Freedom of religion is considered by many to be America’s “first freedom.” Despite this, what that freedom means is increasingly contested – especially when it is perceived to conflict with LGBT rights. Unfortunately, religious freedom is now caught up in the culture wars.

Since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision extending marriage to same-sex couples, the debate has increasingly been framed in “zero sum” terms. Under the mistaken assumption that for one side to “win” the other must “lose,” American ideals of pluralism, live-and-let-live, and fairness are being abandoned.

Although it seems at times this false dichotomy between religious liberty and LGBT rights is the prevailing position, many individuals, groups and organizations in the debate reject this “zero sum” idea.

These groups remain true to their doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman, but they reject the winner-take-all approach. They have participated in legislative efforts to secure essential rights for LGBT citizens while protecting religious freedom. One the best examples of this effort of Fairness for All was the so-called “Utah Compromise” legislation that received nationwide acclaim as one model for resolving this destructive standoff.

When religious liberty and LGBT interests collide, instead of incivility and driving toward a winner-take-all result, we should embrace civility, protection of core rights for all, and reasonable compromise.  The goal should be pluralism rather than domination by either side. That must be our objective. 

Fairness for All is a way forward. It is premised on the American ideal that in a diverse society, there should be space for everyone to live and act according to what’s most important to them. It seeks to preserve religious freedom while also securing essential rights for others—including LGBT Americans. It is an approach to living peacefully despite the fundamental differences that will always exist in our society.