Author, professor debate religious liberty, LGBT rights

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Law professor Lawrence Sager and Ryan Anderson, author of “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom,” discussed the intersection of religious liberty and LGBT rights Wednesday at a debate hosted by the Texas Federalist Society. 

Anderson said religious liberty is a compelling reason to avoid legislation that would make discrimination against same-sex couples illegal. Sager said he is against using religious and personal beliefs as a reason to discriminate.

Anderson compared the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage to Roe v. Wade, a decision that established the right to have an abortion is guaranteed in the Constitution.

According to the Church amendments that were passed shortly after the landmark abortion decision, federally funded public health institutions cannot require medical professionals to take part in abortion procedures contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions, or discriminate against them for abstaining based on their beliefs. Anderson said the government should grant this same protection to people against same-sex marriage.

“Viewpoints about the definition of marriage … are deep-seated intellectual and religious traditions,” Anderson said. “There’s no need for the state to try to persecute these people who believe this.”

Sager said Anderson’s argument would only apply to religious leaders being forced to officiate same-sex weddings, not business owners.

“Doctors relate to abortion the way that ministers and other individuals relate to marriages,” Sager said. “Religious distaste … does not give a commercial owner the right to discriminate in defiance of these discrimination laws.”

Sager said there are parallels between racial discrimination and discrimination against same-sex couples.

“If you’re a member of a religion that despises interracial dating, you can’t bar the door to your restaurant to an interracial couple, and you can’t bar the door to the same-sex couple either,” Sager said. “Religious liberty is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Anderson said it is bad public policy to equate sexual orientation and gender identity with race, because the magnitude of discrimination is not the same and is not enough to warrant legislation against it.

Law student Merritt Lander, vice president of membership for the Texas Federalist Society, said she disagrees with Anderson and said the LGBT community should have legal safeguards instituted by the government.

“A flat-out ban on homosexual behavior doesn’t qualify as an adequate reason to have laws protecting a group from discrimination?” Lander said. “Just because the gay rights’ movement has been very successful, that means gay people are not entitled to legal protection?”