Colliding causes: Gay rights and religious liberty

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11 2012 1:00 p.m. MST

THE CORE OF THE ARGUMENT

For many individuals, the question of same-sex marriage creates an unbridgeable opinion divide, an issue where little can be solved by trying to find common ground.

Yet others are pushing toward a compromise, trying to ensure the rights of all.

"Sexual orientation and marriage and religion are just part of human identity, the very core of who people are and there ought to be a way to protect both," said Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and co-editor with Wilson of "Same Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts."

"We can't get there when gay rights views religion as their enemy, and with some good reason, because religion has acted like their enemy," he said. "Nor can we if religion views same-sex relations as horrible, terrible, immoral. Until we're willing to apply the American tradition of 'live and let live' to this dispute, I don't think we're going to get to religious liberty protections as the solution to the disagreement."

Laycock said the problem right now is that each side wants liberty for itself but nothing for the other side, which not only prevents progress, but also creates bitter feelings. So rather than holding out for a total victory, both sides should look for ways to give and take.

There have been some harmonious steps, like the ordinance passed by the Salt Lake City Council in 2009, which outlawed discrimination against gay and lesbian couples for housing and employment rights.

"The (LDS) Church supports this ordinance because it is fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage," LDS Church spokesman Michael Otterson said in a City Council meeting.

"It is also entirely consistent with the Church's prior position on these matters," he continued. "The Church remains unequivocally committed to defending the bedrock foundation of marriage between a man and a woman. I represent a church that believes in human dignity, in treating others with respect even when we disagree — in fact, especially when we disagree."

In the end, both sides should be in favor of protecting liberty and the rights of conscience, says Thomas Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas School of Law at Minnesota. After all, same-sex marriage supporters are asking that society "make room for people to live consistent with their identity and not just do it in the closet," Berg said. "Marriage is really a recognition of a right to live out your identity in public. The religious objector makes the same claim; they don't want to be limited to following their faith in the church."

Back in New Mexico, the Huguenins are gearing up for spring wedding shoots and an unscheduled but looming future court date. They're also trying to stay positive amid the hateful e-mails and negative blog posts.

"They are just trying to live their lives according to their Christian convictions," said Lorence, their ADF attorney. "They are not on any sort of crusade to hurt anybody. (This) whole concept of discrimination … is being used as a weapon to silence people who have differing views on hotly contested cultural issues."

EMAIL: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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