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Jenet and Michael Erickson: Stereotypes threaten religious liberty; we must engage with complexity

Published: Sunday, June 8 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

What we need now are stories showing the complex reality that religious believers can affirm the equality and dignity of gays and lesbians while conscientiously electing not to endorse same-sex marriages. We need more authentic stories about the religious ministers who lovingly serve their gay and lesbian congregants without judgment; the same-sex attracted men and women who adhere to religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman, like those found at www.ldsvoicesofhope.org; the children of same-sex couples who insist that every child is entitled to both a father and mother (“Growing Up With Two Moms,” Public Discourse, August 6, 2012), and the business owners who treat their customers equally while respectfully declining to participate in or endorse events contrary to their beliefs (“How a wedding cake became a cause,” April 6).

It will not be easy for journalists to tell these stories, but it is vital. In his other classic work “Liberty and the News,” Lippmann wrote: “In so far as those who purvey the news make of their own beliefs a higher law than truth, they are attacking the foundations of our constitutional system. There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

In our pluralistic society, toleration must not become a one-way street. Conscientious objections to activities contrary to religious beliefs are entitled to respect and toleration. Business owners who decline to provide services for same-sex weddings do not discriminate against gays and lesbians any more than physicians or pharmacists who decline to provide abortions discriminate against women.

Wedding cakes may seem trivial, but in the future, religious charities, universities, and churches will be challenged over their religious objections to same-sex marriages. It will require much work to replace popular stereotypes with genuine expressions of religious beliefs about marriage. But our religious freedoms depend upon it.

Michael Erickson is an attorney. Jenet Erickson is family science researcher. They live in Salt Lake City.

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