree. Jesus said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto me."