GLAAD Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Religion & Faith

A common myth is that people of faith universally oppose LGBTQ people and equality. This myth, combined with vitriolic opposition to LGBTQ people and families by anti-LGBTQ activists who claim the mantle of Christianity, frequently leads to media coverage that falsely positions LGBTQ equality as a matter of "God vs. gay." Despite increasing religious acceptance of LGBTQ people, 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.

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, 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 non-discrimination, transgender inclusion, and other LGBTQ issues.

Other denominations are home to robust debate about LGBTQ issues and equality. Other 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. For example, the United Methodist Church has not changed its policies to be more LGBTQ inclusive, but several United Methodist leaders have challenged those policies, as well as advocated publically for LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ affinity groups can be found within any religion, even those that might be considered anti-LGBTQ. One can find LGBT Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and Evangelicals. The Mormon Church has shifted its tone about LGBTQ people, no longer advocating for family alienation and so-called "ex-gay" programs.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are often identified by the media as representing the only "religious" or "Christian" view, while excluding religious voices that are in favor of LGBTQ inclusion. Anti-LGBTQ activists like Pat Robertson and Harry Jackson, as well as groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Institute on Religion & Democracy often claim to represent the views of religious Americans. Yet these groups' policy views are not shared by the majority of those they claim to represent. This is especially true for Roman Catholics, nearly three-quarters of whom support LGBTQ equality, despite anti-LGBTQ language and actions from many in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. 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, please 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 LGBT faith leaders. In addition to the groups mentioned above, GLAAD, the Institute for Welcoming Resources, the National Black Justice Coalition, the Human Rights Campaign, the World Congress of GLBT Jews, and others can help direct reporters to qualified spokespeople.

Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA)

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 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 against 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.”

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.

Reporters would do well to 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.


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