Mormons for Discrimination?

Mormons for Discrimination?
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State Representative Lynn Luker should know better. The Idaho state lawmaker has recently proposed legislation that would protect professionals from litigation who deny service to gay and lesbians. Similar legislation is being discussed in other states, as well.

While protecting religious freedom is important, extending this type of legal protection to individuals is a dangerous step that should be avoided. The bill claims to be a protector of religious freedom but is in reality legalized discrimination.

Luker, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, should know that his religious convictions do not require legalized discrimination. Legalizing discrimination should in no way be seen as a reflection of the teachings of the Mormon church or a part of the religious freedom debate.

There are several examples of how this bill is supposed to protect religious individuals: the photographer, baker, and florist who would have to provide services for a gay wedding, or a doctor who would have to provide health services to homosexuals. But, religious opposition to gay marriage should not be a license for discrimination. None of the mentioned examples actually pose a threat to the religious freedom of individuals. The history and teachings of the LDS church are both reasons for Mormons to oppose this type of legislation.

Historically, Mormons have been at the receiving end of persecution and discrimination. Polygamy was often the reason. There is some irony in that some Mormons now want to discriminate against others based on differing views on marriage. While Mormons now do not face discrimination like they once did, it is easy to imagine what it would be like.

How would a Mormon feel if someone refused to sell him a wedding cake because a Mormon temple wedding was against his religious beliefs? What might a Mormon couple do if someone refused to sign adoption papers because of a religious grudge against Mormonism? Having experienced a history of discrimination, the Mormon people can testify to the beauty of a tolerant society, one where a "peculiar people" can be treated as equals and with respect. If Mormons want to claim respect and equality in society they need to allow others the same right.

The LDS church teaches its members to be in the world but not of the world. Many Mormons choose to not drink tea or coffee. Most Mormons can agree that it is acceptable for Mormon waiters, store and restaurant owners to sell and serve these beverages to others who choose to do so. Offering professional services does not mean a personal endorsement of clients' choices or lifestyles. The same applies to gay marriage. Having a personal religious belief about marriage does not mean that offering professional service to gays is an endorsement of gay marriage, nor is it an assault on one's religion.

Legal discrimination can have negative consequences for society. It can be the foundation for hate similar to what Mormons experienced earlier in their history. This is a far cry from the teachings of the LDS church which teaches love, compassion, and tolerance. Those who are advocates of legalized discrimination in the name of religion should take a deeper look at their religion. They might be surprised at what they find.

Matthew Crandall is a lecturer of International Relations at Tallinn University.

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