Dear Sen. Mike Lee,
I saw that right before the House voted last week on the historic Equality Act, which aims to include LGBTQ people among those protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, you tweeted this:
“Americans are becoming more tolerant every day, which is why the Equality Act is so counterproductive. It unnecessarily pits communities against each other and divides our nation when patience and understanding are so sorely needed.”
It’s hard to think of a circumstance when it would be necessary to pit communities against each other, but nevertheless, I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to see you calling for greater civility and understanding.
Now, I realize that minimizing divisive politics is a new frontier for you (was it just a few weeks ago that you made a mockery of the Senate in a political stunt aimed at degrading your colleagues who are trying to ensure we have a planet on which to employ your new civility?
And your repeated willingness to shutdown the government in protest of offering Americans greater access to healthcare?), so with all due respect, Senator, I’m going to make some clarifications and give you a couple of pointers.
First, I want you to take a dive into the shimmering pool of your vast constitutional knowledge to recall that America’s promise to her people is that our laws will be a reflection of our collective values. Concepts like democracy and republic might float to the surface, conjuring memories of being elected by people who expect you to pursue laws that ensure the protection of both the vast majority and also our most vulnerable.
The reality that Americans are becoming more tolerant every day (in many instances, even more accepting) means more of us believe LGBTQ people are deserving of protections. So, making the will of the people into law here is actually wonderfully productive. We’re in the clear!
For example, nobody called it counterproductive or divisive when Rep. Sandra Hollins sponsored a resolution this last state legislative session designed to strip references to slavery from Utah’s constitution, which ultimately passed the House and Senate with a literal standing ovation for her efforts.
Most of us believe racism is wrong, so even if slavery is unlikely without changing the law, we’re not willing to take that chance. In fact, shaping laws to explicitly protect more people is a great American tradition.
Spot a lacking law? Add it, patriot! Notice old references to systemic inequality? Cut ‘em, good citizen!
But to say that protecting LGBTQ people pits communities against one another (I think you’re referring to religious and LGBTQ communities) is a pretty unfortunate dismissal of many people you represent.
Cool fact: many queer people are also people of faith. And many people of faith want LGBTQ people protected under the same laws that cover discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. (Hi, Rep. Ben McAdams!)
But what about the people whose deeply held beliefs don’t celebrate LGBTQ people, you might ask, as their gallant representative?
They’re still covered, too. Within their houses of worship and faiths, they still get to choose who’s in and who’s out. They just wouldn’t get to deny another a job, a roof over their head or products/services intended to be offered to all based solely on the person’s gender identity or who they love.
You used the word “tolerance,” and I’m glad you did. Adding “sexuality” and “gender identity” among those protected by the Civil Rights Act, as the Equality Act would, mirrors exactly that: tolerance. It’s not asking or requiring acceptance, just eliminating problematic discrimination that denies citizens access to that which will meet some of their most basic needs.
That’s reasonable, right? Because what could be more profoundly degrading to institutions of faith than advocating that they be used as the foundational reason to treat people less kindly? Let us all respect religion enough not to let it be used as a veil for fueling inequality.
And maybe there’s some technicality that I’m missing here. If so, Senator, offer an amendment. Help us understand what this powerful bill lacks, because it sure sounds like you have no problem with its overall goal.
If I have that right, it means that we actually agree with each other. How wonderful! So while it might be a while before the Senate actually votes on this, with your call for greater patience and understanding, it sounds like it’ll be worth the wait.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.