Now before Congress, the Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing civil rights laws. At the same time, the Fairness for All Act, introduced by Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, is also in the spotlight.
Unlike the Equality Act, the Fairness for All Act is a disingenuous attempt to manage LGBTQ people without having to respect them as a protected class under existing civil rights laws. This harmful work-around is supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and would protect its continued ability to discriminate against LGBTQ people in civil matters under the banner of religious freedom.
It is not hard to miss the church’s glaring animus toward LGBTQ equal rights in its opposition to the Equality Act, or in its amicus briefs opposing marriage equality and expanding Title VII coverage to LGBTQ employees.
There is something else going on here beyond prejudice or theological belief. Over the past 70 years of the LGBTQ civil rights movement, the day-to day experiences of LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and their families have been structured in the church by an environment of discrimination, harassment and prejudice: all protected behaviors under the banner of “religious freedom.”
Any action to lift the day-to-day experiences of LGBTQ Latter-day Saints from underneath this structure towards equality in the public sphere is met with a fear and anxiety response by the church that far exceeds the demands of the LGBTQ community.
It turns out that on this matter, LGBTQ members of the church are actually caught in the crossfire of a much older conflict, one that predates the LGBTQ civil rights movement by a hundred years.
In 1904, after years of experiencing the full force and resources of the United States government, the church had no recourse but to make its final pivot away from the practice of plural marriage. The end of polygamy signaled that the federal government had successfully regulated the behavior of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against their own doctrine, against their identity and against their lived experience.
The legacy of the federal government’s intrusive action against the church’s practice of polygamy was a trauma that informs how the church treats LGBTQ people today. It is no coincidence that the church’s 2015 policy excluding same-sex legally married members and their children is the same policy used for polygamists and their children.
This historical trauma of having its polygamous behavior so soundly regulated into civil oblivion created a “Never Again” hyper-vigilance that now inappropriately greets the calls for LGBTQ civil rights. Supporting the Equality Act of 2021 is tantamount to embracing polygamy pre-1904. Both are seen as inviting the government through the church doors.
Unfortunately, LGBTQ people are familiar with trauma and we painfully see it as the church looks past us and our needs to suspiciously eye an old nemesis. It thereby perpetuates discrimination and exclusion in a misguided effort to protect itself.
It is time for the church to stop using LGBTQ people as scapegoats for its historical struggle with the federal government and to recognize its struggle stems from its own actions.
Recently, church President Russell M. Nelson called on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group or individual. This is essential, but it also takes time. Minorities cannot wait, nor should they wait, for prejudice to be wiped from the hearts of a people before they experience equality. The truth is, equal opportunity and equality actually come before acceptance and they must come protected by anti-discrimination laws.
It takes institutional courage to accept LGBTQ equality while still working to abandon prejudice. Latter-day Saint families with LGBTQ children are counting on this kind of courage from the church.
It is time to take a more inclusive, equitable view of what it means when we say, “All are alike unto God.”
Nathan R. Kitchen is a dentist living in Gilbert, Ariz., who serves as president of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons Families and Friends.