Sunday, 8 February 2015

In search of fairness

It is not every day that the church calls a news conference like it did the week before last.  I'm sure that more than a few people anticipated or even hoped for some great change.  I saw people speculating that sister missionaries would be allowed to serve for two years and other such things until it was announced that the topic would be non-discrimination and religious freedom.

I have linked those two topics together for a long time.  The relentless push to make gay marriage legal has succeeded up here in Canada, but having it made legal has not been enough for LGBT activists.  They now push for it to be accepted and celebrated by all, and any who dare not conform become targets of their anger.  Likewise in the United States, and Elder Oaks pointed to a number of examples of this.

What the Church called for in the press conference was exactly the right thing.  The debate has become polarized with Christians feeling that the institution of marriage is being vandalized and gays feeling they are hated and mistreated just for being gay.  When each side sees the other as an enemy the middle ground becomes a minefield and nobody wants to go there.

Being gay is no reason to refuse to rent an apartment to somebody, or hire them, or do business with them either.  Not unless doing so is harmful to the free exercise of religion, or if it violates the freedom of religious institution to operate according the requirements of their faith.  For that reason the Church is well within its rights to require that Church employees, employees of some Church owned entities, and students at church operated schools adhere to the moral standards of the Church.  While that standard would exclude practicing homosexuals, it would not forbid gays who live by the standards of the Church.  It would also exclude heterosexuals who are breaking the law of chastity.  It isn't what you are, it is what you have done.

While it was the right thing for the church to call for a balanced approach that seeks to find a solution respectful of the needs of both sides, it remains a goal that seems a long way off.  The reaction of the LGBT community has been deeply hostile, casting the press conference as an attempt to buy off the gay rights movement with a deal to give them some things they want in exchange for (as they see it) legal protection to continue to be bigots.  The reaction from the religious right was not as harsh, likely due to the fact that when it comes to defending traditional marriage we Mormons have earned a lot of credibility.  Even so, some Evangelical leaders have brushed off the recommendation as naive.

While I fully agree with the message presented in the press conference, I am unsure if it will have much impact on legislators or judges.  Especially outside of Utah.  With gay marriage coming before the US Supreme Court the topic is timely, and Elder Oaks certainly has the legal credentials to give weight to his words so there is some reason to hope that it will influence outcomes.

What constitutes 'fairness' is subjective however.  At this point a lot of people feel that there simply is no way to achieve it, that each side defines fairness in a way that conflicts with how the other side defines it.  Finding that middle ground is the 'hard work' that Elder Oaks and Christofferson talked about.  Believing that finding it will be easy would be being naive, but believing it doesn't exist at all is a cynical self fulfilling prophecy

Over 10 years ago I became friends with a co-worker who was an openly gay man.  He was friendly and personable and we often had lunch together in the cafeteria there.  We talked about all kinds of things.  This was shortly before same sex marriage became legal in Canada so the topic often came up.  

Our conversations were never contentious, I would explain in detail my position and my reasons for it and he would do the same.  No slogans, no name calling, just calm discussion.  I eventually left that job and while he and I still disagreed about legalizing same sex marriage, he came to see that the hate filled Christian bigot stereotype just wasn't accurate (in my case at least).  He reached a point where he saw that my motives and my reasons were rooted in standing for a moral principle I honestly believe in, without hate or bigotry.

If the LGBT community, the religious right, lawmakers, lawyers and judges can get to that point, then we have a shot at achieving fairness for all.  If that doesn't happen, then this press conference will stand to condemn all those who failed to do their part to make it happen.

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