Religion and Faith
Nearly half of LGBTQ Americans are religious, and a majority of all people of faith, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, support protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people. Myths that all people of faith oppose LGBTQ people and equality are fueled by vitriolic opposition to LGBTQ people and families by anti-LGBTQ activists who claim to speak for all Christians or other religious groups. The rhetoric of these anti-LGBTQ activists frequently leads to media coverage that falsely positions LGBTQ equality as “God vs. gay.” Despite increasing religious acceptance of LGBTQ people, voices of those who oppose LGBTQ equality are disproportionately represented in media coverage: a 2012 GLAAD study found three out of four religious leaders interviewed by the media on LGBTQ issues come from traditions that have policies or traditions that oppose LGBTQ equality. In 2020, a Center for American Progress (CAP) study of media coverage of LGBTQ issues found that while 66.3% of the religiously-identified sources in these articles expressed negative or anti-LGBTQ sentiment, public opinion polling of religious-affiliated Americans suggests that only 25.8% oppose nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
Mainstream religious denominations support LGBTQ equality. For decades, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Metropolitan Community Church have had policies of LGBTQ inclusion, including ordaining LGBTQ people, performing weddings for same-sex couples, and advocating for LGBTQ equality under the law. Within the last 20 years, The Episcopal Church, Reform and Conservative Judaism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have all adopted policies of LGBTQ inclusion. Their leaders are often vocal supporters of marriage equality, employment nondiscrimination, transgender inclusion, and other LGBTQ issues.
Other religious institutions, churches, and denominations continue to debate issues of LGBTQ inclusion, the blessing of same-sex couples’ unions, and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, with growing support for full inclusion. Many Christian denominations, like the United Methodist Church, are home to robust debate about LGBTQ issues and equality. LGBTQ affinity groups can be found within all religions, even those that might have often been considered anti-LGBTQ, including Islam, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and Evangelical Christianity. Many of these religious groups have de-emphasized their formal opposition to LGBTQ people. While their culture and policies do not reflect full LGBTQ acceptance, many organizations and congregations take a “we welcome everybody” approach, accepting LGBTQ members and worshippers, but still keeping barriers to religious leadership or public displays of affirmation. Both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Salvation Army, for example, have built websites stating there is a place for LGBTQ people within their faith communities, but have not amended the policies that bar full participation. Within these institutions, LGBTQ people will find many allies, but can also encounter challenges to participation.
Over 80% of Roman Catholics support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, and nearly three-quarters of American Roman Catholics support LGBTQ equality. This is despite anti-LGBTQ language and actions from many in the Roman Catholic hierarchy, including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In July 2013, Pope Francis was asked about gay priests, and responded: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” But the official statements and policies of the Vatican continue to oppose LGBTQ people. In 2021, the Vatican released a statement that “It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” calling such unions “sinful.” One of the tangible impacts of this position is that LGBTQ employees of many Catholic institutions, including school teachers, can be legally fired from their jobs for marrying or being public with their LGBTQ identity.
Anti-LGBTQ activists are not the majority of religious Americans. More than 6 in 10 members of every religious group support LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, according to a 2021 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) study. Anti-LGBTQ activists often claim to be representing the only religious or Christian view, while working to exclude religious voices that are in favor of LGBTQ inclusion. Anti-LGBTQ activists like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Scott Brown, and groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Center for Family and Human Rights, Pacific Justice Institute, and World Congress of Families often falsely claim to represent the views of religious Americans. (See GLAAD’s Accountability Project for more on these anti-LGBTQ activists.) These groups’ policy views are not shared by the majority of those they claim to represent. Large majorities of all Americans, including people of faith, favor inclusive protections for LGBTQ people.
Please consider whether anti-LGBTQ activists’ attacks on the dignity and equality of LGBTQ people warrant a media spotlight. When such prejudice is newsworthy or must be quoted, it is important to provide context that they are anti-LGBTQ not merely “religious.” Seek out religious voices who support LGBTQ people and equality and can effectively address those attacks in the language of inclusive faith. When reporting on religion and LGBTQ people, please include the voices of LGBTQ faith leaders. These voices include Deacon Ross Murray, Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart, Jamie Manson, Bishop Megan Rohrer, Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, The Rev. Frederick Davie, Bishop Karen Oliveto, and The Rev. angel Kyodo williams Sensei. See below for organizations to contact for further information and spokespeople referrals.
“Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA)
“Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people. Although the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, in 1993 Congress passed a federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to protect the free practice of religion for the purpose of protecting minority religions. Under the 1993 federal RFRA, the government can only restrict religious practices if it furthers a compelling government interest. Additionally, the government must act so in the least restrictive means of furthering that government interest.
However, following the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality across the U.S., many states have enacted or attempted to enact state versions of RFRA that have expanded both what actions are protected under a RFRA (including denial of goods and services) and who can claim protection under a RFRA (including for-profit companies). These proposed and newly expanded RFRAs run afoul of other state and local laws, including nondiscrimination laws, essentially allowing people to pick and choose which laws they will follow. The intended result is for businesses and professionals to refuse goods or services to a population they oppose on the basis of a “sincerely held religious belief.” SCOTUS has ruled on cases, including Fulton v. Philadelphia in 2021 and Masterpiece v. Colorado in 2018, focused on the topic and narrowly ruled that this law did not grant a constitutional right to discriminate.
While proposed RFRAs often do not explicitly mention the LGBTQ or any other specific community, the timing of the laws, paired with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from those who are proposing them often make RFRAs a weapon to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people.
GLAAD advises journalists against using terms such as “religious freedom/liberty” to describe discriminatory laws for the more accurate exemption. At their core, these cases are not about the right to practice religion freely, but rather using religion as a tool to push for exemptions from laws created to protect fellow citizens.
While much of the media attention has been on refusals in the wedding industry, the impact of such laws are much broader. RFRAs would allow doctors, landlords, adoption agencies, funeral homes, and more to legally deny service to LGBTQ people and famillies, and other marginalized communities, simply by citing religious beliefs. In 2021, Arkansas passed a law allowing doctors to refuse to treat LGBTQ people under one version of a RFRA, while Tennessee has allowed adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ parents. RFRAs provide exemptions to allow discrimination.
Reporters covering such bills and laws should also examine the impact RFRAs would have on minority communities, including the LGBTQ community. Legal experts can speak directly about the vague wording of such laws and the potential for licensing discrimination. Additionally, reporters should question what “sincerely held religious belief ” is being compromised in the process of doing business with LGBTQ people.
Please reach out to the below organizations —or GLAAD (firstname.lastname@example.org) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople. This is a sampling and not a comprehensive list:
- Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons Family & Friends
- Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists
- Beloved Arise (LGBTQ youth of faith)
- Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
- Center for LGBTQ & Gender Studies in Religion
- Dignity USA (Roman Catholic)
- Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance
- The Evangelical Network
- Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (https://elm.org/)
- The Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress
- The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (African American Christian)
- Institute for Welcoming Resources
- Integrity USA (Episcopal)
- Interfaith Alliance
- Jewish Queer Youth
- Keshet (Jewish)
- Metropolitan Community Church
- More Light Presbyterians
- Muslims for Progressive Values
- Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice
- The Naming Project (Christian youth)
- Network on Religion & Justice for Asian and Pacific Islander LGBT People
- New Ways Ministry (Catholic)
- Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ
- Q Christian Fellowship
- Queer Sikh Network
- Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist)
- ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation
- The Reformation Project (Christian)
- Room for All (Reformed Church in America)
- Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International
- Unitarian Universalist Association
- Welcoming Community Network (Community of Christ)