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Northwestern professor discusses LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

| Friday, November 8, 2019

Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law and political science at Northwestern University, gave a talk dissecting the debate surrounding the conflict between gay rights and religious liberty in a lecture Thursday in Jenkins-Nanovic Halls. The lecture was sponsored by the Constitutional Studies Program and the Program on Church, State and Society at the Notre Dame Law School.

Courtesy of Steve Toepp

Andrew Koppelman, professor of law and political science at Northwestern University, discussed the conflict existing between gay rights and religious liberty.

Koppelman began by posing a question.

“Should religious people who conscientiously object to facilitating same-sex weddings and who therefore decline to provide cakes, photography or other services be exempted from anti-discrimination laws?” Koppelman said. “This issue has taken on an importance that’s far beyond the tiny number of wedding vendors who’ve made such claims. Each side’s position has become more unyielding.”

Koppelman said though both sides of such conflicts regarded themselves as victims of one another, it is important they reach a compromise.

“Most Americans would like to live in peace, and are willing to consider the possibility to accommodate other people’s perspectives and fears,” he said.

LGBTQ and religious groups attack each other due to the lack of knowledge of the other side, Koppelman said.

“In order to to achieve accommodation, the first step is to stop judging others characters from their perspectives,” Koppelman said. “No accommodation can be realized if you denounce others’ personality.”

The second step is destigmatization, he said.

“Contamination goes beyond discrimination which derogates one’s dignity and should be prohibited,” Koppelman said. “Then, we need to stop using very general principles to argue with each other. Sticking on principle does no good to reconciliation. We only care about principles because we care about people.”

He said the right thing to do is to consider others’ interests and work out a solution agreed by all parties.

Koppelman referenced the 2018 Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a cake shop refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The case evolved into a debate over whether or not the owners of public accommodations can refuse to provide services based on the right to free speech and free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment. Similar cases have added to the controversy.

Koppelman suggested there are many solutions for situations like these.

“You can have the exception for small business or religious-orientated business, and make objections clear to public in advance,” he said.

Moreover, religious freedom is all about tolerance of ideas, Koppelman said.

“Both sexual minorities and religious conservatives want the space to leave out their beliefs and identities,” Koppelman said. “No side stands on moral fundamental, nor should they predicate the others’ life wrong and shouldn’t exist.”

Based on this mutual tolerance, Koppelman said he believes in the very dignity, acceptance and equal treatment of LGBTQ groups, but he also believes “society should be a safe place where those who don’t conform to the major norms … can leave their life in peace and security.”

While mutual education and tolerance could be a way to accommodate LGBTQ groups and religious conservatives, the more substantial reconciliation reflects on people who identify as LGBTQ and Catholic, he said.

Greg Bourke, a Notre Dame alumnus who identifies as Catholic and gay, was one of the plaintiffs of Obergefell v. Hodges which guaranteed the right to marriage to same-sex couples in the United States.

Bourke said he struggled with his faith and sex orientation in the ’70s.

“I recognized that my sexual orientation was immutable but my faith was important as well,” Bourke said. “The only possibility to remain in the faith was not expressing my sexual orientation at all. I continued to practice my faith regularly but under the don’t-ask-don’t-tell circumstances.”

He said he achieved reconciliation between his sexual orientation and faith after “painful deliberation” in 1976.

“I was gay because that was the way that God created me, not because of any failing on my part,” he said. “If that was God’s work and intention, I had no business doubting or questioning that. I started to work to have people within the Church slowly change their opinions about LGBT people. I believe that over these 40 years that I have been openly gay and practicing my faith, opinions among Catholics have swung dramatically and that now most believe that LGBTQ people should not be discriminated against and should be fully included in Catholic Church.”

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