NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Should gay rights come into conflict with religious belief, religious liberty will lose, President Barack Obama told an audience of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender activists at the Democrat National Committees annual LGBT Gala in New York Sept. 27.
"We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions," Obama said. "But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn't grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights."
Obama said government will be respectful and accommodate the "genuine concerns and interests of religious institutions," but that American should "reject politicians who are supporting new forms of discrimination as a way to scare up votes."
Though he did not specifically mention former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the comment was likely directed at them. Both Republican candidates have stood by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, the Kentucky woman who refused on religious grounds to issue marriages to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage was legal in June.
Davis was jailed for six days for contempt for failing to comply with a federal judge's order to issue the licenses. Now, her office is issuing the licenses, but without her signature or a county seal.
"Now, look, for some Americans, there's no doubt that this change has been a world-wind. And we believe that these changes have been for the better. But we have to recognize – and, in fact, I know the people in this room do because they felt it in their own family sometimes, or in the workplace – that with change, with any progress, comes some unease. And as Americans, I think we have to acknowledge that. I think that it's important for us to recognize that there are still parts of the country that are getting there, but it's going to take some time," Obama said.
According to Obama, the war for equality isn't over. He said "continued vigilance" is necessary to broaden the rights handed to same-sex couples by the Supreme Court. Just as his administration has ensured that all federal contractors have policies that protect the rights of gay workers, Obama said he will focus over the next 14 months on opening doors for transgenders and ensuring no one can be fired "because of who they love."
"And to build on that progress, we should support efforts to ban so-called 'conversion therapy' for minors," Obama said. "We've got to keep striving every day to treat each other the way I believe God sees us, as equal in His eyes."
"Conversion therapy," also known as "reparative therapy," stems from the idea that homosexuality is largely the result of broken parental relationships, where young boys do not develop a relationship with a male parent or role model and are coddled by the female gender. As they mature, they develop feminine characteristics and gravitate toward sexual fulfillment with men, the same way a woman would.
In the therapy, the patient and therapist seek ways to discuss the damaged parental relationships and acknowledge it as the main reason for homosexual desire. Although it is a controversial therapy and one groups like the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors reject, some faith groups – such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – employ the practice.
"We have a responsibility to stand up to bigotry – not just against us, but against anybody, anywhere. We have a responsibility to stand up for freedom – not just our own freedom, but for everybody's freedom. We have to speak up to condemn hatred against anybody – gay or straight, black or white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, non-believer, immigrant – because we remember what silence felt like when hatred was directed at us, and we've got to be champions on behalf of justice for everybody, not just our own," Obama said.
Ever the politician, Obama used the opportunity to lampoon some of the 2016 Republican field. He said in his address he didn't believe Republicans would use same-sex marriage as a "wedge issue" as they did in 2004 "because the country has come too far."
"In fact, America has left the leaders of the Republican Party behind. One of their leading candidates [Ben Carson] argued that going to prison turns you gay. Well, you think I'm – I shouldn't go into this? No, I mean, I'm just stating the facts. Another candidate [Ted Cruz] boasts that he introduced an amendment to end nationwide marriage equality – which isn't even an accomplishment at all. A third [Mike Huckabee] says Americans should just disobey the Supreme Court's ruling entirely. I'm sure he loves the Constitution – except for Article III. And maybe the Equal Protection Amendment. And 14th Amendment, generally," Obama said as the crowd laughed.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democrat National Committee (DNC), also attended the LGBT Gala, along with DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias, Sen. Tammy Baldwin [D-WI], New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Sen. Baldwin said after the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June, the case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, that "the First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to, you know, to observe deeply held religious beliefs. I don't think it extends far beyond that." Her view seems to comport with the president's.
Schneiderman was instrumental in pressuring the Boy Scouts of America in April 2015 to accept gay adult leaders, threatening to sue the organization because its bylaws were at odds with New York City statutes which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring. The BSA folded shortly after calling its ban on gay leaders unsustainable given the cultural acceptance of homosexuality.
View the president's remarks in full here.