Yesterday's announcement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) that they now support anti-discrimination legislation in housing, employment and public accommodation makes absolutely no sense.
Anti-discrimination bills, as the adjective would suggest, are meant to protect those named from being discriminated against. The Mormons' "new" stance merely proclaims that they now favor bills which would bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as long as those who discriminate against them are given protection for doing so. Such a twisted and distorted approach stretches both the language and the substance of such legislation into an unrecognizable shape and takes us into the realm of the absurd.
LGBT people do not need protection from those who would not discriminate anyway, but rather from those who would. It doesn't matter where the discrimination comes from, or why, but rather such legislation says that citizens of this country shall not be discriminated against in housing, employment and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It says that a gay couple who gets married on Sunday should not be fired from their jobs on Monday for doing so, nor should that same couple be refused their honeymoon hotel room because they are of the same gender. It means that if a medical facility offers the public service of artificial insemination, it should offer it to anyone who walks in desiring that service, not just heterosexuals. It means that pharmacists have to fill a prescription for HIV retroviral drugs whether or not they approve of the sexual orientation of the person needing them.
For a moment, let's contemplate the embarrassing spectacle of religious people and groups advocating for their right to discriminate. Couched in so-called "religious liberty" language, let's call these efforts what they really are: a license to discriminate. The Mormons' support for anti-discrimination is laudable, until you get to the part that begins with "except." It would be unlawful to discriminate, their support says, unless that discrimination comes from one's religious beliefs. Presumably, a restaurant waiter need not serve two men or two women who are quietly holding hands at their table, if the waiter objects to their "lifestyle." Also, presumably, one need not serve an African-American couple at that same restaurant if one's religion says that black people are an inferior race and should not mingle with whites. Or a Jewish couple who is not served by a waiter whose religion teaches her that Jews are not only eternally damned, but are "Christ-killers" to boot!
For a moment, let's pretend to be sympathetic to the notion that religious people should not be compelled to offer public accommodation to those who engage in behavior considered sinful according to the religious beliefs of the owner/proprietor. I think one could support such a notion if indeed it were applied consistently to everyone. Let's not offer services to anyone who does not contribute the Biblical tithe (10%) of one's income to God's work in the Church and elsewhere. (Yes, there are people who follow this Biblical guideline - principal among them, Mormons!) Prior to offering a room at a hotel or taking a lunch order, patrons would be asked for proof that they indeed have contributed that 10% of their income to charity. Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality, but speaks often, and vigorously, about greed, possessions and the corrupting influence of money. Why serve anyone wearing expensive clothes or seeking to dine at an outrageously expensive restaurant, without proof that they are contributing financially to the eradication of poverty, as the Bible prescribes? Why serve food to someone grossly overweight who obviously hasn't gotten the message about the sin of gluttony? Why not check patrons for spousal abuse, foul and profane language, or number of speeding tickets before offering service?
No, the Mormons and other religious people who object to LGBT anti-discrimination laws aren't really looking to discriminate against sin and those who voluntarily participate in it. Why? Because they would be unable to offer public services and accommodation to anyone, given that we are all sinners. Such anti-discrimination legislation now supported by the Mormon Church is concerned with one "sin" and one sin only, as a basis for the denial of services. I see no evidence in Scripture that the "sin" of homosexual behavior is greater or more serious than all the other sins and those who practice it are to be shunned above all others. This exception to following anti-discrimination laws doesn't even make sense on its own religious terms!
Many were quick to hail this announcement by the Mormons as a step forward. And I suppose it is, if dropping their opposition to LGBT protections in Utah and elsewhere means that these protections might become law. But if the religious exemption is allowed in such legislation, then the Mormons' support is truly a wolf in sheep's clothing. It looks to be a softening of their opposition to anti-discrimination laws, while at the same time exempting those who are most likely to perpetrate that discrimination and are the very people from whom that protection is needed. Those who support such a religious exemption to anti-discrimination legislation are trying to sound kind, while clinging to their right to be mean. I, for one, am not buying it!
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, and the retired IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson.