The Next Frontier for LGBTQI Inclusion: Engaging Religion

When religion reporters were recently asked to name the most important religion news stories of 2015, the legalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court this past June rose to the top of the list. It is not surprising that the historic case, Obergefell vs. Hodges, would stand out as one of the year's most memorable events. More remarkable is that this particular poll voted the landmark ruling the top story in the area of religion reporting.

The Religion Newswriters Association ranking reminds us how deeply intertwined religion and LGBTQI issues really are. In the months just before the Supreme Court ruling, the state of Indiana attempted to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that many argued could legalize discrimination against gay people. And just after the ruling, a Kentucky court clerk chose serving time in jail over issuing same-sex marriage licenses due to her religious convictions. Masked as battles for legal protections of individuals who hold particular religious beliefs, these bouts of backlash are poised to undermine hard-won victories for LGBTQI people.

Until we address the complexity of American religious traditions and their relationship to LGBTQI issues, ensuring equality for all sexual and gender orientations will not be realized. While the hard work ahead will be focused on crucial rights for transgender people, preventing workplace discrimination for all LGBTQI people and creating protections and safe spaces for LGBTQI youth, a major part of our upcoming focus must be on religion. Only when we become better educated about the religious commitments we and others hold can we move past the generalizations and misunderstandings that plague our national conversation about religion, and more specifically about the intersection between religion and LGBTQI issues. Our work toward greater equality must be done hand-in-hand with interreligious education.

What didn't make the top religion news stories of the year was that Affirmation, an LGBT Mormon group formed in the late 1970's, is working tirelessly from the inside of the Church toward transformation even in the face of dramatic, recent setbacks. Or that New Ways Ministry, a Roman Catholic organization supporting LGBTQI Catholics, led forty-nine LGBTQI pilgrims and their allies to Rome and were given a public audience with Pope Francis. Not enough people heard about the largest Jewish denomination, Reform Judaism, announcing a comprehensive transgender education agenda. Also little known was an amicus brief supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage signed by nearly 2,000 clergy members, theological seminaries and denominational officials, including those representing Episcopal, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jewish, American Baptist, Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist institutions. Countering public opinion that most who define themselves as "religious" are anti-LGBTQI, it stated that "Faiths embracing same-sex couples participate in the mainstream of American observance." A New York Times writer aptly commented just after the Supreme Court ruling that, "The debate about same-sex marriage that has gotten too little attention is the intrareligious one."

The integration of LGBTQI people into institutional religious life has reached a point unparalleled in history. LGBTQI people are filling the pews, creating theology and liturgy, providing pastoral care and leading religious congregations and organizations. Yet we still present religion as monolithic, speaking with one voice that opposes LGBTQI inclusion. There is movement toward LGBTQI inclusion within every American religious tradition.

In the year ahead, may we be led both as individuals and communities to a place of more profound and nuanced understanding about religion, sexuality and gender. We will continue to struggle as we acknowledge the complexity of this process for American religious traditions while striving for the day when all people can live lives of spiritual wholeness in the institutions they call home.