Connecting the Dots: LGBT Equality, Reproductive Rights, and Religion

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Commentary Religion

Connecting the Dots: LGBT Equality, Reproductive Rights, and Religion

Rev. Harry Knox

The struggle for LGBT rights and the struggle for reproductive rights are inseparable—and we have to change the role religion is playing.

As a minister who spent most of my career working for LGBT equality, served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is now serving an interfaith organization dedicated to reproductive justice, there is one fundamental connection that I hope we can all see given the events of the last two weeks. It’s that the struggle for LGBT rights and the struggle for reproductive rights are inseparable—and that we have to change the role religion is playing.

Just consider the events over a two-day period last week. On June 30, we learned of the Supreme Court’s terrible ruling that gave religious liberty to corporations and determined that business owners can impose their beliefs on their employees. That evening, President Obama announced that he would be issuing an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people in hiring by federal contractors—a critical step toward justice that was long overdue. This positive step was attacked the very next day, when a group of faith leaders wrote the White House to ask for an exemption in the LGBT executive order that would allow religious groups to discriminate in hiring while receiving taxpayer dollars. While the letter did not invoke the Hobby Lobby decision directly, it is on precisely the same theme: a small minority of the faith community wants the government to support their religious discrimination. They want public benefits without playing by the public rules. They want the right to impose their religious views on others, regardless of who or how many people are negatively affected.

This common theme shines a light on the larger goal of the extreme anti-gay, anti-abortion movement, which is that it is not ultimately about LGBT people or reducing the number of abortions. It is about imposing one narrow, religious view of sexuality and reproduction on everyone, with as much government support as possible. Think about it: By increasing access to the most effective forms of birth control, the contraceptive benefit of the Affordable Care Act will prevent hundreds of thousands of unintended pregnancies and significantly reduce the need for abortion. Indeed, just last week, Colorado’s governor credited low- and no-cost access to long-lasting contraception with major declines in unintended pregnancies. And yet the anti-abortion movement continues to fight against the contraception benefit, and birth control generally, at every step. Why? Because their primary goal is not to reduce the need for abortion, it is to regulate other people’s bodies and decisions and punish anyone who makes choices outside what they establish as the moral norm. I call this approach “moralism.” It is deeply rooted in our American culture and it is deeply religious in nature.

What we have to offer at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, standing with our allies in the faith community (and there are many) is a theology of pluralism, a theology of love and liberation. Our theology says that all people have value and should be able to make decisions about what happens to their bodies. Our theology says that bodies are good, that knowledge is good, and that sexuality is good. Our theology says that there is strength and beauty in imperfection; that diversity is a blessing, a part of God’s plan, even. Our theology affirms every person’s right to religious liberty and no one’s right to impose their religious views on others.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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My commitment to these beliefs is part of the reason why I am one of 100 religious leaders who sent a letter to President Obama Tuesday regarding his upcoming executive order. The final sentences of the letter make our request—and the reasons for it—clear:

Mr. President, we believe that the path to national unity lies in affirming the full equality and potential of every person. In the spirit of equality, fairness, and justice, we urge you to issue an executive order that ends discrimination against LGBT people in federal contracting without exceptions.

As those committed to LGBT equality and/or reproductive health, rights, and justice continue to move the work forward, I hope that more and more of us will come to recognize that they are, in fact, the same struggle. And when it comes to religion, let me say this clearly: whether or not you identify as person of faith, you can help change the role religion is playing in the struggle. You can help your friends, family, and co-workers understand that the people trying to impose their extreme conservative views on others represent only a small minority of the religious community. You can help them to understand that there are millions of people of faith in this country who believe that every person deserves access to the rights and resources they need to make decisions according to their own beliefs and conscience.

In order to successfully challenge moralism and the misuse of religion as a tool of discrimination, we need to build a broad, inclusive movement that includes both people of faith and people without a religious affiliation. It must include both religious organizations and secular organizations, and religious organizations cannot be the only ones talking constructively about the role religion plays.

It is only through new and deeper forms of collaboration that we will overcome the challenge before us. I pray that the events of last week, and those that will undoubtedly come in the future, serve as a rallying cry that creates new energy, new allies, and a deeper sense of solidarity in our shared struggle for justice.