In our opinion: In LGBT-religion dialogue, try persuasion, not punishment


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There’s no doubt that members of the LGBT community, and others, have heartfelt concerns about the legislation passed in other states that they claim is discriminatory, but the right method to seek greater inclusion is not through exclusion.

In most modern political debates, true persuasion requires earnest engagement and genuine empathy. Increasingly, however, activists use public shaming or economic bullying to enact their will.

While this technique may yield the desired results in the short term — bullies can be effective, sadly — in the end, the outcome is usually negative reciprocity and a further corrosion of America’s fragile social fabric.

The latest example of this kind of politics by punishment is California’s ban on state travel to nine states — including Texas — because of, in the words of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, “the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states.”

Utah is not on the list.

There’s no doubt that members of the LGBT community, and others, have heartfelt concerns about the legislation passed in other states that they claim is discriminatory, but the right method to seek greater inclusion for their community is not through excluding or “shaming” those with whom they disagree.

This advice goes for all sides of the debate, especially those who claim a religious-based moral mantle.

Reasoned engagement, fairness and a willingness to see other perspectives leads to more enlightened politics. Instead, the chain reaction started by California is the kind of poke-you-in-the-eye approach that blinds society from greater understanding.

Last week, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed a law permitting adoption agencies to refuse serving certain would-be adoptive parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Opponents of the new law have said that it gives a license to discriminate against gays, singles or other people from religious backgrounds that are different from the faith-based adoption agency. Texas politicians, however, have said the law avoids discrimination by requiring that other options be made available for the potential parents.

The law is designed to balance religious-liberty protections for faith-based child welfare agencies while ensuring that full services remain available for all citizens.

The proper way to debate the law is through reasoned argument and persuasion. Not public shaming.

New York Times commentator David Brooks rightly observes: “Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.”

This describes California’s new practice of banning travel for state employees to certain states. It began last year when North Carolina’s Legislature overturned an ordinance in the city of Charlotte that allowed transgender individuals to use public restrooms based on the gender with which they identify. California has expanded the list to one-fifth of the United States (so far).

Rather than persuading people, the effect has merely been negative reciprocity. In response to the Texas ban, a spokesperson for Abbott said, “California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas.” In Tennessee, the Senate issued a joint resolution condemning California for trying to “impose their unfounded moral judgment” on other states and said Tennessee is “pleasantly surprised that California will not be sending its economic development teams to Tennessee to recruit businesses, but we can still send our teams to recruit their businesses.”

The resolution went on to state the crux of the whole matter: “This type of ban, the result of legitimate disagreements about government policy, is neither persuasive nor productive for either party and will lead to economic warfare among states, as one sovereign entity attempts to tell an equally sovereign entity how to conduct its affairs.”

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