Seldom do I find myself in agreement with James Parrish, the Executive Director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Virginia, yet I have to applaud his characterization of The Family Foundation’s position in a recent speech he gave at the group’s annual dinner.
Speaking about two recently defeated bills that would have introduced the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (or “SOGI”) into state law, according to The Washington Blade, “Parrish said the ‘only objective’ of the bills’ opponents — the Family Foundation of Virginia . . . — was ‘to keep sexual orientation and gender identity out of the code.’ ” He’s exactly right.
In opposing these recurring SOGI bills, making sure our laws are left alone truly is our “only objective.” Hence, he won’t hear us asking the legislature to direct the policy decisions of private companies, many of whom — as Equality Virginia is keen to point out — have adopted various internal SOGI policies relative to employment. He won’t find us disregarding the dignity of anyone, or seeking to inhibit any person from receiving what they are due. Our conviction about the sanctity and intrinsic value of every life compels our recognition that every individual is entitled to equal justice under law.
At the same time, we’ve noticed that whenever and wherever governments create special legal protections for traits that are neither static nor readily apparent to others (and therefore, impossible to define) — such as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” — the only effect has been to create an open invitation for unnecessary and often-unfounded accusations, litigation, and discrimination against those who hold a different viewpoint. Nondiscrimination laws were designed to act as a “shield” of protection for those who, as members of a distinct class, experience widespread invidious discrimination and yet are politically-powerless so as to be unable to rectify societal mistreatment through other means. Unfortunately, the addition of SOGI to these laws has instead created a “sword” for some to attack others who disagree with their beliefs on human sexuality.
Since issues of sexuality so often carry deep and profound moral, ethical, and religious implications — particularly for followers of most of the major faith traditions — every place where SOGI has been given special legal status, people of deep religious faith become the flashpoint of a serious conflict and find themselves faced with the loss of their jobs, businesses, livelihoods, reputations, and more.
Just as Parrish stated, “[Equality Virginia’s] agenda is to make sure people can live authentic lives”, The Family Foundation exists to ensure that all people have the ability to freely and authentically live out – to “exercise” – their faith, even and especially when that faith counters the beliefs of the majority of society. In order for all people to live authentic lives, no one can be expected to check their faith-identity at the door when they enter the marketplace or their workplace. If one uses their artistic talent in their professional lives, as cake bakers, photographers and florists do, they must not be forced to participate in the celebration of something that violates a core tenet of their faith. They can’t set their faith aside for any one moment, because it’s who they are. It is this understanding of faith-identities that requires us to take every reasonable action to prevent the unnecessary and unjustified insertion of SOGI into our state Code – because, for countless people of sincere faith, governments are now using these laws as weapons to make it impossible to live their convictions.
Where Mr. Parrish and I part ways is in our view of the outcome of these bills. I am thankful that our legislature continues to resist annual requests to add SOGI to our laws, even as the House is under new leadership. Speaker Cox, like Speaker Howell before him, understands that Virginians of faith have been spared the destructive “sword-wielding” currently taking place in every state that opted to trade prudence for political pandering.
For the good of all concerned, we’d like to keep it that way.
(This piece was originally published as an Op/Ed in the May 5 edition of The Roanoke Times.)