Religious freedom: Our conflict with a deeply held belief in equality

Religious freedom: Our conflict with a deeply held belief in equality
Kirk Taylor (left) with his son Graeme.
Kirk Taylor (left) with his son Graeme. Rachelle Lee Smith

In 2012, my openly gay son Graeme was honored for his activism for LGBTQ rights after having spoken out in defense of a high school economics teacher who was suspended for ejecting two students from his class after those students said gays and lesbians are immoral.

Now some two years later, my son finds himself orphaned by his home state of Michigan, whose government is poised to pass legislation that would discriminate against him based on someone else’s religious beliefs.

Our family’s beliefs regarding equality and human rights have been steamrolled over by our own legislators in our home state.

Earlier this month, voting along party lines, the Michigan House of Representatives passed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This bill would permit those with “deeply-held religious beliefs” to discriminate against whomever they want, including LGBT people.

Speaker of the House, Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said: “This is not a license to discriminate. People simply want their government to allow them to practice their faith in peace.”

All of this means that my son does not feel welcome in his home state. And it means that when Graeme completes his education, he will look for employment where he does feel welcome.

At this time, Michigan is not on his list.

How is it that this bill is “not a license to discriminate”?

If this bill passes in the Senate and is signed by the governor, Michiganders who choose not to abide by the faith of their employers, grocers and pharmacists, or anyone else for that matter, will simply, and legally, be shown the door.

And, coincidentally (or perhaps not), passage of the religious freedom bill in the House occurred after a companion bill that would have expanded Michigan’s civil rights acts to the LGBT community was declared dead by Bolger.

Our Republican governor and his attorney general attempted to legislate-away domestic partnership health benefits for state workers. They have also declared that the 323 same-sex marriages that took place legally this past March were invalidated by the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision last month that upheld Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

My son is now attending Kenyon College in Ohio. But what happens when he graduates? Will he come home?

He’s not alone in questioning whether or not to return to a state that sanctions such open discrimination. And so are many of his classmates:

Brian, who is openly gay and says that he hopes to be ordained as a Episcopal priest or become employed in the sciences or engineering, says “As someone — a gay man — who very much wants to raise a family with another man, I would never live or work in a state that did not offer me equal rights. I would, however, spend time there preaching about equality.”

Abby says she would like to choose a career path in service … whether that be in teaching, social work or any social justice issue, but “regardless of my career choices, I do know that I won’t consider living in Michigan until equal rights are given to me me and the rest of the LGBTQA community.”

Maia, who is straight, says she wants to spend her life exploring, creating and promoting art. “All I know is I want to form part of a welcoming, open-minded, cultivated community. There’s nothing welcoming, open-minded or cultivated about anti-gay legislation.”

You see, Graeme, his classmates, and I, all possess a deeply-held belief that true freedom does not include the state-sponsored right to discriminate.

The best and the brightest are coming, and we hope our home state of Michigan comes to its senses soon and rolls out the welcome mat to everyone.

Its difficult to imagine that our once progressive-minded citizenry would be happiest where discrimination is legal. If so, well, it will be without Graeme and his friends.

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