Monday, February 23, 2015

The Paradox of "Fairness for All"

In a recent press conference, several of the Mormon Church's leaders announced that they support legal efforts to protect gays and lesbians against housing and job discrimination. Due to the nature of the church's views, it has historically been against things such as same sex marriage and forced actions, like making a Mormon doctor perform an abortion. This statement did not come without strings, however. The Mormon Church would like to see more protection for the LGBTQ community, but also more protection for themselves in the form of religious exemptions.

Many have called this announcement an attempt to alter the perception of bigotry the general public may have of the church. This raises an interesting point that is sometimes overlooked; public views can often influence the official stances of churches. While they clearly did not retract their statements, it still seems as though the Mormon Church recognizes that it is losing the battle against its views. This appeal may even apply to some of its members, as the article states that this may also be a concession to its moderate followers.

In regards to other cases, I am usually for religious exemptions because I generally do believe that people such have the right to practice their beliefs while still having the opportunity to engage with other things. For example, when someone wrote a post on whether or not the Sheikh man should be allowed to join the military, I argued for a religious exemption that would allow him to join and wear his turban. But this case seems to bring up an interesting point about fairness to everyone. By protecting the LGBTQ community and the Mormons' right to not abide by that, the government would be making it fair for someone else to not be fair. Anti-discrimination legislation is, by default, supposed to be fair to everyone. But in a situation like this, it can seem like creating a no-discrimination rule is actually discrimination (against those who do not believe their actions are discriminatory). It’s a paradox that seems to come with the territory of the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and the right to freely exercise your religion, which may include values that goes against the first.

Much of how you feel about this situation may stem from your own personal belief system. For example, at one time, it was socially acceptable to discriminate based on race/ethnicity, even though people have no control over that. If you believe that LGBTQ people were born the way they are, then allowing a religious exemption to discriminate is wrong. But if you believe that LGBTQ people chose to be the way they are, then this religious exemption makes perfect sense for you to further practice your religion. As someone in the first camp, I think that exempting Mormons and other conservatives from treating people fairly is unconstitutional.

Some may argue that people have the right to serve whoever they want, but at the same time, this would most likely not be one or two cases asking for a religious exemption. With such a large Mormon population, Utah could very well find itself in a position where the government is faced with many requests for religious exemptions. So while it may improve the situation for the LGBTQ community in some cases, it may also just allow the state to say that it has done its job by passing anti-discrimination legislation. Because of a largely conservative population, it does not seem likely such legislation will pass soon without the provision for religious exemptions, so depending on state action, the LGBTQ community may remain unprotected for now.

One of the most fascinating things I find about this example is that it seems as though historically, Mormons have been looked down upon. Thus, they have faced court-justified discrimination in cases such as Reynolds v. United States (1879). Even though the church no longer supports polygamy as apart of its religion, it was once considered a necessary practice. And yet, even with this past of unfair treatment, their official views on other issues are discriminatory in nature just like rules have been towards them.

This case involves two competing principles in terms of who gets treated more fair. While the Mormon Church may publicly wish for "fairness for all," it is still asking for the right to be unfair. Determining whether or not this is right requires a prioritization of what I would consider basic human rights (to equal opportunity) and the constitutionally given right to freely exercise your religion. However difficult it may be to choose between the two, I think the choice is necessary to have a properly and fairly functioning law.


Sam Cohen said...

I completely agree with you Nina, both about your opinions as well as the fact you pointed out, which is that it is very hard for our government to pass a fairness law that impedes upon religion. That being said, I think it is important to take into account that our country has shown a trend over the past couple years towards being more accepting, fair, and anti-discriminatory. Many states have passed laws legalizing gay marriage and certainly more states will join. With the trend and pattern being as such, I think government has the right to pass a law that many citizens would agree upon and many more will agree upon as gay marriage becomes legalized in more and more states. While this may come into conflict with religion, I believe it is up to churches to provide valid reasons as to why anti-discrimination laws would hinder their religious practices. Otherwise, the government has a necessary right to pass these laws, one that falls under strict scrutiny.

Nate Hunter said...

I agree with Sam in that there has been a positive trend on issues such as this over the past decade, and it seems that even more change is coming in the future. You said that the government has the right to pass a law that most people would agree on, however the situation in Utah is very complicated as 54% of voters claim to not even recognize gay relationships, and that 25% recognize gay unions. So that is what really poses as problem in that the vast majority deny gay rights in general as many of them claim it is an affront to their religious beliefs. I think just because a few priests may come out and say they support it is either a ploy in order to increase their own flexibility with the law or that these are some progressive thinking members of the church however they unfortunately do not speak for the majority of the states religious citizens according to polling numbers. Hopefully this is a sign that we might be moving in the right direction and that people are thinking more progressively, but I don’t want this veiled gesture to allow established religious institutions in Utah to gain more accommodations.