In this issue of The Atlantic, Molly Ball suggests that it is gay and lesbian activists who are forcing the issue such that it appears as if Democrats, as well as the LGBT community is anti-religious:

Now, however, some worry that that relationship is fraying as some in both camps retreat to absolutist positions. The executive-order debate split religious-left groups and gay groups alike into opposing camps. After the order was announced on Friday, without the ENDA-style religious exemption, one group, GetEQUAL, issued a statement lauding “the decision made by the Obama Administration to resist the calls by a small number of right-wing conservatives to insert religious exemptions into civil rights protections.” Progressives like Wear and Wallis, who see themselves as deeply, spiritually committed to gay rights, surely would be dismayed at being called “right-wing conservatives.” Such name-calling, advocates fear, could alienate allies that have been tremendously important to the cause of gay rights.

The larger fear is that such splits could bring back the bad old days when gay rights and religious rights were seen as irreconcilable—and liberals suffered politically for the image that they were alienated from religious values.

But I think the focus is wrongly placed. While pro-LGBTQ Rights groups are drawing a line in the sand when it comes to religious exemptions, it has been the Far Right which long ago created the narrative that progressives are anti-Christian and anti-religious. In this post on Liberaland, John Stemberger is quoted as claiming that fighting same-sex marriage is an issue worth dying for. Now that’s drawing a line in the sand, and pitting progressives against Christians!

But this notion is far from new. I’ve posted about this before. No less than Rick Santorum, failed Presidential Candidate has spoken similar sentiments:

“The battle we’re engaged in right now is same-sex marriage. Ultimately, that is the very foundation of our country, the family, what the family structure is going to look like.” [Santorum nods thoughtfully].” I’ll die on that hill.”

Molly has a point to be made, however. There has been a coalition of more progressive religious who have helped promote LGBTQ Rights, and that coalition is important for progress to continue. But at what cost is the question, and are “religious exemptions” like those in ENDA a sign of cooperation or are they a sacrifice of too much in the name of seeking compromise?

The battle over Marriage Equality and religious exemptions regarding LGBTQ persons is unlike other past issues. For example, equal rights for women. No one has forced the Catholic Church to allow the ordination of women. Or maybe they should have? Is it possible that allowing religious exemptions has been why sexism continues to dominate? In other words, when we allow religious exemptions do we dilute and take real power away from an effort of true equality?

Ball’s post links the President’s executive order barring discrimination to ENDA, a problematic federal legislation that has failed to make it to the President’s desk since 1994. In spite of Ball’s efforts to links these, I think that major LGBTQ groups pulled their support from ENDA for an utterly different reason, or reasons.

First, I believe many groups saw the need to play a bigger role what is happening in federal legislative efforts. TheHuman Rights Campaign can be accused of failing the whole of the LGBTQ community in many ways. For example in a previous version of ENDA trans* protections were dropped in the hopes it would pass when it only protected gays and lesbians (it did not pass.) Many of us are uncomfortable with the way the rights of some are used as bargaining chips. I’m not sure that any recent effort was a direct result of HRC actions, but rather a more broadly understood goal of having more organizations stewarding LGBTQ legislations forward that protects everyone.

Secondly, the groups which pulled support for ENDA did so directly after the US Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby. In my opinion, it was the result of many LGBTQ advocates looking at the changing playing field, and taking the tactical steps it could to demand strong and meaningful nondiscrimination protections.

No matter how things play out in terms of religious exemptions, no one can place the blame on progressives and the LGBTQ community. It is the religious status quo which has made LGBTQ Rights (because of Marriage Equality) the defining issue, and writers like Ball do a disservice by failing to recognize that.

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