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When Compromise Compromises Principle

Throughout many state legislatures, proposals are being floated that attempt to enshrine sexual orientation and gender identity “SOGI” while also supposedly protecting religious liberty.

One such bill called the “Utah Compromise” passed last year, and myself and Russell Moore wrote then to express our opposition to it.

This was hailed as an “historic” effort to ameliorate contentious debates that often flame the culture war, and now that these proposals are becoming routine, it is important to consider the reasons that many within the religious liberty consider such proposals problematic.

Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson and Princeton professor Robert P. George have written your must-read essay of the day at Public Discourse on why liberty and SOGI laws are fundamentally incompatible. Anderson and George write:

Indiana’s proposed sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws, SB 100 and SB 344, would make bad policy. The preamble of each states that it seeks a “balancing of differing religious values and matters of conscience so that individuals of good faith can live and work together without undue litigation or burden.” But in reality the bills favor one side of a cultural debate—the culturally and politically powerful LGBT lobby—at the expense of citizens of goodwill who believe that we are created male and female and that marriage unites a man and a woman. While these bills have some superficially appealing aspects, they would only increase cultural tensions, further empower an already powerful special-interest lobby, and impose unjustly on Hoosiers of many different faiths and all walks of life. All citizens should oppose unjust discrimination, but SOGI laws are not the way to do that.

[…]

Thus, SB 100 and SB 344 threaten the civil rights of Hoosiers who believe basic truths about the human condition articulated by ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, members of the Abrahamic faiths, and secular people who believe in freedom of inquiry. Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, Latter-Day Saints, Muslims, and people of other faiths or none at all will be at risk.

They go on to list nine primary reasons why such bills are problematic:

  1. They Do Not Protect Fairness for All.
  2. They Do Not Establish a Compromise.
  3. They Are Not the Best for Indiana or America.
  4. They Establish a Bad Principle.
  5. They Eliminate the Status-Conduct Distinction.
  6. Their Exemptions Are Too Narrow.
  7. Their Exemptions Are Susceptible to Erosion.
  8.  Their Transgender Policy Is Likely to Be Expanded.
  9. They Will Encourage the Proliferation of SOGI Laws.

I would deeply encourage you to go and read the whole thing. No issue is more fundamentally misunderstood and abused than how our media treats religious liberty. Anderson and George cut through the hype and demonstrate why SOGI laws are bad policy: “SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, none, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.”

Many proposing the compromise solution do so out of legitimate concern that the window of opportunity to safeguard religious liberty may be coming to a close. Our moment is often compared to the mid-1990s where calls for civil unions were being made. Some believe that if civil unions had been granted at that time, the ugliness over battles concerning same-sex marriage would never have materialized. If, as some thinking goes, we act now to compromise, we can spare ourselves future battles and enlist goodwill on both sides of the debate. While I understand this argument, I believe it is historically misguided and naïve for one simple reason: Jurisdictions where civil unions were enacted didn’t end the campaign for same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage was simply one plank in the broader movement to see the principles of the Sexual Revolution mainstreamed throughout all society. In the same way today, if enshrining sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes is an act that justice requires according to LGBT activists, then no amount of goodwill on this issue will prevent them from eventually enacting more invasive protections or rescinding proposed compromises later on.

Compromise is often a good solution. It isn’t a dirty word in my view. But neither is compromise beyond scrutiny. And in my view, the compromise solutions being offered don’t sufficiently protect America’s “First Freedom”—religious liberty.

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Andrew T. Walker

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